compelling2

In Luke’s record of The Great Banquet, featuring those who gave excuses why they could not attend, the master’s final command to his servant is thought-provoking: “Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in (Lk 14:23).” Perhaps you recall it from other translations as “and compel them to come in.” 

The parable speaks precisely of one of our problems. Neither the folks first invited in the parable nor many today take the invitation to the feast seriously. In their minds, what they want to do is more compelling than what they imagine will take place at the wedding feast. The master's command was addressed to the servant, not to the potential attendees, however. So how do we, as servants, compel people to come to the feast?

The very idea itself sounds counter to the Bible. People can't force others to believe, can they? We certainly can't stop traffic and route cars into the parking lots and hold them hostage! Luther's explanation to the Third Article says, "I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, etc..." The whole idea of compulsion sounds like it has more in common with Islam than with Christianity.

Perhaps the Bible gives us some clues: "Philip found Nathanael and told him, "We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph... 'Come and see.'" Or this: "The woman went back to the town and said to the people, 'Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?'" The hearers found those words compelling. Nathanael went back with Philip to meet Jesus and the Samaritan villagers "came out of the town and made their way toward him." What compelled these people to do what they did? It was no strong-arm tactic. It wasn't a bait and switch. But their words addressed a matter which compelled them to drop what they were doing and go see this Jesus for themselves.

Whatever else you may say about it, Islam is compelling for those who are looking for structure in their lives and a clear-cut division between good and evil. It is compelling to those who believe they have been deprived and seek justice. What is compelling about Christianity? What is it about Christianity drives people to embrace it? Even before knowing its finer points, what would compel people to at least consider it for their lives?

At this point the would-be evangelist or preacher had better have a good read on the culture in which he lives. Many have often dismissed the so-called Gospel of Wealth as heretical without giving serious thought about why it is so compelling to so many. What hole in the hearer's heart does this teaching seemingly fill so that they are compelled to embrace it? Luther's reformation teachings were compelling to many of his contemporaries because they answered spiritual concerns of his day. Whether the neighborhood around your church is upper, middle, or lower class, fears and insecurities abound. The culture offers patches; Jesus offers a new tire. If there is still a place for "attractional" evangelism of the "come and see" type, it will only find fulfillment when the preacher knows how to frame the Gospel in terms that are compelling to his hearers. One might find inspiration for that in J.A.O. Preus' book, Just Words: Understanding the Fullness of the Gospel.