In part 1 of “When is a Sword Not a Sword?” I talked about the danger of using the Sword of the Spirit as a weapon against pre-Christians. Peter was granted a sword and then used it to hurt a man instead of helping him. Some more along those lines…
Do you see someone who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for them. Proverbs 29:20
Peter was pretty much of a swing-first-and-ask-questions-later kind of guy, to say nothing of his swordsmanship. I’m guessing that he wasn’t aiming to surgically sever Malchus’ ear, but like a lot of Christians whose MO is to just let it fly, he was just swinging that thing at whatever he could hit! It’s the mantra called: Ready, fire, aim! This practice dates back to the Crusades where we slash whatever is in the path of our sword and blame it on Providence!
After his adrenaline had a chance to subside, Peter probably thanked God that he narrowly missed decapitating Malchus!
Rather than swords for head-severing, our arsenal should be towels for foot-washing. Our battle isn’t against people, but against the Chief Hater of people. We’re called to serve people rather than assault them with unsolicited advice on how to be more like us! I think it’s a shame that we Christians are more widely known for what we hate than for how we love. They know what we are against but not that many know what we’re for.
Sure, sometimes you have to debate about spiritual things and even don the prophet’s robe, but when you do, leave your sword at home! “No more of this!” Jesus said sternly to Peter. “Put the sword back in its place!” he said, as though it has a place. Its place is not in commanding spiritual superiority. Arguing, accusing, sentencing, painting people and their ideas with a broad brush; that’s all sword and no towel.
Muhammad told his disciples to “fight all people until they say there is no God but Allah.” Jesus told his disciples to put away their swords and love all people until they know and love the Father.
When he experienced his famous cross vision, Emperor Constantine concluded he was being given a divine mandate to conquer the infidels in Jerusalem. Thus the infamous centuries of “Christian Crusades” were inaugurated. Identifying Jesus’ cross as a sword? Blasphemy! Calvary had a sword, God’s bloody sword of judgment that perforated the heart of Jesus in our place! Other than that, the cross and sword have nothing in common.
Sometimes we appear mean spirited when we’re actually just in too much of a hurry to “close the deal.” When we turn the fireman’s hose of spiritual verbiage on people in need of the Water of Life we’re probably acting more impatiently than arrogantly. Of course, we want to bring people all the way to a radical conversion on the spot, and it’s awesome when we get to do that. Nothing better! But when that doesn’t happen, I consider it a minor victory if I’ve been able to act like one Christian that might not get posted in their database of self-righteous know-it-alls. If I can’t win everybody to Jesus, I want to at least give him/her no new alibis for rejecting him!
Sometimes it’s best to lower the bar of how we measure “successful conversations” about Jesus. When my son was doing some substitute teaching at a high school his bottom-line mantra each day was: “No one gets hurt and nothing catches fire in the classroom!” He assured me that most days he achieved both goals. If you’re going to share Christ with people, at least try not to hurt anyone!
We might do well to celebrate the smaller steps people take toward a friendship with God. Remember that you’re not their first clue that he exists (creation, conscience, culture, etc. all beat you to the punch) and you probably won’t be their last.
There’s no one-size-fits-all sure-fire witnessing technique. When I was a new believer someone had come out with a witnessing program wherein we went out with the opening conversation starter, “Are you interested in spiritual things?” Whichever way they responded, the training gave us a canned response. And then if they responded to our response in such and such a way, we would were told to respond to them with our own such and such. Well, you get the idea. I was terrible at it. Since people weren’t the least bit cooperative with my prefab curriculum, I couldn’t get past the first exchange. They kept venturing off course! They’d say or ask something that wasn’t covered in the syllabus, and since I didn’t think it wise to whip out the binder and read from it verbatim, I’d wander off script and share from my heart. Not wanting to flunk the course I kept it quiet to my fellow witnessers at the time, so I’d appreciate it if you’d keep it under your hat.
Okay, so we know that we should always be “ready with an answer” to people’s questions about our hope (1 Peter 3:15). But since people aren’t usually reasoned into faith, our reasons for faith will usually only take them so far. Apologetics (the systematic defense of the faith) has its place, but in my experience it’s not the evangelistic silver bullet that some have made it out to be.
As there are Christians who are uniquely gifted for an intellectual approach to their witness there are some pre-Christians who are apt to be drawn closer to faith through those means. Thank God for people like C.S. Lewis, Timothy Keller, Ravi Zacharias, and other such heady folks who play on our team and convey our faith in intellectually credible ways. A lot of unbelievers have legitimate inquiries about the credibility of the gospel and we should be able to respond intelligibly.
On the other hand, I’ve had many apologetics-laden conversations with not-yet-Christians till both of us were blue in the face. At the end of the discussion they say something like: “Well, that all makes a lot of sense. Thanks for answering my questions. You might even be right about God, but frankly, I’m not the least bit interested in following your Christ. He’s yours, not mine. Have a nice day.”
In our post-Christian culture, an apologetics-oriented tactic is even more limited than in the past. To the postmodern mind, intellectually sound reasons for faith reduce the faith to a set of propositions similar to mathematical equations. They’re pretty sure the world we live in isn’t that simple and that there’s more mystery involved than we’re letting on.
“Apologetics, the martial art of the Christian faith employed against all perceived threats, is a lousy idea. People aren’t argued into belief anymore than lovers are argued into romance. (Even if I could put together a really cool PowerPoint presentation, complete with bullet points, demonstrating why I’m the man of your dreams, would that overwhelm your misplaced defenses and get you to love me?)” Derek Penwell
Next we’ll talk about “The Kind of Heart that Wins People and How To Get It”…
What are your thoughts?