To engage or not to engage
It’s not a question of “if.”
It’s only a question of “when.”
You’re going to open your front door, and two Jehovah’s Witnesses are going to be standing there. And they’re going to want to talk.
There was a time in this country when door-to-door salesmen were common and generally welcome, as another supply vector—for Fuller brushes or Hoover vacuum cleaners or Schwan’s ice cream. But those days are gone; today Americans are unanimously thinking How can I get this bozo off my porch and get on with my life? That’s not true in many other countries, but it’s true here.
So I know what you’re going to be thinking about those JWs.
Great. Just great. This is not a good time. Come to think of it, it’ll never be a good time. I have better things to do.
But. Do you? Really? Unless you’ve just called 911, and somebody’s exsanguinating on your kitchen floor, I’m not so sure you really do have better things to do.
There is a heaven, and there is a hell. And everyone’s going one place or the other. And here are two people, in the image of God, who have gone to the trouble of coming right to your door, and who want to talk about Jesus.
Now, exactly what better things do you have to do?
First question: do you invite them in? or do you talk on the porch?
Most Christians know about 2 John 7-11—I suspect mostly because it’s a great way to get yourself out of talking to them and back to those “better” things you have to do:
7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8 Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. 9 Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, 11 for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.
So someone who “does not abide in the teaching of Christ,” who, as in this case, denies the deity of Christ, is a false teacher, and we’re not supposed to let him into the house.
Several years ago, I was helping a pastor friend plant a church in a Boston suburb. One afternoon we were planning the next Sunday’s service when the doorbell rang, and there were two JWs. My pastor’s words to them were curt:
“I know who you are; you’re Jehovah’s Witness; you’re heretics, Arians, and your heresy was condemned by the church in the fourth century. The Bible says I can’t invite you into my house, so I have nothing to say to you. If Dan wants to talk to you out here on the porch, he’s welcome to do so, but as far as I’m concerned, this conversation is over.”
And he closed the door in their faces. (I was young and a seminary student and spoilin’ for a fight, so I engaged them for quite a bit there on the porch—but that’s a story for another time.)
My pastor friend interpreted the 2 John passage very literally—on the porch, OK, but not in the house.
Other students of the Bible have read the passage differently. They suggest that in the first century, to “receive [someone] into your house” meant to give him a place to stay, and that meant that you were effectively endorsing him in your community. They note that when Jason, a man from Thessalonica, offered Paul and his team a place to stay, the locals took that as support and endorsement and even threatened Jason with civil forfeiture (Acts 17.1-9). Long before that, Lot took strangers (actually angels) into his house and felt obligated to protect them from the townsmen to the point that he offered the mob his own daughters for sexual assault (Gen 19.1-11). Hospitality in the ancient Near East was a very serious business indeed.
So, these interpreters suggest, the issue isn’t whether the conversation takes place inside or outside the house; the issue is whether you act toward them in a way that implies endorsement or recognition as anything other than false teachers. So, they would say, invite them in; show them to a seat; offer them some (sweetened!) ice tea. And then have a gracious but frank conversation with them about the error of their ways.
Whichever interpretation you take, I think you ought to have the conversation. The image of God is very serious business as well.
Next time: then what?