Sharing is sometimes not caring

Literature Evangelism - George Verwer

I don't want to sound like I am trashing evangelism because as a Christian I believe evangelism is important. However, as I am also a big believer in the social gospel I also believe that our evangelism goes much further than simply standing on a street corner and handing out tracts. Granted, there are numerous situations where simply sharing one's faith in Christ is all that is needed, namely because the person that you are talking too does not really have many problems beyond the fact that they are searching for meaning in life. On the other hand I also believe that there are many cases that while a lack of a knowledge of God may be a root cause of many of our problems simply by becoming a Christian will not make those problems go away.


Take for instance one of the major problems that we face in the western world today: the problem of loneliness. I have been lonely at times despite living in a city of over one million people (though for some reason since I have now moved to a city of four million people, and know a lot less people here than where I use to live, I do not feel anywhere near as lonely as I did). While it is true that many lonely people need to hear the gospel, simply telling them the gospel and not actually offering them the hand of friendship pretty much undermines any authority that it might have. Look, I am not saying that you should spend all your time with this person, however you have friends and your friends have friends, and you can go a long way to showing people the love of God by bringing this lonely person into your circle of friends.


The modern western church in many ways seems to not actually realise the impact that they can have on society. I have been to some very lively churches where the people of the church simply huddle in their groups and only show little concern to the newcomers. Those newcomers that make friends easily end up fitting in quite well, however there are others that do not. I remember remarking on this to one of the leaders and he simply scoffed and said that it takes time to make friends. No wonder I found myself jumping between two groups of friends, a Christian group and a drug using group, namely because the Christian group only showed a shallow friendship that kept me out on the edges.


There are a lot of good hints and tips in this book about distributing literature and I suspect many of Verwer's ideas have come from years of practice and perseverance. However, once again, I wonder to what extent a book can help to really sort out physical problems that people face. Remember the story where a paralyzed man was lowered through the ceiling, and Jesus said 'your sins are forgiven'? What did Jesus do next? Did he simply the go back to preaching about the Kingdom of God or did he go one step further? Okay, many of you will jump up and say that the only reason Jesus healed him was as a demonstration to the Pharasees that he had the power to forgive sins, and while that is the part of the story, I doubt that Jesus would have left him lying on that mat paralyzed if the Pharasees were not there.


Some may also say that many of our problems are of our own doing. Take for instance the consumer debt crises that has sweeped the Western World where people are so drowned in debt that they wonder if they could ever actually pay it off? It is easy to say to them, God loves you, but your debt is of your own doing so. As the saying goes: you made your bed, now sleep in it. However, let us see what Jesus did in a similar situation. There are in fact two stories of how a large group of people travelled out into the country to hear Jesus speak and Jesus spoke for a long time. However dinner time came and everybody realised that they hadn't brought a picnic hamper (all except for one wise boy). Did Jesus say 'well, you should have expected this meeting to last a long time so I guess you will know for next time'? No, he didn't. Instead he somehow managed to feed each and every one of those people, and not only that, he had food left over.

I have sat through many a church sermon over the years and as I think back over that time it sometimes disgusts me has to how these pastors turn such stories into little more than a theological demonstration of the love of God. The first story simply says that Jesus has the power to forgive sins, but does not mention how we should be caring for the sick and the disabled. Granted, we may not be able to heal them, but remember that many of these people, even in the developed world, cannot afford the care that they need. How many churches in America offer up a collection to actually pay for treatment for one of their poorer members (and I sure many of them do)? The second story I hear of how this is a story of God's bountiful provision, but I raise the question of how many of us actually help an unemployed person find a job.


I was at a church service on Sunday and they talked about agape love, but the sermon was so wishy-washy that it was hard to see how one could actually be challenged to live that love. In many cases it simply involved putting up with people, but that is not Agape love: that is tolerance. Agape love goes so much further in that it involves us pro-actively going out of our way to stand up for, help, and fight for those of not just our church but our world. He told a story of how two members of a small group needed work so what did the small group do? They prayed. Okay, I am a big believer in the power of prayer but in reality when somebody has a practical problem (such as being unemployed) and all the church does is pray for them it can almost be a slap in the face. Okay, that prayer was answered, however in many cases we can offer a much more practical solution alongside the prayers that we offer up to God on behalf of other people.