Are you nervous when people in suits knock on your door? Ha, I am too. And there you know that I understand emotionally one of the objections to Christian faith that I encounter: the missionary zeal of those who follow Jesus. The accusation is that it is deeply arrogant to believe that every one needs faith in Jesus Christ in order to know God and enjoy Him. While I believe that is possible and necessary for us to examine our “beliefs” as exclusive claims to understanding reality, I do not believe that the attitude of those holding to exclusive faith statements, whether christian, religious, or of material and “secular” nature means that one must be arrogant. Some who believe are arrogant and some who believe are not arrogant. Arrogance is that quality of heart that pervades both word and body to communicate that I am better than you, for you have failed, and I have not; I am worthy of love and you are not. Conviction of heart and the desire to persuade is often confused as arrogance in our setting.
I believe liberty is the common grace of God to all people in a society whereby a collective value on freedom of conscience within that setting requires the energetic debate of ideas but the utmost respect of the dignity of persons–even and perhaps most desperately–when they disagree.
A fascinating case study on humility and persuasion is contained in the apostle Paul’s writing in Romans 9-11. It should be observed that this former Jewish persecutor of the followers of The Way, as the earliest followers of Jesus were known, was a flaming evangelist. He wanted to convince others even at the cost of his life that Jesus was the messiah, the Christ, the destined judge of all humanity. Notice Paul’s zeal and passion for persuading his “tribe,” the Jews, to trust Jesus as their Saviour:
“I speak the truth in Christ–I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit–I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my own race, the people of Israel.” Romans 9:1-4
“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can tastify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based in knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” Romans 10:1-4
“I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them.” Romans 11:13-14.
Paul argued that the inclusive claim that Jesus was the only saviour for all humanity–both Jews and Gentiles– could not be accompanied by arrogance. He says “Do not boast over these branches;” the branches of many in Israel who have been broken off. In looking back over the discourse from Romans 9 to 11 Paul gives seven reasons that could be said to that rule out arrogance and argue for humility.
1. The benefits of knowing the messiah are rightly Israel’s. Romans 9:1-5.
2. Knowing God and living in fellowship with Him, depends not on the efforts of humans, but on the mercy of God. Romans 9:14-18.
3. Righteousness–or being in right relationship with God–comes about not by works, but by faith in Christ. Romans 9:30-Romans 10:4.
4. Our faith in Jesus–which came from hearing the Word of God–was dependent on the obedience of someone else to the call of God. Romans 10:5-15
5. The Gentiles who believe have been graciously grafted into the covenant relationship with God. Romans 10:11-24.
6. The Gentiles who believe and enjoy the covenantal relationship with God will be a source of envy stirring up saving faith among the Jews. Romans 11:25-32
7. The Merciful God is greater and wiser and more inclusive than I am. Romans 11:33-36
So, when I step into the realm of persuader I must also check into the realm of humility. I do not argue for Christ in fear that I need you to believe in order to justify my belief; that’s the stance of a fundamentalist. Rather I argue for faith in Christ out of the generative and humble stance of one who has been blessed and senses that it is not just for me to keep it to myself. I’ve been blessed and must pass it on as a life-giving and enhancing option available to others.