Equipping Your Reimagine Journey
#ReimagineEVANGELISM...as God saving people; Jesus building the Church
Just wanted to share some thoughts with you regarding the subject of evangelism.
Evangelical ideas about evangelism (sometimes popularly called "witnessing") seem to have arisen out of a couple of assumptions.
The first would be that unbelievers have free will with regard to spiritual matters. This assumption is false. Ephesians 2:1-3 says that unsaved people are dead in trespasses and sins. Spiritually dead people do not make decisions about spiritual things. 1 Corinthians 2:14 tells us that the natural man (unsaved person) cannot understand spiritual things. Therefore, no matter what we try to do to make Christianity understood or attractive to unbelievers, it is in vain unless God gives them faith to believe. Faith to believe is a work of the Holy Spirit in a person's mind and heart when the Word of God is proclaimed (law and Gospel). As Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us, faith is a gift of God.
The second assumption is that it is somehow our task as Christians to bend over backwards to woo people and make sure our presentation of the faith does not offend them or seem strange to them. This assumption is also false. Jesus said that the world hates him, and also hates his followers. If the world flocks to our way of doing church or presenting the Christian faith, then we are probably doing something wrong. God calls those who are his through the proclamation of his Word. Many will not believe despite anything we try to do to make faith easy for them. In fact, most will not believe, according to Jesus (few there be that find the narrow way). So if the church is just the church, a gathering of sinners to worship Christ and receive the gifts he offers (Word and Sacrament), and if we talk about Christ when we have opportunity, that is all we can do. God calls, draws, and chooses those who will believe. He is responsible for creating faith in people. That is not our responsibility. If we try to do that, we are putting ourselves in the place of God.
This is something I have had to learn over many years. We all, as Christians, want people to come to Christ. But we cannot engineer peoples' conversions by our methods of evangelism, whether it be the seeker sensitive approach, the "felt needs" approach, or some other concept. Jesus said, "I will build my church." He did not say, "Now that I am in heaven and have done everything to save people, you build my church."
Acts 2:47 is instructive. Even on the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit fell with such power, and Peter preached with power, the text says, "And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved." On the riverbank in Philippi, when Paul preached the Word to Lydia and her household, Acts 16:14 says that the Lord opened Lydia's heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. It wasn't Paul's methods which were effective, but the Lord's work in and on Lydia that brought her to faith. Paul preached the same message everywhere: Christ and him crucified. That is what he told the Corinthians. The message of the cross is foolishness to most people, both Jews and Gentiles, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:18ff. But, he says, to us who are being saved it is the power of God and the wisdom of God.
I applaud the Evangelicals' desire to find a way to convince people of the truth of our faith. We all want to do that. But Scripture is pretty clear that the convincing is God's work, not ours. Does that mean we just do nothing? No, we proclaim Christ and serve God and neighbor as part of the body of Christ, the church. Are we frustrated when people don't understand and even attack us for being hypocrites or old fashioned or prudes or obtuse or a dozen other unflattering things? Of course. But that is part of the cross we bear as followers of Christ. No matter what we do, only God can save people and bring them into his kingdom.