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Evangelism… Belong, Believe, Behave

by:John

In the United States, at least when I still lived there, if you said you were ‘Evangelical’ what I would understand you meant would be that you considered yourself in main-stream Chrisitanity; you believe the Bible is true, that Jesus is the Son of God, and that He is the only way to have peace with your Maker.  I would hardly consider it a negative term there; however in Britain, I have heard it used ever-so-slightly more critical. Basically, Evangelical can be a term synonymous with ‘into the Bible, but not the Holy Spirit’. Now, that may be true in only certain spheres of British churches, but I mention it because the words ‘evangelical’ or ‘evangelism’, or ‘evangelize’ or certainly ‘evangelist’ all conjure various responses and even emotions and many are not completely positive.

I would guess that there are many reasons that those ‘e’ words evoke a negative response within many of us. One possible explanation is because of the ways that we have seen evangelism carried out in its various colourful forms over the years. Of course just thinking about many tele-evangelists make us cringe with both embarrassment that we profess to the same faith as they,  and scepticism as to whether the motives are heavenly reward or reward to be stored in off-shore bank accounts.  Paul on the other hand, was just happy that Jesus was preached, whether from true motives or not (Phil 1:15).  Paul knew that if Christ was proclaimed, the glory of the truth would shine forth, irrespective of who it was that spoke it.  That is really cool for us, because what it means is that the power is not in you or me, or even in the measure of eloquence with which we can break down the gospel, the power to save is in Christ and the proclamation of Christ can save no matter who is doing the sharing.

So, that should be one comforting truth for us–that it doesn’t depend on us, it depends  on Christ. That also should direct us a bit in what we consider evangelism. Okay now… is it controversial to say that evangelism can be defined solely by when someone actually proclaims Christ?  Some of you, hopefully, will be thinking, “Why would that be controversial?”  But, you see we have taken evangelism in many realms to be showing someone that you are Christian, and not a total lunatic, and hopefully semi-cool, so that they will realize that your church is not full of crazies, or worse boring, and maybe go there. And, if you have gotten someone there, then you have… “evangelized” even if you never proclaimed, or said a word about Jesus, or what he’s done.   Now, I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for this. I, too, subscribe to the ‘belong, believe, behave’ mindset. I dig it. I do the above.  But the question is: is it always the right way? And then also: why do we do it that way?

Do I substitute ‘proclaiming Christ’ with ‘inviting people to church’ because I just assume that if I proclaim who Jesus was, and is, and will be, that people will think I’m freaking nuts, and will definitely not go to church? It’s possible, maybe even probable. But, taken to the extreme, this thinking shuts us down completely. If we are constantly worried that someone will think we’re weird and therefore won’t come to church because of that then, yeah, you won’t talk about Jesus because it is foolish sounding, and you may not talk about church either. In fact, one popular method of modern evangelism is basically, convince people we aren’t weirdos and, only then when they really know us, do we let them in on the basics of our faith, in turn hoping they don’t turn because they know us by then.  I wouldn’t say that there is anything implicitly wrong with this, but I would say that it is crucial to examine our hearts about why we do it this way. Is it because we are embarrassed about God’s ways? Crucifying your Son is quite unusual. Albeit unusual, God is not ashamed of His methods; in fact, He put it on display for the world to see.  And actually, while some people are certainly repelled by the cross, others are drawn to it in no uncertain terms. What I am saying here doesn’t negate ‘belong, believe, behave’–far from it, as ultimately, I would say it is still a worthy principle. But, we need to be asking ourselves the brutal question, “Do I not talk about Jesus, because I’m embarrassed about Him?”

Or, am I afraid of what talking directly about Jesus will do to my relationships with people?  Of course, if that is the case, then what would our excuse be for not proclaiming Jesus to the stranger on the train who we will probably never see again?

Another reason we may invite someone to church as a replacement for talking about Jesus is because we may have fallen into the trap of thinking that the power of salvation lies in the anointing of the person who shares, and since ‘I have never seen anyone become Christian, then that must not be my gifting.’  Some people are especially gifted when it comes to evangelizing, but God loves to use everybody, and that includes those who may not have a particular gift with words–in fact, I think that God gets a particular joy from using the weak and non-gifted when they are willing.

Yeah, sometimes we can excuse ourselves from sharing Jesus in a way that requires boldness, for a way that doesn’t require us to go out on a limb, or put a stake in the ground by saying what we believe is. And thank God that He is so gracious with us–full of mercy and kindness as He instructs us, and even uses that which is feeble.  But, we musn’t let any excuse under heaven stand in the way of Christ being boldly proclaimed. Hear me, I’m not saying that we get our soap boxes out on every corner, or we stand on our desks on Monday morning and preach the hell-fire and brimstone stuff to all our colleagues whether they’ll listen or not. Although that would be extremely amusing –and if you do do it, please post it on youtube and send me the link ;)!   No, I am not saying that we just fall back into the cliches and just push for decisions the way it has been done in the past. Alot of that was good, Christ was proclaimed, and lives have been transformed, but I don’t think that ‘bold proclamation of Christ’ has to equate to the traditional stereotypes of an evangelist. And culture has changed, what worked then, wouldn’t necessarily work now… especially style-wise. Now I admit, I don’t know exactly what it should look like, but lets explore the idea a tad more.

Before we delve into what a bold proclamation of Christ might look like for us, in our own worlds let’s just consider for a moment the voices trying to drown out our own, before it even gets lifted.

