“Pre-evangelism” is a term referring to the things a Christian does and says to prepare an unbeliever to hear the Gospel message. Pre-evangelism is necessary because most people you meet and wish to reach with the Gospel aren’t ready at that moment to understand and receive the truths from the Bible that God is holy, that all people are hopelessly lost sinners and thus separated from the holy God, and that Jesus is the one and only Savior sent from God whom we must believe in order to restore our relationship with God and go to Heaven to be with Him.
So in reality all Christians live lives of pre-evangelism before unbelievers every day. The question is, does the testimony of our words and actions help prepare them to understand and believe, does it lead them to think a simple commitment to good morals is the answer, or could it be that our testimony is out of step with the truths of God’s Word, causing confusion and increasing antagonism toward God and His people?
Living among the unsaved Landuma people we strive to conduct effective pre-evangelism every day. All too often we fail to lead them in the right direction, to show them the value of the path we have followed. But we try. God often helps us understand our failures and encourages us to press forward in the task.
An important part of pre-evangelism among the Landumas is engaging our friends in conversations which will give them an opportunity to recognize the inadequacy of the religious path they are on, to see that their faith doesn’t really give them the ability to live before God in a way that is pleasing to Him, to admit that they really don’t live as good a lives as they like to think they do.
Most of all, we want to help them see that the greatest folly they can commit is to trust that God will somehow welcome them into Heaven based on their own supposed good works, while all the while they are rejecting His Word. If they can come to understand these things, then we can present the better way, which is Jesus Christ.
A FIRM FOUNDATION OF TRUE RELIGION
For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 3:11
It’s a conversation I (Kirk) have had many times…
Recently we were in town, having done an emergency medical evacuation of a very pregnant and heavily bleeding woman from the village to the main hospital. (After 2 units of blood and other intensive care she recovered, but sadly the baby did not survive.)
While we were in town, Solomon happened to see me. Solomon is a local government leader from a village some distance from ours. He told me that his wife had died a few weeks ago, and he wanted me to attend the sacrifice they would soon be doing for her.
It is the custom of the Landumas and many other Guineans who practice African Traditional Religion (ATR) to perform sacrifices for their dead the day of the burial, and then again on the 3rd, 7th, 40th, and 100th day after. These days, some believe, correspond to stages of decay of the body in the grave. The sacrifices consist of the preparation and eating of rice flour dough balls, and it is a major social occasion where relatives and friends gather for fellowship (and food).
Traditionally it is thought that the dead require these sacrifices be made, as they are somehow beneficial to them. Many fear that the dead will punish their living families with some disaster if they are neglected.
However, the Landumas not only practice some features of ATR, but also a major world religion which forbids that such sacrifices of worship be made to anyone. Only God should be worshiped, only He should be appeased. Some of their religious teachers even teach this as they preach their scriptures, yet they continue to approve of the practice of sacrifice for the dead through their attendance and prayers of blessing during the ritual. And that continued compromise is encouraged by the financial reward they receive for their participation.
The existence of this inconsistency in their preaching and practice provides a good opportunity to point out to the Landumas the inadequacy of their religion, that there is something amiss. The hope is that when confronted with their duplicity some will realize that they need something more, that their religion really isn’t sufficient.
With these things in mind, I asked Solomon why he was going to do a sacrifice for his dead wife. “Is that something your religion says you should do?”
“No,” he replied.
“Don’t your preachers say that your scriptures forbid such sacrifices?”
“Yes, that is true.”
“Then why do you continue to do those sacrifices? Why do you do what God forbids? Why don’t you follow your religion more faithfully?”
These words may seem direct, and maybe impolite. But I have known Solomon for over 20 years, and knew he would take it well.
Predictably, he responded in the way folks usually do when I present this challenge. He smiled, laughed a nervous little laugh, and said, “Yes, it’s not good. We shouldn’t do it.”
