Door-door- Evangelism: Is it Effective?

I have been doing some research on evangelistic outreach.  In doing so, I posed the question for my search, “Does door-to-door team evangelism work?”  This is somewhat of a loaded question, because it really centers on what “works” in the question means.  Is it effective?  Will people respond to someone coming to the door to share the gospel, give them a tract, or invite them to church?  Ah!  What do these corollary questions have it common?  The share a common viewpoint.  We can measure effectiveness from our viewpoint or God’s.  Can we persuade people to come to Christ?  Actually no.  Faith in Christ for salvation is a spiritual decision and therefore requires spiritual renewal for that decision.

Paul wrote in Romans 3:10-11 with a quote from the Old Testament, “None is righteous, no not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” If then no one seeks for God, what causes a person to place faith in Christ?  Good question.  According to this passage, all people are intent on turning away from God, because they reject God.  No one is willing to come to God.  Paul again answers that question several chapters later where he wrote, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).  The power of spiritual conversion is the word of God.  Notice the cause and effect in this passage.  The cause is hearing the word of God, while the response is faith.  The word of God awakens the spirit to respond to Christ through faith.

So, what makes our evangelism efforts by any means effective?  Give out the word of God by any means.  It is our most valuable and powerful tool.  Hebrews 4:12-13 affirms this, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and a discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” 

Let me return to the original question, “Does door-to-door team evangelism work?”  It does not work if we believe we are the causal agents for someone responding to us positively or someone coming to Christ.  If we consider effectiveness from our resources to persuade people or even receive a positive response, the answer is no.  If it is yes, then why do we pray?  If we believe a response requires God’s work in the heart through His word and corresponding power of the Holy Spirit to bring about even the most modest change, then the answer is an unqualified YES.  We walk by faith and leave the results to God.  Human initiatives fail to render divine results.  Only God can produce divine results.  Therefore, the effectiveness of any evangelistic means is yes if we believe the Scriptures that the “gospel is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes…(Romans 1:16) and “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).  There is nothing more sure in life for salvation than the word of God.

Can Something be True without Being Factual?

The LA Times published an editorial April 13, 2017 about the Passover, In religion, something can be true without being factual.  The article poses a question, “Does it matter if the Passover story is literally true?”

In it, the author, Eric Schwitzgebel, argues that it does matter.  However, his position is that if it is true, then Judaism has a problem.  He confronts one negative with another.  He states the problem in the following way,

“It matters,” I said, “because if the story is literally true, then a god who works miracles really exists. It matters if there is such a god or not. I don’t think I would like the moral character of that god, who kills innocent Egyptians. I’m glad there is no such god.”

That is, he claims that making the story historically factual, gives Judaism a murderous god, something he does not want to believe.  Such a false dilemma.  Therefore, one must adapt a story or myth to present values to make it powerful for today.  In other words, he celebrates a truth of values, which are adaptable to present circumstances.  Consequently, the way to escape what one considers a negative from history is to establish one’s own truth based on ever changing values.  This argument is one similar to that which many today hold,

“What is true for you may not be true for me,”

or

“Your truth may not be the same as my truth.”

These statements result from divorcing truth from historical fact and creating one’s own “facts” or not having any facts at all upon which truth rests.  That is, truth is that of convenience to do away with what one dislikes.

Several people responded to this editorial, but one specifically caught my attention.  This responder picked up on the core issue when writing,

   “As a professor of philosophy he probably knows the difference between “facts” and “truth,” as well as how much the meaning of stories matters, regardless of their empirical factuality. His “alternative” interpretations of the Torah manifest precisely this difference, in their appeal to the “moral” character of God.    He is correct to say that the meanings of the stories contain their moral lessons. Therein also lies their truth value.     No matter one’s inclination for literal as opposed to figurative interpretation, the stories of the Torah aim at truth, as do all religious narratives. More than their factuality, the truth of these narratives is what both comforts and discomforts us. Interpreting these stories and communicating their truth is what holds in tension our contemporary values with the timelessness of truth.”

What this responder claims is that truth does not necessarily have to be based on facts to hold truth.  That is, truth and facts are not necessarily the same or something can be true without being factual.

