I grew up in a Christian home and have attended church regularly all my life, yet I was not familiar with the term ‘proselytizing’ until I was in my thirties and then I only heard it used on rare occasions. In recent years I have heard the term used more and more frequently, often as a criticism. The term is bandied about so negatively that I found it hard to believe it was an action I could be guilty of committing, so I looked up its meaning. Webster defines proselytize as ‘the attempt to convert’.
Christians are instructed by Christ to ‘go and make disciples of all nations’ (Matthew 28:19), which certainly results in an attempt to convert those who don’t know Jesus Christ as their Savior to Christianity. We don’t use the term ‘proselytizing’, however. Rather we ‘share the gospel’ and ‘evangelize.’ In Christian circles, these are viewed as positive actions. We are attempting to lead people into a relationship with Jesus Christ, because we are convinced that salvation through Jesus Christ is the only access to eternal life.
Of course, many people have a different and negative opinion of evangelism. The Atheist Revolution recently published an article entitle ‘The Condescending Nature of Proselytizing.’ The unidentified author discusses his disdain for those of any religion who proselytize. He quotes Rick Levy who finds this practice “rude and condescending because of its implication that the adherent’s beliefs are superior to those of other people’s and thus they need to be saved from the error of their ways.”
Interesting. I make no apologies for Christians believing that salvation comes only through Jesus Christ. Christ himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:60) In Acts 4:12, Peter preached “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” There are no alternative beliefs for anyone who truly is a disciple of Christ.
What I object to is the assertion that sharing our faith makes Christians condescending. We are not trying to present ourselves as superior, but rather as sinners saved by grace who want to give others the opportunity to share in this wonderful gift. We desire that everyone would experience the peace and joy that comes from knowing Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
Recently quotes from an interview given by Penn Jillette in 2008 have been making the rounds on the Internet. Jillette, of Penn and Teller fame, is a very vocal atheist, yet he states “I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize…How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize?” When I saw the video of this interview, it reminded me of the Seinfeld episode in which Elaine discovers that her boyfriend Putty is a Christian. She gets upset that he would let her go to hell rather than try to convert her.
Proselytizing, from a Christian’s point of view, is the attempt to share the most precious, valuable gift ever given to man–the gift of eternal life. Christianity is so wonderful that not sharing this good news is not an option.
If you don’t know Jesus as your Savior, I urge you to examine your heart. Do you have true peace? Do you know your sins are forgiven? Are you confident that you will spend eternity in Heaven? If not, you might want to open your heart and your mind the next time a Christian wants to share the gospel with you. You have nothing to lose and eternity to gain.