The below writing is an assignment which I had to write for a class. This class is one on the New Testament as literature. From out of the blue, we were assigned to write an epistle in the way that Paul wrote his (using Romans, especially), but for a church or group of the modern times. I wasn’t crazy about this assignment–the Bible has been done. It was a good assignment to figure out the parts of an epistle (by myself), but I felt that it was irrelevant to the goals of the class. Anyway, below is how I tackled that assignment anyway. It is written to the group of people on our University campus that likes to yell at passersby the general message that they’re going to hell. (This is related to a previous post I wrote about Bathroom Evangelism) Here we go!
From Paul, servant of the Lord called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the almighty will of God, to the faithful in this city: we thank God that there is a Christian presence on the campus at the University, and your efforts to lead wayward students in the right path have not been overlooked (indeed, you have made yourselves known). Your energy and zeal for the word of God and your fierce desire to lead the faithless in the one true faith is to be admired. Under Paul by the hand of a scribe to those who preach in University Plaza: grace and peace from God our Father and Jesus Christ.
We understand that you are trying to lead the religiously directionless, the lost sheep of the University. Your intentions are in the right place! Many of these students have not heard the word of God and have therefore do not know of the salvation which Christ brings. Furthermore, there are several religious groups on that campus, and many have the capacity to lead these students astray. They may see the multitude of ways to understand the Faith and may lose hope that there is a real or certain path to salvation. Most believers at this stage in their lives seek the truth in everything they do, especially in the realm of religion. If they weren’t questioning their Father before leaving the security and sponsorship of their parents, then they must certainly be doing so now that they are discovering their roles in the world. If they never knew Christ before coming to the University, then they likely to shy away from the superfluous number of versions of faith. Blessedly, we Christians know the truth and to follow the One True God, and you and your people are working hard to lead students on the true path to salvation.
Your method of preaching, however, does not appear to be effective in the University’s student body. You station yourselves in University Plaza (between their Union and Library), and you shout your messages at them as though they ought to be required to hear and believe you. This is why no one is listening to you: you are not a real part of their community. You come as strangers to preach at them, and they feel threatened by you and your manner of trying to force yourselves upon them. If you remember my own processes of evangelism, I first became an integral part of the city’s community before beginning to preach to its citizens. I learned a trade, and set up a shop in the market so that we could be seen by the people of that place. We did this so that the people of the city would feel that we were safe and approachable. We spoke softly and carefully to them, for they were people who were still lost and did not recognize our Christ Jesus. We lived there, using the salary we made from my own business, and became one of them so that, as we began to spread the true Word of God they might listen to me. This is not so with the ministry you have created in this particular city. Who are you that they, students who seek the truth, should listen to you and believe just because you are there to yell at them?
I must also tell you to keep your audience in mind. You and your people are not considering the wills and the predispositions of those to whom you preach. You continue to tell these students of the University that they are living their lives wrong, and you beat them down with more laws to follow. This is precisely the worst thing to say to them. Many of them have just begun to live away from their homes and parents, and they are naturally happy to live their own lives by their own rules for the first time. Your presence as strangers, suddenly telling them what not to do by trying to govern them by rules again, is not welcome among them. Although there are certainly rules and laws which people must follow (in society as in religion), plenty of students are not eager to have anyone dictating what they can, cannot, or must do…even if the dictator believes that doing these things will bring salvation upon their souls.
Furthermore, besides being arrogant in your teachings, your attitude while preaching is an angry and boisterous one, which likely feels threatening to them also. When I had begun to preach, I also did not phrase my words (which I did not get from another man, but from God), to evoke angry emotions and arguments in them. I preached love first, for that is the most important Fruit of the Spirit, and love is much less threatening than anger is. Although we agree with you that God is mighty and He can be a wrathful God, we do not want an unbeliever to see first that God is only a violent, uncaring, loveless, and uncompassionate God. In order to convert non-believers into believers, it is best to inform them of the wonders and beauty of being saved, forgiven, and loved by God. They are more likely to be drawn to a caring and gentle God who does what he does because he loves us, not because he chooses to be petty, wrathful and violent. You must tell them that, although he can occasionally be radical in his wrath, one might look at His reasons for having been wrathful in the first place. Instead, you paint for them the worst picture of God imaginable, which is One who will send them to Hell if they don’t follow these laws you preach.