Here is the rub.  If truth and facts can be different, then why should we believe this Schwitzgebel or the responder to him?  If truth and facts can be divorced from one another, what difference does it make?  None.  One simply states a baseless opinion among many opinions for one’s faith, which does not rise to any significance, especially if truth has no foundation in reality (facts of history).  Facts are stubborn things of reality.  That which is non-factual has no correspondence to reality.  To espouse “truth” without grounding in reality makes it fictitious and without any significance.  That which is not part of reality does not exist and has no knowledge base.  Our entire existence and way of life are based on truth having its grounding in the reality of facts.  Once we dismiss or ignore facts as the basis for truth, chaos ensues.  We cannot live with such a division.  Rather, one would necessarily take a leap of faith into the dark abyss of non-existence where knowledge does not exists.  Such a leap is an attempt to escape reality itself.

How do we know Schwitzgebel is not wrong if he makes a distinction between truth and facts?  How can Schwitzgebel judge something right or wrong, whether a historical event or present circumstance which becomes history, if truth has no grounding in fact?  If truth and facts are different, how are judges to make decisions in courts?  Those who swear to tell the truth can also ignore the facts of a case.  If truth and facts can be separate, why believe anyone who presents you with a contract?  If someone swears they will do something, and they believe in the division between truth and facts, why would you believe them?  Actions are also facts, and we cannot wish them away regardless how much we try.  It is this kind of reasoning that destroys truth altogether and makes lies the bedrock of society.

However, we know that the Exodus and Passover are true because they are factual events.  Christ is our Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7).  He fulfilled Passover by paying the price for our sins and then rising from the dead.

Have a Blessed Easter (Paschal).

What is the Point in Faith?

A person in another discussion board posed the following scenario worthy of discussion, because it appears to make faith an abstraction divorced from reason and knowledge.  This article replies to the concluding question.

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“I have a hypothetical for any believers who consider faith a virtue. Imagine a young child born to Christian parents. In circumstance A, the child is raised Christian. In circumstance B, the child is adopted and raised Muslim.

Regardless of who raises the child, by adulthood it will believe one of these religions on faith. These religions however, totally negate each other.

My question is: what is the point in faith?”

LINK: https://disqus.com/home/discussion/channel-religion/the_irrationality_of_faith/

The point in faith? To understand faith, one must drill down into its meaning. The way of and context for your question seems to focus on faith as an abstraction. It is not. Allow an example.

Suppose you enter enter a marital relationship. For the sake of argument, let it be within the context of the Christian faith since you address that faith leading up to your question. Christians view such a marriage as exclusive and permanent. The question arises in that relationship: Does each spouse trust or believe in the other for faithfulness and commitment to that exclusivity? Trust and believe are simply the verb parts of speech for the noun faith. The foundation for that believing or trusting is that the relationship actually exist and is therefore based on and grounded in reality: two people are married and have established a real household. Even your example bears this out.

The outcome of the actual relationship is a family unit of the two parents and children. Christians hold to faith in the same way. Mutual faith in the marital relationship is not an abstraction. Rather it is a bond acted out in commitment and the behaviours and actions that commitment ensues.

Some people attempt to divorce faith from what exists or reason. Nothing could be further from the truth. For if that were so, then there could be faith without the relationship or in non-existence itself. However, biblical faith is not divorced from reality, reason, or what exists. It requires knowledge, and knowledge requires reason to make sense of that knowledge. Faith and knowledge do not stand independent from one another. For if they did, there would be no faith but presumption or the Kierkegaardian leap into the dark abyss of nothingness.

Those who divorce faith from knowledge and reality are not defining faith but presumption. A great biblical example of such faith is found in Hebrews 11:3,

“By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible ” (NKJV).

In this passage, the author attests faith as commitment to knowledge, that is what actually exists. It affirms two things about this reality: 1) God created what exists so that existence did not just pop up out of nothing, and 2) the visible did not create the visible (for example rocks did not create other rocks at the outset or that matter is eternal). The author of the Hebrews rejects the division of faith from knowledge and reason, for he points to knowledge and he uses syllogistic reasoning. Therefore, the whole point of faith within the context of biblical faith is affirmation and commitment to what is real and not to what does not exist.

That commitment recognizes (knowledge of reality) that God created us to be a certain way, and to be another way strains or breaches the relationship and leads to alienation. That is the reason that the Bible frequently uses marriage as a metaphor to express the relationship between God and humanity. As I said before, in this context faith is the bond for the real relationship to God in the same way that it is in the actual marital relationship. It is not irrational but very reasonable and joins with reason to makes sense of what exists – the relationship. Otherwise, faith would not be faith but presumption. Presumption is irrational and a leap.

