Recently, on a Christian mega-blog site that I check frequently, I found a link to an article in which a pastor discussed his philosophy of evangelism with door-to-door Jehovah’s Witnessess, though I suspect that his methods would be generalized to include Mormon’s and other cultish religions that proselytize in a similarly aggressive way. Though the mega-blogger praised the methods, I do not know the author of the article personally, so I will not include his name and my discussion of his published methods are neither judgment upon him specifically or his motivation in how he presents his message. But I would like to take issue with the content of his statements, their larger implications for evangelism, and as one who has had numerous “porch preaching” opportunities, suggest a more viable alternative.
In 1 Peter 3:15, the Apostle writes the following under divine inspiration of the Spirit, “…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” Perhaps rightly, some have champion this verse as the banner for apologetics, due to the presence of the Greek word apologia [make a defense] from which we get the word apologetics. If that application is warranted, then Peter also supplies the manner in which this defense of the faith is to be made, “with gentleness and respect”.
From the article that I referenced above, while being sensitive toward avoiding judgment of motives, it would appear that the author decided to take a more aggressive, direct approach. In that post he states that he answered the door, Bible in hand, was given a Watchtower tract, and an invitation to an Easter celebration. His response was to assert his own evangelical Christian beliefs, his vocation as a pastor, and his lifetime efforts toward undermining the false gospel that they proclaim. He then expressed a biblical view of the Trinity, claimed his neighborhood as his own mission field, expressed their unwelcomeness on his mission field, and assured them that he would pray for their repentance of heresy and subsequent faith in Christ as they left his porch. I’m loosely paraphrasing (moreso to avoid any word searches to bring up his article).
While there is nothing inherently wrong with his approach or content, it seems to have more of a “I don’t have time for this” tone and a “What can I say to tell them off in the most Gospel-centered way that I can.” Again, I do not want to judge motives here, but the response of the Jehovah’s Witnesses that he included is what really convicted me to write this post. The author describes their response, as one would imagine, as one of incredulity and he indicates that this was likely due to the usual polite nod or name calling response that they normally receive.
Here I paused to ask a couple questions, namely: Was there enough Gospel in the message to convict the men of their heresy? Maybe. Do I think that this approach convinced the men to leave the neighborhood? No. Do I think it caused them to go to Scripture and find if they have rightly understood its meaning? No
My experience has been that most people respond to these door-to-door [false] evangelists with a “You’re in a cult and going to hell” response, whether the person is a pastor or even a true Christian. It’s probably something they’ve heard 100 times, though I’m sure it’s not something they get used to.
Having numerous porch and street encounters with not only Jehovah’s Witnesses, but Mormons, I too have received looks of incredulity. In fact, the last 3 groups of JW’s and the last group of Mormons all responded in a similar way that this pastor is describing. The look on their faces were shock and awe, not due to me or my ability to articulate Scripture, but in the truths of God’s Word that were unfolded before their unbelieving eyes. In the multiple encounters with JW’s each took much longer than an hour and mostly approaching 2 hours as I labored through Old and New Testament passages to proclaim and defend the deity of Christ with “gentleness and respect” and answer their questions as they arose (though I would suggest being on the offensive, rather than defensive or they’ll wrap you up in their tangled web of Scripture gymnastics).
Their usual response is “This is not a typical conversation that we have with professing Christians. Most cannot articulate their own beliefs, yet alone one that would cause us to rethink our beliefs.” Again, please don’t judge my own motives, I’m not attempting to garner praise for myself, rather to assert that Christians should be bold in their defense of the Gospel, but should do so in a way that engages the unbeliever, whether pagan, JW, Mormon, Muslim, it doesn’t matter.
Furthermore, before my first encounter with the JW’s I read every passage I could find that asserted Christ’s deity from the Old and New Testaments. Additionally, I familiarized myself with the general beliefs of JW’s so that I could be better prepared to make a defense, recognize their arguments, and cut them off with the Word of the all-holy-three-in-one God. Was I better for it? Of course, any time spent in Scripture laboring to understand Christ better is time well spent. Were they given a direct Word of God defense to their beliefs? Yes. Do I think that they had enough Gospel message to convert them, it’s likely, but that is not my job, it’s the Holy Spirit’s.
In fact, after our encounter 1 group of young men have yet to return to their rotation on a particular street corner in town where the JW’s witness each week. Another couple has repeatedly returned to my front porch where I’ve engaged time and again in a cordial defense of Christ’s deity being patient as with a young child who is hearing the Gospel for the first time. In the case of the Mormon’s, they literally froze. Not knowing what to say, not wanting to leave, but unsure where to go next. It was almost as if they wanted me to rescue them out of this cult, but were unsure of how to proceed. In this case, my heart was literally bursting in tears for these young men that had probably grown up knowing nothing but the cult-like heresy of Mormonism.
Again, I do not want to judge this pastor’s motives from the article, but I would like to suggest that perhaps these door to door evangelism opportunities are gifts from God to
- Prepare us for always being ready to articulate and defend what we believe
- Give us opportunity to proclaim the name of Christ to unbelievers, when we wouldn’t have otherwise taken the initiative
- Familiarize ourselves with the false beliefs that are circulating our neighborhoods so that we can engage with them and better inform others whom they have contacted (see the Apostle Paul on Mars Hill – Acts 17).
Finally, I would encourage you to listen to the videos of Tim Barnett I’ve posted here and adopt a similar strategy that he expresses, that of having your bible and select verses ready should JW’s or Mormons come and knock on your door (first 5 minutes of video #1).
“Always be ready to give a defense for the hope that is in you….but do so with gentleness and respect” and the name of God will be glorified in the presence of unbelievers because of it.
Grace and Peace