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Proselytization is What Happens Through Evangelization

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here seems to be a great deal of confusion amongst Christians about the difference between Proselytization and Evangelization. Following Pope Francis’ comment that “Proselytism is solemn nonsense,” a number of Catholic bloggers/Francis apologists have jumped on the bandwagon to demonstrate their lack of any form of tautology or Scriptural awareness. Too often we speak of things in regards to how they have been, rather than what they truly are.

There is an intimate and wholly positive relationship between proselytization and evangelization found in sacred Scripture. Jesus and the Apostles understood the intimate connection between these two terms and they were in strong support of them. Succinctly put, without proselytization, evangelization is a tree without fruit; and without evangelization, proselytization is a work of vanity.

How is Evangelization Defined in Scripture?

The word euaggelizō (Greek: εὐαγγελίζω; meaning, declare, preach, bring forth, show) is found in up to 61 instances in the New Testament, but only in connection to preaching the Gospel. Again, to be clear, outside of preaching or declaring the gospel/glad tidings/Jesus Christ, there is NO evangelization according to Scripture. See the Blue Letter Bible List or the Bible Tools List of instances of euaggelizō in the New Testament.

Therefore, we can define evangelization as being what happens when the Gospel is shared, but what is the Gospel? Much like proselytization and evangelization, the meaning of the word ‘Gospel’ has also been detached from its Scriptural meaning, but being that we can’t understand the word evangelization apart from ‘the gospel’, we’d better examine this word also in its proper context.

What Does Scripture Mean by ‘Evangelizing the Gospel’?

Pope Benedict XVI had a powerful thing to say about the relationship between ‘evangelization’ and ‘the gospel’ in his book, Jesus of Nazareth:

    “The term [evangelion] has recently been translated as ‘good news.’ That sounds attractive, but it falls far short of the order of magnitude of what is actually meant by the word evangelion. This term figures in the vocabulary of the Roman emperors who understood themselves as lords, saviors, and redeemers of the world. The messages issued by the emperor were called in Latin evangelium, regardless of where or not their content was particularly cheerful and pleasant. The idea was that what comes from the emperor is a saving message, that it is not just a piece of news, but a change of the world for the better.”

Benedict then goes on to say that when the Evangelists adopted the word evangelion their intent was to fulfill the meaning of the word through Christ, the true God, Lord, Savior, Authority, and Redeemer. For the authors of the New Testament, evangelion is not just informative speech, but is performative speech, Benedict writes. It is not just imparting of information, but action, efficacious power that enters into the world to save and transform. He concludes in part, “The core content of the Gospel is this: The Kingdom of God is at hand.”

So far we have discovered from Scripture and from Pope Benedict XVI that evangelization is far more than what modern Catholics would like it to be. For us, evangelization boils down to saying as many nice and non-judgemental things (imparting information) we can possibly say about our faith and Lord, in hopes that people will like us and visit our Church. In this way, evangelization has a difficult time ever opening up the door to true proselytization (conversion).

How is Proselytization Defined in Scripture?

The word ‘proselytize’ has been given a really bad rap lately. As much as I hear Catholics write and talk about how we shouldn’t proselytize, I have never met one Catholic who admits they do it. I’ve barely met any Catholics who want to talk to non-Catholics about their faith. We keep saying that we should evangelization, but not proselytize, as if these two terms are enemies, but those who say this aren’t even evangelizing outside of their blog or non-confrontational pulpit.

The word prosēlytos (Greek: προσήλυτος; meaning, a convert, new comer, one who has come over from a Gentile religion to Judaism) is found in only four instances in sacred Scripture (Matthew 23:15; Acts 2:10, 6:5, and 13:43), but always positively in regards to one who converts to Judaism.

Christian proselytization; that is, conversion to Christ, is simply what happens when someone lovingly responds to us obeying the command of Christ Jesus to “teach them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). Proselytization is what happens when people respond to the truth as they ought, like John and Andrew did when they heard John the Baptist call Jesus the “Lamb of God”. In that instant they became proselytes (i.e. converts) and began following Jesus (Cf. John 1:35-42). Proselytization is what happened to Paul when Jesus appeared to him (Cf. Acts 9). Proselytization is the fruit of evangelization. Proselytization is what happens when evangelization is more than just imparting of information. Proselytization is not something we do; rather, it is the thing that grace births.

Conclusion

Evangelization says that I have something worthwhile for you to hear that might change your life for the better if you respond to it, and when they do positively respond to what they heard us say, we have proselytized; that is, we have made a convert. Embedded in that courage to evangelize the Gospel in a manner that saves and transforms, is the hope that our evangelization will produce proselytes (i.e. converts). In contrast, there is no courage needed to evangelize in a manner that doesn’t save or transform, and there is no reason to hope that that type of evangelization will produce a single proselyte.

Perhaps those who fear proselytization and speak negatively of it, suffer from accepting the world’s understanding of the word, and also a fear that either they don’t have anything to say that might transform a life. For, after all, we can only give away what we ourselves have received.