Bloviating from Irrationalism

When in an irrational state of mind, one cannot discern irrational thoughts and words. Such a stance makes it difficult to distinguish between truth and a lie.  A person suppresses such a means of making a distinction when one divorces the foundation of one’s thinking from the Creator.  We call speech from that foundation ranting or bloviating.  These expressions arise from irrationalism.  In the world of critical thinking, such irrationalism arises from logical fallacies or defective machinations based on falsehood.

Psalm 2 provides a perfect example of those who engage in bloviating from irrationalism.  Let us listen in on a conversation with such people,

The kings of the earth set themselves,

And the rulers take counsel together,

Against the LORD and against His

Anointed, saying,

“Let us break Their bonds in pieces

And cast away Their cords from us.” (NKJV)

Is there something wrong with this scene?  The irony is laughable.  In this scene these monarchs, powerful in their own defective thinking and self-aggrandizement, brandish arrogant words in their chains.  They spew out audacious curses toward the One who holds them captive with heavy chains [cords] while in complete denial of their imprisonment and the One who holds them.  They engage in futile conspiracy [counsel] in an attempt to strategize to break free.

While they recognize God’s personal name (Yahweh, [LORD]), they refuse to subject themselves to Him.  In their derangement and insanity, they believe in their own strength to free themselves.  They look at the cords wrapped tightly around them and lash out toward the LORD of all, thinking that they can break free from their bondage.  However, their strategy and counsel is futile, defective, and delirious while they believe they think from a sound mind.

The scene pivots from them to the LORD of hosts:

He who sits in the heavens shall laugh;

The LORD shall hold them in derision.

Then He shall speak to them in His wrath,

And distress them in His deep displeasure:

“Yet I have set My King

On My holy hill of Zion.”

Their Creator and Sovereign laughs at them derisively.   He dictates to them and not they to Him.  He holds them in contempt because of their rebellion and arrogance, and informs them that their kingships were temporary fantasies based on their foolish pronouncements and not His.  The LORD then, distresses them by pointing to His Son and declares Him as King.  This act is indeed distressful for these self-appointed kings, because God’s King usurped their thrones.

Today, many make self-declarations concerning their rule.  History demonstrates that such dictators and tyrants eventually fall.  They fade into infamy after the sword or a bullet lands a fatal blow.  Individuals believe they rule their own lives and determine their fate.  They adopt the philosophy of Frank Sinatra,

And now, the end is near
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I’ll say it clear
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain

I’ve lived a life that’s full
I’ve traveled each and every highway
But more, much more than this
I did it my way.” [From “My Way” by Frank Sinatra]

Those who deny God fail to recognize that He alone appoints leaders throughout history.  These deniers who refuse to even admit God’s existence return to the dust of the earth and await judgment from the righteous God.  Individuals who also deny God, want to live their lives like Frank Sinatra, that is, “my way.”  Regardless of their ideology or belief systems, those who oppose God and refuse to acknowledge His Son will face the same fate as the kings depicted in Psalm 2.

This psalm offers a way out from judgment.  It declares that those who serve the LORD will find hope.  Atheists, agnostics, and polytheists alike can find that same hope by turning from their futile faith in themselves and materialism to faith in God the Deliverer.

Understanding God’s Message or Will

Recently, I had someone ask the question,

By what process do I discern God’s message?”

This question arose from the context of a discussion on a Christian website (The Gospel Coalition, (http://bit.ly/25BQ00I) about transgenderism and God’s acceptance of people regardless of their false beliefs about themselves and God.  One person actually commented earlier in the discussion,

­
Christ accepts us in our current state (which includes any categories mentioned in regards to gender and gender change) because of grace and love. We as ministers of reconciliation are to treat all equally, offering Christs love to believers and non believers alike. Their current state is not as relevant as you might think when it comes to knowing Christ.”
The following is a reply to the question, “By what process do I discern God’s message?”
The Scriptures make clear how we discern the message (God’s will) of the Scriptures.  Both Jesus and the Apostle John inform us that a person must be born again (John 3:1-8; 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18).  Without new birth that comes from God, no one can practice righteousness, repent, truly love one another and God, place faith in Christ, or overcome the evil world.  If God has not given new birth to a person, one cannot even rightly discern God’s will or the “the things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:14).  In fact, the person not born of God does not even accept God’s will.  Read the cited passage.

