Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Whatever happened to Evangelism?

There are some verses in the Bible that are so well-known (perhaps one might even venture to say “over-used”) that they are considered passé. Yes, we have read those verses. We know what they say and many of us can even quote them. But they are just words written on the page. “We have heard all the Sunday School lessons and we know this is what God says but these verses are not to be taken so seriously. They are put in the Bible for our contemplation.” Really? Many would never say these words with their mouth but they say them every day with their actions.
            Most of us would understand the importance of teaching, of doctrine and some understand the importance of theology. We collect these thoughts and bring them out of the bag for discussion or demonstration on Sunday morning and then we place them back in the bag in order to live our “real” lives. One of those ideas is “evangelism.” Now, you probably already know that the word “evangelism” does not appear in the King James Version of the Bible. And the word “evangelist” only appears twice in the KJV. Perhaps then there were only two evangelists? Perhaps there are only some who are called to evangelize?
            Let us bring out a few of those dusty verses to contemplate.

                 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them

                 in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” - Matthew 28:19 


            There is no doubt that we “know” this verse. We have heard it and it is brought out often for our Sunday morning contemplations. Prior to proceeding we should do our “Bible work” and define what a disciple is. After all, if we are going to meditate upon this verse before going back to our lives we should know what Jesus is talking. What is a disciple? Well, if you know anything about us “conservative” preachers we are very fond of little sermon games like word studies.
Disciple (μαθητής)- “student, pupil, follower of one’s teachings.”
            Jesus commands His follower to “make disciples” or followers.
How are disciples made?
   “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” Romans 10:17
What is the Biblical method for hearing the Word?
“For whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on Him whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” Romans 10:13-14

            We have already seen that evangelism is not a unique “spiritual gift” or special office but is required of all followers of Christ. What role, if any, does the pastor play in evangelism? Is he to bother himself with such trivial work?
            “But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist,
            fulfill your ministry.” 2 Timothy 4:5 
            All followers of Christ are called to make disciples. The only way a person can be a disciple is if they are converted. Conversion is not possible apart from the hearing of the Word of God. The normal method for people to hear the Word of God is through the preaching of the Word of God. Pastors and elders should be leading their congregations in evangelism. Anything less is disobedience to the commands of God.
            Pastor-Preacher- Minister-Missionary- Church Planter: If you are not actively sharing the Gospel message with those around- not just those in the church, not just from the pulpit- but in your everyday life then you are disobedient. How can you expect God to bless your ministry or grow your church if you refuse to be obedient to this simple command? How can you expect to escape God’s judgment?
            As pastors often times we are so given to the non-essentials. We will worry over so many little things. We will concern ourselves with so many administrative and organizational issues all to the neglect of the greater good. In the case of evangelism, it is not merely “greater good” but a direct command. We want church growth and the vast majority of any growth we see is a person joining our Church from another congregation. Although this grows our church none are added to the Kingdom of God.
“Do the work of an evangelist- go make disciples” 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Meditation upon the Recent Tsunami in Light of Luke 13

             Whenever a massive tragedy strikes the normal human response is to ponder “why?” Even as Christians we ask why. When there is a massive loss of life we are compelled to ask “why did this happen? Where was God?” This is an honest and fair question. We can come to at least three possibilities.
1) There is no God. This would explain the “natural” disasters. If the universe is just the result of random chaos then we can expect matter to crash into matter and chaos to have its way from time to time.
2) There is a God but He is has set the world into motion and allows it to run its course. This is the idea of a God who “winds the watch” and then lets it run down. If this is the case then we have a God who does not care. He sits on a throne of indifference.
3) God is loving and He cares for us but He is unable to interfere. “Bad things happen to good people.” It saddens God and He wishes He could help but He cannot. If this is true then we have a God who is powerless over His own creation. If this is true, then He is no God at all.
4) God is in control and God very much cares. And God has ordained the destruction for a purpose.
            The only option that the Bible supports is #4. The only option that I can live with is #4. God is in control of all of creation. God has willed all that has come to pass and all that will occur. Perhaps this is a comfort to some and perhaps it is not. It should be a comfort a comfort because if God is not sovereign (that is, if He is not in control of all things) then there is no point praying to Him for help. His sovereignty makes His provision possible. However, these facts do not answer our question: Why are there disasters and tragedies?
            Some preachers have speculated on the tsunami in Japan already. These speculative sermons are nothing new. It seems to happen with each large disaster. These sermons usually have one of two themes and often a combination of both themes.
                        Theme #1) “The end of the world is near- Jesus is coming back soon.”
                        Theme #2) “God is judging pagans/sin.”
            These sermons are usually built around texts like Matthew chapter 24 (“…wars and rumors of wars…earthquakes…”). Certainly, we are growing ever closer to the return of Christ and we should be warning the world if the coming judgment upon all people for their sins, but these sermons worry me as they presume upon God. Only the Father knows the exact time of the return (Matthew 24:36).
            What about the idea that God is judging pagans and judging sin? There are many Biblical examples of God judging sin and tragedies befalling people for their disobedience. However, again this is being presumptuous. We need to ask the question: If the Lord would begin to judge sin now, where would He stop? God can do as He wants, when He wants, how He wants and with whom He wants. But we cannot be assured that judgment alone is the main motivation of God in these actions. “If the Lord should count iniquity who could stand?”
            If we cannot assume that God is judging sin nor can we know the hour and the day of Christ, what can we learn from such tragedies in which numerous lives are taken in mere moments? What did Jesus say 
about such events?
           "Now on the same occasion there were present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffer this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will likewise perish." Luke 13:1-5

                Perhaps the only thing that can be said with absolute assurance regarding major disasters is that they at least serve the purpose of calling humanity to repentance. We live in a fallen world and these tragedies are the result of the curse of sin. In the hurricane, earthquake, tsunami, cancer, etc. God is calling out to humanity to show them the results of sin and to compel them to repent. It is as if God is saying that the devastation of these events is but a small picture of the greater tragedy that will occur to all who refuse to accept the forgiveness and cleansing that God offers humanity through the sacrifice of His Son. These “tragedies” are great acts of mercy by which God sends a message to all people of their great need for Him.
            “Unless you repent you will also perish.”
Praise the Lord.