The Grand Cliché

January 31, 1996

This essay was published in the January 1996 issue of Epistole, the official newsletter of the Varsity Christian Fellowship, Singapore.

I do not believe in Evangelism anymore. Evangelism has come to mean too little.

When I shake a concept and it rattles with great noise and ease, I distrust the concept. When a concept rattles inside many people with the same sound, you know it is a lie. Even the story of Jesus has four gospels, not one.

Today, I confess anew to God the needs for character to struggle well against my fellow Christians and for poise to hear the Burden He was always intended each of us to take on alone.

I disbelieve in Evangelism because I know now what it has always meant to those who taught it to me. They told me that Evangelism was to reach out to the lost, to witness, to tell others about Jesus Christ, to live a life that was a light to the world. They told me it was to hand out tracts, to explain Bible verses, to narrate the story of Jesus, to tell others how I became a believer, to bring them to church and rallies. They told me to imagine myself as a lifeguard, as a person who has known the Light outside the cave, as a signpost along the road to destruction, as a seeing person among the blind. All these, they told me, were Evangelism. All of them spoke with the same content.

What they have been too comfortable to learn they do not tell you.

When one is warned of worldly influence for an association with something unfamiliar, when looking different and talking different and behaving different draw well-meaning concern from Christians, when they say they can never share their hearts with non-Christians as if before they knew the Church they had no real friendship, when they tell you they are simply spiritually different whenever they do not understand you, when people you see on Sundays correspond so tightly in manners, taste and lifestyle that a breadth of dispositions may be felt, I know Evangelism has become a dangerous thing.

Evangelism is not about welcome at all. It is not about acceptance. It is not about simplicity of heart. It is not about freedom.

It is about judgement. It is about hegemony. It is about superficial tolerance. It is about conformity. It is about fear.

See two-eyed what is.

I know now what Evangelism has always only been doing best. It has been bringing to Christ those people who have always been relatively easy to bring to Christ. It has been about saving the confused, the hurt, the conservative, the pious, the harmless, the gentle, the decent. It has been about bringing to church people who fit into the church anyway. They do not tell you about the larger established world with deep roots, where people do get on fine without Christ, where people do have fulfilling and even meaningful preoccupations, where people think Christians live insular lives too selfish for broader social dimensions and these people, we are too self-admiring to admit, may have a point.

All these they do not tell you. They proclaim at the gate and believe they have done so on mountains.

They do not tell because they do not really want to know about lifestyles, thoughts, music, literature, pursuits. They do not because they have fashioned their own Christian lifestyles, Christian thoughts, Christian music, Christian literature, Christian pursuits. They have these of their own because they say these are safe alternatives, Christian answers to the secular appeal, our evangelistic fortresses, our lights amid the great darkness. Then I met a Christian, as I have met many others, who told me Christian music has helped create an indispensible environment in which she could truly worship God and I do not know how much of her has clung to mountains and Jerusalems than to spirit and truth, whether she half-spoke really from a deep fear of secular powers. I do not know whether she, like many others, has experienced a cultural force and thought it was a spiritual force and propagated it as a spiritual force.

I know now what Evangelism is. It is a damaging concept employed to draw a vital line between the secular and the Christian (as if such a distinction exists) so that one can never imagine a secular Christian without betraying a blush of dissatisfaction, albeit the fact that Jesus was the exemplary secular Christian. It is about spending the rest of our time on earth building the walls of the Kingdom of God when Christ has for a lifetime built bridges, breaking down the very Body of Christ and sending all parts away. It is about attracting souls with our pastimes, our way of life, our standard of life, our exclusiveness and with anything else but Christ who went out to embrace all ways of life and all standards of life. It is about packaging Christ rather than letting Him package us. It is what drove James and John to demand Heaven’s fire to come down on a Samaritan village. It is what impelled Peter to say “Be it far from you, Lord!” when Jesus revealed He must leave their company to fulfill God’s will. It is what incited Pharisees and scribes to ask: “Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast often and make prayers while yours eat and drink?” Evangelism is about thinking in terms of an inside and an outside. Evangelism is the greatest obstacle to God’s own evangelistic plan.

For years and now I realize, I have been deceived with a Matthew 28:18-20 without the earlier 27 chapters delineating the example of Christ, with an Acts 1:8 without the divine chastisement of an Acts 8:1, with a Romans 10:14-17 without a I Corinthians 9:19-23. I have been told to preach a Jesus without the meaning of Immanuel, a Word of God that has not privately taught me about “dwelling among men”. Who has given us a stereotype of Jesus who is only enthusiastic about activities in religious houses and not in beer gardens, who is dependent on religious culture, who is believed by the religious, who is a celebrity in the church and a nonessential in the world, whose friendship is uninteresting and trivial to freethinkers, who can never walk around incognito without someone identifying His aura of holiness, who has a decent haircut and a scarless face, wears a Christian T-shirt, carries a Bible somewhere everywhere and is easily distressed by ill-mannered words?

If this is Christ, tell me: Why is it so unlike Him?

The question has not stopped Christians thinking seriously. Many Isaacs sit in our churches and give blessings foolishly by taste and touch without granting much gravity to hearing out the right spirit. Thus, Sunday School teachers have kids falling asleep, walking out of church and believing irreversibly that Christianity is dull because these teachers have failed to make the crucial connections, and this truth, nonetheless, has not stopped the same from commenting, with passing uprightness, that my trimming-much-needed hair makes for bad testimony. Then, there are friends who encourage the speaking of tongues for the aim of edification, but it is a wonder they can neither hear the spirit of Christ stirring in an English differently spoken, differently mannered, nor understand the logic for it, let alone live with it, finding much comfort instead in declaring difference and encircling themselves within an environment of personal worship that cannot be broken into. Then, there are those who listen to my words and, in missing the point and failing to measure it against the heart of the gospels, conclude within themselves that I use too many I’s, as if I should be uncomfortable to be myself after Christ has freed me to discover who I am really made to be.

I know now that the story of Christ has always to be spoken with pain. It is because the Word cuts deep even into the dividing of soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and therefore It is proclaimed only with words that come alive with your life, the unpretentious, unassuming words. Therefore, when I hear the same thing in the same tone with the same jargon, the grand cliché that calls itself Evangelism, I know there is a lie.

You see, I have to stop playing Christian in order to serve Christ. Why do Christians consistently make it difficult for me?

Gwee Li Sui


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