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Pope says, if you try to convert an unbeliever, you are “not a disciple of Jesus”


First, Pope Francis was quoted as saying “There is no Hell.” Later, he reportedly denied the deity of Christ, saying that while Jesus lived on earth he was a virtuous man but “not at all a God.” Then, the Pope reportedly said that His death, Christ appeared as a spirit, as opposed to the bodily resurrection of Christ. Now he has said that those who try to “proselytize” an unbeliever are “not a disciple of Jesus.”

The other times the man who is said to be the custodian of the Christian faith reportedly said something that seemed to deny a central tenet of Christianity were in the context of a discussion with his atheist friend, the Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari. The Vatican insisted that the journalist was not accurate in his reporting. This time Pope Francis was talking to a group of high school students in Rome, responding to a question about how to deal with atheists and people of other religions.

Here is what he said:

In front of an unbeliever the last thing I have to do is try to convince him. Never. The last thing I have to do is speak. I have to live consistent with my faith. And it will be my testimony to awaken the curiosity of the other who says: “But why do you do this?” And yes, I can speak then. But listen: Never, never bring the gospel by proselytizing. If someone says they are a disciple of Jesus and comes to you with proselytism, they are not a disciple of Jesus. Proselytism is not done, the church does not grow by proselytism. Pope Benedict had said it, it grows by attraction, by testimony. Football teams proselytize, this can be done. Political parties, can be done there. But with faith there is no proselytism. And if someone says to me: “But why?” Read, read, read the Gospel, this is my faith. But without pressure.

To be sure, “proselytize” has the connotation of evangelizing in the wrong way–high pressure, canned presentations, being manipulative, etc.–though simply telling people about Jesus is often branded as proselytizing. This is how it is taken in the growing number of countries with anti-proselytizing laws, which are often being used today to persecute Christians, something the Pope should be sensitive to.

But setting that aside, the Pope’s answer suggests what might be a useful tactic in evangelism: Wait to be asked. Instead of trying to convince your Muslim, Jewish, and atheist friends to become Christians–which might create big trouble for a contemporary European teenager–live out your faith so that they become curious and ask you about it. Then you can speak.

Fair enough. The problem, though, is that the Pope puts his prohibition about not trying to convince unbelievers and not proselytizing so strongly. Those who do so are not just well-intentioned but ineffective, or wrong-headed and naive. “They are not a disciple of Jesus.” Is he saying that if you try to convert someone to Christianity, you yourself are not a Christian?

Evangelical Christians are well-known for evangelizing, for “witnessing” to others about their faith, giving their “testimony” about their own coming to faith in the course of “sharing the Gospel.” In their recent ecumenical zeal, Catholics have finally accepted Protestants as Christians, though as “separated brethren.” But does the Pope believe that evangelicals and Pentecostals who try to win others to their faith “are not disciples of Jesus”?

But here is the biggest problem. On the first Pentecost, St. Peter faced a diverse, multicultural Jewish audience “from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5). He preached to them about Jesus, called on them to repent and be baptized, and “with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them” (Acts 2: 40). As a result, “about three thousand souls” became Christians (Acts 2:41). Later, St. Peter won converts by preaching to the crowd at Solomon’s Portico (Acts 3). Still later, St. Peter presided over the conversion of a Roman centurion named Cornelius (Acts 10).

How does this align with what Pope Francis said? “In front of an unbeliever the last thing I have to do is try to convince him. Never. The last thing I have to do is speak.” Didn’t St. Peter speak first and try to convince his audience? These people already had a religion, whether Judaism or Roman paganism. So wasn’t St. Peter trying to get them to change their religion? Couldn’t this be seen as proselytizing? The Pope said, “Never, never bring the gospel by proselytizing. If someone says they are a disciple of Jesus and comes to you with proselytism, they are not a disciple of Jesus.” Would the Pope say that St. Peter, whose office he claims to hold, is “not a disciple of Jesus”? But St. Peter was, literally, a disciple of Jesus.

