A few years ago, I began talking to some Jehovah's Witnesses. They came to my door one day, we talked for a bit, and then we decided to continue the conversation another day. Another day turned into them visiting my house a few more times, and then we kept the conversation going over Facebook. Unfortunately, after a few weeks, they stopped responding to my messages, it's been a while since I last talked to them. From those conversations, I realized just how much the Jehovah's Witnesses get wrong about the Bible. I knew about a lot of it, but talking to them made me realize that they had even more problems than I realized. However, there is one thing they get right: the importance of evangelization.
Our Obligation to Evangelize
While their theology is all sorts of messed up, Jehovah’s Witnesses have a great sense of the importance of spreading the Gospel, something that never even crosses the minds of most Christians today. Now, that's not to say that I think we should all be going door to door the way they do; that's probably not a particularly effective method of evangelization. Nevertheless, the general idea behind it is spot on. As the Church tells us, we all have an obligation to spread the Gospel:
[E]very disciple of Christ, as far in him lies, has the duty of spreading the Faith. (Ad Gentes 23)
Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize. (Evangelii Nuntiandi 14)
And what exactly does this mean? Are we all supposed to travel to faraway lands and preach the Gospel to people who've never heard it before? No, we're not. Some people are called to do that, but the vast majority of us are called to evangelize in less dramatic ways. We're supposed to spread the Gospel in the normal circumstances of our everyday lives. For example, we should always set a good example of authentic Christian living, and if we ever have an opportunity to explain or defend our faith, we should do it to the best of our ability.
Objections to Evangelization
Now, to many people today, the whole idea of evangelization just doesn't seem right. The way they see it, everyone has their own beliefs, and we should respect that. However, from a Christian point of view, while there is truth in that attitude, it doesn't mean that we shouldn't evangelize. For one, evangelization doesn't involve forcing our faith on others; rather, it's an invitation. It's an invitation to accept God's revelation through his son Jesus and to enter into a relationship with him and his Church.
Secondly, that kind of anti-evangelization attitude often stems from a kind of religious relativism that's incompatible with the Christian faith. See, people who think we shouldn't evangelize often view all religions and religious beliefs as equally valid. They think that one religion is just as good as any other, so there's really no reason to spread your own faith. However, that's simply not Christianity. Our faith is based in history, so it stands or falls on the question of whether or not certain things actually happened. As the New Testament tells us:
And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead...And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile. (1 Corinthians 15:14-15 17)
Simply put, our faith teaches that Jesus existed, that he engaged in an itinerant preaching ministry, that he was crucified, and that he rose from the dead on the third day. If all of those things happened, then Christianity is true, but if those things didn't happen, then our faith is a useless sham. Since it's based in history, it's either true or false; either those things happened or they didn't. There is simply no middle ground here.
And if, as we believe, those things really happened, if Christianity really is true, then why wouldn't we evangelize? Why wouldn't we want to spread the good news about Jesus? Think about it this way. If scientists found a cure for cancer, wouldn't we want everyone to know about it? Of course we would! And Christianity is a lot like that. The whole point of our faith is that death no longer has the last word. If we remain faithful to God, he will conquer death for us just like he did for his son Jesus. And if that's true, I can't imagine why we would want to keep that to ourselves.
Learning from the Jehovah’s Witnesses
As a general rule in life, we should always be willing to learn from others, no matter how misguided we think they are, and the Jehovah's Witnesses are a great example of this. Their distinctive beliefs are just flat-out wrong, but we can still learn from them. They have a great passion for evangelization, and in that respect, they put the rest of us to shame. All Christians are supposed to evangelize, so even though that doesn't mean that we have to go door to door like they do, it does mean that their courage and willingness to put themselves out there for the sake of what they believe is a great model for us to follow. It should spur us on to consider more seriously our own Church’s teaching on evangelization, to take full advantage of the opportunities we get to spread the Gospel in our own lives, and even to create some of those opportunities ourselves.