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#ReimagineEVANGELISM...as God saving people; Jesus building the Church

#ReimagineEVANGELISM...as God saving people; Jesus building the Church

Rev. Daryl G. Rahfeldt, Ph.D.

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. 

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There’s No Such Thing as an Atheist

Professed atheists don’t believe in Christianity – or that God even exists.  Well, I don’t believe in Atheism – or that an atheist even exists.  It requires more cognitive dissonance than I think anyone can authentically muster.  It takes far more faith to believe in nothing than something since something cannot come from nothing.  When a scientist manages to create even a speck of dust or maybe a bush out of thin air, it will be credible that a genuine atheist walks the earth.  When a 15 megapixel camera constructs itself, whereas the human eye is 576 megapixels, then maybe someone can reasonably deny a Creator.  When we discover that a classic novel wrote itself and the letters formed themselves into beautiful prose, like the miles of DNA strands that miraculously form each individual’s unique physiological signature, then Atheism has a leg to stand on.

Constructing the illusion that there is no God takes a tremendous amount of hard work.  It’s not easy to convince yourself that you hold a belief that, in the core of your being, you actually don’t.  The empirical and experiential evidence for God is too overwhelming – in the complexity and synchronicity of creation, the birth of a baby, the heat from the sun, feelings of love, multi-layered immune systems…and our very existence.  More importantly, just as almost everyone knows who their parents are, deep down we all know who our heavenly Father is.  Our Father instilled in us a spiritual and moral compass that points directly back to Himself.  The innate, undeniable connection we have with a parent persists even more strongly with the Lord.

The only question is the level of denial, distraction, pursuits and reeducation required to disavow our Father and designate as a spiritual orphan.  It took a two-decade coordinated campaign by politicians, media and Hollywood to sell the delusion fueling America’s demise – the untenable belief that humans are inherently good, ironically defying all we see in politics, TV and movies.  Not coincidentally, buying the lie that human nature is good in combination with pretending there is no God means we can be entrusted with unbridled autonomy to determine “truth”.  The term “atheist” is therefore also a misnomer for “Nones” (claiming no religion) and the now “enlightened” (claiming ownership of truth) because they do worship a supreme being – Self.

Why People Reject Jesus

Human nature’s desire to sin without conscience or consequence is what causes avowed atheists to cling to the impossible and to dismiss the undeniable.  When logic, observation and subconscious fail to prevail, we inevitably realize that only the spiritual can break through the spiritual.  The battle against sinful human nature is a supernatural one, won only by the power and intervention of the Holy Spirit.

Nothing in this world will sway someone resolutely determined to live without any externally imposed constraints.  Only Jesus can inject the eternal to interrupt the ultimate objective of those firmly entrenched in the temporal – the pursuit of happiness.  The great awakening for the spiritually dead is often a realization that the world can never offer what it never had – joy, peace and contentment.  We can only pray that after living their “truth”, consuming their fill or enduring enough hardship they discover before it’s too late that meaning and fulfillment are not found on this planet without Christ.  Unfortunately, instead of resignation and reform many so-called atheists turn to medication and materialism to blunt the trauma of traveling a road to nowhere.

Secular leaders stand to gain by keeping citizens, constituents and customers from Christianity.  There is a choreographed agenda driving the concurrent movements to foster the delusion of mankind’s goodness and the illusion that there is no God.  Governments have difficulty controlling those who abide by a different set of laws.  Companies find it challenging to sell products when buyers are not self-centered and greedy.  Universities cannot indoctrinate minds in their worldly philosophies if students subscribe to a faith that contradicts their “facts”.  Media has trouble generating ad revenue when potential viewers resist human nature and refuse to watch news and shows filled with sex and violence.  As we have already seen in most other nations, those influencers are conspiring today in America to discredit Christianity and applaud “atheists” for the purpose of maximizing power and profits through the following progression…

  1. Pursuing Happiness – The process begins innocently enough, at least so it seems, by championing equality, justice and unity for all
  2. Redirecting Faith – Rescue the oppressed, print dollars and heal diseases, positioning leaders as savior to make people forget they once cried out to God for help
  3. Garnering Trust – Portray all who came before as evil, revising history to label Christians as oppressors and secular society as now free from the shackles of religion
  4. Establishing Control – Human nature always betrays (undeserved) trust in human nature, but by the time an unsuspecting nation knows it has been deceived, it’s too late and the liberties promised in a post-Christian society are quickly reversed

So the powerful and prosperous do what they can to eradicate Christian faith and values, despite all the experiences and observations (of God’s handiwork) to the contrary.  Yet because God does exist, the arguments against Christianity and excuses for not believing are trite and fragile.  Those uneducated in science bet their lives on it.  Those pointing to hypocrisy in the church fully grasp their own.  Those who say they’ve tried church and it wasn’t for them blame God for man’s faults.  Those refusing to acknowledge the need for a Savior do their best to shut off their God-given consciences to hide their guilt and shame.  Those unable to wrap their finite minds around the invisible cannot prove God does not exist but require Christians to prove that He does.  Those who cannot conceive of a God who would let bad things happen to good people mistakenly see themselves as good.  Those viewing religion as a matter of personal preference forget that man cannot turn God into something He is not.

