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Witnessing Christ to Non-Christians

Often we learn basic beliefs about non-Christian religions. What we
really need to know is how to reach out to followers of those religions.

by Mark Cares

"I don't believe I did that!" said members of our congregation after inviting Mormon missionaries into their homes to witness to them. They took this step after ongoing encouragement and equipping.

Even more telling are some of their comments after those visits. "The young man really listened." "It was obvious they appreciated someone being nice to them, even though we spoke frankly."

Not every encounter is a "success," in the sense that the missionaries listen, but surprisingly large numbers do. Most telling is that some of the people haven't quit after the first time. They continue to invite the missionaries in because they discovered how worthwhile it is.

A call to witness

Why doesn't this happen more often? Could it be because we don't aim for it to happen? Imagine the following conversation in one of our churches:

"We just completed a Bible class on non-Christian religions. It was very informative. You should have taken it."

"Sounds interesting. Besides learning about their beliefs, did you learn anything about how to witness to them?"

"Uh, no, I don't think so. Not that I can remember anyway."

Classes on non-Christian religions are becoming commonplace in our congregations. It's easy to understand why. World religions and cults have spread into every nook and cranny of America. Rare is the individual who hasn't had some contact with a follower of a non-Christian religion. So, many of our people are learning more about those religions.

But what about learning to witness? How many classes go the next step by encouraging and equipping people to reach out to people caught in these religions? More pointedly, how often does anybody notice this deficiency?

Equipping people to witness usually is not a major goal when such classes are offered. The usual goal is to inform people about the basic beliefs of a particular religion so neither they nor their loved ones become ensnared by it. That is a good goal, but is it good enough?

More troubling is when a study results in people ridiculing or becoming callous towards members of non-Christian religions. "I can't believe anybody would be stupid enough not to believe in blood transfusions." (Jehovah Witnesses do not allow blood transfusions.) "Those crazy Buddhists: burning incense and bowing down to a statue." "It's no use trying to talk with Mormons. None of them will ever convert."

Much more healthy is the attitude that humbly proclaims, "There but for the grace of God go I," and then compassionately prays for and witnesses to such people. That, however, is easier said than done.

The work of listening

All witnessing takes work, but witnessing to members of non-Christian religions often involves more work-particularly the difficult work of listening. Listening is an important (and often neglected) part of witnessing. However, it becomes doubly important when we are witnessing in this arena.

* Members of non-Christian religions often define words differently than Christians do. When we talk about the "kingdom of God" with Jehovah's Witnesses, they will be thinking of something completely different from what we intend. Moslems do not employ a Christian concept of heaven. Therefore they will be thinking of something entirely different if we throw out the term without careful explanation. To avoid talking past each other, words need to be carefully defined. It is especially helpful to know how they define words and phrases. That takes a lot of listening.

* Members of non-Christian religions experience different stresses than Christians do. We hit a brick wall when we assume that a particular aspect of their religion gives them great stress when, in reality, it affords them great comfort. For example, many people in cults are not troubled by, but rather find security in, the rigid discipline and minute rules of their particular cult. If we tell them there are many areas of life where the Bible doesn't give us rules, but rather offers us great freedom, they might find that thought extremely unattractive.

* Members of non-Christian religions are troubled by different aspects of their religion than Christians are. When we focus on something that bothers us about their religion but is something they regard as a great strength, we don't get far. For example, many people joined the Mormon church because it made God understandable to them. Therefore when we talk to them about the Trinity, we get stopped right in our tracks. But when we talk to them about striving for perfection, something that does give them stress, their ears open up.

* Members of non-Christian religions rarely believe exactly the way their beliefs are explained in books. (This also frequently holds true with members of Christian denominations. Many do not believe, or are not even aware of, some of their church's historical beliefs.) If you don't first listen to them and find out what they do believe, you might end up debating points of their religion with them rather than witnessing about Christ. "Since you are a Mormon, you believe that Jesus and Lucifer are brothers." "I don't know what you are talking about. I don't believe that!" You can imagine how quickly such a conversation can destroy any opportunity to share Christ.

The value of acting

After all this, is it worth it? Yes! One of the best ways to grow in our faith is by sharing our faith. It is almost guaranteed that whenever we engage in an ongoing discussion with someone from a non-Christian religion, we will be driven back into our Bibles. We will need to revisit familiar biblical foundations in addition to exploring new biblical ground. Such biblical exploration invigorates faith.

Witnessing efforts are also part of faithful stewardship of the gospel. Jesus commanded us to "go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation" (Mark 16:15). Faithful stewards of the gospel not only defend the gospel, but also go and share it with all people.

Such witnessing glorifies God. Not only is his saving work being proclaimed, but when we trust that his Word is powerful enough to bring even a zealot of a non-Christian religion to the truth, we are giving him glory. Conversely, think of the message being sent when Christians state that such witnessing is a waste of time, because none will convert anyway.

Finally, because God's Word is so powerful, some will be brought into God's kingdom. There will be ex-Moslems, ex-Buddhists, ex-Jehovah Witnesses, ex-Mormons in heaven. Although from different backgrounds, they will all have this in common: some Christian loved them enough to witness about Christ to them.

Will you be one of those Christians?

Rev. Mark Cares is the author of Speaking the Truth in Love to Mormons.

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