Everybody has seen people on busy street corners and in large public buildings zealously attempting to hand out religious literature to all passersby. And you yourself may have even had a person with a “Christian message” knock on your door. These are common, everyday occurrences; and most people, even if they don’t necessarily agree with their views, passively accept these door-to-door evangelists as part of Western Christianity.
But did you know that long before the coming of Jesus Christ, the pagan world had its door-to-door representatives? The ancient pre-Christian world teemed with different religious sects, all vying with one another for converts. Many of them were attempting to spread their doctrines and win new adherents by preaching from house to house. Plato remarked that “mendicant prophets go to rich men’s doors and persuade them that they have a power … of making an atonement for a man’s ‘own … sins … at a small cost” (Republic, 364 b-c). Not only did these zealous pagans preach, they also distributed a variety of tracts of a religious and moralizing nature.
Werner Jaeger, an authority on the influence of pagan culture on early Christianity, observes that “we have to reckon with the existence in Hellenistic times of religious tracts as a means of propaganda fides [propagandizing their faith] of many sects” (Early Christianity and Greek Paideia, London: Oxford University Press, 1969, p. 8). Members of such a sect would actually distribute their propaganda literature from house to house. This practice was widespread already in Plato’s day, some four hundred years before Christ. Plato reports about these door-to-door evangelists in no uncertain terms: “And they produce a host of books [tracts] written by Musaeus and Orpheus … according to which they … persuade not only individuals, but whole cities” (Republic, 364e). This was nothing other than the same door-to-door high-pressure evangelism so common among us today.
In fact, so ubiquitous had this practice become among the pagans — and so obnoxious and repulsive to the average individual — that the pagan author Plutarch felt it his duty to denounce it in his writings. In his Precepts for Newly Married People, Plutarch advises wives “not to admit strangers by the back door who try to smuggle their tracts into the house advertising a foreign religion” (Jaeger, p. 8). This denunciation demonstrates how common door-to-door tract evangelism had become. “Let them [the door-to-door preachers] be exterminated from her outermost threshold!” Plutarch thundered (Conjugal Precepts, c. 19).
All this goes to show that the distribution of religious tracts was an obnoxious pagan means of winning converts — and it antedated Christianity by as much as four hundred years! Such a way of “winning souls,” needless to say, is diametrically opposed to the practices and teachings of Jesus. Christ never preached from door to door. He did not hand out one religious tract. He specifically instructed His disciples, “Go not from house to house” (Luke 10:7).
John, the last survivor of the original twelve apostles, admonished the followers of Christ: “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine [which John preached and which only the one true Church of God preaches], receive him not into your house” (II John 10). No truth could be learned from the preachings or the writings of these disseminators of error. Paul warned about the type of fellow Plutarch wrote about. “For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts” (II Tim. 3:6).
True Christians know and understand that God is the One who calls and converts people (John 6:44). They recognize, therefore, that it would be completely futile — and actually contrary to God’s will — to go out and attempt to win converts by force. The pagans of old, on the other hand, did not serve an active, living God. They had to do the converting themselves in order to gain followers, because their “god” was nonexistent, and the real God was not calling anyone to their religion. And, furthermore, they were not supported by God financially.
That is why, in the words of Plato, the mendicant preachers performed their services “at a small cost,” meaning they charged “a small fee.” Jesus Christ, who supports and finances the dissemination of His message so that it can go out without cost, said “freely you have received, freely give” (Matt. 10:8). True Christianity does not go “door-to-door and so is uniquely different from the ways of the pagans!
Source: Tomorrow’s World, July/August 1970