FOCUS – The new witness
A broken washing machine has necessitated a couple of trips to the laundromat recently. I saw opportunity in these trips: the laundromat is a quieter place than my houseful of rambunctious boys, and I needed to study for a class I’m taking. So, last week I headed to “Coin-Op Laundry” with what felt like a hundred pounds of dirty clothes, and another twenty pounds of textbooks.
On the previous trip, I had met the owner and he was quite friendly. So I wasn’t surprised when he asked me, amiably, what I was studying? But when I told him it was the Old Testament of the Bible, I was taken aback by his response. A cloud of hostility descended and he sneered, “Oh, are you religious, then?”
Though I think there are better terms to describe my relationship with Christ, I understood the intent of the question. “Why, yes, I am. Are you a religious person?”
The answer sprung at me like the bite of a coiled snake: anticipated, yet still, somehow, horribly startling. “No, I believe religion is for weak-minded men who can’t handle the realities of life,” he hissed.
I had had a long day. I’m usually eager to witness, and not one to run from a debate. But I wasn’t in the mood. I must admit that I was very tempted to retort: “Listen, pal, attempting to belittle your customers probably isn’t going to be your most effective marketing tool.” Instead I listened to his hostility and his reasoning. I tried to make a few points with my misguided friend, but quickly realized he was not listening. Had I been the world’s most brilliant theologian and engaging orator, I doubt he would have heard me.
Witnessing used to be so much easier. I remember the days when the mention of Christ wasn’t met with the slam of a metaphoric door. By the time I was born, a culture that valued morality had been replaced by free love and the “me” generation. And yet, growing up, most people I spoke to respected my faith, even if they did not agree with it. Many people had somehow acquired respect for the Bible, so much so that if they could be shown the plan of salvation within it, they might very well believe.
But now we live in what has been dubbed “post-Christian America.” I will assume I don’t need to prove this label to be accurate. (Okay, one little example: the skewering of John Ashcroft, as opponents claim that his Christian faith will render him unable to uphold the law as attorney general.) Initially, it seemed only politicians, professors and pop culture icons stereotyped Christians as narrow-minded, uninformed bigots. But that sentiment has trickled down. Now, the guy who owns the laundromat is indoctrinated. America is full of sincere people who have been served a tray full of pseudo-intellectualism and half-truths. And so, with an air of smugness, people who have never even read the Bible are claiming that it is “full of errors,” and can not possibly be substantial. (If they would read it, perhaps they would discover that it is sharper than any two-edged sword, and cuts every reader’s soul to the quick.)
How, then, do we reach the lost? If people refuse to listen to our arguments, our proof, our apologetics, what do we do?
We do what Jesus did. We love them. We must let them know we are followers of Christ, but then when they ridicule us for our faith, we love them. We affirm that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, and when they balk, we love them. And for a season, they will call us fools. Then, when they see that we are the happy ones, the fulfilled ones, the lovers of mankind, some of them will abandon their proud “intellectual” ideals and seek after the source of such love, because every soul aches for it.
When I was in college, one of my professors hosted a party for our class. This man had a world-wide reputation as a music historian; he was intimidating and formidable. But he cornered me at his party and said, “You’re different. It’s because you’re a Christian, isn’t it? Tell me more.”
There was nothing special about me. But despite all my flaws, he managed to see the love of Christ through me. In a world where informed Christian beliefs will not be heard, our only option is to begin with love. It is a basic, urgent need that even the most learned professor has. It is a need that the owner of a laundromat has. It is a need your neighbor has. And as I John 4 attests, the Christian has no option but to share it.