James Emery White

According to the International Programs Center, U.S. Bureau of the Census, at the time of this writing, the total population of the world is 6,793,790,293. Over two billion of them are Christians. That's one out of every three persons on the planet. But according to the latest research from Todd M. Johnson, research fellow and director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, most non-Christians have never met a follower of Christ. Over 86 percent of all Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims do not even know a Christian. Globally, over 80 percent of all non-Christians do not personally know a Christian. It would seem that we have confused the command to not be of the world with not being in it - particularly in terms of relationships with those who do not share our faith. We are isolated from the very people we say we long to reach, having seemingly retreated into a subculture of our own making.

This was not the model of Jesus. He went into the world; he spent time with those who were far apart from God. He reached out relationally, built friendships, went into their homes, attended their parties, broke bread at their tables. It was profoundly intentional and openly risqué, to such a degree that he was derisively called a friend of sinners. The scandal of Jesus' interaction with the unchurched is often lost on modern readers of the Gospels. So he went to a party of Matthew's? So he ate with Zacchaeus? So he spoke to a woman at a well? He was just being courteous, akin to someone who would open the door for a young mother or help an elderly person across the street. Such matters are passed over quickly to get to the heart of the story. But attending Matthew's party, eating with Zacchaeus, and speaking to the woman is the story. In the ancient world "table fellowship" was considered an act of intimacy - arguably among the closest of intimacies. This helps explain the depth of betrayal David felt when he spoke of those with whom he had shared bread but who then turned against him (Psalm 41), as well as the pain Jesus felt when Judas - immediately after taking the bread from his hand - went out into the night for his thirty pieces of silver. To eat with someone, particularly a "sinner," was far more than a meal. It signified welcome, recognition and acceptance. Eating with sinners simply was not to be done - not even in the name of redemption: "Let not a man associate with the wicked, even to bring him near to the law," went the later rabbinic saying. This is why we read of the shock and dismay that Jesus was virtually indiscriminate with whom he ate (Luke 14:1). But he was more than just willing to meet and speak with those far from God. He was passionately intentional, proclaiming that such interactions rested at the heart of his mission: Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? I'm here inviting outsiders, not insiders—an invitation to a changed life, changed inside and out (Genesis 1:1, The Message).

Taken from "How Much Do You Have to Hate Someone to Not Proselytize?" from Christ Among Dragons: Finding Our Way Through Cultural Challenges (used by permission).