Summary
Proselytization is What Happens Through Evangelization
Article Name
Proselytization is What Happens Through Evangelization
Description
Proselytization has been given a bad rap by Christians. This article demonstrates how Evangelization and Proselytization are intimately connected.
Author
Publisher Name
Saint Dominic's Media, Inc.
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  • kcthomas

    I am at a loss to understand the need for circus of words that has the effect of full scale confusion in the minds of the faithful. Proselytization does not have the meaning of forced conversion.Why do we shy to say that Jesus want all to listen to his words and believe. Unless somebody preaches( IN any of the many ways) how can Jesus be made known to those who have not heard about him ? What is the purpose of “preaching ” ? Whether you call it proselytization or evangelization, the purpose is supplying knowledge about Jesus and his Church so that the hearer can decide to accept or reject . In some countries this preaching is not permitted, though social work of helping people is permitted with conditions. It is not at all clear what Pope Francis meant when he expressed proselytization as bad and wrong. The faithful are entitled to know details and the Pope should clarify for the knowledge of Catholics and the world.

    • Preaching and evangelization are soon to become dirty words like proselytization. It’s just cowardice. No one wants to tell the truth anymore. Everyone just wants to be nice, non-judgemental, and non-confrontational. Cowards!

      Knight Thomas, thank you so much for your emails and all the work you do to bring the truth to light!

      Blessings and Shalom!

    • Laurence Charles Ringo

      I can tell you why,kcthomas, and it’s quite simple: You catholics don’t preach THE GOSPEL-you preach the dead, lifeless religion known as catholicism! HELLO! WAKE UP! Read the Gospels, Paul’s Epistles, etc.—“He (or she) who has THE SON has Life”, not they who have dead, useless rites, rituals, and ceremonies! The Biblical writers and speakers preached CHRIST, AND HIM CRUCIFIED, NOT man-centered, bogus, contrived, religion!!!

      • kcthomas

        I do not like to judge or condemn Laurence or his philosophy.. I feel sad to know that Laurence thinks that preaching has only one meaning, that is preaching by mouth ….may be only in the market place or cemetery or some convention halls.You must be aware of the tremendous change that came to the science of communication. Apart from preaching by mouth, our deeds must be the real preaching. We Christians believe what Christ said about life. Death is not the end of life. So I would request my brother Laurence to spend some time and study more about religion specially Catholicism constructively without all preconceptions and biases.Thank you.

      • Being that the Catholic Church is the ONLY organization on earth that, in the canonized Saints, has tangible and verifiable proof that if you faithfully follow our teachings it leads to Heaven, our way is far removed from being dead or lifeless. To the contrary it had been proven to be the only way that leads to life.

        We know where our faithful members go after death, but where is Luther? Where is Calvin? Where is Wesley?

  • Dhaniele

    Language can be very confusing. We Catholics use the word “charism” but most computers want you to write “charisma” which really has a different meaning. In “Catholic talk” the word “proselytize” has been condemned traditionally to meaning using underhanded and tricky ways of convincing someone that you are right. Speaking on this topic, the Pope a few months ago mentioned that at times “apologetics” are necessary (i.e explaining why Catholics believe something or exactly what it is that we really believe). He insists on the distinction between proselytize and the dialogue of life (between friends and acquaintances), and his distinction does have a value in Catholic thought. In other words, I think that Pope is noting a useful distinction. Some Protestants definitely proselytize in the negative sense of the word which manipulates the other person’s ability to clearly understand and therefore to choose in the truth, e.g. quoting out of context or when there are clear quotes that contradict what they claim to be the truth. There are an army of religiously illiterate Catholics who have been taken in by this approach.

    • Dhaniele, I like your perspective. And I get what you are saying, but Catholics tellings Catholics not to proselytize is like a bird telling a bird not to hurt bears. It just doesn’t happen. We just haven’t been very good or interested in audibly evangelizing the faith in the manner that it demands.

      Now, if Pope Francis is affected by the Protestant problem in his country (which I believe he is and I wrote about in http://www.davidlgray.info/blog/2014/08/indifference-the-reformation-of-pope-francis-part-iii/), where Protestants do poach in the manner you refer, then what he is really should be telling Catholics that they shouldn’t be like like Protestants, not that they shouldn’t proselytize, because what they are doing is not true proselytization, as you recognize – it’s lying and it’s poaching.

      • Laurence Charles Ringo

        “Iying and poaching”.Wow.Here we go again, another gratuitous attack on the so-called”separated brethren “. It’s just sadly pathetic,David.Obviously you just can’t grasp the fact (and neither can your pope)that the Protestants are so successful in spreading the Gospel is because (wait for it…) they preach-THE GOSPEL! We don’t preach religions or-“isms”.I’m constantly amazed that you catholics just can’t seem to get that.Try reading the Scriptures, see if you can grasp Paul’s concept of simply preaching Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Maybe, just maybe you’ll discover why”preaching”catholicism is pitifully ineffective.–PEACE IN HIM!

  • Geoff Kiernan West Australia

    According to the Holy Father, Proselytism is Pious nonsense. Cardinal Kasper told a Jew seeking to Join the Catholic Church that there was no need to do so

“Living the Dogma” Mug

Summary
Proselytization is What Happens Through Evangelization
Article Name
Proselytization is What Happens Through Evangelization
Description
Proselytization has been given a bad rap by Christians. This article demonstrates how Evangelization and Proselytization are intimately connected.
Author
Publisher Name
Saint Dominic's Media, Inc.
Publisher Logo