“If Christians in the U.S. would be quiet for a year and only do good works, that would be evangelism. Our actions are way behind our words.” —Dieter Zander
I came across this statement in a book a few days ago, and it has been haunting me ever since. My first reaction, and maybe yours as well, was a negative one. My inner dialogue went something like this: “We need both! You can’t divorce words from actions. They are the flip sides of the same coin.” Although I still believe that to be true, I realized that in my hasty analysis, I had completely missed the heart of what this author was trying to communicate. What reality is being exposed here? What truth is there for us to contemplate? And perhaps even more importantly, what sin is there for us to repent of?
First of all, I think Zander is right in the sense that we as Christians have the tendency to exalt words over actions. Most evangelicals hold to the belief that the spoken Gospel is the most important thing we can communicate. After all, how can anyone come to a saving knowledge of faith in Christ without hearing the proclamation of God’s word? (Does this terminology sound familiar, fellow evangelicals?) Reacting against the social gospel of the 1920s, we have often regulated “works” to an inferior domain. Words became the venerated method of evangelism and the social implications of the gospel were left to the liberals.
Where does that leave us today? I believe that we are left with something far less powerful than what Jesus intended. Essentially, we have proclaimed the Gospel of “right belief” and divorced it from right conduct. I am not just talking about hypocrisy. We all know people who profess one thing and live another. Hypocrisy isn’t a new problem. What I mean is that we say that if someone believes a certain set of doctrines then he is saved. His lifestyle could communicate other things, and he could never let that knowledge transform any aspect of his life, but he has right belief; therefore, all is well. Is that true? That is my question.
In the West (meaning the U.S. and Europe), the problem isn’t that the Gospel hasn’t been communicated—it’s that the Gospel hasn’t been lived. As Christians, we have a lot to account for in our past: racism, religious wars, discrimination—all in the name of God. We tell people they need God but we don’t necessarily feel a need to be Christ to them. I’m talking about a lack of incarnational witness. It is much easier to talk about being a Christian than it is to live like one. I firmly believe that this generation needs to see Jesus and not just hear about Him. They need to see us caring for the poor, treating others as more important and pursing spiritual life over material wealth. They need to witness our concern for injustice, racism and the shoddy way we have of taking care of God’s creation.
When did we as Christians give up on these things? When did we quit? Why have we regulated to the government what we, as the Church should be spearheading? We are the redemptive force in this country, not the Republican party, not the Democratic party.
So I do agree with the heartbeat of the above statement. Personally, I am ready for people to evaluate the depth of my walk with God not by how many minutes or hours I spend in my quiet time or by how well I can cite the tenets of my faith, but rather by how much His truth overflows into every aspect of my daily life. I get convicted just writing that and even a bit scared when I think of all its implications for my own life. But just think about how a seeking world would respond if we started living out in detail what we spout off so easily. Now, that would be radical. That would be attractive. That would transform this world.