For too long, Western Christians have sat back, taken the easy and comfortable path of not questioning, and have seldom reached others for Christ largely due to fear of how the other person might react. Surrounded by the false security a maga-church may provide, we fail to truly live out the Gospel of Christ which commands us to feed the poor, to love our enemies, and to work alongside the marginalized.
In A.O. Green’s article entitled “Wine in New Wineskins: The Usefulness of 16th Century Anabaptist Evangelism Methods for Today’s Ekklesia,” A.O addresses the need for modern-day Anabaptist Christians to reclaim our biblical and historical roots as we seek to train up the next generation of faith-believing Christians and as we seek various avenues for proclaiming the Gospel to those who do not yet believe.
In a pinpointing sentence, A.O. boldly states, “At present, some have made a cottage industry out of devising newer expressions of Christianity in the areas of mission and evangelism.” This sentence articulately suggests that many of our churches have become pre-occupied with how we look and how we are perceived by others, meanwhile we may be doing absolutely nothing in terms of helping curb racism, helping support single mothers, or teaching at-risk youth simple job skills.
From a practical viewpoint, I agree with A.O. that simply focusing all of our efforts on a single church building will not win many souls for Christ, if it is also not accompanied by social outreach. To further this thought, I deeply resonate with the words of Justus Menius, a Lutheran polemicist, “misleaders charge that we are not true servants of the Gospel because we are sinners, and don’t practice ourselves what we preach; because we don’t wander around in the world like the Apostles, but stay put and have definite residence and our appointed pay.” This is further compounded by A.O.’s statistical evidence that despite the title many of us give ourselves as followers of Christ, and despite the fact that many of us would agree that evangelism and missions are important, very few of us are actually doing it. In his article, A.O cites Glen Kerr, author of Mastering the Art of Personal Evangelism who suggests that as low as 2% of all Christians are involved with evangelism and an additional 71% do not even support evangelicstical outreaches.
These are troubling statistics, but they sadly do not surprise or shock me very much. As a seminary student, Bible college graduate, and practicing minister, I can attest to how little I personally have done in the way of evangelism despite years of training in cultural diversity amongst various people groups. I can speak to my own fear of being let down, of not having the answers, and of not knowing what to say. I am constantly embarrassed by my own lack of enthusiasm for such endeavours considering my educational background which included courses centering around the missional church, evangelism, and global awareness when my brothers and sisters in various countries in the world are willing to lose their life for this same Gospel.
The Lord has compelled me of this on several occasions. In the interest of time, I will only highlight two of them.
When I was 19, I began a placement at a local Jewish nursing home interning under the chaplain. I was told that I was to be respectful of all religious viewpoints and whereas I could share my own views if I was ever asked them directly, I was not to impose them upon anyone else. I believe in religious tolerance and try to live a life of mutual respect and fidelity with all, but my heart continued to break for these Jewish seniors as they came to the end of their life. On more than one occasion as an elderly man or woman was approaching their death, they would ask me whether they would be guaranteed entrance into heaven. I would assure them that it would all be okay. I told them they had lived a good life, done all they could, and tried to be faithful to their religious viewpoints. This seldom comforted them. Some of them would press me further, “well, what do you believe?” Instead of sharing the Gospel with them, I would simply turn my head and mutter something along the lines that all religions were equal. One night I received a dream in which these residents were in a burning bus. The bus was full of smoke and I was on the outside. They were shouting at me “why are you standing there? See what you’ve done to us? You could have told us how to get out of here, but you didn’t!” This dream troubled me. From that day on I resolved that I wanted to be a better witness for Christ. I do not want it on my conscience that someone was denied a relationship with the Lord because I failed to let them know about His saving grace and mercy. Of course, I still maintain the understanding that ultimately a person should decide for themselves what they will believe, and it is not for me to guilt someone into my religious practices or instil fear in them; but after that experience, I no longer wanted to be shy about what I believe to be the truth.
My second story took place a year later when I was 20. I accepted a placement as a Day Camp Coordinator at a very liberal church camp where the majority of the staff were atheists and even the director of the camp herself was not a strong believer. One day, I took out my Evangecube (a picture puzzle highlighting the death and resurrection of Christ) and showed it to the campers. After the session, a little girl showed her mom using the cube how Jesus came to save us. Well, the camp director did not think too highly of that. She told me that I had overwhelmed these church kids with too much Jesus and that same day she fired me. Although I was deeply hurt by these events especially because I had tried to present the Gospel in the most respectful of ways without pressuring kids to believe or even talking specifically about hell and fire, I later took comfort in a story that one of my friends at seminary told me. She shared with me about hearing the Gospel message for the first time as a nine year old at a church camp. Although she hadn’t accepted Christ that day, the story stayed with her for years to come. She did not come from a Christian family and was never exposed to Christianity after that one summer, but later as a 15 year old she was invited to attend a local church with her friend. At that church she once again heard the Gospel message. That day she did accept the Lord, but she claims that had her camp counselor not put the seed in her years before it likely would never have happened.
As I reflect back on Christ’s call for us to be missional examples of His kingdom, I am reminded of how often I become preoccupied with my own looks rather than with Christ’s call and command. Frankly, I need to get over myself! I’ve often been surprised at how receptive my non-Christian friends truly are to attending church functions with me, some of which even include outright evangelism. Many of my non-Christian friends are respectful of my beliefs, curious about what the Bible says, and interested in serving alongside me. When I downplay my faith as if it is not important, I realize that I am actually doing them quite a disservice, not to mention being dishonest to my Lord and Saviour.
Perhaps not all forms of evangelism suit you, but certainly one form or method will. Perhaps you have skills in teaching and would be able to help assist in a Catechist class at your church, or perhaps you have hands-on abilities and could serve and live out the Gospel through a placement with Mennonite Central Committee, Mennonite Disaster Service, or the Salvation Army. Perhaps you have a heart for overseas development, but no interest in going over there yourself. You can support missions even right here in North America through generous donations to Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) or through the Mennonite Church’s Witness Program. Wherever your skills lie, you can help to bring the Kingdom of God about here on this earth. After all, just like A.O. reminded us and just like all Anabaptist likely would adhere to, “faith must be manifested by a holy life of obedience. Salvation…is not by faith alone, but by a faith that obeys.”
Interested in reading more? Purchase Your copy at: http://www.amazon.com/Living-Alternative-Anabaptist-Christianity-Post-Christendom/dp/0989830411. For more information: http://mennonerds.com/project/a-living-alternative/.
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 Citing C. Arnold Snyder. Page 10 of Living Alternative