ROME — During a visit to a high school in Rome on Friday, Roman Catholic leader Jorge Bergoglio, also known as Pope Francis, told students that “the Church does not grow out of proselytizing,” but rather “out of attraction” and one’s life “witness,” stating that “[i]f someone says he is a disciple of Jesus and comes to you with proselytism, he is not a disciple of Jesus.” Some feel that Bergoglio was only referring to pressuring others into the faith, and was not condemning evangelism as a whole, while others believe that his remarks imply an opposition to confronting and “convincing” others as he opined, “The last thing I have to do is talk.”
According to reports, Bergoglio visited the approximately 800 students at Pilo Albertelli High School, where he answered questions from youth, including what he would say if an atheist asked for the reason to believe, and what his thoughts were toward other religions when he was a teacher.
“I am the son of a migrant, and this has made a culture of coexistence. I went to public school and we always had companions from other religions. We were educated to coexistence,” Bergoglio stated of his upbringing in Argentina, according to a translation of his remarks. “This [one] was Mohammedan; this [one] was Jewish. But we all played soccer together. We were all friends. This taught me so much: that we are all the same, all children of God. And this purifies your gaze. It makes you human.”
He said that as a teacher, it never occurred to him to say to students, “You are Jewish; you are Muslim. Come, be converted!”
“You be consistent with your faith and that consistency is what will make you mature. We are not in the times of the Crusades,” Bergoglio said, telling of his opposition to the forced conversions of Muslims during that time, sometimes under the threat of death.
He went on to explain that he doesn’t think the unsaved need to be won over with words, as example should peak curiosity. If an unbeliever inquires about one’s life, then they can be answered.
“In front of a nonbeliever, the last thing I have to do is try to convince him. Never. The last thing I have to do is talk. I have to live by my faith,” Bergoglio opined. “And it will be my testimony that will awaken the curiosity of the other who says, ‘But why do you do this?’ And that’s where I can talk. But listen — never, never proselytize the gospel.”
“If someone says he is a disciple of Jesus and comes to you with proselytism, he is not a disciple of Jesus,” he asserted. “The Church does not grow out of proselytizing. Pope Benedict said it grows out of attraction, out of witness. Proselytism is done by soccer teams — this can be done — political parties, it can be done there. But with faith, no proselytism.”
“And if someone tells me, ‘But why do you do this?’ [I tell them,] ‘Read, read, read the Gospel; that’s my faith.’ But without pressure.”
Bergoglio’s remarks to Italian youth are not the first time that he has outlined that while he believes Christians are called to share the Gospel, he finds evangelism and proselytizing to be two different concepts.
“We need to ask the Lord to give us the grace to feel as Paul did: to feel that fire, that burning in our hearts, to evangelize. This has nothing to do with proselytizing; not at all. The Church, the Kingdom of God, does not grow by proselytizing,” he said in 2017 before the bishops of Bangladesh. “She grows by witness. That means showing by our words and our lives the treasure we have received. That is what it means to evangelize. I live this way, I live this word, and may others see this. But that is not to proselytize.”
“The Church grows not through proselytizing but through attraction, that is, through witness. Pope Benedict XVI said this. What is evangelization? It is living the Gospel; it is witnessing to how one lives the Gospel: witnessing to the Beatitudes, witnessing to Matthew 25, witnessing to the Good Samaritan, witnessing to forgiveness seventy times seven. And in this witnessing, the Holy Spirit works and there are conversions,” Bergoglio also stated that same year.
“This calling of the Lord is expressed with such humility and respect in the text from the Book of Revelation: ‘Look, I am at the door and I am calling. Do you want to open the door?’ He does not use force, He does not break the lock, but instead, quite simply, He presses the doorbell, knocks gently on the door and then waits. This is our God!” he stated in 2015 in Ecuador.
IS IT BIBLICAL?
However, while a popular statement in recent times is, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words,” a number of Christians note that such a sentiment is unbiblical as “faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17).
Michael Kruger, president of Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina, wrote in a 2016 blog post on the topic that while God’s people are “commanded to keep a close watch on more than simply our doctrine, but our lives also,” the common catchphrase “can give the impression that good deeds are primary, and that gospel proclamation is secondary.”
“On the contrary, the Bible makes it clear that ‘Word ministry’ — the proclamation of the gospel and the instruction of God’s people — is the core mission of the Church,” he explained. “The Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20) makes it clear that the core mission of the Church is Word and Sacrament: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them … teaching them.'”
“In order to for people to believe and be saved, they have to hear the message of the gospel. Paul is clear about this reality: ‘How are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without some preaching?’ (Rom. 10:14).”
Brett Ricley of the site Display the Gospel also took the concept to task.
“The majority of Christians, who I know personally [and] who love this quote, are people that are scared of sharing their faith with others and almost never even talk about their faith in general,” he wrote. “Is this really what Jesus had in mind for his disciples when He rose from the grave and gave them His great commission? (Matthew 28:18-20) Live good lives, but only talk about it when and if it comes up?!”
“I struggle to see how any person can exegetically come to that conclusion after reading the book of Acts (not to mention any other New Testament letter),” Ricley said. “The early church community frequented public spaces and went from home to home on a daily basis (Acts 2:46) sharing the gospel, proclaiming the Kingdom, and teaching about the resurrected Christ as those who were eyewitnesses.”
He lamented that the mindset of simply waiting to be asked about one’s faith has caused such great harm — especially in the United States.
“[I]t’s this way of thinking that has led America to be one of the top ten mission fields in the world,” Ricley opined. “Statistics show that modern Evangelical Christianity in America is in steep decline, and I believe part of the reason for this is the horrifying statistic that concludes that 95% of believers will never share their faith with one person throughout the course of their entire life!”
“That, my friends, is truly pure disobedience to the command of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is why quotes like the one above must be addressed, evaluated, and, if necessary, rebuked.”
In teaching a parable in Luke 14:23, Jesus said, “Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.”
In Ezekiel 33:8, the Lord also warned, “When I say unto the wicked, ‘O wicked man, thou shalt surely die,’ if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood will I require at thine hand.”