We cannot baptise our obnoxious behaviour

The other day, I was scrolling through twitter and came across this:

Fortunately, it stopped just short of this. But I can see – just as people started jumping off that train – there was a live possibility some of those sat there would have gladly opened the doors despite being 30,000 feet in the air.

Questions abound. Chief amongst them being, why? Why do this? And why in that setting? What, exactly, is this person (or, people) hoping to achieve by doing this? Do they really imagine that this will lead anybody to trust in Christ, or honour him more fully, as a result of what they’re doing? Have they even considered that, given they have a captive audience with no ability to avoid what they are doing by any means, it might actually be quite rude and inconsiderate? What, in reality, distinguishes this sort of thing from those wallies on the local bus who refuse to wear headphones and inflict their terrible music on everyone through their phone speakers for everyone to hear at full volume?

Let’s all remember that Jesus has commanded his followers to go into all the world and make disciples. A command more of us need to take seriously. Let’s equally remember that the Lord Jesus has not commanded us to stand up on planes, with guitars, and belt out worship songs that we inflict on everyone in his name. We can very often forget that in the pursuit of Jesus’ actual commands, he has not baptised our particular – and let’s be honest, sometimes awful and tactless – means of trying to achieve them.

And I am trying to be charitable about the possible motivation for doing this particular thing. I am choosing to believe that they genuinely believe this might be a good form of outreach or means of giving testimony. For the record, it is not. But I am choosing to believe the best because the alternative is to assume that they are self-aggrandising and likely driving their captive audience further away from Christ in the pursuit of their own vanity. Because, despite the words of the song, our God does not look all that great when this is what belief in him produces.

No doubt some will want to insist – with Dwight Moody – that they prefer their way of doing evangelism to others way of not doing it. Which lands when you are talking to people who aren’t doing any evangelism. But it doesn’t really help when other people who are engaged in plenty of outreach are cringing and suggesting that your means of sharing the gospel and witnessing for Christ is actively detrimental to their own. It’s not a case of comparing what you’re doing to what we’re not so much as a case of what you’re doing actively impeding what we are doing elsewhere. The Moody line has been variously used to defend objectively obnoxious behaviour that discredits the name of Jesus often in response to those who are faithfully sharing the gospel themselves at any rate. It bears saying it is not a line that defeats all arguments about evangelism.

As I said in a previous post when somebody caused a train full of people to literally jump onto live tracks for fear of their lives because of their evangelistic efforts:

As ever, there is a balance to be struck. As I noted here, at some point you’ve ultimately got to share the gospel. Far too many of us do very little evangelism altogether out of fear we might look a bit weird. I hate to break it to you, but they called Jesus weird first (cf. John 10:19f). Whether you do much evangelism or not, if you love Jesus you’ll be called weird regardless. At the same time, some of us don’t take care enough to make sure that we aren’t being weirder than we have to be. We seem to have no problem doing strange things – objectively odd behaviour, even according to believers with the deepest sympathy for what you are trying to do – that do not commend the gospel to unbelievers (and, I am sure, whatever you are doing that is your ultimate goal).

Substitute weird for obnoxious, unhelpful, detrimental (or, yes, sometimes even) sinful and the same point stands. When even believers who have great sympathy with what you are trying to achieve (at least, what we choose to believe is your motivation) are saying that this is not helpful, those who are genuinely seeking to honour Christ would surely listen. That doesn’t mean every criticism from every believer is valid, but if people who long to see Jesus honoured, who are engaged in meaningful evangelism and gospel ministry are cringing, surely we need a rethink.

Far too many of us think that our methods have been sanctified and sanctioned by Jesus himself. It is amazing how many of us take real commands of Christ, determine ways we think to do it and then insist it is something that Jesus has commanded himself. We have to be so careful that we don’t get our methods – that may be helpful or (as in this case) may not be – confused with what Jesus has actually asked us to do. And far too few of us give as much thought as we ought to how we come across when we do this.

The question ought to be whether this is something Jesus has commanded or not. If it is, then we have to be careful we do what he actually commands, not insist what we have decided is part of what he has said. If it is not commanded, we have to determine whether it is a legitimate outworking. If it is, we then have to ask how helpful it might be. In this case, I can only see that posting the video on the internet has been helpful inasmuch as it acts like one of those office training videos showing you how not to do it.

It might seem like a perverse question, but I think it might act as a helpful brake on some of these things. Next time you think of how you are going to witness, stop and ask yourself: how would I feel if I were in the same scenario, stuck with a bunch of Jehovah’s Witnesses or – better yet – a Satanist cult doing the same thing? If you would find it a little obnoxious and not a little unsettling for them to belt out their worship songs to Lucifer – whilst you are midway over the Atlantic, 30,000 feet in the air, unable to escape – just think how the Agnostic, Muslim or Jew sat next to you might feel about you doing the same to Jesus? By the same token, if you wouldn’t mind someone sat next to you having a little chat about why they believe what they do whilst you share your views, that might be a more reasonable thing to do (respecting those who would rather not).

In the end, our evangelism has to connect and it has to respect people’s right to believe what they will. We have to respect that some contexts will suit certain things and others will not. Some people will respond to certain things and others will not. And part of being respectful is simply acknowledging that reality by *checks notes* not getting out your guitar and belting out worship songs on a plane.