God is who God is.  Conforming Him to our image does not actually alter Him.  Nor does any degree of disbelief make God cease to be.  Denying Him does not disintegrate Him.  Ignoring Him won’t make Him ignore us.  Christianity is unique in that we have seen God.  We know exactly who the Lord is.  Jesus came to dispel any misconceptions and expose the fatal flaw in every other religion – the aspiration to ascend up to God through good works or “inner divinity” when God had to descend down to save helpless and fallen humanity.

Despite efforts to discredit Christianity, there is a desire to know God lurking below the surface of all “atheists”.  For example, many regularly attend “church” on this blog’s Facebook page, commenting passionately on topics they profess to care nothing about.  The anger apparent in their tone conveys a past, profound disappointment with something God either did or did not do for them.  Now they feel compelled to restate their patented arguments to confirm their tenuous, unfounded convictions – uncertain of their veracity yet likely certain of the severe consequences of being wrong.

How Should Christians Respond?

Armed with the knowledge that there are no atheists, what should churches and Christians do differently to reach “Nones”?  Understanding the real “lay of the land” should close the gap in our minds between “us” and “them” – and prompt us to action!  All nonbelievers stand on the verge of belief – their misplaced confidence in strawman excuses and concerted efforts to silence God’s promptings leave their resolve hanging by a thread.  They are far more receptive on the inside than they appear to be on the outside.  Many will abandon the vagaries of relativism in favor of absolute truth if Christians abandon ineffective evangelism in favor of Jesus’ methods…

  1. Be Different, Not Distant – Reopen lines of communication through humble confession and accountability, preemptively dismantling the superiority complexes maintained by many Christians and supposed “atheists”
  2. Be Caring, Not Critical – Through extraordinary acts of kindness and fighting on the front lines for justice, debunk secular characterizations of Christians as “oppressors”
  3. Be Bold, Not Bashful – “Atheists” are more willing to listen and engage in discussion with Christians than some may think, more aware of their sin than they care to admit
  4. Be Opportunistic, Not Oblivious – Don’t miss chances to fan the flames of doubt that creep in when “atheists” observe creation, wrestle with their conscience, and face mortality
  5. Be Exponential, Not Expedient – Replace attractional church services with disciple-making, conceding that efforts to appeal to “atheists” alienated them, providing fodder to mock Christians rather than equipping believers to go out to those who would never step into a sanctuary
  6. Be Patient, Not Panicked – Persist in prayer, care and share because the hopelessness of being a cosmic accident with no purpose may eventually open the door to the Gospel
  7. Be Faithful, Not Flustered – Relax and know the outcome of dropping seeds on hard ground do not depend on us; only God can cause them to grow if that’s His will

With America in its penultimate stage, if the rise and fall of historical superpowers is any guide, then society will continue to turn away from God and toward decadence, dependence and division.  The good news is there is hope because no matter what anyone says, there’s no such thing as an atheist.

It’s Your Turn

Do you agree that in the inner recesses of our beings and in observing the outer world around us, it is impossible for an individual made in the image of God to truly believe He does not exist?

The post There’s No Such Thing as an Atheist appeared first on Meet The Need Blog.

Jim,

“How Should Christians Respond” is excellent application for implementation. It prompts us to #reimagineEVANGELISM… #reimagineCHURCH…

Theologically, I believe every person has the “image” of God but I also believe awareness of that presence/reality has been corrupted beyond recognition without the work of the Spirit:


Ephesians 2:1 And his fullness fills you, even though you were once like CORPSES,[literal translation] dead in your sins and offenses. 2 It wasn’t that long ago that you lived in the religion, customs, and values of this world, obeying the dark ruler of the earthly realm who fills the atmosphere with his authority, and works diligently in the hearts of those who are disobedient to the truth of God. 3 The CORRUPTION that WAS IN US FROM BIRTH was expressed through the deeds and desires of our self-life. We lived by whatever natural cravings and thoughts our minds dictated, living as rebellious children subject to God’s wrath like everyone else.”

Maybe the reality is that one can be an “atheist” (believes a God does not exist) but no one is a non-Theist, because like it or not, God is all around you and wants to be alive within you.

Your turn…
Phil
Discipleship.Network

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