My justification for staying at home writing rather than going to the pub
I believe all Christians are called to “acknowledge Jesus before men” (Luke 12:8) and to “have a defence for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15 ). I’m not saying we all do this, but we should.
But a lot of evangelical Christians also think we all have a universal calling to “take every possible opportunity to ‘share your faith’ and tell people in words about the gospel, and periodically examine your life to check if you’re doing this, and if not, why not”. This leads to guilt about that terrible modern sin, Not Having Any Non-Christian Friends.
With even more trepidation than usual, I would suggest that this may not in fact be Biblical.
I am partly inspired by a recent Bible study group meeting. The material we were using tried to persuade us that when Paul tells the Corinthians to “be reconciled to God… not to accept the grace of God in vain” (2 Cor 5:20-6:1), he is pleading with them to be more evangelistic. We didn’t agree with this, and had a lively debate about Paul’s irritating habit in Second Corinthians of interchangeably using the word “we” to mean “me and my co-writers, whom you should obey”, and “all Christians, including you and me”.
This is also related to the endless conflicts about the purpose of the Church – is it to worship God; to preach the gospel; to work for the Kingdom of Heaven on earth; or to be a loving community? (“The Church is the only institution that exists for the benefit of non-members” etc.)
In fact, surely the Church’s purpose is all the above. Isn’t it? Sometimes people whose calling is more towards one of these than the others, are a bit intolerant of other points of view.
Jesus instructs some people He heals to go and tell people (Luke 8:39). He instructs others not to (Luke 8:56) – admittedly, this is pre-Crucifixion. He sends out specific people, 12 or 70 or whoever, to preach and cast out demons. He instructs one man to sell all he has, and give to the poor.
In the Sermon on the Mount, He tells his “disciples”, which is presumably all of us, that we are “the salt of the earth and the light of the world… a city on a hill”, but goes on to associate this with good deeds (Matt 5: 13-16).
The Great Commission is “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising then in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…”
Dare I say that yes, this is probably addressed to the church in general, but if I’m not personally called to baptise or teach, am I called to go?
I am always amazed how little there is about evangelism in the New Testament epistles aimed at ordinary Christians rather than leaders. Paul explains that he’s doing it; he asks for prayer that he should be enabled to continue to do it, and that doors should be opened; but what he tells the converts in the house-church generally is “be thankful – rejoice in God – pray – work hard – give generously – and above all, love.” He assumes, or seems to, that the church will therefore grow. He tells Timothy to preach “in season and out of season” (poor Timothy) but Timothy is a leader.
(I’ve just noticed the major exception to this in Philippians 1:14, “most of the brethren have been made confident in the Lord because of my imprisonment, and are much more bold to speak the word of the Lord without fear.” This is then followed by the odd passage about preaching “in pretence or in truth”.)
The gifts of the Spirit include evangelism (Ephesians 3), but not everyone has every gift.
The early activities of the church in Acts 2 and Acts 4, the church as opposed to the apostles, comprised distribution of wealth, worship, learning and meeting together. “And the Lord added to their number…”
Of course we’re living in a different setting, in lots of ways.
The early church were liable to be persecuted and we’re not.
On the other hand, the people around the early church didn’t know the gospel already. Modern people either do, or think they do, and many of them think that they’ve already rejected it. The early church had something genuinely New to proclaim, and any baggage attached to it came from its Jewish roots.
We have two thousand years of church baggage, a lot of it in the past distinctly horrible, rightly rejected by society.
This may sound very defeatist, and as if I don’t want people to become Christians. I do. I’m just not sure that all of us need to beat ourselves up if we’re not having specifically God-related conversations all the time with colleagues, drinking companions, relatives and neighbours.
What we’re all called to do is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (The Message puts it “all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence”), and to love our neighbour as ourselves. This means different things for different people, and is already quite a lot to be getting on with.
Love from the PPI Blogger