Perhaps your upbringing or culture dictates that religion not be discussed outside the family or the church. As a result, you may become irritated if someone comes to your home unannounced with a Bible in hand. For some, this viewpoint has been shaped by violent acts in the history of religion that were carried out under the guise of soul-saving campaigns.
The history of many nations tells of mass conversions of people, not prompted by the love of the Christ but, rather, by the sharp edge of the sword. Many people went into hiding, left home and country, or even lost their lives—some being burned at the stake—rather than convert to their persecutors’ religion.
The inspired writings of the Bible do not support such forced acts of conversion. So, does that rule out the sharing of one’s religious beliefs with others? The Bible itself answers.
Teaching With Authority
First, consider the pattern set by Jesus Christ. He was a masterful teacher who influenced the lives of his listeners. (John 13:13, 15) In the Sermon on the Mount, his teaching was simple but powerful. The effect was that his listeners were “astounded at his way of teaching; for he was teaching them as a person having authority.” (Matthew 7:28, 29) Some 2,000 years later, lives are still being influenced as his teachings are examined. Echoing this viewpoint, Professor Hans Dieter Betz noted that “the influences exerted by the Sermon on the Mount generally far transcend the borderlines of Judaism and Christianity, or even Western culture.”
Immediately before his ascension to heaven, Jesus gave a command that ensured that after his death the teaching work he began would continue and even flourish. (John 14:12) He instructed his disciples to go to people of all nations, “teaching them to observe all the things” that he had commanded. The primary purpose of this assignment was made clear when, in the same statement, Jesus said: “Go therefore and make disciples.”—Matthew 28:19, 20; Acts 1:8.
Consider, too, the example of the apostle Paul. After his own conversion to Christianity, he was not shy about sharing his newfound faith. (Acts 9:17-19, 22) It was Paul’s custom to speak in synagogues and prove “by references that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead.” Skillfully “he reasoned with them from the Scriptures” in order to “persuade Jews and Greeks.” According to one authority, the Greek word used for “persuade” means “bringing about a change of mind by the influence of reason or moral considerations.” The result of Paul’s persuasive reasoning was that he “persuaded a considerable crowd and turned them to another opinion.”—Acts 15:3; 17:1-4, 17; 18:4; 19:26.
Coercion or Persuasion—Which?
In modern times, the term “proselytism” has been used to mean forcible conversion of one kind or another. The Bible does not support such a practice. Rather, it teaches that men were created as free moral agents with the privilege and responsibility to choose how they will live their lives. This includes the decision of how to worship God.—Deuteronomy 30:19, 20; Joshua 24:15.
Jesus respected this God-given right by never using his awesome power and authority to force, or coerce, someone into accepting his sayings. (John 6:66-69) He motivated his listeners by using sound reasoning, illustrations, and viewpoint questions, all with the purpose of reaching their hearts. (Matthew 13:34;22:41-46; Luke 10:36) Jesus taught his disciples to show this same respect to others.—Matthew 10:14.
It is evident that Paul used Jesus as a model for his ministry. While he persuaded his listeners with sound Scriptural reasoning, Paul respected the feelings and viewpoints of others. (Acts 17:22, 23, 32) He understood that it has to be love for God and for Christ that moves us to serve our Creator actively. (John 3:16; 21:15-17) Our decision is, therefore, a personal one.
When making major life decisions, such as what home to buy, where to work, and how to raise children, rational people do not do so on a whim. They may research their options, meditate on their findings and, likely, ask for advice. Only after taking these things into consideration will they make a decision.
The decision of how we should worship God deserves more of our time and effort than any other decision in life. It will affect how we live our life now, and more important, it will affect our prospect of eternal life in the future. This was clearly understood by the first-century Christians in Beroea. Even though the good news was expounded to them personally by the apostle Paul, they still carefully examined the Scriptures daily to make sure that what they were being taught was true. As a result, “many of them became believers.”—Acts 17:11, 12.
Today, true Christians continue the teaching and disciple-making work arranged by Jesus. (Matthew 24:14) They respect the right of others to have their own religion. But when it comes to sharing their religious beliefs with others, they follow the pattern set out in the Bible. Yes, they use honest reasoning from the Scriptures in what they consider to be a lifesaving work.—John 17:3; 1 Timothy 4:16.