Afterwards, a person needs to devote oneself to the reading and study of God’s word.  That is a discovery process, a discovery of the mind of God through the agency of the authors.  That is, we must always seek the author’s intent within the contexts in which he speaks.  Scripture hoping and proof texting are not valid approaches to the Bible.  Those ways are not the ways we read a regular book.  We do not isolate a sentence or paragraph from a book’s context and then claim, “To me, in means…”

Devotion to the Scriptures does not simply mean reading and studying the Scriptures, but also applying and obeying them.  When we hold to the Bible as nothing more than a “conversation,” we devalue it for our lives and fail to understand how it applies to us.  We cannot really know God’s will, though we can understand His message, unless we live faithfully in obedience to him.  Obedience by faith gives way to true knowledge (Romans 1:5; 6:16; 16:26).  One cannot really know the things and will of God without obedience by faith.  One thing neglected in this discussion around “transgenderism” is it ignores God’s will and word, because it rejects it.  It also overlooks faithful obedience to God’s will for our identity in favor of one looking inward for a fictitious identity.  It does not seek to discover the identity God gave us but rather seeks to establish one’s own.  The entire message of 1 Corinthians 2:14 elude those who follow this path.  All the arguments in the world for attempting to justify one’s self-identity and lifestyle are arguments that reject God.  In essence, they are atheistic.  Arguments are not application or living by faith.  Arguments over the Bible, lifestyles, and philosophical speculations amount to resistance to God.

What follows the engagement of Scripture is then living by faith.  As I mentioned before, faith subscribes repentance.  If there is no repentance, there is no faith.  They are inseparable.  The faith that sets one’s sights on God involves repentance that turns to Him.  Arguing over God’s word does not lead to a life of faith but rather to a life of speculative darkness.

The gospel is clear.  Christ died and rose again on our behalf to bring about faith in Him and remission of sins.  Believing the gospel (good news) leads one from the bad news, the result of rejecting it – eternal death.  Read carefully through 1 John, and you will learn how to know God and His will: a) the new birth, b) living by faith (repentance), c) practicing righteousness, and d) loving God and others.

Resurrection and Freedom

More often than not, Easter messages focus on the gospels, the first four books of the New Testament, and rightly so.  These are historical accounts narrating the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.  Less frequently do messages arise from the various New Testament letters and the Acts of the Apostles.  Luke, Paul, Peter, James, and John take up the historical event of the resurrection and bring its significance to bear on the life of faith.

One cannot read these letters without recognizing the resurrection’s strong strand.  It weaves through the message of the authors as they show how this historical event proclaims liberty to the captives and “the opening of the prison to those who are bound” (Isaiah 61:1) as Jesus announced (Luke 4:18).

2016-02-24 10.24.18 (800x600)
The Empty Tomb

One of the great truths of the resurrection is freedom.  Before the resurrection of Jesus, His disciples failed to understand such freedom.  They viewed it in terms of a material kingdom rather than spiritual life.  Tradition dictated their view of the external rather than the internal.  However, afterwards, they could not hold back this lofty truth.

Historical Basis for Freedom

A walk through the New Testament reveals narration of the historic event of the resurrection and its application to a life of faith.  Truth stands on history and not fiction.  History builds a mountain of evidence on which biblical faith rests.  Without historical evidence, faith would be futile and freedom would be a mirage or relative to how one defines it.  Biblical faith leads to freedom because God intervened in history, interacted with humanity through Jesus, and brought Jesus from death to life through His unsurpassed power.  Freedom stands on this mountain of evidence.

What then is this freedom?  The gospels narrate the events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  Jesus also left traces of the meaning of freedom through His sermons (Luke 4:18-19).  However, the apostles expanded at length on this freedom arising from Jesus’ resurrection.  Throughout their letters, resurrection dominates.  It is the center of their messages.  However, how does resurrection link to and bring freedom?

In the middle of presenting the gospel to the Church at Rome, Paul gives a sublime example.  He takes the reader from an intentional self focused to a resurrection focused excursion. This self focus serves to make a point at the conclusion of the chapter,

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24)

What death?  The death to which Paul refers is that which prevents him from living upright, good, and pleasing to God.  This body of death is that which sin rules.  Notice the number of times Paul uses “I” and “me” prior to crying out this statement and question.  Immediately following these, he pivots from the “I” and “me” to gratitude for the resurrection.  He boldly pens,

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1-4).

He crowns his declaration of freedom with the following statement,

If the Spirit of a him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (8:11).

