Friday, 3 September 2010

Thoughts on Evangelism (1)

I've been thinking about evangelism a lot lately. In both of the churches that I attend (my home church whom I serve as Children's Ministry Worker in the mornings, and within which body my husband is the pastor; and the church which I join for evening services) I have heard sermon series on evangelism and mission-mindedness this year. Last Saturday a good friend, who came to Australia as a refugee from Sudan and studied at Theological College the year ahead of Jeff, held an update evening on his work providing training and support for native pastors and evangelists in Sudan through the Sudanese Gospel Mission (more on David's work in another post). And I have been reading Augustine's Confessions as well; Book V brought quite a few evangelism thoughts to mind as well.


In Bk V.13, Augustine says, “Unknown to me, it was you who led me to him [Ambrose, bishop of Milan], so that I might knowingly be led by him to you.”

This sentence caused me to recall the people who led me to the LORD, who God used to lead me back to Him. I am so thankful for their determination to share the gospel with me. Especially Nathan, a fellow teacher who argued and argued with me in the Science teacher’s office over our need for a saviour and the identity of God’s chosen Saviour: Jesus Christ. I was so determined to reject all he had to say, and yet his invite to Alpha was the spur for me eventually attending Alpha with Jeff, even though I didn’t go to the Alpha course that Nathan invited me to. And it was at the Alpha course that I couldn’t get away from the Truth of the gospel.

Who did God use to lead you to Him? Have you thanked God lately for their witness to you?

Who have you told about Jesus?
Have you only told your children? Or are you actively seeking - and praying for - opportunities to tell many people about the good news of Jesus?

In John 15:26 and 16:13-14, Jesus says, "When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. ... But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you." It is, ultimately, the Holy Spirit who opens peoples eyes to see the truth of the gospel, and softens their hearts to respond to the gospel with faith.

Have you thanked God lately for the Holy Spirit's work in your heart, convicting you of the truth of the gospel?

Have you been regularly praying for the Holy Spirit to be at work in the hearts of those who do not yet have faith in Christ?


In Bk V.6, Augustine says of the Manichean Faustus, “My ears were already ringing with these tales and they seemed to me none the better for being better expressed, nor true simply because they were eloquently told. Neither did I think that a pleasant face and a gifted tongue were proof of a wise mind. Those who had given me such assurances about him must have been poor judges. They thought him wise and thoughtful simply because they were charmed by his manner of speech.”

In thinking about this section, I was thinking about how much stress (Christian) homeschoolers can put upon the necessity to develop literacy skills, in particular rhetoric skills, so that Christians can share the gospel charmingly. If logic skills are also emphasised, this is all to the good. But if our children grow up to be able to tell the gospel clearly, but cannot defend its basis from biblical and observable reasons, they may come across as nothing but snake oil salesmen. And they may end up doing more harm to the gospel than good, if they persist in using bad arguments that are easily discredited by the dogmatic New Atheists, who will continue to act as antichrists well into our children’s future, I imagine. (1 John 2:22 - Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son.)

Further, if we fail to teach our children that our faith is indeed sound and reasonable, we leave their own faith at the mercy of those people who, like Faustus, argue charmingly but without substance. This is where we see the need for Christian organisations that argue polemics, such as the Creation Ministries people. I know they have their faults, and are perhaps just a touch blind to the fact that belief in a literal 6 day creation of the world does not actually equate with belief in Christ Himself (after all, I am sure “even the demons believe that – and shudder” - James 2:19). But they do a great job, in their Creation magazine and online, for example, of providing tools that defend one of the basic doctrines of Christianity (God is the Creator of everything) in a way that is both generally logically sound (not falling into Faustas’s fault) and also charming and engaging. I think in our raising of our families, and in teaching Sunday School, etc, it is good to be utilising such resources so that our children grow up knowing their faith is defensable and reasonable, even while they also know that it is only by God’s grace in the work of the Holy Spirit that they have heard and accepted with faith that gospel message.

What are you doing to build up your own faith, encouraging yourself with the truth of the gospel message?

