By Tony Miano
I received the following message from a friend on Facebook. While it is a topic I've tackled many times in the past, I thought the way my friend honestly asked her questions accurately expressed how many Christians feel about sharing the gospel with their friends. Her words also helped to reaffirm what I have believed for a very long time. "Friendship Evangelism," as it is most commonly taught and practiced by Christians, is neither friendship nor evangelism.
With my friend's permission, I would like to share her note with you, and then I will answer her questions.
I have made a lifetime of friends, and up until about 6 years ago, I was a partier and not walking with the Lord. Since become a Christian, I have made myself known to all, but not gone out of my way to share the gospel. I know my friends "think" they know what the Bible says and I also know that they don't want me to preach or share. I have hoped that Facebook would encourage them to ask me, but they don't.
I watch like a voyeur, their lives on Facebook and I hate it. I see them post pictures of nights on the town, glazed eyes, draped over a different guy in each shot. Today I read as they talked about spending money frivolously and obnoxiously. I see so much "selfism" and today it really started to hurt.
I keep thinking that, by example, they might want to know more or ask . . . instead I see them avoid my page and my comments. They never address anything I say regarding our Savior, God, or the written word, and only comment on the "regular" things I post.
Most of my "friends" from the past, I still DO care about their salvation. I'm certain that my approach will mean the end of life-long friendships. Should I just keep exposing the Lord to them? Our Christmas cards and small other things are about all the contact we really have. Should I just go for broke and risk turning them off completely? I know it would mean the end of friendships in most cases.
Part of me knows that losing these friendships shouldn't matter. I'm more concerned that is I can keep the door open, they might . . . might . . . someday come to repentance. I want the door to remain open.
I need some advice. I'm pretty sure your going to tell me to go for it . . . but I thought you might have a perspective or a way that I should use as an approach . . .
[P.S.] I'm thinking of how to approach evangelizing them. I know the approach that Ray [Comfort] uses, letting them convict themselves through the 10 Commandments (which really works) and you too have mastered it. I have also been told to have them read the word themselves because the word has power. As a chicken, I was hoping to be "non-confrontational" and send it in a letter. A letter of love, and a pouring out of my heart for them. But that leaves them with the ability to not answer, or reply. I know that God would use me MUCH better if I had the nerve to deliver my (HIS) message in person. I want to engage their minds. I've never been a "chicken." I don't want to fail God. I want my (HIS) words to pierce. So . . . praying and waiting for His inspiration and His way to lead me, and maybe your words will help push me into the world. I'm NOT ashamed of Him, I'm afraid of them, so to speak. I know if He is with me, who can be against me? Why . . . do I struggle? Oh, the flesh.
Before I answer my friend's questions, it is important that I preface my commentary with a few clarifying remarks. First, my commentary is not a critique of my friend--neither of her love for Christ nor of her love for people. I do not question her salvation or the genuineness of her desire for her friends to be saved. My commentary will be, however, a pointed critique of what I believe is a profoundly effective tool of Satan (1 Peter 5:8)--"Friendship" or "Relationship" evangelism.
What Is Friendship Evangelism?
I believe many Christians practice "Friendship Evangelism" with sincerity. But sadly, it is a sincerity most often born out of ignorance (1 Peter 1:13-16), an ignorance of the Word of God in general and Biblical evangelism in particular. At the same time, I feel no such obligation to extend charity toward authors, pastors, teachers, speakers, and movement leaders who propagate this spiritual fraud upon followers of Christ--both true and false converts. Theirs will be a stricter judgment (James 3:1).
Now, let me take a moment to answer a couple of baseless objections to what I will put forth as my position before I even articulate my position. I do this in advance of making my case because I know for some Christians "Friendship Evangelism" is treated as if it is sacrosanct--an essential evangelism tradition. I use the word, "tradition," since there is no Biblical support for this methodology and/or philosophy for ministry. It is traditions like this one, "friendship evangelism," that are evidence of the sad reality that modern-day evangelicalism, especially the American variety, has yet to completely break free of Rome. For Rome also holds traditions with more reverence and gives tradition more authority than Scripture (Matthew 15:1-6).
Let make it very clear that Christians are called by the Word of God to be both friendly and relational. "If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing," (1 Corinthians 13:3). To be opposed to "Friendship Evangelism" as it is most commonly practiced is not to be opposed to friendship or relationships. But a godly and Biblical Christian will put God and friends before and above friendships (Luke 14:25-27).
Second, a common objection to any argument against "Friendship Evangelism" is "There are many ways to share the gospel and friendship evangelism is one of them." Not so. There is only one way to communicate the gospel, which can take different forms--the Bible's way. Any methodology that is extra-biblical (meaning the Bible neither commands nor condemns the activity) should be approached and applied with extra care and caution. The immeasurable harm done by "Friendship Evangelism" is evidence that the American Church has thrown caution to the wind and has operated carelessly when applying this extra-biblical, faux-evangelistic methodology.
