Monday, November 17, 2008

"Sharing My Faith" - Is It Biblical?

One of my personal irritants (e.g. pet peeves) is the use of buzzwords and buzz-phrases in contemporary Christian culture. Those things we say without thinking clearly and Biblically about what it is we're saying. One of these phrases tha's been on my mind lately as I've been doing some studying on the subject of Christian apologetics is "sharing my faith." This phrase is used often and casually by so many of us. There are even books and classes about "how to share your faith." But I've always felt a little uneasy about the phrase. And so I thought about it for a while and did a little deconstruction to discover if the phrase stands up to Biblical scrutiny. And my conclusion is - no, it doesn't.

Now before you accuse me of semantic snobbery, let me say that I have used this phrase myself and bear no ill will or ground axe against anyone who continues to use it. But I am becoming more and more convinced that far too many of us who name the name of Christ do not like to engage our minds very much, and too easily fall into the habit of using these kind of terms without clear thought.

So what does someone normally mean when they speak of "sharing their faith"? Well, mainly they are saying that they are witnessing to someone. That they are presenting the Gospel of Jesus Christ to an unbelieving person, as an exercise in evangelism. That they are in fact proclaiming the good news, the "evangel" that we are all dead in our sin and justly headed for eternal punishment, but God has acted to send His Son to fulfill the righteous and just requirements we could not, substitutionarily dying in our place as a sacrifice for our sin, and by trusting in Him and His finished work we can receive eternal life.

But is this "sharing"? Is the Gospel of Christ a message to be "shared"? I can share my lunch with someone, I can share a taxi, I can even share my feelings with them. But the Scriptures picture the Gospel not primarily as something to be shared, but rather something to be proclaimed. To be heralded as an announcement, to be presented as a propositional truth statement that demands a response. A message of eternal life to be communicated boldly, clearly, and repeatedly to as many as possible. My concern is that when we reduce the communication of the Gospel to an interpersonal "sharing", it can become simply another "this is what I think" message, rather than a "this is what God says to be true" message. A sharing of "this is what works for me" rather than "you must be born again." A me-centered sharing of my experiences, rather than the command and plea of God to be reconciled to Him. Regardless of how we communicate the Gospel, it is not our message - we are simply the herald of the King, called to proclaim His message of eternal life.

And this brings me to the second part of the buzz-phrase: "sharing my faith." Just what is it that we are communicating? Is it my personal belief in this Gospel, my personal faith? Now that is something that I most definitely cannot share with another person. Indeed, the Gospel is not mine, it is God's. My faith is simply my personal trust in the message and the Christ. Everyone has to exercise their own faith in that message and Person. They can't share mine.

The best sense I can make of using the term "faith" when describing evangelism is in saying that we are communicating the faith. As it is described in Jude v. 3, it is "the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints." The faith, the definite article. The Gospel of Christ as contained in the body of apostolic teaching that we as believers are commanded to defend and earnestly contend for. This is what we are communicating, sharing, proclaiming to unbelievers. In reality, we have nothing else to share or proclaim. We are not commanded to communicate our own personal experience of faith in Christ - although that can often be a God-glorifying testimony to His grace. But it's not by admiring or trusting in what God has done for me that gains eternal life for another person - it is by trusting in "the faith", the truth of the Gospel and the person and work of Jesus Christ. If my evangelism amounts to nothing more than sharing what God has done for me, I have not really communicated the truth of the Gospel. I have simply shared my experience. Again, not a bad thing. But not sufficient to fulfill the Great Commission.

In place of "sharing my faith", I propose a new buzz-phrase. How about "proclaiming the faith." Or there's always that old saw, "preaching the Gospel." Seems that was the way Paul liked to express it. Can't go too far wrong there, can we?

Thank you for letting me share that with you...

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