When Coexistence Is Compromise

John ArmstrongEvangelism

During the time of King Ahab (1 Kings 16:31-33) the leader of Israel married a princess of Tyre. When the princess arrived in Jerusalem she brought with her the worship of the Phoenician God Melkaart. She had a temple built for Melkaart in Jerusalem. She did not want to do away with Israel's God but rather to create a condition of mutual peace and co-existence. She was an ancient pluralist. Everyone can worship the god they choose, the god they desire, so long as we all follow our own truth and way. But God revealed himself to Israel as the one, true God and all other gods were vanity according to him. As the minister/theologian D. T. Niles noted in his classic little book, The Message and Its Messengers (Abingdon, 1966), "Coexistence may be good policy, but it compromises the nature of truth." (Niles was the president of the Methodist Church in Ceylon and was a very active leader in the World Council of Churches.)

I believe in tolerance in our social and legal stance in a secular society but I do not believe in coexistence with non-Christians faiths. There may be a fine line between them, at least there appears to be at times, but there is a line nonetheless. Niles says that when he became the secretary of the department of evangelism for the World Council of Churches he soon discovered that everyone believed in evangelism, at least generally speaking. It is almost like saying everyone in America believes in "apple pie and motherhood." Most churches talk about evangelism, even if there moral and theological stance is quite liberal. But, said Niles, he soon found out that "very few seemed to be anxious that people were not getting evangelized." Niles concludes that "Evangelism has become, in many minds, something which a church must do, but not something that must happen to people."

This last statement sums up what I have seen again and again. We are quite committed to talking about mission and evangelism in most churches. We even hope for what Niles calls " a few stray conversions" but we are fundamentally satisfied with coexistence. "Let each man have his own religion."

I wrote a few days ago about the need we now have to live in peace in a modern world where there are many religions, and many people with no religion. I pray for peace in the modern world. I am fully prepared to allow each person to live as they wish, so long as they do not break laws that will take away the rights and freedoms of others. But I am not content to talk about evangelism and not actually do it. Niles said, "It is so rare to meet someone who is really troubled because his neighbor, or her companion, does not know Jesus Christ."

I sat behind two young women at a baseball game last week who were kissing and expressing various forms of outward affection throughout the entire game. As I watched these two lesbian women I found myself uncomfortable but not deeply moved by their spiritual plight. (I am not saying I know their spiritual plight for certain, simply that I did not want to consider it too carefully at that moment.) I soon realized that my growing concern was likely too political and selective. I am not concerned enough about my own neighbors, much less these lesbians I do not know. As a Christian I do not personally condemn these two women, as if I was superior to them in any way, but I am concerned about their eternal well-being. What bothered me even more was that I did not feel the same for the other 18,000 fans at the game.

Don't misunderstand me. I do not go to a baseball game to judge people I do not know. Nor do I go to overtly work on my compassion for the lost. But I cannot easily divorce my feelings at a ball game from my feelings in any other environment. If these two attractive young women are without Christ then I should deeply care. What troubled me was my private response. I "judged" them (in my heart) and didn't remind myself that there were thousands of other people all around me, regardless of their sexual preferences, who needed to hear the gospel and come to know the living and true God. I think the truth is that there are times when I would rather not say any of this since it makes people sure that I am one of those narrow bigots. If I say, "There is no coexistence between good and evil. Men and women need to know the love of God in Jesus Christ and become his followers" what will people think of me?