Should force be used to convert people to Christ? This article is about the power of the gospel and our contact with unbelievers.

Source: Clarion, 2003. 2 pages.

Luke 14:23 - How Shall We Make them Come In?

Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full’.

Luke 14:23

The forced conversion of people’s hearts is reported often in the news these days. Several fundamentalist Muslim countries have laws against apostasy from Islam, and some even demand that such “apostates” be forcibly reconverted until they confess, “Allah is the only God, and Mohammed is his prophet.”

Similar things are heard from countries that continue to persecute Christians, as in China and elsewhere. Christians are being imprisoned and forced to undergo educational programs in order to compel them to give up their allegiance to Jesus Christ.

Does Jesus Christ command us to do the same thing? Are we supposed to force people to become Christians, to compel them to confess the truth, to (as Jesus says in the parable of the marriage feast) “make them come in?

A large segment of Christianity has thought so in the past.

The Waldenses in Northern Italy in the 1300s, the Lollards (followers of John Wycliffe) in England during the 1400s and the Hussites in Bohemia during the 1400s were all severely persecuted because the Church of Rome had declared them heretics. They were slaughtered by crusaders and arrested by the Inquisition. The Inquisition would torture a “heretic” until he repented and confessed Christ according to the teachings of the church. Those who refused would often die under torture or be executed as heretics. During the 1500s, Reformed believers were arrested and tortured by the tens of thousands everywhere in Europe by the Inquisition and other Roman Catholic institutions.

Had Jesus Christ commanded this? Is this what he meant when he said, “make them come in?”

One of the main reasons why Christians have suffered some much down through the centuries is because Augustine taught that the church must at times use force to convert a heretic. In his writings against the Donatists (a group that broke away from the church in his time), he said that many have come to faith being guided aright by love,” but more often have they been “corrected by fear.” The later is the more effective way to bring a person to Christ than the prior. The twelve disciples were guided aright by love when Jesus called them to follow him, but the apostle Paul was corrected by fear when he was captured by Christ’s voice, dashed to the ground by his power and struck with physical blindness. Augustine points out that because Paul was compelled or forced to become a Christian, he was a more effective minister of the gospel.

So, Augustine said, Jesus teaches in the parable that we must first invite people to believe in Jesus Christ, but if they refuse, then we should use whatever means we can think of, even if we need to force them to confess Christ.

But Augustine cannot be right. We must not use such methods. Of course the church should make them come in as much by promises of grace as by threats of eternal hell. But the church must never wield physical power. She has only spiritual power.

But that does not mean that the church is weak. Her spiritual power is what makes her great. It is precisely in the use of holy words that the church can “make them come in.” Paul calls the gospel the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16). It is an enormous power which, when unleashed, has mighty effect. Paul also says that the church uses divine weapons to demolish strongholds, that take captive every thought (2 Corinthians 10:4). That is why God says through Zechariah that He will conquer the world for himself,

Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD Almighty.Zechariah 4:6

God has equipped us all to “make them come in.” We have the strongest weapons and the greatest powers on our side. If anyone can compel another, we can do it. Those who try to compel anyone to faith by torture or other physical means will be found to have chosen, as it were, to enter battle with a stick when he could have had a complete battleship at his disposal. Let us pray for Christians who are tortured, but let us not despair when false religions and false churches lay down the real power in order to take up such pathetic small ones. By giving us the gospel, God has mightily equipped us to conquer the world for the Lord Jesus Christ.

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