Wednesday, 29 May 2013

PRESENCE EVANGELISM



In the next lot of posts I will discuss different modes of Evangelism or the different ways that evangelism is thought to be done.By examining these different modes of evangelism we will begin to build up a picture of what evangelism means today. The first mode I would like us to look at is Evangelism as 'Christian Presence'.

Whether we agree or not that Christian presence can rightfully be termed evangelism, Christians are present in the world and this will have a direct bearing on how they are perceived by non Christians.

Is the Church of Christ 'Good News' or 'Bad News'to those outside it?

1. Light of the world and salt of the earth.( Matt 5 .13-14)

'You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven'.
Jesus declared that his followers would be both the salt of the earth and light to the world. Here Jesus plainly states that we should be an influence on the world.

What activities might constitute this mode of evangelism?

Attractive lifestyle: Testimony of a changed life,or a holy life. Through two thousand years of the Church history this has been a great witness to the world. Selfish have changed to become unselfish, nasty people have become kind and gentle, thieves now work and give of what they earn to the poor. Think of the likes of Nicky Cruz the one time gang leader or former paramilitaries from the I.R.A. or U.D.A. who have radically been changed by the power of the gospel.

Not only are changed lives impressive but also Christlike lives.

Paul often fills the beginning of his letters with great doctrinal themes as found in Romans and Ephesians then gives them examples of how these lessons can be put into practice in daily living.

Consider the passage below and think whether the world would not be impressed by such a radical lifestyle.
Romans 12:9-21

9 'Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honour one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay,"says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
"If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. "21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good'.
Look at the first verse ‘Love must be sincere’. Can love be insincere? Not real love: but something that which appears to be love can be, and many people have experienced insincere love. When someone see the genuine article they will be impressed and it could well convict them of their own insincerity and draw them to Christ.
The woman at the well knew love of a kind but the men she knew did not love her for herself but for her body. When she met the Lord she knew he was different. He loved her for herself.
The Great Commandment to love our neighbours as ourselves must be equally obeyed as the Great Commission. Jesus warns us through the parable of the good Samaritan that we can be as pious and religious as we like but if we don’t stop and help the person who is in trouble and in danger, we are disobeying the Great Commandment. Can we dare to be different and love our enemy and do good to them, by at least praying for them: even though they are out to upset us or give us trouble.
If Stephen had not prayed forgiveness for those who stoned him, the spiritual channel might not have been opened for the Pharisee Saul to become the great Apostle Paul.
If Jesus had not prayed for forgiveness for those who crucified him none of us might have been saved. Do not be surprised if you pray for the salvation of a person you are tempted to hate ,that they will soften to the gospel and come to Christ.

Another aspect of 'Christian Presence' that might be regarded as 'salt and light' in society are that of Loving relationships. In fact 'the mark of the Christian' should be love according to the Bible and the little book by Francis Schaeffer that bears that name.
In response to Jesus’ command to love one another Schaeffer writes: ‘ the point is that it is possible to be a Christian without showing the mark, (Love) but if we expect non-Christians to know we are Christians, we must show the mark. This means we must interact with unbelievers and not live in a holy huddle'.
Paul also exhorts husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the Church. What a great example, especially today in a fragmented society to see marriages together after many years. It is sad to see however that there are often as many divorces among Christians as among non -Christians. I like to view the family as a mini Church. I also believe that it should have priority over the local church as regards time and energy. I don’t believe it is wise to sit on several Church committees when our marriage and family are falling apart. We should spend time with our family and should and really pray hard each day for our spouses and children as Paul prayed for his spiritual children:

‘I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,’


It would not be the first time that a good Christian has got too involved in church activity or evangelistic activity at the expense of his wife and family. If we have children we are under an obligation to give them the time to allow us be the best father or mother we can be. If we are not prepared to do that and are still single perhaps like Paul we should stay that way. If we have children, it might also be appropriate to forgo a time consuming ministry especially if we hold down a full time job until the children are of an age when they can look after themselves. The example of a good family speaks volumes and ensures our children will not become bitter against God and the church for taking their parents away from them.


