The fire was roaring. Smoke was billowing into the air. If you were anywhere close to the house, you could feel the heat of the blaze. This house needed to be saved! So where were the firefighters? The firemen were there too, standing off to the side.
In this Obion County, Tennessee area, homeowners are required to pay a $75 annual fee in order to have fire protection services. If they don’t pay the fee and the home catches fire, they are out of luck. Even if firefighters are there at the scene, they won’t help.
Gene Cranick had to find this out the hard way. His house caught on fire and he could not contain it, so he called 911. Even though he offered to pay all of the expenses to the fire department, the firefighters refused to do anything about his blazing house. They would not even show up.
Surprisingly, the firefighters did eventually show up, but only for Cranick’s neighbor, who had paid the $75 fee. The firefighters arrived, watched Cranick’s house burn down, and leaped into action only when the fire reached the neighbor’s property.
Cranick said that he had paid this fee the previous year, the year before that, and other times, but that this time he had just forgot about it. Now, should Gene Cranick have paid his $75 fire protection fee? Absolutely. Did he learn a very valuable lesson for next time? I would think so. But something has to be said about these firefighters. One writer by the name of Daniel Foster said this, “What moral theory allows these firefighters (admittedly acting under orders) to watch this house burn to the ground when 1) they have already responded to the scene, 2) they have the means to stop it ready at hand, 3) and they have a reasonable expectation to be compensated for their trouble?”
Later on, this fire department received some pretty heavy backlash. “Professional, career firefighters shouldn’t be forced to check a list before running out the door to see which homeowners have paid up,” Harold Schaitberger, International Association of Fire Fighters president, said in a statement. “They get in their trucks and go” (NBC News).
The points Foster and Shaitberger made are right. But their comments are more far reaching than just to firemen. How often are we just like these firefighters when it comes to evangelism? Think about it this way…
(1) We are at the scene. We are here on earth where there are many to help (John 4:35). We are in a position to help so many people who are in danger of losing their souls (Matthew 28:19-20). There are people everywhere who need the Gospel. In fact, if we don’t help them, then who will bring them the truth of the gospel?
(2) We have the means on hand to stop it. We have been given the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16-17). We’ve been given the message of salvation (Acts 2:38; Ephesians 1:13; Romans 1:16). We have the best tool, and the only tool, to put out the deadly flames of sin. We have the means to help stop so many from going into eternal punishment. How can we stand by and do nothing?
(3) We will be compensated. God has promised that those who are faithful to His commands, including evangelism, have the hope of heaven (Colossians 1:3-7). Many times we come up with reasons not to be evangelistic, but very few are actually legitimate. I have found myself on several occasions inventing excuses why I should not start up a spiritual conversation with someone. But really, we do not have a good excuse not to at least try to bring someone to the Lord.
As Christians, we shouldn’t be forced into evangelism. Whether we think the firefighters in Tennessee were right or wrong, the bottom line was, these were firefighters who would not put out the fires. Let’s never be Christians who won’t tell others about Christ.