Evangelism Versus Proselytism

This year a great deal of commotion was raised over a news story reporting that individuals in the military could be court-martialed for sharing one's faith. On May 2, 2013, Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a spokesman for the Department of Defense (DoD), clarified an earlier statement about restricting religious discussion in the military by stating, "Service members can share their faith (evangelize), but must not force unwanted, intrusive attempts to convert others of any faith, or no faith, to one's beliefs (proselytization)." In other words, you can evangelize but not proselytize. I don't know about you, but this did not clarify the situation at all.

Merriam-Webster identifies "evangelize" as a transitive verb which means 1: to preach the gospel to; 2: to convert to Christianity. Merriam-Webster identifies "proselytize" as a transitive verb which means to recruit or convert especially to a new faith, institution, or cause. After reading these definitions, the clarification issued by DoD left me more confused. For example, in Acts 5:25, we find the apostles standing in the temple teaching the people. I think it would be fair to say that they were sharing their faith. In verses 27-28, the officials brought them before the council and asked them why were they teaching in this name when they had been commanded not to? It appears to me that the council's words define the apostles' action as being involved in proselytizing.

By its very nature, Christianity requires that we preach Christ, teaching and warning every man, so that every man may be presented perfect in Christ (Colossians 1:27-28). All Christians should feel as Paul did when he spoke to King Agrippa in Acts 26:29, "And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except for these bonds." The reason for this drive is that souls are at stake. James 5:19-20 states, "19 Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; 20 Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins."

Having said all this, I think we may be able to be more sensitive to an individual's lack of interest in God's Word. We need to be ready as Christ said in Matthew 10:14, "And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet." In turn, when Christians are approached by others concerning their faith, we should take advantage of the opportunity to teach. Colossians 4:6 tells us, "Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man." Christians should be ready to evangelize when approaching and being approached by someone of another faith for Acts 17:30-31 states, "30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent: 31 Because he has appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead."

In the end, it would seem one person's evangelizing is another's proselytizing. On the day of judgment I would hate to have anyone look at me and ask why didn't I mention Christ to them and it would be because I was worried how it would look. Instead, I should remember Acts 5:41 when the apostles departed from the council after being beaten and told not to teach that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.


Charles Royal, Decatur AL