Recently as I read the comments on an informal article a friend of mine wrote on the topic of repentance, I came across the following statement: “I don't believe I need to justify or beg forgiveness for my sins because I don't believe I do sin.” And farther down, another commenter asked: “…what are your thoughts on moral atheists? People who do not commit ‘sin,’ and when they do they ‘repent’ with inner reflection rather than going to... um... Outside Help.” These comments reveal a completely different worldview than the Christian/biblical worldview, and it gave me pause. Let’s face it, though we may not always receive the response we desire, it is easier to share the gospel and three angels’ messages with fellow Christians, because underneath the differences caused by denominational doctrines and extra-biblical traditions, we often share the same foundation: the belief in an Almighty Creator; the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ, who died for the sins of the world; and the importance of the Bible. Growing up and/or living in a pre-dominantly Christian society have sheltered many Adventists in North America. We have lost touch with how to share with non-Christians, but times are changing and so are the demographics of our society.
In 2007, the Pew Forum's U.S. Religious Landscape Survey determined that 78% of adults in the United States profess some form of Christianity as their religious affiliation, whether or not they attended church regularly. Yet interestingly the mainline Protestant churches are experiencing a decline in membership. At the same time, a growing number of young adults are claiming no religious affiliation. In fact, one-in-four U.S. adults ages 18 to 29 are not affiliated with a specific religion. What about our church? The Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America, which not too long ago was highlighted in an USA Today article, has grown by 2.5%, but in spite of this growth, our church membership is aging. In 2008, the average age of church members in North America was 51 years even though the average age of the general population was 36. These statistics demonstrate the difficulty we are having in reaching the young adult population, particularly as more young adults distance themselves from, have little knowledge regarding, or have no interest in Christianity.
It is inevitable; we will meet people whose worldview--their philosophy of life--is completely different from ours. How do we share the Gospel with those who think the Bible is an archaic book of outdated fairytales, that Jesus may have been a historic figure but was just a wise man who taught moral lessons, or do not believe in God at all? How do we explain the importance of Jesus’ sacrificial death with someone who revers Buddha; the joy of the Sabbath rest with someone who observes ancient pagan festivals like Samhain; or the importance of worshiping the God of the Bible alone when they believe in other gods and goddesses? How do we communicate the three angel’s message with someone who does not believe in Creation, has never kept Sunday (let alone Sabbath), and is not convinced with a “thus saith the Lord”?
The common foundation we may have grown accustomed to when initiating a conversation with fellow Christians will not be there when we find ourselves in an opportunity to share with a non-Christian. I am not belittling the importance of witnessing to our Christian brothers and sisters. It is an important part of fulfilling the second angel’s message (Revelation 14:8). I, myself, was a Protestant Christian for eighteen years before joining the Adventist Church, and afterward I was blessed with teaching as part of evangelistic seminars and one-on-one Bible studies. I understand first-hand the challenges that are faced when we decide to leave what was comfortable and familiar, and to follow the Lord into deeper truth. It is life changing, but even as life-changing as is a Christian becoming an Adventist, the basic foundation of our worldview remains the same.
When we witness to non-Christians with the hope of helping them choose Christ, we are literally asking them to replace their entire way of thinking and viewing the world with a radically different way to think and view the world. We are asking them throw everything they believed out the window. This is a significant challenge for both the witness and the one we are witnessing to. We cannot approach an atheist the same way we would an Anglican; a Buddhist in the same manner we would a Baptist; or a Pagan with the same style as a Pentecostal.
We may not be famous evangelists or trained Bible workers, we have not have a degree in theology or experience in apologetics, but the Lord still expects us to witness to those He brings into our circle of influence, whether Christian or non-Christian. After all, the first angel’s message is to preach the everlasting gospel “unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people” (Revelation 14:6). Even if from our point-of-view the task before us appears insurmountable, we have confidence in the words of Christ: “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
So how do we share the gospel with the non-Christians within our circle of influence? In Part II, we will take a look at practical advice and examples provided by the Word of God.
U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. (2007) The Pew Forum. Available at http://religions.pewforum.org/reports
Reflections on the future of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America: Trends and challenges by David Beckworth & S. Jospeh Kidder. (2010) Ministry Magazine. Available at http://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/2010/december/reflections-on-the-future-of-north-american-seventh-day-adventism.html
Adventists’ back-to-basics faith is fastest growing U.S. church by G. Jeffrey MacDonald. (2011) USA Today. Available at http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2011-03-18-Adventists_17_ST_N.htm