What are you doing to build up the faith of the "little children" in your care, whether they be your own children, kids at Sunday School, or even adult "lambs" who have just heard the gospel and are new believers?


One further thing. Augustine says of Ambrose that he “was a man known throughout the world as a man whom there were few to equal in goodness.” (Bk V.13)

This is the third characteristic of those who would be winsome for the glory of God in the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our faith must not merely be evident in our words as we teach and preach the gospel. Our lives should also be lived in a way that brings honour to the LORD as our Lord, and does not undermine our arguments of the veracity of the gospel message of new life in Christ. The concept of sanctification – the gradual process of being made more like Christ through the counsel of the Holy Spirit within us and our obedience to His instruction – is one of the basic tenets of Christianity. If our daily lives show that our claim to having a new life in Christ is a fallacy, then we undermine our presentation of the gospel message, no matter how logically sound and rhetorically persuasive the manner of its delivery. In contrast, if we, like Ambrose, are known as godly, good people, then our presentation of the gospel message is enhanced. If we are seen as honest people, we can be understood to be presenting a true, believable message. And even if the message is not ultimately believed, our lives still bring glory to God through the evidence of our own ongoing sanctification.

As Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians (1:27-28), "Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God."

What evidence of sanctification is there in your life?
Are you conducting yourself in a "manner worthy of the gospel of Christ?

Any thoughts?


Mrs. Edwards said...

I hope to come back to this with some thoughts. For now: thank you for the post!

Sharon said...

Looking forward to your comments, as always, Amy!

Mrs. Edwards said...

Thank you again for this post.
Because I put my trust in Christ as a young child, I notice that I have a tendency (which is terrible) to assume that adults who are not Christians are not interested in hearing about Him. Or, to put it differently, I am always encouraged and convicted by the testimonies of adult believers who came to Christ as adults without a childhood in the church. Like you, these believers seem to be more faithful in evangelism, probably because they've felt more keenly the impact of it.

You write,
Who have you told about Jesus?
 Have you only told your children? Or are you actively seeking - and praying for - opportunities to tell many people about the good news of Jesus?

and I am convicted. In fact, just last Sunday our pastor mentioned that he prays regularly in the morning that God would bring to him opportunities to share the Gospel. I don’t do this, but I need to.


About homeschoolers and rhetoric skills (bear with me a moment, this runs a bit long): I once followed a link from a news/politics website to a blog post written by a young man who attended Patrick Henry College. This Christian liberal-arts college attracts many kids who were homeschooled for high school (secondary school). It is without a doubt a conservative, Christian community with lofty goals of raising up new leaders. The blogger, however, wrote something about his college’s code of honor/conduct suggesting that the rules of the college were one reason why PHC didn’t have trouble with violence (!). (In contrast to a specific big university that did experience violent crime on campus.) I think he meant to be defending the school's rules, but I cringed reading it because it seemed entirely contrary to the Gospel. Something is amiss when a Christian argues for rules of conduct by claiming that the rules rein in and prevent sin. I think Paul might disagree on that one! For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending His own son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us. (Romans 8:3-4). I think the student was wielding plenty of rhetoric and logic skills, but was lacking in his understanding of the Christian life. If PHC's student body has greater "goodness" than any other university's, it is surely evidence of the Holy Spirit and His sanctification in the hearts of PHC students, those redeemed by Christ.

I’m rambling a bit here (weak rhetoric skills showing), but I think that no amount of rhetoric or logic training makes up for intimacy with Christ and knowledge of Scripture. Yes, we must be sharp and able to stand firm against the atheists, but possibly the best way to avoid being a snake oil salesman is to possess an authentic love of Christ and witness of His work in our lives. Which, as you said, was true of Ambrose.

You ask:
What are you doing to build up your own faith, encouraging yourself with the truth of the gospel message?

Not enough at the moment. Yes, I have my daily Bible reading and prayer time, but I’m looking forward to the beginning of BSF, which is in just a few more weeks!