Pope Francis hit one out of the ballpark with his commentary on proselytism. While in isolation, one might view his comments as counter to the great commission, I tend to believe, like much of his other commentary, that he is looking at things from a big picture view.
Lets consider Matthew 28:16-20
16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations,baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
The big thing about the great commission is the making of disciples, from thence, comes Baptism, and obedience. There is no mention of numbers of altar calls, decisions for Christ, church memberships, number of folks in worship, church finance etc… Matthew 28:16-20 is about making disciples, which is a failure for the majority of most denominations and churches.
Discipleship making is challenging, and it takes time. Contemporary Christianity is obsessed with the quick and dirty, even if its outcomes are questionable at best.
- Some go so far as to twiddle and selectively decontext Acts 17 into a form of offend and stir up trouble, manufacture a need for God and repentance, manipulate folks into a Jesusy decision, and then leave for others to clean up the mess. El Chupacabra, a missionary writes about trying to clean things up after such quick fix attempts have passed through. Some of the evangelees commentary is telling:
“I knew they wouldn’t help us without getting something out of it. You christians are all like that.”“Why do they use the same testimony; I used to party with girls/booze/drugs, but my life was meaningless before Jesus and now that He is with me everything is great? Do they teach you that s^#%? Does it ever work?”“If we are accepting Jesus into our lives shouldn’t He know? Why do they make us raise our hands then, is it so they can count us up to tell everyone back home how great they are?”
- Others take the stance that faith must be private and exclusive, they don’t want anyone other than folks just like them entering into their world. In other words, unless you behave exactly like they do, belong exactly as they do, only then do you have the chance to hear about Christ. Such is the proverbial behave, belong, believe model… in a highly communal and personally interdependent culture, this can work out somewhat. In a culture of radical individualism and isolationism as embraced by much of today’s world, not so much.
- A majority of folks view the great commission, through what Hous calls, birthrate evangelism. Ie, the only way to make disciples is to crank out more and more babies… With ever increasing birthrates, this can make the numbers look good, but numbers rarely reflect the hearts and minds. Bottom line, disciples are made, not merely born and left to flounder and eventually walk away.
Alas, the Holy Spirit is not limited by man’s ineptness.
Despite the failures of all of the above discipleship does happen some of the time. The danger in this, is that the tendency is to think because something sort of works, its the right and in some cases, the only right answer.
Rather, its mostly nonsense, the above methods rarely show the light of Christ, and real love for one another tends to be a rarity. Its almost as if we’ve sold out the Gospel for the quick and dirty.
Consider Pope Francis comments and context:
Proselytism is solemn nonsense, it makes no sense. We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us. Sometimes after a meeting I want to arrange another one because new ideas are born and I discover new needs. This is important: to get to know people, listen, expand the circle of ideas. The world is crisscrossed by roads that come closer together and move apart, but the important thing is that they lead towards the Good.
His is a big picture view, reflecting Matthew 5, Acts 17, and while not explicitly inclusive of Matthew 28, it most certainly is implied. Its a restructuring of the behave, belong, believe model to reflect the reality of modern culture (and realistically the culture of the early church).
Bottom line, Pope Francis seems to be advocating a means of organic Holy Spirit driven discipleship making by the opening of hearts and minds. Its not something forced, inauthentic, or driven by ulterior motives as many of the quick and dirty approaches are perceived, or that proselytism nonsense can easily morph into.