Non-Religious Christian Spirituality

evangelism vs discipleship

Just got an email message from a Jewish friend in England. It so perfectly illustrates something I’ve been trying to get across for some time now that I want to share. I believe that what we typically call evangelism (prosletyzing or converting to another belief system) should really be considered discipleship. The Hebrew word for a disciple is talmid. There really is no analog for this word in our language. A talmid, which is translated as follower or disciple in our Bibles, is someone willing to live their lives with someone else, the master, day and night–to see who they really are, in all the intimate details so that they want to and eventualy do become like the master–become identified with him.

In this story, Alex and the Muslim imam had that relationship for a time, but most importantly, Alex was living his life of faith to such an extent that he could even attract the imam into a converstation in the first place. If we’d all do this, simply live our faith with integrity, we could leave our tracts and flyers at home and just go live. The people would come to us. Jews don’t prosletyze as Christians do, but then Christians should be prosletyzing more like Alex, who doesn’t even consider himself a Jew. Remember, in the “great commission,” (Mt 28:19) Jesus tells us to go make disciples (talmidim) of all the nations. And that means much more than “street witnessing,” it means to live our lives in such a way that others want to follow, to immerse themselves in a different way of life that will change who they are and who they identify with. If we are identified with God, and our talimidi identify with us, well if A equals B and B equals C, then C equals A, no? We need to be talmidis first, we need to identify with God and simply live that life before anything else happens down the road. Here’s Alex…

“I would like to tell you briefly about someone I recently met from Zambia. His name is Alex, and his was a remarkable story. His love for the Jewish people drove him to walk many miles through the bush to find a computer, so that he could make contact with a Jewish community over the internet.

He had a strong belief in the verse from Torah, that says those who bless Israel would in turn themselves be blessed, and those who curse Israel will in their turn have that same curse return to them. Apparently in the 1930’s, there was a strong Jewish presence in Zambia that ran businesses connected to the copper-mining industry. During that time, Zambia was relatively prosperous. However, with the creation of the State of Israel, Zambia was influenced by the Muslim section of its population, and all the Jews left. Alex felt that this was the beginning of Zambia’s economic problems. Alex follows Torah, and keeps kosher. He considers himself a God-fearer, rather than Jewish. He runs an orphanage, and a shelter for the poor from which he distributes food to the poor.

In Zambia, the Muslim population has grown as a result of the activities of fundamentalist groups providing food for the poor. They give it on the condition that you are a Muslim, or intend to become a Muslim. Alex upset them by giving poor Muslims food. What upset them even more, was that Alex did not place any preconditions on the food he gave. He was even visited by an imam, who engaged in lengthy discussions with him. The imam asked, “Why do you follow the God of Israel?”Alex answered, “Because the God of Israel is a living God.”The imam asked, “How is it that your God is a living God?”Alex replied, “Because when my God says something, He does it. What He promises, He fulfils. What He predicts, comes to pass.” And with examples from the Torah and the Prophets, Alex showed the imam where this has happened.

Over a course of many months, the imam returned many times. And eventually, one day, he said, “I want to follow your God. I want to follow the God of Israel. I also want you come and speak to my congregation.” The first part of the imam’s words lifted Alex’s heart; the second part filled him with dread. But he nevertheless accepted the invitation. You can imagine–it was like Daniel entering the lions’ den. There was this softly spoken man, standing before a large crowd of nearly a thousand Muslims, trained and converted by hardline fanatics. So he prayed, “O Lord my God, I have no idea what to say; please direct my tongue to speak.”And so he spoke to them. And at the end of the day, as it was getting dark, about a hundred Muslims came forward and said that they wanted to follow the God of Israel. They even wanted to convert there and then. Alex tried to explain to them that he was not qualified to convert them–he was not even Jewish. But they insisted, so he thought a bit, and said that perhaps he could do something to symbolise their break with the past.

So that evening, they went down to the nearby river, and with several men on guard to warn away crocodiles, all the men immersed themselves. They are now applying for a proper conversion. When I heard all this, I picked my jaw up off the floor and told him that this was further proof that our God is a living God, because out of nowhere God has called him, and sowed a seed in a place no one would have expected. I feel privileged to know Alex.”

And so do I. I pray I can be more like Alex every day.

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