St. Peter and the other Twelve Disciples, along with other Apostles like St. Paul, spread Christianity throughout the Greco-Roman world, from India to Spain. None of them seem to have followed the contemporary ecumenical approach, sometimes expressed by Pope Francis, that “If you follow your own religion faithfully–whether you worship Zeus, Jupiter, or any other deity represented in the Roman Pantheon–you will be saved.” Instead, they said things like, put away your idols and turn to the living God (cf. Acts 14:15).

The subsequent generations of the Early Church also convinced multitudes of unbelievers from still more religions. A large number of the saints venerated in the Catholic Church were missionaries, apologists, and martyr witnesses. And some, arguably, were proselytizers. Does the Pope really believe that these saints of the church are not disciples of Christ? If so, is he going to de-canonize them?

I know quite a few people who have become Catholics. They say that the Catholic Church gives them certainty, that having a living oracle from God in the papacy protects the church from change and from liberal theology, ensuring a living tradition that is continuous from century to century. Recent popes, like St. John Paul II and Benedict VI, played that role. But Pope Francis does not.

That he is continually undermining not just historic Catholicism but historic Christianity in favor of beliefs that interest him more, such as environmentalism and ecumenism, undermines the office of the papacy itself. Orthodox Catholics, whose conservative theology has always manifested itself in allegiance to the Pope, are put in the position of having to resist what the Pope teaches. For non-Catholics, the papacy and thus the church that he rules lose all credibility.

To be sure, Pope Francis is still pro-life, though remarkably tolerant of Catholic politicians who are not. He still believes in the supernatural, unlike some liberal theologians, to the point of recognizing demonic possession and promoting exorcisms. And maybe all of these controversial statements are just misunderstandings or mistranslations.

For Lutherans, the Popes of history have not, contrary to the claim, been the custodians of historic Christianity. Rather, they have been a means of making changes in Christianity, adding innovations such as Purgatory, indulgences, saint worship, relic veneration, ritualism, legalism, and the consequent effacing of the Gospel itself. Pope Francis makes clearer what Lutherans have always professed about the office of the papacy, that it is not of Christ but Antichrist, not as the dispensationalist end times bogeyman but as a usurper of Christ within the church (2 Thess 2:3-4). If you want an objective guardian of the faith that never changes, look to God’s Word, not to a fallible human being who claims to be infallible.

Patheos article by Gene Veith January 3, 2020

 
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Posted by on February 3, 2020 in evangelism

 

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My Time in Africa — Teaching in Ethiopia!

Friends: I’m back in the States after almost a month in Africa! If you prayed for me, thank you! I met some fantastic believers, tried some ethnic food, and thoroughly enjoyed working with church leaders in both Zambia and Ethiopia.

In Ethiopia, my class of 20-25 consisted of church leaders and we covered my book DocTALK. The students willingly broke into small groups to discuss how the doctrines of the Christian faith apply to their situations.

Our plan is to return in August (Linda will teach some English to these students in the afternoon) and then a third time in the future. I was humbled at the quality of these leaders and am grateful to Mulu and his vision for the gospel in Addis Ababa and surrounding areas.

I was overwhelmed with the amount of people in Addis, the capital. I would love to invite any of you who wish to financially contribute to the good work they are doing. Donations may be sent to:CMML, Inc. P.O. Box 13 Spring Lake, NJ 07762-0013. There are so many needs at this important school. Mark your donation attention to the principle Mulugeta Ashagre (email: mulugetaashagre1@gmail.com). I am more than happy to answer any questions you have.

Again, blessings on you all for lifting me up in prayer! Here’s a short video clip of some of the children in Ethiopia clapping for me!

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2019 in Africa

 

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My Time in Africa — Teaching a Master’s Class in Zambia!

I arrived at the Lusaka airport in Zambia on October 19th. I was picked up by a couple of brothers from the Ambassador International University. An hour and a half later we were way out in the bush at the school. The school, sponsored by Gospelink, has about 90 buildings and I was housed at a nice “visitors’ lodge” with a private room and bath.

