Thursday, December 25, 2008

The E Word

Originally published in the PNMC Evangel:

In the deep, dark shadows of Christian practice it is rarely spoken of. Private prayer is praised and quiet service is rejoiced in, but who dares speak in this 21st century of… evangelism. Evangelism is sometimes hated, often feared, and certainly not spoken of in polite society. And yet it is as necessary as peacemaking and offering mercy to those in need. Why is evangelism such a nasty word?

Evangelism is often regarded as offensive. This is sometimes because evangelism has an implied arrogance—“I am completely right and you are completely wrong and you need me to teach you the truth.” Tolerance and humility seems to be absent from evangelism. This kind of evangelism is similar to placing a gospel of John in the centerfold of a porno mag. Sure, the gospel is there, but the context is so offensive, that the truth cannot be seen.

Yes, we want to be welcoming. No, of course we do not want to punish someone for believing something different than we do. Nevertheless, it is important that we all believe in something. And if we believe, then we are saying that others’ are wrong about their beliefs that are different. If I believe I am in the bathroom, then those who hold to the opinion that I am in the garage are wrong (at least I hope they are!). If God is in heaven, those who hold the opinion that God is not in heaven are wrong. If Jesus is Lord, those who hold the opinion that Jesus is not Lord is wrong. Tolerance has its place, but once we place tolerance above our conviction about Jesus, then we are no longer Christians, but pluralists.

But evangelism does not have to be done arrogantly. Many people evangelize by speaking of their personal views or personal experience—there is nothing arrogant in just sharing what we experienced ourselves. Evangelism can certainly be done in the midst of teaching—a sermon for instance—but it is more often effective in a context of humility. The formerly blind man in John 9 had this kind of humble evangelism—“Of Jesus’ origins I know nothing, all I know is that I was blind, but now I see.” Later he asks the Pharisees, “Do you want to follow him too?” Although one might question this man’s wisdom, certainly his humility could not be questioned. And yet he was clearly evangelizing.

Nor does evangelism have to be done without gentleness. Evangelism has gotten some bad press by some who do street preaching and knock on doors to evangelize. Many of these people are offensive, rude and obnoxious. However, evangelism does not need to be offensive. It can quietly be done by expressing one’s personal beliefs with a friend. Evangelism can be simply inviting someone to an event at church. Evangelism can be telling your Muslim friend why you do not agree with Christians who want to kill Muslims.

Part of the problem with evangelism is its association with crusades or long monologues. But we must not confuse a manner of doing evangelism with the act itself. Evangelism is no more or less than speaking about Jesus or Jesus’ teaching to those who do not believe. It does not require an altar call or an organ. It is simply calling Jesus our Lord, and his ways are our ways. This means that if we believe in peace because Jesus did, and we are telling others’ about Jesus’ view of peace, then we are evangelizing. It means that if we believe in Jesus’ life, in his teaching, in his lordship over the earth, in the benefits we gain from him—then we cannot fail to tell others about what we know about and have received from Jesus.

So what reason should we evangelize. Let’s get a word from our Sponsor—Jesus:

• Because Jesus told us to—“Preach the gospel to all creation” Mark 16:15

• Because we must talk about Jesus to enter God’s kingdom, and to receive of his blessings—“If anyone confesses me before men, I will confess them before my Father in heaven. Whoever denies me before men, I will deny him before my Father in heaven.” Matthew 10:32-33

• Because we love people too much to let them live without a chance at Jesus— “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them.” Luke 18:16

• Because everyone needs Jesus— “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Matthew 28:19

Jesus told us to tell people about him, about his kingdom, about his teaching and about his abundant life. Our speech may be simple or subtle. Our approach does need to take into account the culture and understanding of the person we are speaking to. We need to be as clear as possible. But most of all, we need to speak the word and life of Jesus. No one can receive from God unless they first know about Jesus from someone who knows him.

Let’s get out there and tell ‘em!

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