Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Error of Friendship Evangelism

Recently, I received the following question from Allen:
Last Wednesday, two of my co-workers and I went to a fair and passed out the Million Dollar Bill tracts. But before we got to the fairgrounds, one of my co-workers and I had a debate about witnessing. He said, "We shouldn't use the law. We should just relate to people so they can come to Christ. If we use the law, we are showing signs of arrogance and therefore, turn people off from the Gospel." And when I said that the law of the Lord is perfect converting the soul, he said, "Only Christ used the law on the rich man because He has the authority to, since He never broke the law. But we shouldn't use the law because we are guilty in it." What should I say?


Sadly, what Allen's co-workers express in their question is a mindset that testifies to what has been taught in many American Churches, for more than forty years. A great injustice has been perpetrated upon American Christians (both professing and genuine), by American pastors and church growth gurus. It is the unbiblical "Friendship Evangelism" model.

The notion (and that's all it is) that Christians have to establish long-term relationships with people in order to "earn the right" to share the gospel with them; the notion that we should let people see the gospel in us and thus making the verbal proclamation of the gospel unnecessary; the notion that "relating to people" (as it is most often taught and practiced by American Christians) is somehow a prerequisite for sharing the gospel has no Scriptural support. None. And any effort to draw such inferences from the text of Scripture is an eisegetical exercise that might make Christians feel better about their evangelistic disobedience, and might make pastors and their ministries more popular, but, in the end, will only prove to be a disservice to the Scriptures, Christians, and the countless number of lost souls who aren't reached by believers who practice such philosophies of ministry.

And to the second object Allen’s friend made—the use of the Law in evangelism: his objection doesn’t hold up to even a cursory reading of Scripture, let alone any close, logical scrutiny.

If a parent stole a pack of gum when they were a child, should the parent then not teach their child it is wrong to steal? If a man has looked with lust at a woman, should the man not teach his son lust and adultery are sins before God? A woman who has had abortion and realizes she ended the life of her unborn baby, should she not admonish and plead with other women to not do the same to their unborn children?

Allen’s friend is also wrong when he suggests that only Jesus used the Law to bring people to the knowledge of their sin. The Book of Acts and the letters of Paul are replete with examples where the disciples confronted people with the Law of God to bring them to the knowledge of their sin, before explaining forgiveness of sin through the penal, substituionary atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Well over 80% of the combined evangelistic efforts of Jesus and the apostles would be characterized as “confrontational evangelism,” in many segments of the modern-day American Church. Sadly, many Christians have bought the lies of extra-biblical traditions and man-centered pragmatism, and no longer preach the gospel as did Jesus, his disciples, and as much of today’s persecuted church around the world still does.

For further study:

Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15; John 4:7-30; John 15:13; Acts 8:26-40; Acts 16: 25-34; Romans 2:17-24; Romans 3:19-20; Romans 7:7; Romans 10:14-17; 1Corinthians 1:18; 1 Corinthians 2:14; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Ephesians 2:1-3