Wednesday, January 14, 2009

So when God said "the whole world," he meant....

Suppose when you were watching a special about Billy Graham, someone said, "When God said to evangelize the whole world, He didn't mean that Billy Graham should do it all himself!"

How would you respond to that? What does the attitude make you think?

It certainly seems to be saying that evangelism isn't always good. That God doesn't always want it.
Which would make me wonder about the speaker--where did he or she get that idea? Presumably, if the speaker is a Christian, he or she thinks that evangelism is sometimes good--but why would it be possible for there to be too much? Perhaps too many new converts would prove too great a strain for the church. You have to disciple them, teach them, train them... not that anyone was worried about that at Pentecost, but this is modern times. It just isn't normal now for the church to get whole bunches of new believers now. Just think if your church held an outreach, and so many people were saved that it doubled in size. You might need a bigger sanctuary, or more chairs, or another service. It might be expected that almost everyone would take a newbie under their wing--even those not involved in the outreach! And updating the directories, the birthday lists... these would be a logistical nightmare.

Maybe Billy Graham should start practicing disciple control. He could just stop preaching each time after he got a reasonable number of converts. Or if he wants to keep preaching, at least take the gospel out, since that would solve the problem. Practically everyone has already heard the gospel--maybe we have gone forth into all the world and made disciples, and we're done now. And if you're nodding your head right now, God help you, 'cause I can't.

In case you haven't figured it out yet, I'm making an analogy. Quite a while ago, I heard a comment very similar to the one above. It went something like, "When God said to be fruitful and multiply and fill the Earth, he didn't mean that [person in question] had to do it all himself!"

Let's take a moment to compare and contrast Genesis 1:28 with Matthew 28:19-20.
Because I know I'd be too lazy to look them up if I didn't know them:

God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."

"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

Both commandments occupy special places in the Bible; Genesis 1:28 is God's first command and first communication with human beings, and Matthew 28:19+20 is Jesus' last words before being taken up to heaven. Both commands are about creating followers for God, dedicating new lives to Him. So why are many churches concerned about one, while most ignore the other?

Oddly enough, the best argument I can come up with against birth control rests on the similarity of these two verses. Basically, under the old covenant we are to multiply, but under the new covenant we are to make disciples. And to some extent that is true. Paul said that to remain single and work for the kingdom of God was better than to marry. But, he didn't say anything about marrying and remaining childless. The change there is that once, marriage was normative, now, singleness is considered better. That's the difference there. Even if there were a form of birth control that were biblically acceptable (I'll post about that seperately, 'cause it just turned into a huge tangent), I don't think that couples should contracept to "focus on ministry" either (and I think I'll have to save that line of reasoning too).

And while the two passages in question are similar, they don't contradict each other. You can go forth with children, you can make disciples with children, you can teach with children. More difficult? Maybe. But not impossible. It's not explicitly or implicitly overwriting the old commandment.

So why is it that people are still trying to make disciples, but not trying to breed them? People do make excuses--
"Evangelism isn't my gift."
"I don't know any unbelievers."
--but we all recognize that those aren't good enough reasons to avoid spreading the gospel. We don't all have to be Billy Graham or Jim-Bob Duggar, but God expects us to take the opportunities presented to us. If someone doesn't go into the streets every weekend to share with everyone they can find, that's okay. But if they avoid meeting or interacting with non-Christians to keep from sharing the gospel, it's not. If someone is asked the reason for the hope that is given, and refuses to give an answer because they are afraid, and are already mentoring someone, and have already made a convert or two, and they don't have time to take this person to church on Sunday mornings--that's a problem. And you may have noticed how ridiculous that sounded.

Because we don't make converts. And we don't make children. God does. Only he can change a heart--or create one. I know I can't make children, no matter how much I try and pray. And no matter how much I try and pray, I can't convince someone to trust in Jesus.

All I can do is refuse to be used.

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