A nondenominational group came to Utah this week to knock on doors and talk to Mormons "positively about Christianity."
Members of the Idaho-based group Truth in Love Ministry preceded their trip with TV, newspaper and bus shelter ads. Direct mailings emphasizing their message of salvation by grace alone went to more than 20,00 homes.
Proselytizing is a biblical command. Before ascending into heaven, Jesus told his disciples to "go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation."
This imperative is the basis of the Christian mission.
But many Christians neglect their responsibility to communicate the gospel perhaps out of apathy, fear or feelings of inadequacy. Evangelical churches are starting to train their members to overcome these barriers.
The Bible offers some proselytizing guidelines. The Apostle Peter tells Christians to be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about their faith. He adds that this should be done "with gentleness and respect." Any religious conversation that is combative or ridicules someone else's beliefs is unlikely to be fruitful.
Even if Peter's caution is heeded, conflicts are bound to occur. The premise of sharing one's faith is not only that the proselytizer's religion is different from the potential convert's, but that this religion is right. Depending on the depth of an individual's convictions, discussions can get heated and even offensive.
Door-to-door proselytizing, common in Utah, is one of the toughest ways to evangelize. The resident has to receive a stranger and the time for a message may be limited. The evangelist will likely only spark an interest, not witness a conversion.
So theologians are encouraging "relationship evangelism," with Christians sharing their faith in their social circles. When religious discussions arise in day-to-day interactions, doctrinal differences then can be discussed in nonconfrontational ways. Thus Christians can help their friends navigate through their questions and discomforts until they are ready to convert. This tends to be more effective a conversation with a stranger. Still, Jesus' command was to preach the gospel. Even a single conversation that articulates the Christian message fulfills that duty.
Truth in Love Ministry has reported a civil first week in Utah. The group is to be commended for taking Jesus' words to heart. If mutual respect is maintained, the encounters will be fruitful.
Contact Corey J. Hodges, pastor of New Pilgrim Baptist Church, at email@example.com.