Does Friendship Evangelism Cause Harm?
How do I know “Friendship Evangelism” has done great harm? I meet false converts who are byproducts of this unbiblical form of evangelism almost daily on the streets. They have been welcomed into the Christian community. They have been converted to the creature comforts of the church, but they have never been converted by and to the Lord Jesus Christ.
I once attended a baptism where several people were baptized. One teenage girl stood in the pool to share her "testimony" before being baptized by the pastor. Her testimony, albeit paraphrased, went something like this: I grew up Roman Catholic. I started to attend this church. I'm more comfortable with Christianity, so I want to be baptized." And the pastor baptized her as a follower of Jesus Christ.
With the above in mind, I will now address my friend's questions and concerns.
Friendship Evangelism Doesn't Preach Christ
My friend wrote:
"I have made myself known to all, but not gone out of my way to share the gospel."
In a sentence my friend summed up one of the great deficiencies of "Friendship Evangelism." With the shockingly low number of professing Christians sharing the gospel with a single person in a year's time (or in a lifetime), it's obvious most Christians practicing "Friendship Evangelism" are part of that indefensible number. Why? By engaging in the practice of "Friendship Evangelism," the Christian spends far more time making themselves known to their friends than making Christ known (1 Corinthians 2:2) to their friends.
Many Christians who practice "Friendship Evangelism" have been led to believe that it is evangelistic to live a perceptible Christian life in front of unbelievers or to openly admit to unbelievers that they are Christians. There is nothing remarkable about such an admission, especially in America. The majority of the American population will indicate on surveys and censuses that they are Christians. Many Christians will answer the "What religion are you" question with "I'm a Christian" for no other reason than they are not Jewish, Muslim, or Atheist. To check the Christian box is the default position of most Americans. But many are no more Christian than the Jew, Muslim, or Atheist.
Part of the evidence that "Friendship Evangelism" is not evangelistic is that the practice makes the Christian known but it all-too-often fails to make Christ known.
My Friends Don't Want to me Preach Christ to Them
My friend wrote:
"They [her friends] don't want me to preach or share."
Modern evangelicalism has wrongly placed an unregenerate sinner's felt needs over their very real need of salvation. This is not to say that we shouldn't address a person's felt needs. In doing so, one can often discover that the root of a particular felt need is sin, which then presents the opportunity to share the law of God and the gospel with that person. However, where evangelicalism has woefully dropped the ball is in the practice of trying to meet felt needs and stopping there--as if to address felt needs is the same as evangelism.
Dear reader: if you feed, clothe, and house people for the glory of God (Matthew 5:16) but you do not share the gospel with them, all you have ultimately accomplished is making those same needy people warmed and filled on their way to Hell. You have merely made their bodies more comfortable. You've done nothing for their souls.
More to the point regarding my friend's assertion: of course the unregenerate person doesn't want their Christian friends to proclaim the gospel to them. Why? They hate Jesus (John 15:18). They love their sin (Job 15:16), and they hate God (Romans 1:30). Cockroaches don't run to the center of the floor and square dance when you turn on the kitchen light. They flee to the dark regions underneath the cabinets and appliances. They hate the light and so does the unregenerate sinner (John 3:20). Their love for the darkness of their sin is so great that any holy light brought to bear in their lives is not only uncomfortable and unpleasant but also is detestable.
Sadly, modern evangelicalism has responded to this reality by doing everything it can to engage lost sinners in their culture and according to their felt needs without ever bothering to flip on the light switch of the gospel. Modern evangelicalism has allowed how lost people feel about "the light" to determine whether or not it shines the light. Many Christians have become man-pleasers to the point of hiding the gospel from people (Matthew 5:15). In doing so, they cease to live as servants of God (Galatians 1:10). Frankly, it doesn't matter what lost people want. What matters is what they need, and what they need is salvation by the grace of God alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), through faith alone (Romans 1:17), in Jesus Christ alone (Acts 4:12). What they need, whether they feel it or not, is to repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15, Luke 13:1-5, Acts 17:29-31).
Friendship Evangelism is not Evangelistic
My friend wrote:
"I keep thinking that, by example, they might want to know more or ask . . . instead I see them avoid my page and my comments."
Part of the evidence that "Friendship Evangelism" is not evangelistic is the practice of "Assisi-ism."
