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Concerned with Evangelism Methods

Dear Brothers in Christ,

I am writing in response to the article titled “What the Georgetown Young People Learned in Houston,” in the July 1996 issue of the Beacon Lights. I must say I was surprised by what I found in the article. With all due respect to the elder who wrote this article and the pastors associated with this trip, I will state my concerns.

In the third paragraph of the article we find the description of a room filled with pictures and statues of false gods. Some of their names are Rama-Chandra, Krishna, Varaha, and Vishnu. “This is a room for worshipping,” the article states. In the same paragraph, we have the description of a giggling child coming into the room while some of our young people are present. We are told the reason for the child’s laughter is because they did not know that they were to take off their shoes in this room because it is sacred. What were these young girls from our churches doing in this room? What the article states is that they were unpacking. They were assigned to sleep in this room. The author states that the Georgetown Young People were in Houston, in order to expose them to an evangelistic enterprise, so they could see how it was properly done. The author states “It almost goes without saying that God is glorified in all of these things.” Was God glorified in this enterprise?

I would like to discuss several items that concern me the most.

  1. A lack of important information
  2. A negative example to our impressionable young people
  3. A blurring of the line regarding the antithetical life

The article seems to lack some important information. The article is very clear that our young people lived in the home of an unbeliever and slept in his idol room, but does not clearly indicate that our young people presented the gospel to the people that they stayed with. The article indicates devotions were held and ministers and group leaders were present at times to make applications. It does not tell us that the idolatry was condemned. This was a serious oversight on the part of the author. I believe that the gospel was presented by our people, however it should have been clarified in the article.

The article spoke of the necessity of people taking off their shoes upon entering this Idol room. The article does not indicate whether they did take off their shoes or not. This is an important matter that should have been clarified. I understand that they did not remove their shoes.

It is not my intention to scrutinize the author’s writing, but to make sure that those who read the article might not have misconceptions concerning what was written. I believe that the people involved in planning this trip love our children and had the best of intentions regarding them. However, we must be very careful to not be blinded by good intentions, but to walk according to GOD’s word.

The article speaks of several situations in which our young people were involved. It speaks of some of our young girls sleeping in a Hindu man’s idol room. This room was still in use, as the children “saw Ravi doing the daily chores of incense and chants.” The article speaks of our young people attending a function at a local Baptist church. The article indicates that they were involved in social games, at which time the minister of this church called them together to bow their heads and pray. The minister said “If you accept Jesus into your heart, raise your head and look at me.”

I find these activities to be very disturbing. Are we as God’s people immune to the assaults of Satan? Is it not possible that our children, and even us adults, are impressionable? We send our children to our Protestant Reformed schools to keep them separate from the world as long as possible to teach them the truth. Do we tell our children that getting drunk is a great sin in the sight of God, and then take them to a bar to show them the evils of drinking? The Bible tells us to flee from idolatry. Should we not heed this warning? “Come out from among them and be ye separate.” How does II Cor. 6:14-17 harmonize with these activities?

I contend that this was not the proper means of educating and evangelizing the Indian people. I believe that our young people’s witness was compromised by staying in the homes of these peoples. We are to have contact with unbelievers, else we would have to go out of the world. This intercourse should provoke those who see us in our daily lives to ask of the hope which is within us. We must tell those wallowing in the mire of sin to repent and seek after God if happily they may find him.

This Hindu man’s household had to receive the impression that “my beliefs are not all that bad”(my words). How could he not get this impression, after all they were not only staying in his home but also sleeping in his gods’ room? Actions speak louder than words. No matter how strong our young people’s testimony was it would have been nullified as soon as they walked back into the house to slumber for the night. The scriptures say, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” How were our people maintaining the antithetical life under the given circumstances?

We must remember that God uses ordained ministers of the gospel to call His people out of darkness. “For how shall they hear without a preacher.” We must always be conscious that God’s word spoken by His minister is sufficient to reach all of his elect people. It is certainly true that we as individuals are to live in such a way that we speak of our blessings to others and give an answer of the hope that is within us. But we are not called to be “little missionaries” who travel across the country. That is what Arminians believe. Our calling is to be witnesses where we are in our daily lives.

I pray that I have not offended any without a cause, and that God will forgive me if I have over stepped my bounds. I love our church and hope that it will flourish until Christ comes again.

Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen. I John 5:21.

Jay Martz

Member of Peace Protestant

Reformed Church

 

 

Response to Jay Martz’s letter:

The report published in the Beacon Lights concerning the visit of the Georgetown Young People has aroused interest both positive as well as negative. We have received much encouragement from all quarters, and for this we are thankful. But, as our brother’s letter shows, there are also criticisms. We are not surprised by this because the work of evangelism among the heathen in the USA is a relatively new labor among us. We are thankful for the concerns raised.

The activities in question were held under the auspices of our consistory, as well as with the approval of the Georgetown consistory, and with the involvement of our home missionary. Therefore, the criticisms are not leveled against the article or its author, but against all those who planned and supervised the activities reported in the article.

Nevertheless, since brother Martz’s complaint is directed against information brought by the article I wrote, the lot falls on me to respond. Let me clarify a couple things right away with four preliminary points:

  1. No compromise was made with the idol worshipers because they were explicitly warned from the Scriptures that idolatry is condemned by God. This was done both by the preaching and teaching as well as by the witness of the young people and the chaperons.
  2. The families who hosted our young people were those who had been coming to our worship services and other meetings. They were asking questions and spiritually struggling with the matter. They were selected as the ones in whose homes the young people might serve as a good witness, answer questions, and help those we have been working with to come to a greater understanding of the truth of the gospel of grace.
  3. This is very important—our young people did not by any means participate in the worship of idols in these homes. On the contrary, during the entire week our young people had group devotions around the Word of God and the Hindu hosts sat in on these sessions.
  4. Please note that there were older chaperons as well as pastors who were present not only at devotion times, but also at different meals, etc. The groups of ten who stayed in the homes were in no way in danger of being influenced by the hosts. The whole idea was that our young people may learn to be a godly influence upon these unbelievers.

