Alisa and I are working very hard at friendships in Thailand that will result in Thai people repenting and turning to Christ. In one particular relationship, our friend has attended church and listened to us present various perspectives on the Gospel message from several parts of the Bible. This person seems so very close to faith and repentance, and at the same time - so very far away. Today, an understanding of their problem came to a point of acute clarity. My stomach churned with the realization, as it churns while I write these words. The problem is that this dear Thai feels that the benefits of Christianity can be had without ever forsaking idol worship. I have come to call this problem “The half-baked gospel”, because most of the right ingredients are there, but someone took the pie out of the oven long before the timer dinged.
I don’t know what it is like wherever you may minister in the world, but in this country, salvation shakes up the life of a new believer. Every christian testimony that we have heard from faithful Thai friends includes a dark period following salvation. The new Christian’s family pressures them to return to activities at the temple. Young men are pressured to spend time as a novice monk for the benefit of their parents. A man in our church had been a monk twenty years before coming to Christ. His witness shortly after his conversion cost him a very good job. In short, there are no social incentives here for getting rid of idols. Salvation more closely resembles “take up his cross” (Mark 10:34) than most conversions I have witnessed, including my own.
But there is another gospel being preached, and the longer our family lives in Thailand, the more we are exposed to examples of this “half-baked gospel.” It always leads with an assurance of heaven by means of an easy prayer. Well, Thais have no trouble with praying easy prayers. In fact, they do it all the time. Before work, a Thai may pray for safety, petitioning a small spirit house at their workplace. People who operate food stands regularly sacrifice their first product of the day, with a sweet red soda. A Thai friend was driving us to a nearby city, and as we passed a large statue of a monk, he honked and brought his hands to a prayer posture. “Just a little prayer for luck!” He explained. So suppose a foreigner comes to a Thai and after a 5-minute sermon (to which the Thai politely nods) says, “Would you pray this prayer so that you can know for sure you will go to heaven when you die?” Of course they’ll pray. What’s to stop them? Their mixed religion of Buddhism and animism only encourages such a lucky petition to an unknown deity. And if there were only a small statue of this “Jesus” god\man, they would happily pay a couple day’s wages to buy it for their spirit house. He seems like a powerful spirit with a wide domain, to their thinking. It can’t hurt.
I am preaching a series of messages on the question: “What is the Gospel?” The longer I study the 98 verses in the Bible which use the word “Gospel”, as well as many other passages which lend definition without using the word “gospel", the more convinced I am that I have been guilty before of taking the pie out of the oven with crunchy apples and gooey crust. I worked for years in pressure sales positions, and found through perseverance and study that I can get a lot of people to spend money on things they don’t necessarily need, or even want. While reading and studying for this series, the Holy Spirit has worked me over, showing me where my pride has resulted in making it harder for someone to truly experience the incredible, life-changing power of the gospel. (Matthew 23:15) Whether it has come from the guys back at the college dorm, social media, or writing prayer letters, there has always been some unseen pressure to publicly announce the “leading of a soul to Christ”.
So, as for me, I am committed to patience in my sharing of the gospel. I will pursue the lost with all my might, but I will wait until the “ding” - when I am sure that the work is being done by the Holy Spirit, and not my flesh. Alisa and I have found that those who truly understand the gospel and what it means to be a disciple of Christ hardly need any prompting from us. They cry out to God from their convicted hearts without needing us to give them words to say.
We plead with you to pray for us. Please pray with me that every Christian worker in Thailand will be fervent, yet patient in evangelism. Pray that hearts of Thais would be open to the work of the Holy Spirit. And pray that Christians would evangelize with understanding. Pray for the end of the “half-baked gospel”.
*I wrote this about a year ago, and post only after much careful consideration.