Dear Thoughtful Pastor: If someone belongs to an “Evangelical” church that believes members need to be evangelizing (presumably to save other people from hell) how do they decide how much of each day they devote to this endeavor?
I’m asking this question because many of my friends are conservative evangelicals and I am genuinely trying to understand their worldview. My mind wants to map it out by percentages – first of all, how much of each day should they do this and how much do they think their efforts are needed as opposed to God reaching out to this unsaved person?
Even when I was very young, I always thought that if God needed to “save” people God could do it without our help. Sharing the Jesus stories made sense to me because of the ideas of forgiveness, grace and love. I never really understood the idea of evangelism to “save” people Here is an example. If I believe that my “unsaved” next door neighbor will “burn in hell” because he is not “saved”, how much of his “salvation” is based on God reaching out to him and how much is based on my reaching out to him?
Having been a part of an aggressive Evangelistic group in my immediate post-university days, I can easily retrieve the guilt I would feel if I were not spending every single minute earnestly trying to save people from hell.
I used to spend my sleepless nights agonizing over the missed opportunities. Did I tell the grocery checker about Jesus? What about the person who pumped my gas (yep, that one dates me!)? Did I stop every random stranger in the cafeteria on the off chance that if I did not speak THIS VERY MINUTE, their one opportunity to get to heaven would be irretrievably lost?
Each week, I made a list of every single person I had spoken to and had taken all the way through a gospel presentation, including the “sinner’s prayer.” Oh how I dreaded those reports! My scarce numbers made me ask, “how many people will go to hell and it will be ALL MY FAULT?”
Really? Is it? Is our neighbor’s salvation barely held in our trembling hands and quivering voices as we falteringly try to bring them to salvation?
Does this seem like a nice God? I wonder, “What kind of God have you (and I) been taught about?” Punitive? List-keeping? Maybe a Santa-type who knows when we’ve been good or bad, busily preparing eternal lumps of burning coal for the bad ones?
Or, perhaps God is capable of redeeming all of humanity. That understanding offers freedom of time and energy to love our neighbors, offer creation care, stop the selling of child sex slaves, address issues of intractable poverty that are creating a permanent underclass, plant a flower or tutor a student or help someone carry in groceries or sit with an elderly person afflicted with dementia so the family caregivers can take a break.
That is offering a touch of heaven to those who need it.
Dear Thoughtful Pastor: The Bible tells us that as Christians Jesus forgives us for our sins (our sins are erased), but then it also says we will answer for them when we get to heaven. There is comfort in knowing that if we repent we are forgiven of our sins and they are forgotten, but are they really forgotten if we have to answer to them? I’m having trouble reconciling with this.
Let’s face it: if someone pronounces a deed forgotten along with forgiven and then the injured party brings it up later for another rehashing, it is neither forgiven nor forgotten. So, either God forgives or God does not. Let’s assume “forgiveness.”
Now, you’ve nailed the issue with the word, “repent.” It means to re-think something, to make necessary adjustments for healthier and more holy future actions and thoughts. It’s an invitation from a gracious God to a better way of living.
Far more than the obligatory, “I’m sorry” or “I apologize to anyone who was offended by my actions,” repentance reaches deep inside to sort out the factors involved in the act or thought or action.
I’m guessing, we won’t need an “I’m sorry” for each of our trillions of transgressions when we get to heaven. Instead, we will acknowledge the gift: the free offer of forgiveness for all the yucky stuff we’ve managed as we wandered through the muck of human experience. Possibly the biggest challenge will be making the final acknowledgement that we ourselves are not God. It’s a call to genuine humility, not groveling over our transgressions.
Somewhere along the line, you’ve been taught a punitive, judgmental God, out to get you. Put it down. Those who preach it seek to control with fear. Leave behind fear-based theology. Yes, it’s hard. But it will set you free.
[Note: a version of this column ran in the April 29, 2016 edition of the Denton Record Chronicle. The Thoughtful Pastor, AKA Christy Thomas, welcomes all questions for the column. Although the questioner will not be identified, I do need a name and verifiable contact information in case the newspaper editor has need of it. Please email questions to: email@example.com.]