Saturday, 29 November 2008

Equipping the Cults to Deal With the Church - 06

The Ignorance is Inexcusable

“I get the Jehovah’s Witnesses around three or four times a year and I never know what to say to them.” I hear this often and wonder if people really think about what it sounds like. If you get visitors from the Witnesses or Mormons on a regular basis then two things should be obvious: Firstly, there is a pressing need for a strong Christian witness to them and secondly you have three or four opportunities a year to practice being that witness. It is not an excuse to declare yourself incapable but an opportunity to grow in confidence.

People often protest, “I can’t be an expert in everything”. However you only need to be informed about those groups operating in your area with the highest profile. We encourage people who are concerned about cult activity to make a list of the top five groups in their area and then read up on them. If they call at your door you have an opportunity to learn more and gain confidence in witnessing.

People who call at your door or stop you in the street don’t usually range widely in the things they want to talk about and there are certain subjects that will come up time and again. Whatever the subject you can always, with a little preparation and practice, bring them back to key gospel themes. Virtually everything you might address is central to the New Testament and fundamental to the issues dealt with in the early church.

When a JW denies Jesus’ deity you are addressing the familiar early church trinity controversy. Don’t know about it? Why not?; when a Mormon insists that we are saved by a combination of faith and works you are addressing the Judaisers controversy found throughout the New Testament letters. Couldn’t talk about it in any depth? Why not?; when a Mormon refers to the temple and growing in knowledge you are facing the Gnostic controversy that plagued the early church and was addressed by apostles and early church leaders alike. Not familiar with it?

A Christian should know and understand these things whether or not they meet a JW or Mormon ever again. They are central to what you believe and they explain why you believe it. Every mature and believing Christian should be able to explain the basics of the faith, both to themselves as an encouragement and to others as an account of the faith they are sharing.

“What do you say to a Mormon/JW?” I often get asked this question but there is no killer text you know. It’s a question that betrays a lack of understanding and poor preparation. Witnessing isn’t somehow ‘magical’. It isn’t as simple as dropping some text into a conversation, standing back and waiting for a reaction. It involves relationship, understanding, preparation and patience and there are no short cuts.

I tend to see it in stages and consider myself as having succeeded if any stage is successfully negotiated:
  1. I get into a conversation. What do you say to a JW? You say, “Hello. How are you?”
  2. I tell them I am a Christian. Not in an accusative fashion as though challenging them to make something of it but simply declaring that I see the world through Christian eyes.
  3. I get them to talk about what they believe, rather than telling them what they believe.
  4. I get to share in more detail what I believe; confidently negotiating the terrain because I have walked here before many times. I am leading them through my faith world not just telling them things.
I work from number 1 to number 4 and with each step I consider myself as having succeeded more and more. Most people work from number 4 to number 1 and with each step consider themselves as having failed more and more.

I always try and take the shortest route to the Cross, which is not always short, but I try to avoid secondary issues by listening and then trying to bring the conversation back to what I consider needs to be addressed. Of course, these encounters can be brief so I use my knowledge appropriately, sometimes having the luxury of time to develop a theme, sometimes only being able to share a few appropriate words.

But if I move from 1 to 4 then I will never have failed if only because I have shared with them my Christian conviction and shown them Christian charity in taking the time to speak to them.

It is important not to always expect to talk about your own favourite subjects. Instead I find out what is important to them and try and speak to that because that is where there will be the greatest challenge and the best opportunity. You see, it is important to speak with a person and not at them, to the person standing in front of you and not to the organisation standing behind them.

Finally, this reflects my aspirations and does not describe how I always conduct myself. We are all human and it makes no sense to despair because we have not yet attained all that God has for us.

Previous posts:
If These are Christians
The problem with the Church
The Problem with Anti-Cult Ministry
The Fear is Irrational
The Prejudce is Petulant

Future Posts:
The ignorance is Inexcusable
The Indifference is Frightening
Christians and the Magical World-view
Ambiguity Tolerance

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