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HOW CAN CHRISTIANS CONVINCE PEOPLE OF THEIR VIEWS?
Audio Version: HOW CAN CHRISTIANS CONVINCE PEOPLE OF THEIR VIEWS?
By Tek & Goldie Chong
This article uses extensive references and quotes from John Stott’s writings. It is the intention of the Asian Beacon ministry to share this message as a much-needed exhortation for a well-balanced faith grounded on good understanding of Biblical doctrines, values, and teachings. It is our hope that this article will edify and encourage our readers in continuing to share the good news of the Gospel. Asian Beacon is a non-profit organization and does not derive any commercial advantage from the sharing of this article.
Note from the Chongs:
Our world is being invaded by anti-christian beliefs such as:
God was invented to control others. There is no God or gods. Man has come of age. He is to take over control and is answerable to himself. We can decide what is best for ourselves.
This worldview has infiltrated our society’s mass media, education and government, etc. Humanist activists are pushing hard to legalise same sex marriage, abortion euthanasia, etc.
In Australia many people are of the opinion that “the old view that marriage is between a man and a woman is outdated and needs to be re-defined for our modern age.” We see that the values in our present society which were once largely based on Judeo-christian foundations are no longer accepted. What should Christians do?
Below is a summary from John Stott’s teaching in his book “Issues facing Christians today”
Can we insist on imposing our Christian values upon society by force when we think it is necessary and for their own good?
The Spanish Inquisition is an example of imposition set up by the Roman Catholic Church in the 13th century to combat heresy. Suspected heretics were hunted, asked to confess, brought to trial, imprisoned, burnt alive, etc.
This shameful method of imposition by the Church lasted 300 years. Other dictatorships of the extreme left and right are also guilty of trying to impose by force what they conceive as good practices.
Another example of imposition is the Prohibition in the US in 1919 which banned the manufacturing and sale of alcoholic liquor. The motive was admirable – to reduce the threat to public order by controlling heavy drinking and drunkenness. This law was foisted on the public for 13 years with the hope of forcing people to behave.
Both the Inquisition (an attempt to impose a certain belief) and Prohibition (an attempt to impose a certain behaviour) were in the end unproductive, the reason being people cannot be forced to believe what they do not believe or practise what they do not want to practise.
Similarly, today if we think we can force Christian convictions on people who do not want them, it is going to fail. This is a violation of the God- given free will. God does not forcibly change a man’s will; He changes a man’s heart.
LAISSEZ-FAIRE, TOLERANCE, INDIFFERENCE
The opposite of imposition is laissez-faire, tolerance, or indifference. Far from imposing our views, we say we will not even propagate or commend them. We shall leave other people alone to mind their own business as we hope they will leave us alone to mind ours. But can Christians be silent and tolerate opinions we know to be false or actions we know to be evil? God is not indifferent to matters of injustice, lies, oppression, and evil. If we remain silent, there can be serious consequences.
An example of this is the German churches’ failure to speak out against the Nazis’ treatment of the Jews.
Bonhoeffer spoke about how they did not “open thy mouth for the dumb” Prov.31:8 and Barth called it “the sin against the Holy Ghost”.
Throughout the horrific conflict, nobody in a position of authority denounced anti-Semitism.
Not only did the Church leadership not speak out, there was no widespread protest from ordinary decent Christian folks either.
They all stand condemned by their laissez- faire attitude.
Better than the extremes of imposition and laissez-faire is the strategy of persuasion. Christians should advocate from God’s biblical doctrines. God is the creator and sustainer of the universe and His intention is for human beings to live in peaceful community. This biblical vision of God should affect our attitude in matters like respecting people made in His image, justice, dignity of work, stewardship of the environment, the sanctity of marriage, care of the needy, etc.
Because these are His concerns, they should be ours also. So, the attitude of laissez-faire is wrong and so is imposition. Because God made human beings with free will, He does not coerce nor force. He exhorts and persuades people to obey and He warns them of the consequences. But He lets them choose their destiny.
WHAT THEN SHOULD WE DO?
We should educate the public conscience to know and desire the will of God. We cannot impose God’s will by legislation. Neither can we convince people of it merely by biblical quotations. Both these approaches are examples of “authority from above”, which people resent and resist. More effective is “authority from below”, the intrinsic truth and value of a thing which is self-evident and therefore self-authenticating.
An example of persuasion by argument is the issue of chastity before marriage and fidelity within it.
First, anthropologically. In J.D. Unwin’s Sex and Culture, he studied 80 primitive and 16 civilized societies. Unwin found that a society’s cultural energy (art, science, technology, etc) increases as its sexual energy is controlled, meaning when they adopt monogamy. But whenever monogamy was modified, that
society’s cultural energy decreased. The conclusion: if a society wishes to increase its productive energy for a long time, it must regulate relations between the sexes by practising monogamy. Then it will be continually enriched, refined, surpassed, and achieve a higher culture than before.
Secondly, psychologically. Dr Nancy Moore Clatworthy studied for 10 years unmarried couples living together. In her research which involved testing hundreds of couples, married and unmarried, she found that living together does not solve problems in the areas of adjustment, happiness, and respect. Those who lived together before marriage disagreed more often in every area like money, sex, friends, etc. Concerning commitment (the expectation about the outcome of a relationship), unmarried couples are less than wholehearted in working to sustain and to protect their relationship – knowing it is temporary – resulting in 75% breaking up. Women are specially affected, being uptight, fearful, and badly hurt. Dr Clatworthy’s conclusion: statistically you’re much better off marrying than living together.
When anthropology, sociology, and psychology all point in the same direction, the argument is powerful. Non-Christians should be able to see it is reasonable. So, we are on common ground when there is a fundamental agreement between scripture and human nature.
To influence people the strategy is persuasion. In evangelism we should neither try to force people to believe nor bombard them with dogmatic declarations of biblical texts. Nor should we remain silent as if we were indifferent to their response.
Rather, we should reason with people from both nature and scripture commending the good news through rational arguments.
Similarly, in social action, we should neither try to impose Christian standards by force on an unwilling public nor remain silent and inactive but rather reason out the benefits of Christian morality, commending God’s law to them via rational arguments.
We believe that God’s laws are both good in themselves and universal in their application because they were designed for the human beings God has made.
To be able to convince others, we must first know, understand, and be convinced about God’s biblical doctrines, values, and teachings. So, we must study to show ourselves approved; a workman who is not ashamed and one who is able to give a reason for our beliefs, in season and out of season. Secondly, we ourselves must walk our talk – be a worthy ambassador for our God and King. From history we know that good works such as the abolition of slavery, child labour, prison reform, compassionate care for lepers, mentally ill, etc. were initiated by Christians. Our call to be the salt and light in the world will show forth our Christian beliefs.