Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Evangelism and the Local Church

I have listened to a number of people who defend their method of doing church by referring to Paul on Mars Hill (Acts 17:16-34) and Paul’s statements in 1 Cor 9:19-23 as ways to attract unbelievers or those labeled as likely never setting foot in a church.

First, I want to say that the desire to see people hear the Gospel is to be commended. We should all have a desire for people to hear the message of the gospel, the Good News. Here is where I think the problem lies. The church is not primarily for evangelism, it is for those that are already believers. If a “believer” would claim that church is not for them or they do not like church without any number of extraneous activities that person may need to either reevaluate what the church is called to be or may need to even re-evaluate their faith.

I find it interesting that the verses that are often used to say the church needs to more reflect the world/culture around them are verses that have nothing to do with the church as a gathering. At Mars Hill, Paul is on the turf of the philosophers they are not coming to the church and in 1 Cor 9:19-23 he does speak about how to relates to unbelievers but again not in the context of the gathered church and not as far as some people try and take the verses. The call is to go out and evangelize not send out notices about how cool ones church is so people (unbelievers) come in.

We should desire unbelievers to enter our churches but the draw needs to be God not some slick campaign or packaging. Mark Dever in his new book (The Gospel & Personal Evangelism) talks about “Using the Church” in evangelism but in this he is speaking about inviting those we have a relationship with to come and see how a community of faith worships the God we proclaim to follow. It is their being among a people that are called to be distinctly different from the world that God can use to draw them to Himself. Unbelievers should be uncomfortable and they need to hear the entire message of the Gospel and not a partial and emasculated Gospel. It is when we live as a truly loving community of believers (John 13:34-35) that others will know that we are truly disciples of Christ. It is not culturally driven music, or drama, or any other creation we can think up it is first and foremost the word of God preached (Rom 10:14-15) that God uses to change hearts as well as our love for one another.

We do need to make sure our messages and speech is such that it is understandable but that is often a far cry from what is deemed as “contextualization.” I am also not calling for a reverting back to any particular age, but I would say we can learn much from the past. I would even say singing hymns, that so many have a disdain for, may be the very tool God can use to reveal Himself to people. Hymns may seem archaic to some but the truth that is packed into so many of them is often missing from many of the new songs that are written. What I am calling for is a return to church being built around and focused on believers so that when unbelievers enter in they experience something completely foreign from anything else they have experienced. If we simply follow scripture for the church’s role we will be the salt we are called to be rather than some sort imitation of the world around us.

I understand that this may sound like some sort of fundamentalist desiring the good old days. Well let me tell I do believe in the fundamentals of the faith and some things of the past would be nice but that does not make me yearn for the old days. Actually, I have only been a believer for a little over 18 years (I’m 48) so I really do not have old days to yearn for. My call again is to seek out what God desires of the church and not what we think is best. Yes, do use the gathered church for evangelism but be careful that it does not become it’s sole focus. We are to make sure we evangelize in our daily lives and make sure to know your neighbor and those that work around you but remember God calls the church, His bride, to be His and not the worlds.

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