Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Rethinking Evangelism: Demostration is the Key - Part II

Continuing on with the idea that "demonstration" is the key to evangelism, over the next two posts I want to develop further the reasons I believe this is true. Evangelism is the act of "sharing the Good News," the word "Gospel" being translated from the Greek - euaggelion. We should naturally want to share Good News, especially when it's the best news in the world. which I think was Penn Jillette point that got this series started.

Why wouldn't every Christ follower want to enthusiastically share such Good News? My experience with Evangelism Explosion showed me that people are scared of evangelism and others turned off by the very concept. There's that big scary P word that repulses many today - Proselytize. The reason for this, I think, has to do with how we misunderstand the evangelistic task. The decline of church attendance and growth of the "nones" should tell us something isn't working. If it takes an atheist to make a valid point, maybe with a bit of hyperbole, to get people thinking about this all important task I say - so be it.

In Part I, I mentioned my encounter with a FB friend who not only took exception to my Facebook post of a comment by Penn but my focus on "demonstration." In discussing the task of the Church, I had referred to "demonstration of the Good News" in reference to Matthew 24:14. I used this word intentionally to amplify the text and I was summarily accused of "heresy" for replacing the word "preached." No one wants to be charged with "heresy," unless perhaps being heretical is your thing - especially over a Facebook post. But this has given me this opportunity to rethink evangelism which is something we, the Church, need to consistently to reevaluate what is working and what needs revising.

Toward a "Practical Exhibition" of the Gospel

In Matthew 24:14, Jesus says: "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." My crime of "heresy" was the word replacement, my FB friend evidently missing the fact that translation is never an exacting discipline - that's why different translations often use different words. But I wasn't after a re-translation but a commentary. The point I was trying to make was how we are to live in light of the Gospel. I'll let you decide how far off the mark I was by replacing "preach" with "demonstrate."  

The Greek word translated "preached" in Matthew 24:14 is kēryssō which is also translated as "proclaimed" which may be a better word choice. The Greek is rendered as a verb, in the future tense, making it an action word with future implications. Jesus was saying that in the future the Gospel will be communicated - for that is what the act of proclaimation - as a message about Christ's Kingdom. (Note here that the Kingdom Jesus was communicating is more than a salvation message but that's for another post.) The word "demonstrate" is also a verb, defined as "to clearly show the existence or truth of (something) by giving proof or evidence." It also means, "to give a practical exhibition and explanation of."

One reason I use the word "demonstrate" is because the task of "preaching" is too often assigned solely to professionals, which it was never meant to be. Jesus wasn't just holding a Pastors conference when he said the Gospel would be "preached." Not that there is not a Biblical role for Preacher, but it's not the Preachers task alone to "Proclaim" the Gospel. Though when we focus on "preaching" as the centerpiece of our evangelism, we hear things like, "invite your friends to church." Why don't we just invite them to Jesus, by proclaiming the Gospel?  That is a task for ordinary "brothers and sisters" (Philippians 1:14), not just paid preachers.

Nor, does Scripture instruct us that every believer is called to be "Preacher." We are called to let be salt and light, and to offer a consistent witness to what we claim to believe. That is to be an "practical exhibition" of the euaggelion.. We are called to "proclaim" Christ in word and deed - that's demonstration! Finishing the task Jesus speaks of in Matthew 24:14 requires many harvest workers, not just the paid pros, if it is going to be completed sooner rather than later. So how can we rethink evangelism to get there?

Our task in evangelism is to clearly show evidence of what God has done for us and what he has always been doing in his-story. The best way to do this is to share our testimony because no one can rightly argue against such evidence. That should come naturally, if we're enthused by what God has done in our lives. The first thing I was trained to do and trained others to do in Evangelism Explosion was to share our testimony. But unless our testimony matches our life, giving "practical exhibition" of what we say we believe, people aren't going to receive our message as valid. They will rightly think we're hypocrites.

The Biblical Emphasis of Demonstration

When the Apostles began to proclaim the Gospel they did so by speaking of the resurrection as a promised fulfilled to clearly show the truth of God's Word. Peter preached his first sermon on the Day of Pentecost to show "that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah" (Acts 2:36).  The Apostles also demonstrated the Gospel through "many wonders and signs" in such a way that "the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved" (Acts 2:47). Acts also records that it was obvious to onlookers that "these men had been with Jesus" (Acts 4:13).

All three Acts accounts demonstrate the Gospel - communicating the Jesus story, the power of the Holy Spirit at work, and living as a witness for Jesus. We need all three to be effective. We must participate in the first and third while still praying for the second.

From the start of the Church, demonstration has been vital to sharing the Gospel. Paul confirms this when he says, "My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power." (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).

It seems Peter and Paul would both agree that demonstration is the key to evangelism, so where did my FB friend go wrong?  

Getting Off Track

One way we go wrong is when we reduce evangelism to preaching a message of personal salvation only, but that's not what Jesus is talking about in Matthew 24:14. Jesus is talking about a Kingdom message (I am blogging about the Kingdom in other posts). The emphasis on personal salvation, where my FB friend was coming from and one all to common in Evangelicalism, focuses on getting people "saved." We go off track when we make a part of the story, salvation, the focal point of our evangelism and neglect the whole Gospel message of the Kingdom. Then we don't live the Kingdom life we're called to or demonstrate what we say we believe really has transformation value (more on this in the next post).

Not only has evangelism often been reduced to a personal salvation message, which is only part of the story, but the Gospel has also been reduced to a formula. According to this formula, a "lost" person only needs to believe some pre-assembled words and they will be saved - end of story. Such reductionism, besides missing the grand story the Bibles tells, as well as Jesus emphasis on the Kingdom, has also produced the dearth of discipleship in the Church today. I'm not opposed to a Biblical pattern for sharing the Gospel through Scripture, but to a formula mentality especially when delivered with "ugly orthodoxy"- compassion-less dogmatism.

The Gospel is not a formula - the Gospel is a Person! The Gospel is not just about a person - Jesus Christ - but is a living Person who is with us always (Matthew 28:20), if we believe his promise. Our evangelism then should not be reduced to mere words about him but demonstrated by how we live for him, with him, in him and through him. We may "Preach the Word," if we are so appointed (1 Timothy 2:7) - but more so we are to "live the Word," and by it proclaim to the world - His Kingdom is at hand. Every Christ-follower is appointed to that task. Paul urges each of us to "live a life worthy of the calling you have received" (Ephesians 4:1). That's demonstration! 

As St. Francis of Assisi so succinctly put it: "Preach the gospel. And if necessary, use words." St. Francis apparently understood that demonstration is the key to evangelism too. 

I have more to share on this topic and I will pick this up more in Part III of this series on Rethinking Evangelism. This will be a multi-part series so I  invite you to subscribe above to get these posts emailed directly to you, "like" the brand new Living Sent Today Facebook page, or follow on Twitter @LivingSentToday.

What do you think of this emphasis on demonstration? What do you think of St. Francis' famous quip? 

No comments:

Post a Comment