My class consisted of eight Master’s level students. They were a joy as we went through three books that I had written: When Temptation Strikes (on the doctrine of temptation and sin), The Forgotten Third: Developing a Relationship with God the Holy Spirit (not yet published), and Unlike Jesus: Let’s Stop Unfriending the World. These men tackled the content and we had wonderful discussions about the implications for their ministry in Zambia.

To any of you who prayed for my time in Zambia, thank you! I will shortly write a brief report of the 2nd half of my trip, teaching in Ethiopia!

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2019 in Africa

 

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A Brief Report on My Trip to Zambia (Oct. 18-27, 2019)

First of all, friends, thank you for praying! I am presently (Oct. 30) in Ethiopia teaching a course to pastors and Christian workers.

My course in Zambia went quite well. I had eight Masters-level students and they were a great encouragement to me as we talked about three areas: temptation and sin, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, and friendship evangelism. I used my book When Temptation Strikes for the 1st area, my just-published book Unlike Jesus: Let’s Stop Unfriending the World for the third area. And I recently finished a short manuscript entitled The Forgotten Third: Developing a Relationship with God the Holy Spirit. Whew!

The Gospel Link campus for Ambassador International University is quite impressive, but extremely remote. My accommodations were in a fine newer building called “The Lodge.” It was my joy to serve that school and those students! Above is a picture of the class.

One of the meals I tried ! Please lift me up prayer for my next week and a half here in Ethiopia.  Thanks!

 
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Posted by on November 1, 2019 in Zambia

 

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Please Pray for My Time in Zambia: October 20-26!

Friends: I will be teaching at Ambassador International University in Zambia, Africa. I’ve developed the following course to teach a small cohort of graduate-level national students. Here’s a copy of my syllabus:

I’ve recently finished writing a short book on God the Holy Spirit. And I get to take these students through that draft manuscript.

I would deeply appreciate your praying for me during this upcoming week of study with these students!  Thank you!

 

 
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Posted by on October 20, 2019 in Zambia

 

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What Does the Lord Have for Me in 2019?

Some of you are faithful readers of this blog.A few of you have stumbled on it by accident.  I appreciate each of you and want to take today’s post to ask for your prayer for me and this new year!  I’m so thankful that the Lord is using me in various ministries and you might want to know about a few upcoming events for which you can pray.  Please let me know how I can pray for you.

Specific kinds of activities:

1. Writing projects:There seems to be good indication that I will have one (and possibly two) writing contracts for this year.  Unlike Jesus: One Area in Which Jesus-Followers Excel is something I’ve worked on for a while. We need to become friends of sinners, like Jesus, don’t we? Another book, tentatively entitled With Friends Like These, will challenge us to develop deeper relationships with other believers as well as with those who don’t know the Lord.  (I’ll announce on this blog when either of these contracts is nailed down).  Please pray for clarity of thought and a clear guidance of God the Holy Spirit as I work on these two projects.

2. Speaking Opportunities: I am so grateful for the times I get to preach God’s Word or conduct serious study sessions on various theological topics.  I’m hoping to present one or two workshops at the annual “Iron Sharpens Iron” conference at Emmaus Bible College in May. I’ve suggested several possible topics (the titles with brief descriptions are: “Learning to Be a Friend of Sinners Without Becoming a Friend of the World” Jesus’ being a friend of sinners (Mt. 11:19) and the command for us not to be a friend of the world (James 4:4) are often confused. How is it many of us need a refresher in Friendship 101? What is a biblical definition of the “world” and our place in it? “Theological Opposition: Where Should We Do Battle — and Why?” This is not the day for spiritual pacifists. As Chuck Colson used to say, “The battle is raging today all around, but many are perishing because we Christians have failed to engage the enemy at the point of attack. We not only flinch; for the most part we are not even looking in the right direction.” (Who Speaks for God?). Biblical guidelines for fighting false teaching will be discussed. “Battlin’ Brethren: Silly Squabbles Between the Saints” Learning to distinguish between the essentials of the faith and our own distinctives is crucial. The adage “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things charity” was sadly violated by J.N. Darby and his compatriots in the early days of the Brethren Movement. Their legacy, unfortunately, continues. Some recommendations for reversing the trend will be given. “A Discussion of Greg Koukl’s Book Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions” In an increasingly hostile world, this book provides practical steps in sharing the gospel without becoming obnoxious or defensive. Tactics such as the Columbo Method, Steamrolling, and the Rhodes Scholar are explained by this prominent apologist from Stand to Reason).

