Thursday, 24 April 2008

Evangelism and Church part 1

Sometimes we get into debates about where we should do evangelism - in church, or outside. By "in church" we mean during the Sunday service. Should we have "seeker services", and reserve "teaching" to Bible studies? Or should we "teach" during the Sunday service, and do evangelism in Bible studies, men's group, women's group etc?
I think the whole debate is misguided.
Mission is intrinsic to the identity of the church. The church itself is essentially outward focused. Evangelism is not the church’s second nature; it is the church’s nature, full stop.
Christianity is an experience of community. The New Testament terms it “fellowship” – koinonia. God, through Christ’s death and resurrection, brings us into fellowship with his triune self (Matt 11:27; John 17:3, 10-11). Those who have been redeemed by Christ also have fellowship with one another. Christ did not redeem solitary individuals; he redeemed the church, a community, a people for himself (Eph 2:11-22; 1 Peter 2:9-10).
This fellowship is not passive. It is not a synonym for socialising – what we do after the church service, over a cup of tea. Fellowship is active, and outsider-focused. This is because the God with whom we have fellowship is active, and outsider-focused. The persons of the Trinity are essentially focused on each other, and have been rejoicing in each other from all eternity. The gospel of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is an expression of that mutual joy. Jesus was the first missionary. He came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). The Father rejoiced to plan to save sinners; the Son rejoiced to put that plan into action; the Spirit rejoiced to empower the Son to do so, and continues to rejoice in applying that salvation to sinners. So to say “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16) is not an abstract philosophical statement, but a deep statement as to the nature of God himself. The triune God really is love, and has shown it in the cross of Christ.
So, the church that God brings into being must also be outsider-focused – or else it is not Christ’s church (Matt 5:13-16; Romans 5:6-8). As Christians, we should naturally want to share what we have – our relationship with God – with others. We must, with John, “proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us” (1 John 1:3) as we enjoy “fellowship… with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ” (ibid). As we do so, we “make our joy complete” (1 John 1:4). The normal Christian, and the normal church, should desperately want to expand its community, so that more people share the fellowship with God that we enjoy.
This active, missionary fellowship is not reserved for authorised “priests”. All Christians have been gifted to build up the body of Christ in some way (1 Cor ch 12; Eph 4:1-16; Php 2:25; 1 Peter 1:5). Indeed, in one sense, the way the church evangelises is simply by being itself. As we share community with each other, that community, because it is founded and brought into being by the gospel of Christ, testifies to Christ – or else it is not a Christian community (Romans ch 12; Titus ch 2; 1 Peter 2:12).
So how does this actually work itself out in local churches? I'll address that in part 2...

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