Francis of Assisi is far-too-often quoted as saying, "Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words." There are two problems with this quote: 1) it is unbiblical, and 2) Assisi never said it. Catholic scholars have methodically and exhaustively searched the extant writings of Assisi and cannot attribute the quote to him. These days, this is common knowledge. Yet Christians continue to refer to the mythical quote, and worse they errantly apply it in their lives. The quote also has a modern-day translation. It goes something like this. "Live your life in such a way that people ask you why."
While it is true that our good works when performed for the glory of God alone can cause lost people to glorify God (Matthew 5:16), it is not to say by living a Christian life in front of lost people that they are going to see Jesus in you. Why? The reason is simple enough. Unregenerate sinners are spiritually blind.
"The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned," (I Corinthians 2:14).
It is also important to note what Matthew 5:16 doesn't say. The verse says nothing about people coming to genuine repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Nothing.
Not only are unbelievers spiritually blind but also they are dead in their sins. Not asleep. Not sick. Not in need of a little help. They are dead.
"And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience--among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind," (Ephesians 2:1-3).
The Gospel is a Spoken Message
"How then will they call on him of whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!' But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, 'Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?' So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ," (Romans 10:14-17).
With 160,000 people dying every day and the vast majority of them facing God's judgment (Matthew 7:13-14), it amounts to depraved indifference to wait for the lost people around us to see something special in us and ask what's different about us. We are commanded by God's Word to go (Matthew 28:18-20) and preach (Mark 16:15) the gospel to as many people as we can, whenever we can, as often as we can (Acts 1:8). Time is far too short to wait for what will never happen--spiritually dead and blind people seeing Jesus in Christians, believers who are still clothed in sinful human flesh.
It is also rather arrogant, self-righteous, and self-absorbed for the Christian to think he or she regularly looks like Jesus. Jesus was and is God (John 8:58, John 10:30, Philippians 2:6-11, Hebrews 2:5-18). The Christian is not. Jesus was and is without sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). The Christian is not. Jesus was and is perfect (Hebrews 1:3). The Christian never will be perfect this side of Heaven. And since an unbelieving world hates Jesus, the spiritually dead and blind are going to see in you what is most appealing to them (Romans 1:28-32, 2 Timothy 3:1-5)--your sin. People are also going to look for you to sin in a failed attempt to justify their own unbelief (Luke 10:29, Luke 16:15).
Friendship Evangelism makes Friendship More Important than Evangelism
My friend wrote:
"I'm certain that my approach will mean the end of life-long friendships."
The tragic result of "Friendship Evangelism," as Christians most often practice it, is that friendships often become more important than the souls of friends. Christians have been wrongly convinced that they must take time (often lots of time) to cultivate relationships with people so that someday they may gain the lost person's permission--to "earn the right" to share the gospel with them. So the Christian invests time, energy, and resources sincerely trying to establish loving and caring relationships with people. Is it wrong to do that? No. But the all-too-often tragic result of the practice is that if the Christian ever feels the desire to share the gospel with his lost friend, he won't. Why? The Christian doesn't want to do anything to jeopardize the relationship he has worked so hard to build. So, again, the friendship becomes more important than the soul of the friend.
Upon closer inspection, this is really selfish behavior. Does the Christian believe that he is so valuable that his lost friend can't live without him? Or is it that the Christian derives so much pleasure out of the relationship--from what his lost friend does for him--that he doesn't want to ruin a "good thing"?
Jesus said, "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends," (John 15:13). If Christians truly love their lost friends, they will give up everything--even their very lives and certainly their relationships so that those same lost friends might have eternal life. Or do Christians really want their friends to be with them in this life more than they want them to be with Jesus having received eternal life?
No One Goes to Hell Because You Weren't Their Friend
My friend wrote:
"Part of me knows that losing these friendships shouldn't matter. I'm more concerned that is I can keep the door open, they might . . . might . . . someday come to repentance. I want the door to remain open."
No Christian can close a door that God wants open. No Christian can open a door that God wants shut (Revelation 3:8). God is sovereign (Acts 4:24), and He doesn't need our help. God needs nothing from people (Psalm 50:7-15). The gospel alone is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16). God, by His grace, chooses to use His children to communicate the life-saving gospel to a lost and dying world. No one goes to Heaven because we've made friends with them, and no one goes to Hell because we've failed to establish relationships with them.
In closing, let me reiterate that Christians should be loving (1 Peter 4:8), merciful (Zechariah 7:9), gentle (Galatians 5:23), and kind (Proverbs 21:21) to people. We should speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Evangelism is not a game. It is not a sport. It is what God has commanded every follower of Christ to do. Evangelism is a lifestyle--not that the way we live our life is evangelism but rather our verbal proclamation of the gospel should permeate every aspect of our life and impact every relationship we have.
My friend understands all of this. She knows what she must do. She acknowledged as much toward the end of her note. I hope I've answered her questions and maybe some of yours, too.