3. Ministry/Missions Opportunities:  Apart from several trips to work with the believers at Cedarcroft Bible Chapel in New Jersey, I’ll be speaking in a Chinese church on Easter Sunday (in English, of course!). There is a strong possibility that Linda and I will travel to Ethiopia to teach in a small Bible school there for a couple of weeks!

There will also be some opportunities to edit book manuscripts for others, plenty of tennis with my friends (some who are not yet “in Christ”), some Bible conferences, etc.

I appreciate you, my friend.  And I deeply covet your prayers for me for this New Year!

 

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2018 in ministry

 

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Guess Who’s Going to PALESTINE!?

An organization called the “American Federation of Ramallah Palestine” has invited me on a cultural trip to Palestine April 5-13, all expenses paid! Wow!

This is a non-profit educational organization. Its purpose is to “perpetuate and promote the rich heritage of the Ramallah family and their descendants in the diaspora.” As their brochure states, “This program hopes to foster an educational bond between the United States and Palestine by providing opportunities to help propel cultural and social interaction.”

I will have the opportunity to see such cities as Jaffa, Haifa, Nazareth, and Capernaum. A trip to Jerusalem will include the famous sites of the Temple Mount, the Church of the Pater Noster, and the Garden of Gethsemane.

We will also tour refugee camps, surrounding villages, and meet with the mayor of Ramallah and other city officials.

Would you consider praying for me as I will be (perhaps) the only Evangelical Christian in the group of eight or so? I’ll give a report when I return home.

 
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Posted by on April 3, 2018 in Palestine

 

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Ministry Update — Sure Appreciate Your Prayers!

Some of you faithful readers might be interested in my ministry schedule for the next few months. The old word “covet” comes to mind. I’d sure covet your prayers for these upcoming opportunities:

Dec. 28 through Jan. 8
— Linda and I will be in NJ visiting her 91-year-old Mom. I’ll be preaching at Cedarcroft Bible Chapel on those two Sundays. I’m looking forward to working with their leadership over the next few months. I’ll meet with their leadership team on Tuesday Jan. 2 to discuss a position paper on Marriage and Divorce, lead a midweek Bible study on Acts on Wednesday, Jan. 3, speak at a men’s breakfast there on Jan. 6, teach a Sunday School class on I-III John on Sunday, Jan. 7, then preach that Sunday’s message! Please pray that we work well together during that week and for my next scheduled visit to them (April 15-22).

The New Year: I will be working on developing two online courses for Emmaus Bible College. They are both on areas of theology and I am looking forward to contributing to their program. Please pray for clarity and wisdom as I work on these.  I’m also quite excited to work with Biblical Eldership Resources in March and will be presenting two sermons on the preacher and the Holy Spirit!

Missions:  I’m looking forward to teaching at South East Asia Bible College and Seminary in Myanmar (Burma) in August.  We’ve not yet finalized the date.  Please pray for that wonderful opportunity for me to contribute to their ministry and the education of their students.  Their website is found at: https://www.southeastasiabiblecollege.org/

Writing:  My retirement is giving me time to work on several projects.  I’ve just finished my little booklet Ten Specific Steps You Can Take to Make Your Sermons and Preaching Better!  Send me a check for five bucks and I’ll get one right out to you.  Send me a note via snail mail telling me what you like about my blog and I’ll send you one for free!  Address: Dr. Larry Dixon, 117 Norse Way, Columbia, SC 29229

I’m working on other projects which I’ll probably inflict on (I mean share with) you in a later post.

Theology Matters Conferences:  I’ve developed a brochure on these weekend conferences.  Topics include “Unlike Jesus:  One Area Where Jesus-Followers Excel”; “Insight from a Blind Man: A Study of John 9”; “Friends Don’t Let Friends . . . Die!  A Study of John 11”; etc.  Drop me an email (with a post office address) if you want some brochures to pass on to your church’s leadership team.