1. Post modernity– Now, it is debatable whether or not this is the prevalent world-view we live in, but the bottom line is that there are still tons of people who subscribe to the idea that ‘what is right for you’ is right for you and for you only! And what is fine for them is fine for them. You do what you want to do, and I’ll do my thing. You can believe in what you want, and that is your thing, but don’t tell me what to believe cause that’s not respecting…  and respecting is paramount. ‘Not offending’ is a value, judgemental people are looked down on, and the epitome of the evil person in the post modern world is the religious extremist. The moral code of the post-modern man (although technically they aren’t allowed one) is political correctness.  Now, these are sweeping statements, but the fact is, people do subscribe to this. And, can you see how these ideas and beliefs do not lend well to the gospel message?  It tries to shut you up from the start by saying that one of the only rules is “don’t offend” and “you can believe what you want but don’t judge. Oh, and don’t try to tell me!”

2. Fear. Now the opposite thing to post modernity is seen in the East. There, I don’t think they got the Post modernity memo. If an email went out when the world went post modern, it must have gone straight into the spam box in the eastern world, cause they are obviously not playing by the same rules. Take for example the recent film that was produced regarding Islam’s prophet Muhammad. Someone makes a movie like that and we in the Post modern west say, “Oh, well that wasn’t very tasteful, and it was certainly inflamatory… He shouldn’t have done that.” We look down on him for being offensive, but we respect his right to his own opinion, because, each person is their own god in post modernity.  But in Islam, if you insult the prophet, they can put out a Fatwa, which is essentially money offered to take you out. Pure gansta style, they put a hit out on ya. That is definitely not politically correct!

Just ask Salman Rushdie, the author of a Novel called The Satanic Verses. He wrote that, and ended up with a Fatwa against him for £500,000. These are serious things, two of his former translators are now dead cause of these. Now, knowing all of that, how does that make you feel about going up to someone that you know is Muslim and telling them that Jesus was the Son of God?  Albeit there are some very creative ways to do this, but the point is this, these Fatwas and demonstrations are designed to prevent people from saying publicly, things which could damage the faith in Islam and Muhammad. The purpose is to create an attitude of fear. And, interestingly enough, if we let the fear control us, the effect is the same as in Post modernity, we are less bold to declare Jesus.

Okay well, the big question that is left is then how do we, in this world that doesn’t seem like it wants to hear, speak out with boldness for Christ?  I think the key to the answer of that question is in the two words ‘Genuine’ and ‘Love’.   Regarding being genuine… I do believe that whatever the motivation, Christ being proclaimed is a good thing, but that doesn’t excuse me from having the right motivations. And, if my motivations are pure, I think that a.) gives me a confidence to be able to say more, and b.) makes what I do say more effective because others can see that I am genuine in what I say. Being earnest can go a long way to defuse tense situations.

But, when you combine Love with genuineness, then you really have a winning combination for boldness. For one, if you really care about someone… I mean really love them, then you want them with you don’t you?  Whether you are going to the movies, or on Holiday, or shopping, you want your loved ones with you don’t you?  Well, wanting someone to share in the Holy Spirit, and to have that bond in Christ is like that!  We should earnestly desire that others join into the Body of Christ with us because we want them with us!  I believe that there is something in that desire that if we tap into, will release more boldness to share Christ with others, and probably in a better way.  Now, it needs to be said here that the desire to have someone with you, could actually be the very thing keeping you from talking about Christ because you know that it will be divisive and that they’ll probably not talk to you again, after you talk about Christ.

If you are in this situation, I feel for you. It is not easy, and I will not try to give you a formula, cause I think that you do need to follow God, and His timing is perfect. But, ultimately, you too should try to ask the Holy Spirit to increase your desire to see your family member/friend stitched into your life in a new way in Christ. If you can get hold of this desire it may be the very thing that unlocks the tension in the situation for your friend/family member to hear about Christ and to accept Him. This might not happen right away, and in fact, it might not happen at all. But ultimately, you have to ask yourself, is withholding what you know about Christ to keep this person in your life loving? Is it loving to withhold the best thing that you have from someone who needs it, because you are afraid that you might lose them?  Friend, I can guarantee you will lose them… at some point… unless they are stitched into the Body of Christ.  And that invitation is wide open, but for whatever reason, God chooses to use His children, and the gospel of His son Jesus.

So, lets ask God to help us to tap into Genuine love shall we?   Man, if he would just help us to see others as the treasures that they are, that we would love them, and seek them out… that would certainly help us to be bold. Genuine love is our motivation, but it is also our method. The words, and ways the gospel is expressed will be as varied as we are unique, but it never did depend on us anyway, only that the Gospel is preached, and Jesus proclaimed. And with the genuine love of the Holy Spirit driving us on, the blend of word and deed is most likely to be the right proportions for each situation.

Okay, so that brings us back to Belong, Believe, Behave. I know that not everyone will be familliar with that expression. But, essentially, it is a model of evangelism that says that including people in your lives  before they necessarily confess Christ is right, and through that inclusivity, people come to their understanding of what to believe, and only then do their behaviours need to be addressed. Traditionally, many churches address behaviour first, and that can put people off.  Anyway, I’m not trying to explain it fully, just google it if you want a good understanding. The point that I want to make regarding this is that… I believe it is the right order of things.  However, it can never be an excuse not to be bold, or to be ashamed/embarrassed of Christ.

I think when we get this right, we will feel as though others belong to us, not in a slavish, ‘you’re my possession’ type of way. But in a way that says, you belong amongst us.  Then surely as people are accepted by us in this way, belief will follow, and with belief–behaviour!

Psalm 51:15
Oh Lord Open my lips,
And my mouth will declare your praise.

Eph 6:19-20
“And also pray for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. ” The Apostle Paul

 

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