We are treating friendship evangelism in response to a request of a reader: “I’d like to ask if something can be written on the comparison and/or contrast between friendship with the world which is enmity with God and friendship with unbelievers as a bridge-building exercise for sharing the gospel (Life on Life and Word of Witness).”
Friendship evangelism or relational evangelism is making friends with unbelievers, and taking them into your home and life in order to create opportunities for sharing the gospel with them. One Life on Life website suggests that one place to start with life on life discipleship is to establish a relationship with an unbeliever.
The Bible is clear, however, that we are not to be friends with those who do not believe. The request from our reader makes reference to James 4:4, “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” That is strong language, including the reference to those who do not listen to what James says as “adulterers and adulteresses.” They deserve such names because friendship with the world is unfaithfulness to God.
There are other passages as well. II Corinthians 6:14-18 says, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.”
The Old Testament sends the same message: “Israel then shall dwell in safety alone” (Deut. 33:28). When Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, went to battle with wicked King Ahab of Israel, he was admonished by the prophet Jehu: “Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord? therefore is wrath upon thee from before the Lord” (II Chron. 19:2).
These passages present the antithesis, the spiritual separation and opposition that exists between believer and unbeliever, and which believers must maintain in their lives. We may not marry unbelievers (I Cor. 7:39), make friends with the ungodly and the world (James 4:4), or be in any relationship with an unbeliever which is an unequal yoke (II Cor. 6:14), i.e., business partnerships, friendships, and worldly causes and purposes. Why? Because we are spiritually different, not of ourselves but of grace.
The argument often is that the believer by joining the ungodly can make a difference, can be “salt and light,” and can change the world in which he lives, or the person he or she marries, or the unbelieving friends he makes. However, the danger is that, instead of changing the unbeliever or the world, the believer himself is changed. As someone once said, “One drop of poison pollutes a large quantity of water but large quantities of water do not dilute the poison sufficiently to make it less dangerous.” That is the point in Haggai 2:11-13. When what is holy comes into contact with what is unclean, the holy becomes unclean but the unclean does not become holy.
Nor does Matthew 5:13-16 justify such conduct on the part of the Christian. Their interpretation of the passage is that believers, joining with unbelievers, make them less dark and season them. Being friends of the world and joining their efforts, adopting their goals, the believer is called to change the world and make it less dark, less tasteless. That is a gross misinterpretation of the passage. That believers are the light of the world does not mean that they are called to make the darkness of this world a little less dark but refers to the fact that in this sin-darkened world they are the only light. That they are the salt of the earth does not mean that they are called to make this world less “tasteless” and to have a good effect on the culture of this world. All the salt in the world cannot cure rotten meat. Rather it means that they, by grace, are the only thing in the world that has any taste. Instead, then, of being an invitation to mingle with and make friends of the world, the passage is actually describing the antithesis, the great spiritual difference between the believer and the unbeliever, the church and the world.
As lights in the world, our calling is to let our light shine, not to make this world less dark, as a witness which God uses to save His own: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (16). That is what we call witnessing and it is the calling of every believer. The believer witnesses by giving an answer, when asked, of the hope that is in him (I Pet. 3:15), something he has opportunity to do when the unbeliever sees he is different in his work, marriage, family life, sabbath observance and attitudes toward others. The believer is a witness when he does good to others who do not believe: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44), but that is a different thing from making friends with them and taking them into one’s life. Sometimes that is the only witness he has when he has tried and failed to speak to them of the hope that he has in Christ.
That is not, however, what the Bible calls evangelism. Evangelism in Scripture is the preaching of the gospel by those whom God has sent, and who do so on behalf of, and under the oversight of, the church (Acts 13:1-3; 14:26-27; 15:1-31; 36-41; 21:17-26). There is much confusion about this also, with young men and women going out to “evangelize” without being called or sent, and without proper oversight or even financing. Such “evangelism” is disorderly, accomplishes little and often brings disgrace on the church. Every believer has the calling to be a witness of Jesus but not everyone is an evangelist. Every believer is called to be a witness of Jesus in word and life, but not by making friends of the world. At the heart of his witness is the wonderful result of God’s saving grace: the difference between him and the unbeliever, between his life, blessed by God, and the hell-bound life of those who do not believe.
Friendship evangelism is not biblical, and the organizations that promote it are doing nothing for the cause of Christ and His kingdom. Rev. Ron Hanko