Friday, April 19, 2013

Gospel, Evangelism and Justice: They Go Together

I have been riding the NYC subways for 25 years, and I can tell you that it’s rare to see someone reading a Bible. In fact, I can’t remember seeing one white person so engaged! The same fate seems to be stalking the proclamation of the Gospel. It is routinely discredited. One pastor/theologian diminishes evangelism as “recruiting”:

  • "When the world sees us doing evangelism, they just see us recruiting. When they see us doing justice, they see God's glory." 
However, for those of us who share the Bible to unbelievers, we know that it’s more than recruiting. Sometimes, this act can become infused with the presence of the Spirit. There are occasions when even the unbeliever will acknowledge this. The Apostle Paul refers to this supernatural encounter:

  • But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. (2 Cor. 2:14-17) 
Paul associates our supernaturally becoming “the fragrance of the knowledge of him,” not with performing social justice, but with proclaiming “the word of God.” Certainly, we are required to seek justice. However, this should not be at the exclusion of evangelism.

Paul reminds us in many ways that God works supernaturally through the proclamation of the Gospel:

  • I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. (Romans 1:16) 
Salvation is a supernatural phenomenon that requires supernatural means. The Gospel is that means.

We have a tendency to think that our age is so different and so antagonistic to the Gospel that we have to resort to other means. Therefore, some repeat words wrongly attributed to St. Francis:

  • Preach the gospel whenever you can, but use words only when necessary.
Paul described a time suggestive of our own:

  • There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God-- having a form of godliness but denying its power. (2 Tim. 3:1-5) 
Certainly, such times would require different means. Such people wouldn’t give the Gospel a listening-to! Not so! Paul concluded his catalogue of horrors with a reaffirmation of what he had always preached:

  • Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. (2 Tim. 4:2-4)
We might think that, in view of such resistance to the Gospel, some new form of seeker-sensitivity is warranted. Not according to Paul or even according to Jesus. When He sent His apostles out on their grand commission, He instructed them against any form of picking-and-choosing among His teachings:

  • Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:19-20)
He gave His disciples no indication that they could set aside any of His teachings if they turned out to be unpopular. Of course, we need to present the Gospel with sensitivity, compassion and understanding. We can even dust off our feet when it is rejected. However, Scripture never gives us permission to set it aside.

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