I had lunch the other day with a man who was born in Uruguay. His parents were missionaries. We have a group of people at my church who go to Costa Rica every year. A young woman in my Sunday school class is now in Haiti, serving as a missionary.
Why do these Christians go to far-away lands to share their faith with people?
I have been writing on people who are going to hell. I have been writing about what hell is going to be like. For several posts now the topic has been hell.
How are missionaries connected to hell?
What is the purpose of the missionary? Are they trying to save the world by spreading the word about Jesus Christ? Are they trying to keep people from going to hell? Well, duh—that is exactly right. Conservative Christians especially think this. People who are not Christians need exposure to the Christian message so they can be saved and they won’t have to suffer eternal torment in the fires of hell. It is the old exclusivist axiom: you are either with us or you are “agin” us [and by the way, if you are agin us, you are going to hell].
I am going to write the truth. Many people are very disappointed with this attitude. Pastor Hamilton knows of a young man who left his Christian roots due to this very issue. You know the old argument that if you don’t receive Christ, you will suffer in hell just did not appeal to him. He states “That’s not loving. That’s blackmail. That’s coercion. There’s something wrong with this picture.”
Really, what is wrong with this picture or message?
It contains a threat. It basically says that you either choose Christ or you will suffer, no in between.
The message of the missionary?
That’s what some people assume.
In reality, I like to think it is not like that. Some people who are missionaries have a softer sell. They help those in need and maybe their message of Jesus is incorporated in the offer of aid and assistance. I would hope that the message is one of unconditional love and acceptance. I would hope that the message is about improving life on this earth. I would hope that the message is about finding a new mission for life through joining the body of Christ.
It should also be about communion. I have written about this before but people need to realize that Christianity offers a connection to God that is rare among other faiths.
We just had communion at my church today and it was a pleasure to assist in serving communion. People came forward and received the bread. “Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’” [John 6:35]. That is a connection that is not seen in Islam, the Hindu faith or Buddhism. This is a fulfillment of a hunger that all people have. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” [Matthew 26:28]. The wine that is served is a blood connection with Jesus, the fact that he came to earth to atone for our sins. When we drink the wine of communion we connect with the most self-sacrificial act that any man could do. In the Old Testament, the Hebrews used animal blood to atone for the sins of man, but Jesus shed his own blood for us.
Allah did not do this. Brahaman did not do this. The devas of Buddhism did not do this.
Ravi Zacharias said it best: “Jesus Christ is identical with His own message: I am the Bread, I am the Door, I am the Good Shepherd.”
The message of Jesus should not be a threat or coercion. I too get turned off by this approach. I have heard it first hand and I have seen people make life decisions based on a threat of hell.
My concern about that decision is this: is it long-lasting? Does it cause thoughtful reflection or is the response just a knee-jerk reaction, a fearful knee-jerk?
In Christianity, we have a chance to invite people into a better life, a chance to meet their deep spiritual hunger, a chance to help people understand the Gospel by using their minds. We really don’t have to threaten the person who does not believe. We have a positive offer.
We may not be missionaries to some foreign land but we have many opportunities to speak to people who don’t really know God. They are all around us. Why bother? Jesus Christ asks us to tell of our faith. Down deep we know the message provides hope for the world. The commitment to Christ offers the chance for us to mend our brokenness, the chance to transcend the mere materiality of this world so we can live a much better existence here on earth.
This is not a threat.
This message does not inspire fear.
It’s a positive message, a message of hope.
*comments based on Chapter 12 and Chapter 13 of Adam Hamilton’s Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White.