Saturday, February 20, 2010

Evangelism - Where is the Middle Ground? - Part 1

The last two weeks, I have been investigating evangelism. Needless to say, this is not a skimpy topic - the Bible has plenty to say about it. In fact, its almost regretfully that I'm posting because I feel if I had another four weeks to study the topic, something very different might have been written. Regardless, I want to post what I have uncovered. This will probably be in two parts, with the second coming out in approximately one to two days after this one. Without hesitation, here is my conviction, paraphrased, from a friend.

Where is the middle ground when it comes to evangelism. Often times, we are so subtle about our faith through our comments or kind actions that those around us are unable to identify us as a messenger of the Gospel. When we are not being subtle, it seems we are so boisterous, overly-truthful and blunt that we come across as arrogant and self-righteous (like Rev. Joe Wright). Is there a "layer" of evangelism that lies in between the two?

I thought it appropriate to first lay down the foundation that all Christ-Followers are called to evangelize as evidence in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20). The Great Commission is not a message to everyone, this is Jesus speaking to all the disciples of the faith. The commission breaks down as follows:
(1) Make Disciples (evangelize)
(2) Baptize those who believe (Acts 8:30-38)
(3) Teach and strengthen those who believe

Two important notes when you consider the structure. The first is that after baptism, it is the responsibility of the one who is evangelizing to ensure that the new disciple is properly taught, or at the very least, personally and proactively lead towards someone who can and keep them accountable of their new-found faith. Satan is cunning and will destroy new Christ-Followers if we (the older Christ-Followers) do not protect and guide them to a place where they can become spiritually nourished. Second note, Jesus proclaims baptism before (deeper) instruction - this is not by accident or coincidence. Certainly those who make decision for Christ shouldn't be unaware of the truth, however baptism, against contrary opinion, does NOT require a full knowledge of the faith - just the desire to follow Jesus. It is impossible to know everything before choosing to follow Christ and that type of desire is the desire to become God himself. Also, to know everything is not faith by definition (Hebrews 11:1). Even the most educated Christ-Followers among us are continuously learning. This is what makes our relationship with Jesus so intimate and precious to begin with; knowing everything would be beyond burdensome to us.

With those two ideas fleshed out, let's start digging into the whole idea of disciple making. A Christ-Followers confession, although powerful, is also simple in nature. A confession comes in two parts - the acknowledgement of sin in one's life and a recognition of Jesus taking the punishment for those sins. Admittedly, this is a simple interpretation, but essentially, that's the Gospel. There are literally thousands, if not millions of ways to describe what a confession is all about. Here are a few examples of confessions of faith found in the Bible, but there are also plenty more analogies based on these verses. (Luke 9:23, Luke 19:10, John 3:3, John 3:18, Acts 2:38, Acts 3:19, Acts 4:12, Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, Romans 10:9-10 and Ephesians 2:8-9)

Most of us, if not all, have no problem admitting sin, or imperfection, in our lives. There are so many sins to choose from: lying, cheating, hate, refusal of forgiveness, self-pride, sexual impurity, greed, lust, laziness - the list goes on and on. Most will admit their sin. The tougher of the two pills to swallow is the acknowledgement that these sinful actions need justification and atonement from a power higher than themselves: namely, God (Hebrews 5:7-9). People love to be in control, they lavish in their pride, and are eager to show everyone that their lives have been successfully managed by their own means and power. Worse yet, western civilizations (America and a good portion of Europe) promote this type of thinking.

The nature of the confession verses that I posted and linked above are absolute and they humble men; this is not by accident. To follow Christ is to put down self and exalt Christ. Although we think the opposite is to our own benefit, if we better understood that Jesus has always looked after us and does a better job at it than we do, it would be an easier transition into Christianity. By taking power into our hands, we make a mess with the blessings we have been given. A confession frees us from having control while setting our bodies, hearts and spirits at ease despite any circumstance because of the promise that we receive in (eternal) life.

Most Christ-Followers are afraid to evangelize because they don't feel qualified or holy enough to do so. If this describes you, I'll comfort you in that you are in very good company. However, God has, and never will allow this be an excuse for not spreading the Gospel. Check out these examples of people who felt the same way:
Isaiah - Isaiah 6:1-7
Jeremiah - Jeremiah 1:4-12
Peter - Luke 5:8-11

None of these Saints saw themselves fit for evangelizing, and we are right to feel this way. But in every case above, God (or Peter's case, Jesus) tells them not to fear their inequities because God will speak the right words for them. Having an attitude of fear in evangelism is healthy to an extent because we realize the seriousness of the business going on. However, when Christ-Followers are so fearful that we refuse to attempt it, then our paralysis is a sin against God and the Great Commission. When we instead put our full trust in God and let go of ourselves (and our doubts), we will quickly discover that God speaks on our behalf and saves the receptive sinner.

On that note, we need to be obedient to God's calling regardless if it puts us outside our comfort zone. If we are called to a ministry or as a witness to a person, we should be in practice of setting aside our fears through prayer and trust in our calling. Case in point, consider what happened to Jonah as a result fear. (If you're unfamiliar, give Jonah a quick read over. It'll take 5-10 minutes - tops.)

So take a few days and process all of this. I spent a majority of this entry to going over some of the reasons and clearing out the doubts of evangelism. However, knowing what its all about and actually doing it are two different stories, hence, should be two different blogs. Next time, I'll write about some reflections, resources and ideas I have about actual evangelism. Feel free to comment ideas or anything else you want me to look into because I'm not completely set in what exactly I am going to write yet.

Peace through Grace to you all.

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