In their book, Unto A Good Land, five noted history professors tell the story of our nation taking into particular account the influence of religion on our history. The early explorers were Spanish and Portugese and while trade and riches were motivating factors in their efforts, mission work was also on their minds. Columbus claimed to be God’s “messenger of the new heaven and the new earth.”
But the methods of such early explorers as Cortes, Vasquez de Coronado, and Don Juan Onate were a far cry from what Jesus had in mind with the Great Commission. Cortes, for example, forced the Indians to give up their idols and embrace Christianity, giving captured women to his captains but requiring them to be baptized before marriage or cohabitation. Natives were often treated with such little regard by their conquerors that one observant missionary complained “we cannot preach the gospel now.”
Effective witness begins not with a message, but with personal presentation and treatment of others. I remember seeing a 1946 photo of fifteen Dr. Pepper salesmen in crisp uniforms gathered for a 7 am sales meeting. A blackboard was filled with daily reminders but to one side was a poster with these words at the bottom: “Every member of an organization who in any capacity comes into contact with the public is a salesman, and the impression he makes is an advertisement, good or bad.”
The apostle Paul wrote that God’s ambassadors should set an example for others by doing good so that God’s name might not be slandered and that the teaching about God our Savior might be attractive.
You can force people to embrace a religion. The early explorers did it. But you cannot force people to have faith. Cultivating faith in others through example, mentoring and teaching is really what the Great Commission is all about.