Why do Christians think they can communicate better than Jesus?

Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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

Matthew 28:16-20

What is a disciple? The American Heritage Dictionary gives this definition:

1. a. One who embraces and assists in spreading the teachings of another.

    b. An active adherent, as of a movement or philosophy.

(emphasis mine)

A disciple is more than just a convert.  And we cant’ “make’” converts, right? That’s supposed to be in the Holy Spirit’s job description, not ours. 

So how were Jesus’ disciples to go about making more disciples? Through baptism? No, that would only be a sign that someone is ready for discipleship, ready to learn how to follow Jesus. There was more to this than just compelling people to make a decision for a new belief, a new religion.  The disciple makers must be engaged in teaching everything that Jesus had commanded them. But what did Jesus command them?

He taught them a lot. More than could be summed up in an altar call, I would imagine.  But if we had to sum up what Jesus taught (and how he lived his life) we might remember the short answer he gave to this curious fellow:

"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: " ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

Matthew 22:36-40

Earlier Jesus gave an even shorter answer, this time leaving God out of the equation (or did he?):

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Matthew 7:12

Which to me, doesn’t sound an awful like like the proselytizing (some call it evangelizing) that we often do.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want any Jews, Hindus, Muslims or Algonquians trying to ram their beliefs down my throat (which has never happened to me, by the way) – why should I do that unto them? How do I feel, when someone tells me that my faith, the most important part of my life, is a lie, that I am living a lie, that my faith has nothing to do with God and that God will punish me for it?  How can I not be insulted? How likely am I going to be attracted to them, to their beliefs, if their beliefs encourage rudeness and contempt?

When it comes to explaining faith, any faith, words are rarely adequate yet they are often way too much. We resort to using religio-speech, Christian cliché’s and simplistic rhetorical extremes. Some stoop to spiritual demagoguery, playing on the fears of people in the hope of persuading them. We insist that we must warn others of the danger of not being a Christian yet demonstrate little in our lives that might compel someone to follow us, much less the one we claim to follow. Too often, as Jesus points out, our lives reveal the lie of our own alleged faith in God. Too often it is obvious that, in spite of what we preach – no, because of what we preach – we are living lies.

Sure, Jesus used words. And if only we could communicate like he did. In the Gospels he rarely came across as unambiguously certain as a Glen Beck, Al Gore or John Piper.  He taught with parable and simile, appeared to avoid bombastic preaching and reserved his ire for the religious elite. But even so, Jesus needed more than words to get his point across.

What makes us think that we can do better than he did?


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  1. #1 by The Lead Heretic on October 6, 2009 - 6:31 pm

    Hold on. What about all that militaristic imagery in the Bible? You know what I mean. All that stuff about the armor of God and the stuff about God’s word being sharper than a two edged sword. That wouldn’t be there if we weren’t supposed to use them as weapons against those who don’t know the truth, right?

    OK. Just kidding. I believe your right. The saying is that a picture is worth a thousand words. I say that one action can destroy a thousand words, and that is especially true of Christianity.

  2. #2 by Steve on October 8, 2009 - 12:02 am

    You’re implying that the second passage (Matt 7:12) is somehow more important than the first. Because it’s shorter and pithier? Because it requires no preaching or active evangelism that smacks of “religio-speech, Christian cliché’s and simplistic rhetorical extremes”? I agree that our actions are to be a witness and are at least as important as our verbal witness. Read Acts – how frequently did Paul’s missionary journeys or the efforts of the other disciples/apostles involve just behavioral witness? Rarely, if ever. There was always an element of teaching and preaching, and frequently signs and wonders. (I’m no fan of charismatic ‘sign gifts’, but it was a part of the missionary and evangelistic early church.)

    A verbal witness is challenging, but Christ modeled it, sometimes using tough language. Why not use that model?

  3. #3 by Steve on October 8, 2009 - 12:05 am

    That wouldn’t be there if we weren’t supposed to use them as weapons against those who don’t know the truth, right?

    OK. Just kidding. I believe your right. The saying is that a picture is worth a thousand words. I say that one action can destroy a thousand words, and that is especially true of Christianity.

    It’s clear that you don’t want Christians to use words in evangelism. Do they threaten you? Does the idea of accountability for your actions – especially eternal accountability – frighten you. It probably should. In this day and age, we need to use tougher language in spreading the gospel, not softer.

    • #4 by Christian Beyer on October 8, 2009 - 10:13 am

      Steve, I doubt if those words threaten Lead Heretic -like you and me he has a background in Christian fundamentalism. And like Dot says below, has likely seen how these words, although perhaps spoken in all good intent and even spoken truthfully, have elicited the exact opposite response than what was intended.

      Why is that? Why does that happen so often? Why do so many people find vocal evangelicals so distasteful and unattractive? Is it because the words they speak are threatening and frightening? I’m sure that was the case with Paul and Jesus. But most people who are trying to use Jesus and Paul as models in evangelism are not equipped to do so. Not in an oratorical or rhetorical sense, but in a sense of accountability. Most of us, like the religious people Jesus rebuked, don’t walk the walk though we love to talk the talk. To the people we proselytize to, we are hypocrites. Well meaning and God loving, but hypocrites none the less.

      And after their patience has been exhausted they will take our ‘pearls’ of wisdom and turn upon us like savage dogs, tearing our theology to pieces.

  4. #5 by Dot on October 8, 2009 - 9:47 am

    Good post. See? I did read it!

    I believe that evangelism does absolutely nothing except push people away. I feel closer to God now that I’ve stopped worrying about the salvation of others.

  5. #6 by Christian Beyer on October 8, 2009 - 10:17 am

    Hey, Dot. Well put. Is that why you don’t wear that orange “Jesus Cup” tee-shirt anymore. 😉

    Right. Now we can “work out my own salvation with fear and trembling” once we stop meddling in the salvation of others.

  6. #7 by Anthony Buzzard on December 5, 2009 - 2:45 pm

    If as you rightly say, a disciple is one who learns and teaches the teachings of a given Master, then why do Christians not follow the unitarian creed affirmed by Jesus in Mark 12:29? In that creed Jesus stated that God is one Lord, not three. Jesus of course claimed for himself that he was the Messiah. The Father is “the only one who is truly God,” Jesus repeated in John 17:3. Jesus never taught the Trinity as the right creed.

    Anthony Buzzard

  7. #8 by Christian Beyer on December 5, 2009 - 8:04 pm

    Great point.

    • #9 by Christian Beyer on December 5, 2009 - 8:08 pm

      But realizing who you are, of course, you would make a good point. I am honored to be in conversation with you, Sir Anthony. And I am delighted to have now found out about Restoration Fellowship. Thanks.

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