In my earlier series on friendship evangelism, I made the argument that this approach to outreach is insincere because those who befriend nonChristians to gain an opportunity to present the gospel are operating from an ulterior motive. They have a gospel card up their sleeve, as it were. Christians should avoid this kind of offense at all times, especially when communicating the gospel. If we love our neighbor, we will not manipulate him.

Recently I came across a counterargument on a blog in which the writer stated that this was not wrong because all friendships are begun with some kind of self-centered motive. We expect companionship or some other benefit from the friendship. Therefore, the argument concludes, friendship evangelism is no worse than any other friendship because it, too, is driven by a goal of some kind.

At first glance this counterargument appears strong, but it quickly falls apart under scrutiny. While it is true that all friendships are begun with some kind of expectation, such as the desire for companionship, it is not true that this expectation is hidden. It is always understood by each person entering the friendship that the relationship will benefit himself or herself in some way. Everyone understands and expects that a friendship will provide certain general benefits to all involved. There is no secret motive.

That is not the case at all with friendship evangelism, however. In this approach to outreach, as it is commonly taught and practiced, the Christian is not to disclose the real reason for the “friendship” at the outset, hiding his intention of communicating the gospel so as to first build trust (as if that could somehow bring the nonChristian closer to receiving Christ). In short, in friendship evangelism, the Christian is to hide the gospel behind friendship. That alone should be enough to convince us that friendship evangelism is not evangelism at all, since it does not even proclaim the gospel message! How can any outreach be called evangelism when it keeps silent about the message of Christ?

In spite of this, the vast majority of evangelical Christians seem determined to use this method. Why don’t they use the Word of God, which is the very means by which he brings about the new birth? James wrote,

Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. (James 1:18, ESV)

How does God bring about the new birth? by friendship? by our building trust and emotional connections with unbelievers first? No. He brings about the second birth through the word of truth. That is what God has revealed to us in Scripture. Why, then, are so many in the church so determined to avoid using the very means God says is instrumental in salvation?

Over the years, I have theorized that many Christians do this because they are ashamed of the gospel and held in bondage by the fear of man. I have not always been completely certain about this, but the more time passes the more I become convinced that this is at least a major factor. The church needs to stop trying to please the world by hiding the gospel behind friendship. Jesus said:

A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. (Matthew 10:24-25, ESV)

If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. (John 15:19-21, ESV)

Therefore, we need to proclaim the gospel boldly, not shrinking away from the suffering it will surely cause us sooner or later. We are called, not to please the world, but to proclaim the gospel to it. Whenever we try to please people, inevitably the gospel ends up being pushed into the background. “If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10, ESV). Pleasing the world and proclaiming the gospel don’t make good companions. One will inevitably be chosen over the other.

2 Responses to Hiding the Gospel behind Friendship

  • Beth says:

    I think that many Christians have closed themselves off from the outside world. Many Christians have been taught not to associate with ungodly influences and people. While there is some truth in the basic premise – we are not to walk in the counsel of the unwise (Psalm 1:1). Unfortunately many Christians have cut off people that are not in their same camp. They become fearful and have little idea if any on how to relate to the unsaved. So, out comes the idea of Friendship Evangelism. Simply say “hello” to those that are around you, get to know them, enter into an activity with them and then “you will earn the right to share the Gospel with them”.

    This is flawed in my opinion. If I have the greatest news in the world, news that is unlike anything else and can literally bring life to people, I should not hide it. I should radically proclaim it everywhere and to everyone! To hide the Gospel is really a selfish act of hatred. What, not share the GOOD NEWS of Christ so that I can sit around in my circle of pious Christian brothers and sisters gloating about being better than everyone else because I have something that they don’t”. NO! NO! NO! What foolish pride and arrogance that would be. I am no better than anyone else. I want the world to know this glorious good news.

    Go and tell the world of Jesus, this is what love compels us to do.

  • Jeremy says:

    I agree, Beth. Hiding the gospel is not true friendship, and definitely not love. The church at large needs to stop trying to avoid the suffering that comes with following Jesus and just face the fact that proclaiming the gospel will bring enmity from the world. Jesus said we could not escape that because he, the Master, did not avoid it either.

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