I’ll tell you what I’ve learned about dealing with other religions, false doctrines, and so on: You can get so absorbed in fighting false beliefs and those who adhere to and propagate them that you forget your main job of preaching the Gospel, preaching the love of God in Jesus, lifting up Christ, and drawing all men to Him (John 12:32). That infighting and feuding is what the Church got into. About 200 years after Christ, the Christians got so busy fighting each other over their doctrinal differences that they stopped preaching the Gospel and evangelizing the world.
It is a temptation to get into arguing doctrine when you know you’re so right and others are so wrong, to start fighting false doctrines and the false cults—and some people give their full time to it. I’ve known some preachers who went around doing nothing but fighting this and fighting that, instead of just preaching Christ and showing love! The people of the world have seen enough fighting and bickering, and they couldn’t care less about the hair-splitting theological issues that so many Christians waste their time and energy arguing about.
It’s good to know something about false belief systems in case you run into somebody who is trapped in one and disillusioned, so you can give them the truth and help set them free from the false, but don’t make exposing or fighting the false your main thing. That’s a negative type of preaching, negative witnessing, and it turns people off. People don’t like that negative tearing down of other people, no matter who is in the right.
I’ve never been one for attacking false religions, except for the “religion” of materialism that has overcome the whole world and is the Devil’s own religion! Regardless of what religion they profess, most people today worship materialism more than anything else—their job, their home, their car, their TV, and their other possessions. Most of them serve mammon* far more than they serve the Lord (Matthew 6:24). So to me, that’s the greatest evil and I don’t hesitate to attack that—not them but that! You’ve got to remember to make a differentiation between the sin and the sinner, to hate the sin but not the sinner! [*From Aramaic mâmônâ: wealth, riches, earthly goods.]
But this business of attacking false doctrines and false cults generates a lot of hatred for the victims rather than the devilish doctrine. There are billions of people who adhere to false religions simply because they were born into them and that’s all they have ever known. They’ve never heard the truth, so what do you expect? They are mere victims who have never had a chance to know and receive the truth.
I’ve always advocated that in witnessing to people of another religion it is best to avoid confrontation, contradiction, or the points on which you do not agree. Try to avoid points on which you know you’re going to disagree, and establish as many points in common as you can and dwell on those. Be positive and charitable, friendly, loving, understanding, compassionate, sympathetic. You will get a lot further with the people you’re talking to and trying to win by going along with them partway and acknowledging the benefits and good things and truths about their religion, rather than immediately attacking the falsities head-on and getting belligerent, contradictory, aggressive, or antagonistic. That’s not the way to win people!
You have to show people love! Try to avoid the contradictions and the disagreements. Find points of agreement and things you share as human beings with common needs, desires, and problems. There are sincere seekers in every religion—they just haven’t found it yet! Try to give the people you’re witnessing to the benefit of the doubt and credit for being sincere seekers of the truth.
In your witnessing, I think you’ll find that people fall into one of three general categories: There are the few who have already found the truth and believe as you do, and there are the few who will bitterly oppose the truth no matter how it’s presented, but the vast majority are unreached and undecided because they haven’t heard the truth. Those in this last category are the ones you should be trying to reach, the people who haven’t heard the Gospel—and the Gospel is love. Most people haven’t seen that kind of love in any religion, not even other Christians, sad to say. They’re looking for something, and if you’ve got Jesus and they are sheep (John 10:27-28), you’ve got what they’re looking for.
I don’t like the negative approach—going all-out to fight some false cults and doctrines. I’ve experienced enough of that kind of opposition myself. My mother was also a strong advocate of preaching positively and showing love. Almost her favorite Scripture was when Jesus said, “I, if I am lifted up, will draw all peoples to Myself!” (John 12:32) Instead of preaching against things, preach for Jesus. Uphold Christ and He will draw all men unto Him.
We do have to be prepared on occasion to fight the Devil and his lies, so we need to know his devilish devices (2 Corinthians 2:11), but most of the time we should preach positively and show love and compassion, like Jesus did. Jesus fed and healed and helped and gave the multitudes what they needed most—love.
It’s good to be familiar with the basic beliefs and practices of the religions of the people you’re witnessing to—what they believe, what they practice, and some of the results. It’s also important to understand their falsehoods, if only to help you avoid crossing or confronting people on those things. You know and they know that some aspects of your beliefs conflict with theirs, but you don’t have to come out and openly oppose them. The best way to dispel falsehoods is not by a frontal attack, but by offering them the truth. Present the truth, and the truth will take care of the lies. Don’t try to fight the darkness, just let the light in.