Resurrection is the pinnacle of the argument Paul applies and the foundational doctrine for living the Christian life.  The resurrection means no longer being in debt to the flesh but living by the  teaching and guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Resurrection life now is a mere taste of the glory reserved for us when we meet our Savior face to face.  The song “Blessed Assurance” highlights this taste in its lyrics:

“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!  Oh what a foretaste of glory divine!

The resurrected Jesus imparts to us the resurrected life to whet our appetite for all God has prepared for us in His presence.

Beginnings of True Freedom: Resurrection and Salvation

Resurrection brings life and liberty.  Easter is an everyday occurrence and not just once yearly.  The same power that raised Jesus from the dead brings about a different life than the self-focused one.  The old life bound us to the disdainful beatings we may give ourselves of hopelessness, despair, shame, dread, and trash talk under which we bury others and ourselves.  At times, the old life also attempts to elevate us above our peers through boasting, smugness, strife, anger, envy, greed, and division.  This, too, is bondage to fantasy and self.  However, Paul claims that the same power that raised Jesus from death enables us to be free from those things that hold us in bondage.

When we cry out like Paul, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” the answer immediately registers, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ out Lord!” (7:25).  The answer does not stop there, just as the Easter message does not stop with one day,

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do” (8:1-3).

How often do we live under self-condemnation, ripping others and ourselves apart when others or we fail, fall, or falter?  Christ’s resurrection took care of this condemnation and corresponding way of life.  While in this present body, we continue to struggle with these burdens of our existence.  However, hope in the Easter message illustrates faith in Him for continued deliverance and assurance that Christ paid the price for all our sin.  The Easter message proclaims that through the new birth we possess resurrected spiritual life from God.  Consequently, the power of resurrection and its corresponding new life increasingly energizes and spurs us to live for Him.  “Increasingly” suggests missteps along the way, but these missteps do not stop God from conforming us to the image of His resurrected Son.

Freedom begins with salvation.  Salvation is almost a lost word, because many have lost sight of what precedes it: the gravity of the human condition.  Humanity is in bondage.  We understand bondage from looking out on our world.  It exists visibly in human slavery that still prevails in many nations.  People take others into captivity and strip them of everything they have.

A more insidious bondage survives that of human slavery: bondage to internal evil we afflict on ourselves and others resulting from spiritual death due to natural rebellion against God.   This natural rebellion results in known and seen characteristics in everyone throughout the world: hatred, greed, rebellion, immorality, murder, strife, deceit, and maliciousness.  The Bible calls this sin.  It all begins from within us.

Salvation is deliverance from all this sin and the power to live right with God.  This is a liberty greater than freedom from human slavery, because it is spiritual freedom exceeding the material and lasts for an eternity.  The power God gives to live in freedom is the same power God exercised for raising Jesus from death.  When God imparts a new spiritual life (resurrection) from spiritual death within us, He gives the power to live that new life.  Freedom begins for us with that power.

The Good and Freedom

Good Friday precedes the resurrection, just as our good God existed from eternity before He pronounced His created works good.  Goodness in God precedes the greatness of His works, especially the grand finale of the resurrection.  The Apostle Paul declared this resurrection arrived at the proper time, in the proper place, and through the proper Person – Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5-6).  Goodness does not stand alone, but it is bound to our good God.

On that first Good Friday, the tragic circumstances of the death of Jesus left the disciples in deep despair.  All they could think about immediately following Jesus’ death was themselves, their predicament of being a dead man’s disciples, and their own prospects of death.  That despair festered like an ulcer.  They initially saw no good in Jesus’ death but certain bondage to chains and ultimately the grave.  They forgot their good God and His sovereign hand.  They cast aside all they heard from Jesus.  Fear ransacked their spirits.  They could not fathom how Jesus’ words could ring true: His return, His Father’s house, His kingdom.  Good Friday was not good for them.  They later discovered the truth of resurrection.

God’s goodness transcends despair, tragedy, hopelessness, weakness, tears, fear, failure, and frailty.  Just as God raised Jesus from the dead the third day, His power also raises us up from the bondage of emotional turmoil, doubt, dismay, and unbelief.  Liberty means God refocusing our eyes off ourselves and on the resurrected life He gives when He raises us from spiritual death to new life He promised in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Easter celebrates the resurrection life and turns despair and dismay into hope and joy:

Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5)

Easter is that morning that took the disciples ( and us with them) from mourning to joy.  God wakes us up through a new life to smell the freedom air of the resurrection.