Who Am I to Tell Someone to Accept My Religion?

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Who am I to tell someone to accept my religion?

This question is often asked, and not just by skeptics who have always been outside the orbit of the Christian church.  Instead, it is often asked by young people, raised in a Christian context, who accept the idea that God is and that He spoke through Jesus.  However, they see missions and evangelism as an imposition of something that, while good for them, may not be good or necessary for all.  Or, perhaps they haven’t come to that conclusion but do have that question.

A full response to such an important question can’t be provided in the space of a blog posting.  The often quoted statement of John Piper, pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis is a start.   “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the Church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man.”  He points out that when Christ returns to put all things right, missions will be at an end, but worship will just be reaching its fullness. 

The ultimate goal of missions and evangelism is not the benefit of the person who hears and accepts the Gospel message.  It certainly is not the benefit of the person who communicates that message.  The ultimate goal, according to Piper, is that God, the Triune God, receive all the worship that He deserves.  This means that evangelism and missions is witnessing to the truth about Jesus and the abundant life that comes only through Him.  It is then up to the one who hears (and sees) the Gospel to respond. 

So, the answer to the question “Who am I?” is “No one.”  I’m no one special.  No one should embrace “my religion,” because it is mine or because I know best, or because my culture is superior to another one.  The important question is not “Who am I?” but rather, “Who is Jesus?”  That is a question that Jesus Himself put to His disciples.  “Who do you say I am?”  When Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in Heaven” (Matthew 16:15-17).

This question and answer are foundational to what the Church is and how it ought to engage with those who are not yet part of it. 

As I said at the beginning, this is a huge question and deserves more and better response than I have provided.  What do you  think about this?  How can this issue be addressed in 21st century North America?

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Perhaps missions is part of our worship.    It is part of our adoration and respect and love for the Lord, as well as obedience to his command to love our neighbors, to go into all the world and preach the Good News.    Worshipping God, while not witnessing to others, or while not loving our neighbors, might mean a phony worship, a feel-good time, that doesn't cost us anything, and that simply validates us, rather than acknowledging God.  Perhaps. 

From the North American context of Mexico:  Yes to you both.  Our lives can be in all their aspects a life of worship.  To see a group of new Christians living for the Lord and glorifying Him through their lives is a such a joy.  Praise God that most of them are constantly giving testimony to the change that Christ made in them.  Missions is often seen as something separate from being a wholistic Christian.  It's not.  We proclaim Christ and live for Him in all we do.  Others are attracted and become committed to Him because of what we say and do.

A colleague of mine who is not registered here, and I, have been having a conversation on this topic.  Here is his first response.

Thanks for your blog about "Who am I...?" 
 
I think you are right that fundamentally mission is a matter of justice--it is doing what we can to give God the glory which is his due.
 
That's convincing to believers, but I think that for many what is behind the "Who am I...?" question is the belief that there is no authorative and universal revelation, so all our perceptions are partial, culture and time-bound.  It is not just "Who am I? " but "Who are We as humans to think we can know universal Truth?"  
 
The implication is that mission is inevitably and inherently imperialistic because it can not escape from the abusive power dynamics of what happens when individual meets individual and culture meets culture. 

I replied.

That is the post-modern critique of any kind of persuasive speech.  Of course, the irony is that post-modernists try to persuade us about their rejection of persuasive speech.  That is why I think it is ultimately self-defeating. 
 
If Christianity is at its foundation a system of beliefs built by people, then this critique would certainly apply.  If, despite the twistedness of how it is conceived and lived, Christianity is ultimately founded on revealed truth that comes from God, we have a different ball game.  

Then he wrote

I don't think "presuasive speech" can be put under one big rubric and considered the same, even by post-modernists.  Saying "Jesus is Lord of all the earth" is quite a different kind of statement than, "This pencil is red."  The second term will not be objected to in the same way as the first because they are on quite different levels of significance. 
 
It isn't just post-modernism that objects to the absolutism of the "Jesus is Lord" statement.  Opposition to such claims to truth received from revelation have been resisted throughout human history by most of mankind.  It is mainly only the Abrahamic religions which hold they have the right to make such universal truth claims.  

The issue is not about who has the right to make the claim.   The issue is whether Jesus is the Son of God and is the Lord of all the earth.   Persuasive speech may convince someone one way or the other, but will not change the truth of the statement. 

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