Rethinking Evangelism

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This post is brought to you by a happy accident. Some might even call it providence. The gospel lesson for today is Matthew 5:17-20. By accident I turned to Mark 5:17-20 and here is what I read:

And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. 18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. 19 And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled. (Mark 5:17-20 ESV)

I’ve been dwelling on the topic of evangelism a lot lately. Many of us have been a part of one evangelistic movement or another in the past. Many of us have been severely burned by those evangelistic movements. Yet we cannot escape the call of scripture, and of Jesus himself, to spread the good news.

The problem most of us have these days is exactly how we are to spread it. Jesus uses  such care free metaphors in the gospels. The most care free is that of the farmer simply flinging seed through the air. If only evangelism were that easy.

Yet is it not just that easy? Have we made evangelism into something more than it is? Have we made it so large, so unattainable, that only the giants of the faith (and those with social disorders that relieve them of any awareness that what they are doing is supposed to make them and others feel uncomfortable) can do it?

In this text, Jesus tells a man simply to, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he had mercy on you.”

So simple. So profound. How do we put this into practice?

This statement presumes that one has friends that need to hear the good news. The first task is to make sure that we are developing friendships among the unchurched, underchurched, and unbelievers. But we don’t develop these relationships simply for the goal of evangelizing them. Jesus calls them friends. This is where some past evangelistic movements have gotten it wrong. We don’t develop relationships soley for the purpose of sharing the faith. This is cheap, and everyone feels dirty afterwords. It’s all rather unseemly isn’t it?

Rather, we want to develop true friendships with folks outside our church and outside our faith, not for the purpose of evangelizing, but for the purposes of having a friend.

But this is where a lot of us who have been struggling with evangelism have left it. I have made many friends who needed to hear the good news. Have I at least done this simple thing that Jesus tells the young man to do?

We need to be bold enough simply to tell our friends what the Lord has done for us, and how he has shown mercy on us. It’s that simple. Yet we are called to do it. And no matter how they respond, we don’t simply move on to the next person or evangelistic opportunity. They are our friends after all, and not evangelistic targets. Friends are in it for the long haul.

This method certainly isn’t the most “effective” nor does it bring in results the way we would like. But isn’t it the most dignifying and respectful to the human person? Isn’t it the way Jesus implies in the gospels? And in the long run, doesn’t it bear the most fruit, fruit that lasts and bears other fruit?

So go out. Make friends. And tell them what the Lord has done for you.

A Biblical Theology of Maturation and Renewal

The apostle Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that, “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” How is it then that the Spirit is transforming us from glory to glory?

The pattern of maturation in the scriptures is a progression from priest to king to prophet. The priestly phase is a propaedeutic phase of keeping rules and doing things exactly according to the book. This corresponds to our childhood which is full of rules. The kingly phase is a phase of ruling and exercising dominion in the vocation that God has given us. This corresponds to the main phase of our adult life. The prophetic phase is a phase of increasing influence and wisdom based on a lifetime of knowledge and experience. This phase corresponds to  our “golden years” which all to often in our culture are discounted by the younger generation. Biblically speaking, the prophetic phase is the most glorious and most influential, though we tend to value the kingly phase the most in our culture.

The bible also shows us that moving from glory to glory is preceded by a time of testing. The first test is the wilderness trial, where the person must deal with the Heavenly Father and come to terms with their personal loyalty to him. This trial is shown in Israel’s wilderness wandering as well as Jesus’ 40 day temptation in the wilderness. At the end of the wilderness trial, Joshua says, “Choose you this day whom you will serve,” (Joshua 24:15). Passing this test makes one ready to become a priest, where performance is measured by doing exactly what God says, and blessings/curses are meted out accordingly.

The second test is the garden trial. The garden trial is a test to see if one is willing to lay down his life for others, specifically his bride. The garden trial is shown in the scriptures in Adam’s test by the serpent in the garden as well as Jesus’ temptation in Gethsemane. Being willing to lay down one’s life for the sake of others is the test that is required to move into the kingly phase of life and ministry, which requires exactly that one lays down one’s life on behalf of those which he (or she) has been given to rule. The kingly phase is marked by wisdom, and the exactness of the rules of the priestly period are stretched (and sometimes broken) according to the wise rule of the king.

The third test is the fiery trial. The fiery trial is a test to see if one will pass on the kingly rule and all the things which one has built to the younger generation of junior kings. The fiery trial is shown in the bible in several places: Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, Elijah’s handing down his ministry to Elisha, and Jesus sending the Holy Spirit to his church on Pentecost. Passing the fiery trial (which involves both being willing to let go of our “sons” as well as passing our ministries down to them) makes one ready to become a prophet. Being a prophet in the bible is the most glorious and the most influential. Where the king is taken up with the day-to-day aspects of ruling, and his influence is largely over those he rules, the prophet has time to spend influencing and impacting the greater world. Prophets in the bible are world changers. They usher in new covenants and phases of redemptive history. They have power to rebuke and instruct the nations of the world, not just the local Israel. Being a prophet means one has remained faithful through the three major tests of life, and that one has gained a treasure trove of wisdom and knowledge based on his life experiences, knowledge of the scriptures, and close connection with God. Prophets should always be listened to, and never discounted in the church.

For the most part we as Americans are good at getting to the kingly phase, but we stall before getting to the prophetic phase. How can we do a better job of passing the fiery trial and becoming world changers? Kings have power and influence, but prophets make kings and disciple the nations. This is the phase that we must most aspire to, and must value the most in our churches.