Updated: Jul 19, 2022
The reason boldness is the first thing I discuss regarding mission and orthopraxy is because, in my background, boldness has been highly valued, and I’ve seen pros and cons of this in my own cultural context. I often enjoyed the thrill of inviting many people to church, church events, or Bible studies who I previously had no contact with. This is what I call “cold contact” evangelism, and there is certainly a level of boldness needed to invite people you don’t even know to church, much less to preach to them, or try to share the gospel with them, especially in a post-christendom culture (Note: I prefer the term post-christendom to the term post-christian which many conservative Christians use today to refer to the reality that Christians no longer have total control over the culture. More on this later.).
The purpose of this article will not be to berate “cold contact” evangelism. I still endorse this form of evangelism. I see it in the book of Acts, and I know many people have been brought to faith in Christ both when this is done well and when it’s not, because God often works through us even when we're at our worst. In fact, I’m not opposed to doing cold contact evangelism today myself. However, there are some significant drawbacks to cold contact evangelism if it is too heavily relied upon, especially if it is mainly centered around getting people to our events. When it becomes what people think about when they hear the word “evangelism” it can create some problems for the church.
1. Cold Contact Evangelism and Bringing the Church into the World
Cold contact evangelism is usually fully focused on trying to get others to come to us, and is not as focused on the church going out into the world. When a church primarily relies upon a “cold contact” form of evangelism, it may forget that it is to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world, rather than a group that is simply trying to get more adherents to its beliefs and practices. Orthopraxy can fall by the way side because what ultimately matters is that we get people to come to our church, our Bible studies, and our events.
Jesus actually went out among others teaching, healing, preaching, and loving, and this is what it truly means to be missional. If we are trying to get people to events as a church that are primarily centered around our church and not the needs of the world, and if so much effort is put into our regular events geared towards church members (including Sunday church), we have far less energy to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world the other six days of the week.
2. Cold Contact Evangelism and Relationship
Cold contact evangelism deemphasizes relationship. I'm trying to be careful not to overstate on this point. It is obvious that cold contact evangelism would not involve a prior relationship, but there is no reason biblically that one must have a prior relationship to share the gospel with someone. However, if we are only known for our cold contact evangelism and not for our involvement in people’s lives, care for the poor, meeting of needs in the community, we begin to build a reputation of being ultra-religious without having the pure religion that James espouses (see James 1:27). We become a church that is only a mouth, not legs or feet (See 1 Corinthians 12).
3. Cold Contact Evangelism and “Us vs. Them”
If a culture is developed where we only invite people we don’t know to church (and this is our only contact with outsiders), and we only have deep friendships with those at church, we develop an “us vs. them” mentality. It becomes us vs. the world rather than us spreading light in the world, and us vs. other religious groups. Often what accompanies this is a martyr’s complex where one believes they are being persecuted. And perhaps they are going through some level of ridicule, but not because of their righteousness (see Matthew 5:10). Rather, they are being ridiculed because of exclusivity to an unhealthy degree and thinking of themselves as martyrs is how they cope with this reality.
No doubt, scripture says Christians will be persecuted, but the kind of persecution some Christians receive is not a response to the work of the Holy Spirit. If we are known more for what we are against than what we are for, are insulated, don't love our communities, and tell other people they will go to hell if they don’t join us, we may be operating more from our egos and desire for self-protection than the work of the Holy Spirit. We may tell ourselves we are God-honoring martyrs to cope with the fact that there may be good reasons people don't like us.
Do we really think this is what God wants the church to be in the world? Is this what we see in Jesus’ life and ministry? If we haven’t shown that we are the legs and feet of Christ in the community, but only the mouth (and only a mouth of condemnation at that), we should not think we are in good standing with God as a church community. More often than not, when Christians in the New Testament were persecuted it was because of lies and slander, not because Christians had developed a reputation of arrogance all on their own.
What if we are persecuted when people don’t like our cold contact evangelism and respond negatively to it? In the past Christians in America had more power in the culture, and to go around inviting people to a Bible study, especially on a college campus would not elicit many threatening gazes. But imagine that a group of Muslims was “aggressively proselytizing” a college campus. What kind of looks and reaction might this elicit? In Christianity not being the de facto belief system of most, Christians are beginning to experience a small fraction of what a muslim group might experience, and we’re simply not used to it. If our response to some negative reactions to the gospel is not love, but an indulgence in culture wars or complaining that we are no longer on the top of the world, we may not be real martyrs, but simply have a martyr’s complex.
Persecution or martyrdom that honors God is when we do what’s right, proclaim the gospel, work towards peace with everyone, and yet still become attacked and hated because of our message. Biblical persecution doesn't stem from being a jerk, but from the hearers rejecting both the message and the messenger. I am not suggesting we stop being the mouth of Christ, but that when the mouth is all that is left in the church, it often ceases to become the mouth of Christ and becomes a distortion, a body that is unable to sustain itself. Often, the long-term result is an over-reaction among the church that leads to it ceasing to be a mouth as well.
4. Cold Contact Evangelism and Patience
Cold contact evangelism can emphasize boldness, but not patience and love. Paul states that if we have not love we are a “resounding gong or clanging cymbal” (1 Cor. 13:1). This is what we become when we are only the mouth and not the hands and feet of Christ in the world. It’s easy to still think you are being the hands and feet of Christ if you are inviting people to church and church events.
Going around neighborhoods, knocking doors, and inviting people to church and Bible studies, or taking it a step further, to share the gospel right there on the spot, can be effective ways to be the “mouth of Christ” in the world. None of this is bad. There is a level of boldness with the gospel in “cold contact” evangelism that is often God-honoring, and that God will often bless, especially when it is accompanied by prayer. The mouth of Christ is vital, so my intention is not to create an over-reaction in trying to remove the mouth, leaving the rest of the body to somehow do its work uninhibited by a proclamation of the Gospel. (I will get to how the mouth, and our understanding of the gospel might be better proclaimed in our cultural context in a future article). I am not condoning only “relationship evangelism” where you must have a prior relationship to ever share Christ with someone, or saying that the gospel is only to be proclaimed by our actions and not our words. I’m also not saying you need at least a year of getting to know someone before you talk to them about God, although the Spirit might lead someone to this approach in many cases. My point is, however, that if we only have cold-contact evangelism, we will often produce a culture that is not missional (the Church within the world).
Also, if we are only friends with those who respond positively to the gospel, we have both created an “us vs. them” culture and have made our relationships with others highly transactional. Expecting a “spiritual” transaction in our relationships can often be just as dehumanizing as other forms of objectification. When others become objects for our spiritual or evangelical goals, we have removed the heart from the body of Christ. We become a group of insiders aimed at keeping the outsiders out, and seeing the outsiders as objects for our so-called spiritual gratification. You can often tell if a church has produced this kind of culture if they no longer seek friendships with those not in their group or those who have left their group. They are now a culture of insiders, whereas Jesus aimed to be among the outsiders and outcasts.
Being missional is about starting with loving our neighbors and meeting the needs of our community. It is not opposed to opening our mouths, but realizes the church is very deficient if there is only a mouth and no hands and feet. In the next article, I’m going to continue my discussion on boldness by talking about an issue related to the insider culture: beliefs about salvation that determine who is in and who is out.