Having an appearance of godliness
Sadly, even if a Landuma person wanted to faithfully follow his religion and not perform the sacrifice, he would face intense pressure from relatives and neighbors. Maintaining harmony in society, including seeking the approval of others, is a powerful force which controls much of what Landuma people think and say and do.
Some do manage a claim to faithfulness to the precepts of their faith, declaring that they will not be doing the periodic sacrifices for their recently deceased loved one. But invariably they will hold a low-key version of the ritual; or others, especially older people, will show up and do the sacrifice anyway. The old ways of ATR still have a tight grip on their hearts. And no wonder. For without Christ the only foundation, they have merely “the appearance of godliness, but deny… its power” 2 Timothy 3:5.
Your real problem
“You know what your problem is?” I continued. “Your religion doesn’t have a firm foundation. If you lay bricks on top of sand, and build a house like that, will the house be strong?”
“No, it will fall down.”
“Exactly. A house can’t be a good house if it doesn’t have a good foundation. In the same way a person’s religion can’t be strong if it doesn’t have a good foundation. A religion without a good foundation will fall down. You can’t help being hypocrites because your religion has no foundation. And that’s why we came here, to give you the foundation you need. The Torah is the foundation you need to have a strong religion, so that you can stop doing the things God hates, stop being hypocrites, follow Him as He wants you to, and go to Heaven.”
Here I used the term commonly employed in their religion to refer to the book God gave to Moses. They are supposed to believe it is God’s Word, since their prophet said it was.
“You have many preachers of your religion’s book. But I haven’t seen any who can teach you what the Torah says. So that is where we fit in. We can teach you the message of the Torah. We want you to hear its message so that you can have that strong foundation you need for a strong religion, so you can stop being hypocrites.”
You think we’re hypocrites?
“Hypocrites?” Solomon laughed. “You think we’re hypocrites?”
“Well, what’s a hypocrite? They are those who wear masks, pretending they are something they aren’t. Isn’t that what a person is if he says he is following your prophet, but does sacrifices your prophet condemned? Prophet Jesus talked about hypocrites. He said hypocrites would go to Hell, because they are liars. God won’t allow hypocrites in Heaven.”
Solomon laughed again. Clearly my straight talk was amusing to him, but I could see he was thinking.
Disobeying the head of the house
I thought of another illustration. “If someone wants to live at your house,” I said, “but he wouldn’t listen to you, the head of the house, and instead did things you didn’t like, breaking the rules of the household, would you allow him to stay there?”
“Well, God is the same. He won’t allow people into His house who refuse to believe His Word and persist in doing things He has forbidden. And if a person doesn’t go to Heaven, God’s house, when he dies, there is only one other place to go: Hell. We want to teach you God’s Word so you can believe what He said, and go to Heaven.”
There was a small group of Solomon’s friends standing a short distance away from where we were chatting. Solomon asked me to go meet them. He introduced me to them, and said he wanted me to preach to them also. So I repeated the message, emphasizing the importance of having a firm foundation for their faith. Otherwise their religion is weak and there is no salvation.
I challenged Solomon. I said, “Look, this is such an important message. Your people really need to hear it. If you invite me to your village, I would be happy to go and tell your family and neighbors what God’s foundational message is, so you can know it. I can go one time, and then if you want me to return and teach you more, I can do that. If you don’t like the message, I won’t go again. It is up to you.”
Solomon said, okay, he would do that. He would let me know when he wanted me to go and teach them the message of the Torah.
Social pressure often wins
As I said, I have had similar conversations with many. They often seem to be touched and impressed with the truth of what I am saying, that maybe their problem is that their religion doesn’t have a strong foundation. But, though I have seemingly been able to get many thinking, we have yet to see this turn into fruitful opportunities with lasting impact. While a person can be very open and sincere and seemingly touched in a one-on-one or small group conversation, later when the social pressure is brought to bear the interest often wanes substantially.
Please PRAY for Solomon and his village, that they would invite us to go and share the Good News with them! And PRAY that when we go we would find hearts open to the Gospel message.