Using the right terms
I’ve started reading Bob Robert’s book named Glocalization. I’ll be blogging about that in the near future. As I was reading the first few chapters, I couldn’t help feeling that we need to define terms when we use them. I’ll explain the reason why this book got me thinking about it at a later stage. I can still remember the feeling I had when the first person once said to me something like: Yes, I know that you are a Christian, but are you a reborn Christian? And I was thinking to myself: Hey, does this mean that you get reborn Christians and non-reborn Christians? I realised the person’s problem, but I’m not sure if the problem was being solved in the right way. He had a problem with people calling themselves Christians because they are sympathetic or possibly, for that matter, not antagonistic towards Christianity. What he meant was probably something like: Are you sold-out to Christ? My fear about this issue was confirmed when I heard someone saying to another person: Are you a truly reborn Christian?
Which reminds me of the story I once heard a church which was started in Canada and called itself The Church of God. But after time the church split due to some internal problems and the new group called themselves The True Church of God. When this church also split, the third group called themselves The Only True Church of God!
One of the difficult things when busy with evangelism, is to determine where a person is in his or her spiritual life. I have attended a number of crusades in my life and have obviously also been involved with evangelism for the most of my ministry. Most evangelists seem to have an understanding of being a Christian equal to: Have you said the sinner’s prayer? Or even more simplistically: Have you raised your hand at some point to indicate that you want to accept Jesus as Saviour? Or: Have you repented? About seven or eight years ago I was invited to do a training course on the use of the Jesus Film. This was extremely good as I then realised how many mistakes people make when using the Jesus Film as evangelism tool. However, on one point I disagreed with the presenters and told them so in private, but this led to an argument and eventually they refused to accredit me as a presenter of the Jesus Film! (That was quite humiliating, because “normal” church members were accredited and their pastor not! But I’ve learnt to accept it now. 😉
My argument was that the tradition of showing the film to a few hundred people, then asking them to indicate whether they wanted to accept Jesus as Saviour by raising their hands, praying a sinner’s prayer and then counting the hands to determine the “success” of the outreach was unbiblical and dishonest. At the very least I wanted them to ask all those who wanted to accept Jesus to remain behind and that personal conversations take place, preferably on another day, to discuss their decision with them. Their argument was that they didn’t have enough manpower and also, many people may not want to take this step if we give them a chance to opt out of that decision. Do we then count them as Christians or not? Is that the reason why we have to start using other terms to determine whether someone is a “real” Christian.
The two diagnostic questions used by Evangelism Explosion, namely:
- Have you come to the point in your spiritual life that you know for sure that, if you were to die today, you would go to heaven?
- Suppose you were to die today and you come to stand before God and He should ask you, “For what reason should I allow you into my heaven?”, how would you answer him?
have come under a lot of criticism and I think that much of this criticism is justified. I’m not saying that the two questions are bad. I just see that many people use it in a bad way, mainly because they don’t want to spend time with people, listening to them. The times that I do use those questions myself, I usually already know the answer that I will get, merely because I have listened to the person speaking about his or her experience with God. Often I don’t use the questions as I feel that the person to whom I’m speaking had told me enough to indicate the way forward in the conversation.
For myself, I’ve come to the conclusion that we are not saved through the sinner’s prayer, through the raising of a hand or even by going forward after a crusade. We are saved through Christ alone. Through what method He does it, seems to be irrelevant. For many people it may be as simple as praying a sinner’s prayer and accepting Jesus as Saviour. For some it may be merely by raising their hands. There are thousands of people who will say that they raised their hand at a crusade and that their lives changed irrevocably from that moment onwards. What is more important to know is whether a relationship exists between the person and Christ. And therefore I prefer nowadays, when speaking to an individual, to concentrate on using the term relationship. Or to ask a question such us: How do you experience Jesus in your daily life? often including a remark such as: It’s interesting to hear how you experienced God’s love for you at that time. Would you like to tell me more about it?
Many Christian terms have been used and abused. We Christians speak a language which I call Christianese, but because of misunderstanding we need to keep on redefining the words so that it makes sense to us. But couldn’t a lot of misunderstand be prevented if we were willing to spend time with people, not rushing or forcing them into making a decision for Christ, but listening to them to understand how they see a relationship with Christ, helping them to understand what the Bible says, so that, eventually, when they do confess that they are Christians, that both they and we all know exactly what they mean?