In His Kingdom Manifesto of Luke 4 Jesus declared:




"The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

because he has anointed me

to preach good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

and recovery of sight for the blind,

to release the oppressed,

to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour"




Those such as Tony Campolo and those involved in Sojourners ministry with Jim Wallis are very much focussed in this area fighting for the rights of the poor and oppressed. website address http://www.sojo.net/


Another area that the church can be salt and light is in

Prophetic involvement: This includes identifying with the weak, oppressed and the poor in society and being concerned for justice and truth in society .One could also include the ministry of William Wilberforce among others who fought against the slave trade or Martin Luther King who fought for civil rights in the U.S.

Another area which the church is involved is fighting for the unborn child who are Approximately 1,370,000 in the U.S. and about 200,000 abortions occur annually in the U.K.
Sacrificial service : Christians who are involved in social ministry such as caring for the needy often do it at great cost to themselves. e. g Mother Theresa etc. This often makes a great impression on non-Christians. ‘Actions often speak louder than words’ or James as warns us:

'If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.' (James 1.26-27)

The church also gains great credibility in the ministry it does among the poor and needy. Christian Aid and Tear fund among many others are great examples of the Church continuing to do the works of Christ. The Church does not do it to gain credibility, it does it because of what Christ did and it is that Spirit of Christ that gives Christians to love their neighbour.

William Still calls ‘Christian Presence’ ‘basic’ or ‘primary evangelism‘. It is ‘ living the life’ and allowing others to see the life of Christ in us by letting our light shine.

-‘The way to evangelise and build a nation is by Christian character, by the Word , Spirit and prayer, not evangelistic missions. The true witness is not primarily with banners in open airs and vast meetings in overcrowded halls but where you live and work and normally worship.’

There are however some criticisms of this mode -
Is it Evangelism or social action? Can it not be both?
Is there a danger that silence will predominate.
Are we letting the world set the agenda?

Saint Francis once said :

‘Preach the gospel at all times , and , if necessary , use words’

I think what Francis was trying to say here is that actions will speak louder than words and when the words become necessary to explain our actions they will point them to Christ.

In 1 Peter. Peter is speaking to the church while they were undergoing severe persecution. He does not tell them to get out there and go from door to door (but don't think that I'am against it)but he does say :

"In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander".

In other words live for God and by his word, and as we do that, people will ask why we did react or not react in a certain way when a certain things happened or why we were friendly to the friendless. Then we can tell them in a gentle way the reason for the hope that is in us and invite them to do the same or meet your other Christian friends at church or in your house.

Do you know this poem ?


Not only by the words you say,

Not only by our deeds you do, but in the most unconscious way

Is Christ Expressed

Is it a calm seraphic smile,

a holy frown upon your brow?

Oh No, I felt his presence when you laughed just now.

For me, `it was not the truth you taught

To you so clear, to me so dim

But when you came to me

You brought a sense of Him

And from your eyes He beckoned me

And from your heart, His love was shed

Till its no longer you I see , but Christ instead.





Some questions to consider:

Is Presence Evangelism not really PRE EVANGELISM as opposed to Evangelism?

The Lausanne Covenant which we looked in the last post states:

Our Christian presence in the world is indispensable to evangelism, and so is that kind of dialogue whose purpose is to listen sensitively in order to understand.

c) But evangelism itself is the proclamation of the historical, biblical Christ as Savior and Lord, with a view to persuading people to come to him personally and so be reconciled to God.

Here John Stott notes its importance regarding evangelism but denies it is evangelism per se.

The Strengths of this mode include:

1.Real involvement in society rather than hit and run evangelism: to and fro from our holy huddle.

2.Prepared to listen and understand the context before speaking. The church is prepared to listen to and feel the pain.

3.Having an understanding that society more often wants to see action ( good works will bring glory to God) before they will listen to words.

Andrew Kirk writes:‘what we call social involvement ,they ( the NT Christians ) saw as one strand of evangelism. Without it the gospel could not be fully communicated.’

What are your views of 'Presence evangelism'. Is it not evangelism at all or is it the foundation stone and root from which evangelism must be built upon and grow from?

Bibliography

O.T.C. level 2 Evangelism Course


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