I saw again the now-famous quote:
No one has the right to hear the gospel twice, while there remains someone who has not heard it once. – Oswald J. Smith
— Micah Fries (@micahfries) December 29, 2014
I can generally applaud the sentiment behind this statement–that there are many who hear the Gospel a lot while many who hear it not at all–and certainly the related need to reach the unreached. But is the Gospel a right?
There’s a few problems with this idea:
1. I can’t make a Biblical case for the idea everyone has a right to hear the Gospel. Everyone has a need, and the Gospel is a gift. But there’s nothing in Scripture that suggests it’s a “right”–at least, not that I can find.
2. Rights are things the rights-owner demands, things that should be provided by default — like the right to freedom of religion or the right to free speech. The responsibility for demanding them is on the user. The onus for providing them is typically on a governing body of some kind. If we view the Gospel as a right, we can fall very easily into the idea that those who are not Christians are not because they have not “claimed the right to hear” or the “governing body” has not provided it. In other words, claiming the Gospel as a right does not imply a responsibility on individuals — like you and me — to provide it.
3. Rights can only be demanded if people know they have them. Half of non-Christians aren’t non-Christians because they chose against Christ. They don’t even know about Christianity. Remember, about 2 billion people have never heard of Christ or Christianity; or if they have, it’s not a real understanding of the Gospel–it’s in propaganda like “those terrible Christians” or the like (Status of Global Christianity, line 71-72). 86% of Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists have no personal contact with a believer (Global Context of Christianity, p. 78). You can hardly choose a right you don’t even know exists.
4. The idea of the Gospel as a right does not convey the idea of the Gospel as a responsibility. Jesus commissioned believers to bring the Gospel to the world – he didn’t commission the non-believers to seek it out.
There’s also a few problems with the idea no one should hear the Gospel more than once before everyone hears it once.
1. It can take multiple hearings of the Gospel before a person decides to follow Christ. If we deny people multiple exposures to the Gospel we might never find the person(s) who will be responsible for all of their friends-family-and-relations coming to Christ. It takes those initial disciples-who-make-disciples to start a movement.
Some people may have to hear the Gospel more than once so that everyone can hear it at all.
2. Most decisions about following Christ have more to do with the relationships we have with other believers than they do with any doctrine that is heard. We don’t argue people into the kingdom; we welcome them into a community and they decide they belong there.
Perhaps the best example of this latter I have found was in ancient Celtic Christianity. The monks moved next to a village and built a monastic community from which they blessed the villages nearby – e.g. blacksmiths, farming, beekeeping, education and the like. In the monastic community they built a visitor’s house. Someone from the villages could come, live in the house, take part in everything the community did. As they did they might come to decide they wanted to be part of the community, and so they joined the monks’ order. It wasn’t an argument but life in the community that brought them to the decision.
3. In a mission context, domestic outreach vs mission outreach is not an either/or, but both/and. “To Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria AND the uttermost parts of the earth.” The problem in most churches is that outreach resources are so scarce that churches have to make the either/or decision. Domestic vs. foreign is forced into competition. The solution to this is discipleship development in the local church so that disciplemaking resources are not so scarce as to force competition.
But these issues are not what the quote is really about. It’s really aimed at this terrible truth:
Most evangelism–most “good news”–is aimed at, consumed by, and enjoyed solely by people who are already Christians. Most Gospel presentation happens in churches, or in crusades, or in small group Bible studies, or in Christian entertainment settings.
Most in those settings are already Christians.
Think about it: if you’re a Christian, how many times did you hear the Gospel this year? If you started counting, you’d find it was a lot. And that’s the reality.
We treat our spiritual riches as our “right.” But the Gospel is not a right at all. To suggest the Gospel is a right is to suggest we have a demand ultimately on God.
Instead, the Gospel is both grace from God and the responsibility of believers to carry. If we lived up to our responsibilities, there would be an enormous overage of Gospel opportunities–everyone would have more than enough, an abundance, a cup running over.
That we can hear the Gospel every Sunday while 2 billion people will never hear it once, on any day, in their entire lives–is our fault, not theirs.
It is our shame that we can blissfully claim our spiritual riches in the midst of such spiritual poverty. Perhaps we should reconsider the parable of the rich man and camels, or that of the Pharisee and the tax collector, or the terrible statement about those who say “Lord, Lord, we have done many great things”–but never knew His him, and His heart of love for the world, and His desire that all might be saved.