You will get a lot further with people by loving them, feeling sorry for them, and having compassion for them. Jesus even had compassion for the rich young ruler who chose his possessions over an opportunity to follow Jesus and learn the truth from Him, and “went away sorrowful” (Matthew 19:16-22). Jesus had great love for the young man and tried to win him. He tried to show him what his weakness was—his love of his wealth, which he wasn’t willing to give up—and treated him compassionately. Jesus didn’t berate him or condemn him. He didn’t try to embarrass him before everybody by showing how right He was and how wrong the young man was. He led the young man along positively with certain questions until the fellow made his decision, which happened to be the wrong one.
There’s a positive kind of witnessing, and there’s a negative kind of witnessing. I don’t like that negative kind—fighting with people you’re supposed to be trying to win! “He that would win some must be winsome.” Being confrontational not only makes people defensive and antagonistic toward you, but anyone else who happens to be present and see it will likely feel more sympathy for the poor fellow you’re attacking and side with him. It offends and is unpleasant for everyone.
I’m reminded of one preacher I saw once. What he was saying was the truth, he was preaching the Gospel, but he did it in such an onerous, obnoxious way that his witness made his audience almost hate him because he was so impolite, discourteous, overbearing, aggressive, and boorish! His witness just about stunk because of the offensive way in which he did it—that fighting, belligerent attitude! That’s not loving! That’s not showing humility and patience! That kind of an attitude just doesn’t win people and doesn’t show love! I’m sure he made more enemies than friends!
Fighting only makes enemies, so let’s not fight any more than we have to! Jesus didn’t say that when they persecute you in one city, you should stay there and fight those who oppose you. He said, “Flee to another!” He said, “You will not have even gone through all the cities before I come again” (Matthew 10:23). In other words, why waste your time on a place where they don’t want you or the truth, where they refuse to listen and are causing you nothing but trouble? Leave! Go someplace else to preach the Gospel where people are more receptive.
When I’ve heard some people teach or repeat falsehoods, I have sometimes said, “Excuse me, but perhaps you haven’t seen or you’re not familiar with this Scripture. …” I tried to give them the benefit of the doubt and help them save face. Even though I was contradicting them, I tried to do it sweetly, gently, and lovingly. I didn’t start screaming and yelling, but did as the Scripture advises us, speaking gently and lovingly and in a spirit of meekness (Galatians 6:1). Hate the sin, but love the sinner. Hate the false doctrines of the false religions, but feel sorry for their poor victims who know nothing else.
I’ve witnessed to a lot of sincere Christians who I knew from the start didn’t understand salvation, and I always began with points that we could agree on. I said, “We’re both Christians, we both believe in the Bible, we both believe in God, and we both believe in Jesus.” I established these points first, then I asked, “You know you’re going to Heaven, don’t you?” I would ask it that way even though I knew they didn’t.
They would then stammer around and say, “No, I don’t know. I can’t be sure. It all depends on whether I’m good enough or not.”
So then I’d simply give them a Scripture. “The Bible says in Ephesians, chapter 2, verses 8 and 9, that you don’t have to be good enough. In fact, you can’t be good enough. ‘By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.’ Salvation is by grace through faith, not of works.” I’d try to gently lead them, not drive them, push them, or fight them. The victims of false doctrine need to be led like sheep—hoping that they are sheep, which often they are. They just haven’t yet been exposed to the true Gospel or real love.
Accentuate the positive. If you preach the truth, that will get rid of the lies. But the Lord’s Word does say that you should be prepared to give answers, and for that you need to know the Word. “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15).
When I see people who are trapped in false religions, my heart goes out to them. I feel sorry for them, because they are victims—misled, misguided, deceived victims—and it’s not entirely their fault. I think, There but for the grace of God, go I! That could be me! If I could be less than charitable with anybody, it would be with those who have led them astray. It isn’t the common follower who is the most to blame, it’s their often sincere but sincerely wrong religious leaders who have led them astray. Let’s love the victims and feel sorry for them.
Let’s not be ignorant of the Devil’s devices and falsehoods, and let’s be able to gently expose those things with the truth, but let’s have compassion and sympathy and love for those who have been victimized by false cults and false doctrines. Let’s not go off on a tangent and get sidetracked fighting false religions and religionists, but let’s be full of love and love others and try to give them the truth.
Let’s preach the Gospel and lift up Christ, so He can draw all people to Himself. Otherwise we will drive them away instead of drawing them into God’s kingdom of love. “He that would win some must be winsome”—not belligerent, contentious, or contradictory, but sweet, gentle, and loving, wooing and winning with love. Amen? God bless and keep you lovingly winsome!