Not only are you failing to be good examples of Christian and brotherly love, you are also preaching the wrong faith. Many of the messages you preach include ideas about what one should do in order to attain eternal life with God. You scream and force messages against promiscuity, the use of certain feminine products, partaking in alcohol and other substances, dressing in a way so as to reveal too much of the body, among many other things. Your perpetual message is all about what they, as pure sinners who do not deserve to be saved, cannot do. That is all they hear from you, and it is not a well-received message (as I told you before, they are college students who want to live by their own rules). Yet you continue to ignore the way that your message is being received and you lead them astray besides.
Not only is your message not being received, your message is also flawed for trying to advocate a salvation that is based on adhering to physical laws. Where did you get these laws from? They may be what you interpret as the law that God has set forth for the world to follow, but you have forgotten that the law was fulfilled in Jesus Christ’s resurrection. Therefore, not only are you preaching rules that college students balk at listening to, you are preaching the wrong rules. What rules might they follow, you might ask? Surely they cannot be allowed to do whatever they want—they will become uncouth and naturally fall away from God. That much is true! However, do you not remember the words which I sent to the Galatians? “For the fruit of the spirit if love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Again, the most important of these is love, for the rest of the fruits of the spirit flow through it. If we have Christian love for one another and the world, then we will surely not need strict adherence to Jewish laws anyway. You should therefore not only preach a loving and just God, you must show the University’s students what love looks like by leading by example and by making that your message.
Even if we did try to adhere to these laws and rules which you so forcibly advocate, we would not be saved. The threshold for salvation was set so high that is impossible for us (as mere sinful beings) to achieve salvation on our own, which was an intentional move by God. He wanted us to see that, in order to be saved, we must fully rely on and believe in Him. That is the only way to reach salvation, for our God is so almighty and powerful that he can accomplish that which was once impossible. He sent our dear Lord Jesus Christ to die for our sins to make our salvation a reality, even though our sin was so great. Your preaching of a works-based faith is an insult to the sacrifice God made in Christ Jesus. I hope that you will understand this, and that you will cease to preach this false word to those who may be in most need of a way to see the truth and light of God.
You are no longer to yell at them as strangers who would see them bend to the false will of God which you preach. You are first to adjust your message to preach love and the salvation of souls through faith in our Lord God only, not through our own works as simple human beings. Second, you are to cease your yelling from the steps of University Plaza in favor of becoming a part of the community at the University before you even consider preaching to them again. Be humble in your approach, fellow Christians, and respect those to whom you preach. Understand them, so that you may know what kind of help they need and how best to bring them on the path of devotion to God. You are in a position to be good stewards and examples of the Christian faith—please do not squander this opportunity. You will be tested by these college students—do avoid yelling or inciting argument either way.
You are eager in your evangelism, and that is to be praised. It is important for the whole world to know of Christ’s love for us! It is, however, even more important that the message is communicated correctly, or else the message will not be communicated at all. Be unpretentious and modest in your authority over the students at the University, especially since you have failed to become a familiar part of their community. They seek the truth, but will only find truth with those they trust. You have not established this trust. Greet them with loving kindness and try to treat them as equals—awful sinners though you believe them to be. On that note, neither are your people blameless: before you criticize the twig in someone else’s eye, be sure to first take care of the log in your own eye.
We know of your love for God and your desire to please the Lord. Verily, your heart is in the right place. Plan on hearing from us soon as we learn of the future of your ministry from afar. Should our travels lead us near where your congregation is located, we will surely visit you there to encourage you in your efforts.
May God strengthen and preserve you in your mission, and may you remember the gospel I have given you and the preaching of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. May God grant you the grace, peace, and wisdom to handle this campus ministry with care and good judgment so that His name may be glorified by many more new believers. Glory be to God through Christ Jesus forevermore! Amen.