How to talk to evangelicals

Bridging the Divide: how to talk to evangelicals
by Abu Daoud

A reader of Islam and Christianity recently asked the question of how he, an Orthodox Christian, could talk to his Baptist neighbor to convince him that he was in fact a genuine Christian. The Baptist was off to Russia, if I recall correctly, to evangelize the unsaved Orthodox. How can our Orthodox (or Catholic perhaps) convince his neighbor that he is in fact a fellow brother in God's family and not just an unsaved soul who needs to be born again? Here are a couple of pointers:

1) Read the Bible and let him know about it: evangelicals have a special devotion to the Bible, just like many Palestinians have a special devotion to Saint George or Mexicans have for the Virgin of Guadalupe. The Bible plays a very central role, as it should, in their lives in areas like Bible memorization and daily devotionals. Once he understands that you read the Bible and believe in it he will take your faith more seriously.

2) Use words he knows: when talking about the hierarchy, unless it is very important to specify, please feel free to use the word "pastor" instead of the various and sometimes convoluted titles that have developed through the ages. Pastor is a helpful word because it is what he calls the leader of his church. Other examples: sermon, not homily. Worship and Communion, not Holy Liturgy and Eucharist.

3) Acknowledge your faults: people generally have a fairly good reason for thinking that Catholics and Orthodox are nominal and that they are not fully converted. Acknowledge that and admit that your church really does need to do a better job teaching youth about the Christian faith and the Bible and the virtuous life. There are so many people who are technically Christians (they have been baptized) but who are unevangelized. Your evangelical friend understands that nominal Christians are unsaved, and one can make a strong case that in a sense of the word they are correct.

4) Pray with him: ask him to pray for you, ask him how you can pray for him. Evangelical Christianity rightly understands that prayer is a mark of God's grace in the life of the believer. That you would pray for him and ask him to pray for you shows that God's grace is active in your life.

Well, those are a few pointers. Sooner or later, if you are good friends and communicate often, then you will be able to get into deeper questions about differences in practices. theology, and so on.

But given the specific instance mentioned above, what would I have done? (And I'm not Orthodox btw.) I would have told him that he has an important job to do, to disciple the Russians and teach them the Bible and call them to a living and strong faith in their Lord. I would say that the Russian Orthodox Church has a great history of missions but after Communism it became weakened and many of our Orthodox brothers there have no knowledge of the Bible or the transforming power of the Holy Spirit to free them from addiction, alcoholism, and sickness. Then I would say a prayer with him and ask God's blessing in his mission to Russia.


canicus said…
It is very rare, if ever, that an Orthodox Christian could offer the fourth step you mention. We are absolutely forbidden to pray with those outside the Church, and if we do, it must be with the special permission of our priest (and some will never give it at all). The first three are mostly good advice, but we can't do the fourth. I have Evangelical friends, and it's quite thorny to work through the mess.

In general, I did much of what you advised him to: Explained how important the Bible is in the Church, replaced "priest" with minister and "Liturgy" with "worship" at first and replace them as we get to know each other, I did the third and point out it is a problem for everyone his group included (having been in both worlds, I know this to be true), and finally I don't gloss over our differences. Orthodoxy's claims are pretty frank, and once he finds out, his friend may never accept him as Christian or revoke that. (I don't point Evangelicals to my blogs, where I am far, far more acerbic than in person).

Sorry for peeping in, and now I'll disappear again. BTW, I've just found your blog a few days ago and must say you've done a good job.
Abu Daoud said…
Hello Canicus, it is good to have your insight here. I believe that Orthodoxy has a bright future here in the West and I want my Catholic and evangelical friends to be familiar with that wonderful Church and its rich history.

Regarding the prohibition on praying with him, are you allowed to pray for him in his presence? If not, can you pronounce a blessing on him?

If the answer is NO, then I would say to tell him, "At church during our worship I will pray for you: that God will bless you and guide you and fill you with wisdom and empower you to boldly preach the Gospel." Or something like that.

I look forward to checking out your blog, btw.

Kudos for using the word "acerbic."
canicus said…
Thanks for the kind words Abu Daoud,

The answer to that changes with the person and priest. He can do it if his priest or spiritual father gives his blessing to it. In general, my priest told me "You can pray for someone or lead them in prayer, but you cannot be led in prayer." I suspect this is what most people are going to be told, because there are very few leaders that want to draw a line so hard that nobody can communicate. There is, of course, no way that one can know this information, because we have no reliable statistics on the matter (and those things are generally kept private anyway), and it would be hard to be well-traveled enough and know the congregations well enough to hazard a guess.

Pronouncing a blessing is actually a prayer if you look at the structure and wording, so it is part and parcel of the same issue (even making the cross over someone else is a form of prayer). Just like Scripture for the Orthodox Christian, the Church Tradition and limitations are not open to private interpretation, and there are varying levels of faithfulness to these requirements further complicating the matter(not every Orthodox, just like not every Evangelical, is very obedient either to Tradition or their spiritual father).

My blogspot blog has been rather vacant for a while, so I need to update it a good bit and it's more than a little confrontational in a good many places :o.
canicus said…
I forgot to add that it is completely forbidden for us to go to another group's services, and taking any sacraments elsewhere is apostasy, so we can't visit each other's churches (well they can ours, but it's a one-way street, which really won't help much). This sort of thing inevitably creates problems. It is a difficult issue all around.
Abu Daoud said…
Then I would tell him that you will pray for him and for God's blessing and guidance on him during your devotions and at church. Surely that is not forbidden.

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