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Of Ethos and Evangelism

During my high school years, I spent time in the Charismatic movement. I attended a megachurch that preached the prosperity gospel—particularly in the first part of the year as they tried to bolster support for the annual vision for outreach. Speakers such as Kenneth Copeland, Jesse Duplantis, and Joyce Meyer came through, calling upon the faithful to give. One of the go-to texts was Luke 6:38, which says, “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

One of the more dynamic applications of this verse came from Pastor Leroy Thompson. Pastor Thompson had a mantra and some motions that would augment this verse. He would have us declare, “Money! Cometh! To me! Now!” Each word/phrase was emphasized by reaching out and making sharp pointing and grabbing motions. Videos of this can still be found on YouTube.

Even Adventists employ this verse during offering calls, especially when the church needs a shot of stewardship to fund its evangelistic ministries (though certainly not as flamboyantly as Leroy Thompson). The problem is that this text isn’t talking about money. Don’t get me wrong. I support financial stewardship and encourage generosity. Those are great things. However, this verse speaks of something just as evangelistic as raising funds for programming but all too often gets forgotten.

The text comes from the Sermon on the Mount’s lesser known sister, the Sermon on the Plain. Luke 6 opens with Jesus feeding His disciples and performing miracles on the Sabbath and the religious separatists judging Him for it. Then Jesus chooses the 12 apostles and heads to a “level place” in order to tell us some things to keep us level-headed. In verse 37 Jesus says:  “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven…” Be careful how you judge people, be generous with their reputation, and they will be generous with yours; give them a good measure of grace and they will give it back to you, pressed down, shaken together, because with whatever measure of grace you treat the reputation and character of another person, that is the measure of grace people will give to your reputation.

Jesus isn’t asking us to be financial stewards in Luke 6:38, He is telling us to be stewards of each other’s reputation. Proverbs 22:1 says, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.” Depending on how much student loan or credit card debt you have, this might now seem right; people can go ahead and hate me – I need a garage full of gold! Aristotle suggests that out of the three classic principles of rhetoric—logos (logic/information), pathos (emotion), and ethos (the perceived goodwill you have towards an audience), the most powerful in terms of persuasion is ethos, your character. In other words, the amount of kindness and goodwill people perceive in you is the most important element for making connection.

A couple years ago, a young man took to Twitter to call comedian Sarah Silverman a derogatory term directed at her gender. If you know Silverman’s work, you know she specializes in biting, edgy humor. Her sharp wit frequently makes appearances at celebrity roasts, meaning she is a professional when it comes to insulting people with the utmost creativity. With her large social influence and experience in verbal warfare, she could have, justly, terminated this man’s reputation with extreme prejudice and hilarity, but she didn’t. Instead she did some creeping on his social media and discovered he had struggles.

She responded to him by tweeting: “I believe in you. I read ur timeline & I see what ur doing & your rage is thinly veiled pain. But u know that. I know this feeling. Ps… see what happens when u choose love. I see it in you.” He replied that he can’t, that a man abused him when he was eight and he just wants to kill him, and he has no money so he can’t afford the physical mental help he needs. Silverman responded with more empathy, validating his pain, and saying “You deserve support. Go to one of these support groups. You might meet ur best bros there.” He said he would try and then apologized to her for trolling her. Sarah then used her influence to start a gofundme that raised nearly $5000 for his medical expenses. Now the troll tweets about being grateful and how beautiful humans can be.

If a sharp-witted insult comic, who would be justified in verbally excoriating her opponent can slow down and apply so much grace in her communicating that it restores someone’s soul, so can we. But it will need to be intentional. After all, look how crazy people get when the Adventist Church posts something as harmless as singing Christmas carols on their Facebook page.

We are careful about doctrines, but what about reputations? We plan projects more than we engage in personal conversations aimed at vulnerability, lifting people up, and making connections. We are better at arguing and debating (logos, and even sometimes our logic is questionable) than listening and relating. We must stop neglecting the most powerful element of persuasion. Ellen White, in reflecting on how we witness to others, wrote: “If we would humble ourselves before God, and be kind and courteous and tender-hearted and pitiful, there would be one hundred conversions to the truth where now there is only one.”1

To paraphrase Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, something is missing in Christianity and it’s not information (or programs or initiatives or doctrines…). Jesus says the essence of ALL that is taught in the Law and the Prophets is treating others as we want to be treated (Matthew 7:12). With great thinkers and our Savior placing such a strong emphasis on ethos, and abundant, intentional, and loving communication, isn’t it time we did the same?

  1. Testimonies to the Church, vol. 9 p. 189.

Seth Pierce writes from the midwest.

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About Seth Pierce

Seth Pierce

writes from the midwest.

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