Now, allow me to deal with some of the specific things mentioned in the letter. I will do this by giving additional information which I trust will help clear up the misunderstandings.

Ravi and his family had been attending our worship services and mid-week meetings off and on for about two years. Ravi is Hindu, his wife was raised Roman Catholic, and both of them were struggling with the call to repent and believe. The fact that he let the girls sleep in the ‘worship room’ shows how far he had come from the devout Hindu ways which prohibit any profane use of the room (no eating, no sleeping, no shoes).

The business in the article about the laughing child and the shoes was meant to point out that the child knew about the formal rules, even though the parents did not enforce them. He remembered when they were much more strict about these things. Whether the girls removed their shoes or not, it would have been a matter of social etiquette, and not an act of worship (see preliminary point 3, above). The article did not say that the idolatry was condemned. The letter is right about this. I could have made this point, but I did not because the subject of the article was what was learned by our young people. The young people learned that idolatry is a futile and pitiful attempt of man to obtain salvation by his own efforts. That point was made repeatedly.

For your information, my article was originally submitted to the Standard Bearer to be published with home missionary Rev. Miersma’s article relating to the same conference. When it was decided that Rev. Miersma’s article be published in the Standard Bearer, and mine in the Beacon Lights, I did not think to make changes. Looking back now, I probably should have broadened the scope of the article on account of its becoming a standalone report of the whole week. I would encourage you to read Rev. Miersma’s article in the July 1, 1996 issue of the Standard Bearer (page 426), titled “Reaching the Nations with the Gospel of Grace — An Evangelism Seminar in Houston.”

The letter states that the young people were “involved” in idol worship. They were NOT involved in it. They witnessed it. The pastors and leaders made sure they knew what they were seeing.

There is another concern brought out in the letter, which is the altar call at the social gathering attended by (some of) our young people. This concern should be relieved by a little closer reading of the article. That altar call was, as the article points out, an “unplanned and unexpected object lesson showing just how varied are the alternatives men in their ‘cunning craftiness’ devise to the truth of salvation.”

‘Cunning craftiness’ comes from Ephesians 4:14, and describes how men “lie in wait to deceive” us. But our young people were not deceived. The article made the point that they were not deceived because of their training in the doctrines of the Bible. They were not deceived because the overseeing ministers and leaders taught them the truth, reminded them of the truth they already knew, and reinforced the lessons they had been taught throughout their whole lives.

To clarify, the official schedule had the young people spending that Wednesday night in the hosts’ homes, relaxing with the families. When the possibility of going to the local church was brought up, we were assured it would be just ice cream and skating. But the providence of God brought about the unexpected turn of events, and the pastors and leaders later taught the obvious lesson, which was that there is no essential difference between heathen idol worship and Arminian freewillism.

The crafty Arminian, of course, denies this truth, and will seek every opportunity to ensnare us with emotional and psychological appeals. But his power over these young people withers when they remember the stark comparison between blatant and crude image worship and the pathetic attempt at self-salvation through raising a hand at a meeting.

Another misunderstanding was found in the statement that “this Hindu man’s household had to receive the impression that my beliefs are not all that bad.” The letter contains the idea that somehow we compromised with the idolaters. Again, by definition, the article’s intent was to relate what the young people learned, not what the heathens learned.

But the heathens definitely received the clear and unadulterated condemnation of idolatry. In fact, after one of the meetings in which Rev. Miersma spoke pointedly about the despicable nature of those who Hindus claim as gods, Ravi approached one of the young people outside the church, asking if he thought everything Rev. Miersma had said was true. The quick and confident answer, “Yes,” was a powerful testimony. Preaching the gospel and the lives of the saints are the entwined ways of presenting the gospel to the world. Ravi was so upset at the preaching of our pastors and by the clear testimony of our young people, that he has stopped coming to church. This is hardly the response to compromise.

The fact that the young people stayed at his house did not constitute becoming “unequally yoked.” Yoking is a bond, a partnership, or a marriage, and is forbidden. On the other hand, a light is not to be hid under a bushel, but put on a table so its beams reach the farthest corners of the room. Salt that loses its savor is thrown out, but salt that stays in the shaker is no better that savorless salt.

So, Biblical antithesis should not be confused with isolation. Idolatry, as such, is not limited to Hindus and other heathen religions who worship pictures and statues. Idolators are all around us. The ungodly worship houses, cars, and any other material thing, as the treasure of their lives. What should our attitude be towards them? If we are to do the work of evangelism properly, seriously, and willingly, we must be able to communicate with them. That means we must be willing to learn their language and about their ways, so we can bring God’s word to them. It is true that there is a sense in which we are to hate with a perfect hatred those who hate God. But we are not to confuse that with being unwilling to get to know the unbeliever, and, yes, to express genuine love and concern for his spiritual welfare. There is one very important reason why we may and indeed must befriend the unbeliever. It is to bring to such a one the glorious gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. God uses the preaching of His Word as well as the faithful witness of the saints. Our witness is not separate from the preaching, but our witness as saints is itself one of the fruits of preaching. I believe this is what the young people learned at the conference, and to their spiritual profit. Faithful preaching should be accompanied by an informed and zealous witness given by God’s people who are willing to communicate with the world in which they live.

Ben Hopkins

Houston Texas