Should We Proselyte?
Some weeks ago I heard a criticism of the work being done by the brethren in a certain country. This man said the work was not very successful for they made most of their converts by proselyting. I shall not mention the country more than to say it was not India. As long as I have lived I have heard this criticism made against the church. I have heard it made by our religious neighbours in India.
Is it wrong to proselyte? I wish to show from Scripture that it is wrong to proselyte. I shall also show from the Scriptures that it is right to proselyte. My dictionary gives this definition of proselyte: a convert, or one won over, as to some religion or party -- to try to obtain followers.
New Testament Conversions
The Christian religion stands on the foundation of making followers for Christ. In the Great Commission, Jesus said that we are to make disciples of all nations. On the Day of Pentecost there were thousands of Jews gathered in Jerusalem. They were there as members of the Jewish religion. They were there to worship God according to the rites and ceremonies of the Jewish religion. They were won to the Christian religion. This was under the direct operation of the Holy Spirit. The number of proselytes continued to grow in Jerusalem until the church was made up of thousands of peoples, all proselytes from the Jewish faith. Then there were proselytes from the heathen religions. Paul says, by the Holy Spirit: How be it at that time, not knowing God, ye were in bondage to them that by nature are no gods: but now that ye have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how turn ye back again to the weak and beggarly rudiments, whereunto ye desire to be in bondage over again? (Galatians 4:8- 9). Paul further says: Ye know that when ye were Gentiles ye were led away unto those dumb idols, howsoever he might be led (I Corinthians 12:2). We could multiply proof to show that those who became converts to Christ were either converted from the Jewish religion or from heathenism.
My concordance shows that the word proselyte is used twice in the New Testament and in the plural form once. Let us look at those words. On the day of Pentecost, the plural form is used. There were sojourners from Rome both Jews and proselytes (Acts 2:20). These were Gentiles who had been proselyted from the heathen religions to the Jewish religion. Now these proselytes are among those who were proselyted again to the Christian faith. The argument is often made when you approach people with the gospel that what you say is right, but they would be doing wrong to change their religion. It was not wrong for these people who had left heathenism to embrace the Jewish religion to change again and embrace the Christian religion. We shall show later in this article that it is right to leave denominationalism to embrace the religion of the New Testament.
One of these proselytes, that is a man that had left heathenism to accept the Jewish faith and then became a Christian, was very active in the Christian faith: Nicolaus, a proselyte from Antioch (Acts 6:5). He was one of the men chosen to serve in the church at Jerusalem.
Many people would argue that we should not make converts from the denominational world. When I was a young preacher, some 60 years ago, a friend said to me after I had moved into a certain community that if I were to get along well I should not steal sheep. Is that not just another way of saying that I should not proselyte?
There is a way in which it is wrong to proselyte, for Jesus, under certain circumstances, was most vehement in his condemnation of making proselytes. He said, Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for ye compass land and sea to make one proselyte; and when he is become so, ye make him twofold more a child of hell than yourselves (Matthew 23:15). So a convert (proselyte) that is made to the traditions of men is in worse condition than he was before. This is the teaching of Jesus. Paul spoke of the elders of the church apostatizing and then making converts: I know that after my departing grievous wolves shall enter in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves shall men arise speaking perverse things to draw away the disciples after them. Wherefore watch ye, remembering that by the space of three years I ceased not to admonish every one of you night and day with tears (Acts 20:30,31).
Jesus did not claim to have the best way but the only way. Listen to His word: Enter ye in by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leads to destruction, and many are they that enter in thereby. For narrow is the gate, and straitened the way, that leadeth unto life and few are they that find it (Matthew 7:13,14). So Jesus says there is just one way. It is a strict way and not too many find it. Jesus put it in this language, I am the way, and the truth, and the life: no one cometh unto the Father, but by me (John 14:6).
So people who have been following the traditions of men need to be proselyted to the way of Christ. Those who have been proselyted to the traditions of men from the truth need to return to the way of the Lord.
Language could hardly be plainer than this: Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God: he that abideth in the teaching, the same hath both the Father and the Son (II John 9).
Some people who profess to follow Christ claim that as long as you follow Christ it does not make any difference what church you belong to. Did Jesus die in vain? He died and purchased the church with His blood (Acts 20:28). He gave himself for the church (Ephesians 5:25). The church does not consist of the various denominations for there is one body (Ephesians 4:4). That body is the church: ...and he put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all (Ephesians 1:22,23). Let us look at one more passage: Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations for ever and ever. Amen (Ephesians 3:20,21).
Most of my religious neighbours would not take the position that was taken by one bishop in India, or so he was reputed to have said to his preachers: Do not try to make any more converts from Hinduism. They worship God in their way and we worship God in our way. Jesus said that He was the way to the Father. Paul said that we must believe the gospel in order to be saved (Romans 1:16). Denominationalists, whether liberal or conservative, need to be converted to the church for which Jesus died, as well as the heathen.
J. C. Bailey, 1982, Dauphin, Manitoba
Published in The Old Paths Archive