Again, thank you for reading my blog.  May the Lord encourage you in your projects!

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2017 in ministry

 

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Some Reflections on My Trip to Singapore and Thailand (Part 2)

FirefoxScreenSnapz292Friends:

Many of you know that I spent the last two weeks serving on an OM (“Operation Mobilization”) ship, the Logos Hope.  We stayed for a week in Singapore, then sailed for three days where the ship is now docked in Bangkok, Thailand.

The 400 or so crew members are mostly young people who have committed themselves to serving the Lord on the ship for anywhere from three months to two or three years.  They come from about 50 nations and serve Jesus by running a major book fair on the ship, doing children’s ministries on shore, and sometimes digging wells and other such acts of love in the name of the Lord.

I was privileged to share about four devotionals to the whole crew and then teach four sessions on the topic of temptation and sin (see ship’s tv announcing my sessions).FirefoxScreenSnapz294  I had some great conversations with the men on sexual temptations and with several of the women on topics as wide-ranging as theological education and raising a Christian family.

Reflection #2:  The Largeness of Our World:
I was once again reminded how large our world is and how critical its many needs.   I stood outside the MRT transit system in Singapore and watched thousands as they exited their trains and entered the rather expensive mall by the port where the Logos Hope was docked.  How many of those people have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?  How many know that in Him their sins can be forgiven?

FirefoxScreenSnapz295The sheer distance I traveled from Columbia, SC, to Singapore, and then from Bangkok back to Columbia, SC, reminded me in no uncertain terms of the bigness of our world.  I traveled about 20,000 miles.  It took 24 hours to get to Singapore and about 18 hours to get home from Bangkok.  And those miles were traveled by jet airplanes flying about 600 miles an hour!

It is for this very large world that Jesus gave His life.   Not for the physical planet, of course, but for the world of humanity.  Here’s a short video I took of the many people coming out of the subway into the mall.  How can we not have compassion on them and want to share the good news about Jesus with them? 

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2014 in missions

 

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Some Reflections on My Trip to Singapore and Thailand (Part 1)

As many of you know, I spent two weeks serving on an OM (Operation Mobilization)FirefoxScreenSnapz278 ship in Singapore and Thailand.  I have the greatest respect for those 400 brothers and sisters in Christ who are serving on the ship Logos Hope.

I want to use the next couple of blogs to share some of my reflections on my experience.  Your comments are always welcome.

Reflection #1:  The Dedication of the OM crew

I was very impressed with the young people aboard the ship Logos Hope.  Many of them were committed to the three-month STEP program and FirefoxScreenSnapz279were serving the ship as dish washers, kitchen staff, cleaning crew, serving in the book fair, etc.  For some, there was a period of adjustment in realizing that “serving the Lord” often involves what we might describe as menial tasks.

I heard no complaints from those whose duties were less than glamorous.  There was a spirit of cooperation and joy that said, “I’m part of something bigger than myself.”  It was refreshing to see young people from almost 50 different nations working together.

As I flew out to Singapore, I watched “Captain Phillips,” the new Tom Hanks movie, FirefoxScreenSnapz280on the way!  Some might find it odd that I would watch a movie about pirates from Somalia hijacking a cargo ship as I’m flying to join a ministry ship!  A great movie, but a reminder that our lives are in God’s hands.  The safety drills on board the Logos Hope reminded me, however, that we should do our best to be careful and not reckless in our service to Him!

Each morning I would get up about 6 AM and take my place as a table in the mess hall to be available to crew members who wanted to talk.  I had some great conversations about the Lord, the Christian life, marriage, CIU’s programs, etc.  I’m slowly learning that my dedication is often tested by the question of what I do with my time.

My challenge to you:  You may know of some young people who would greatly benefit from spending three months serving on the crew of the Logos Hope.  May I challenge you to read over their web page, pray about the young people you know, and recommend that they consider such a three-month commitment?  You might want to consider helping them financially in such an endeavor.  (to be continued)

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2014 in dedication

 

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