Evangelism


A Strategy that Changes the DenominationA dozen or more clergy in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, together with the bishop, Dorsey McConnell, agreed today to undertake a study of evangelism, using John Richardson‘s book, A Strategy That Changes the Denomination. Their first meeting will be on February 26th, and all parishes in the diocese will be invited to participate.

The book and matters arising therefrom have been discussed before on this site, here and here and here and here. I’ve read some useful and interesting discussions on Richardson’s own web-site, here, but it doesn’t appear to have a way to search the site for them.

To quote the review linked to above, ‘The heart of Richardson’s case is that Evangelicals have been content to be a party within the Church with evangelism as their specialty, when in fact evangelism is the purpose for which the whole Church exists. Mission societies, the means by which Evangelicals have pursued the goal of evangelism for generations, actually undermine the evangelistic enterprise, because they don’t involve the whole Church, which was founded by Christ as a mission society: ‘God’s mission work to the world flows from Christ through the Church… the Church is the missionary organisation seeking people’s conversion’ (88f). Evangelism is not part of but the heart of all the Church’s mission (pp 30, 90).’

The book is only $5.63 plus shipping, and can be ordered here, and I hope evangelical clergy elsewhere in the Episcopal Church will follow the Pittsburgh example.

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The Episcopal Church Welcomes You PluralIt’s weathering well! See here and here for the background. More can be ordered.

C. S. Lewis,Myth Became Fact‘, from God in the Dock:

The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the dying god, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens—at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We pass from a Balder or an Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical person crucified (it is all in order) under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle. I suspect that men have sometimes derived more spiritual sustenance from myths they did not believe than from the religion they professed. To be truly Christian we must both assent to the historical fact and also receive the myth (fact though it has become) with the same imaginative embrace which we accord to all myths. The one is hardly more necessary than the other. A man who disbelieved the Christian story as fact but continually fed on it as myth would, perhaps, be more spiritually alive than one who assented and did not think much about it.

Evangelicals are pretty good at assenting to the historical facts, and commending them to others. Is Lewis’s idea of adding an ‘imaginative embrace’ to that assent the same thing as ‘accepting Christ as your Savior’? Or at least something that prepares the way for that acceptance? The idea was recently commended to me, and I’d be interested to know what you think.

Now if only I could find some vinyl printer paper…

Most Christians are familiar with the Latin tag semper reformanda, which is literally translated ‘always to be reformed’. It’s often understood as ‘always reforming’, and interpreted as ‘constantly seeking to improve’. The grammatical force of the Latin, however, is rather ‘always requiring to be reformed’, ie always broken, always in need of repair. Or, as a friend put it the other day, ‘Of course the church is broken. It’s the body of Christ—what else could it be but broken?’

I live in a diocese that went through a bitter split four years ago, and most of its members have tales to tell of painful episodes; and ever since then diocesan conversation has been dominated by a perceived ‘need for healing’. I have been really tired of this for some time, but castigated myself for being hard-hearted and unsympathetic, and continued to do my best to look sympathetic whenever the familiar refrain was sung. But my friend’s remark put it in perspective for me: all this moaning and weeping really is out of place. Not that I’m not hard-hearted and unsympathetic—I am, believe me. But in this case, if no other, my ‘get a grip on yourself and snap out of it’ response happens to be the right one.

There is no example in either the New Testament or in Church History of a church that wasn’t broken by sin, usually coming in more shapes and sizes than anyone can keep track of. What my diocese has gone through is not just normal, but inevitable. Yes, there have been some unusual features about our recent experience, but they are merely curiosities; they make absolutely no difference to the basic situation: we are a broken church. We always have been, and always will be. Nothing will change this until Christ comes again in glory—neither the passage of time, nor a new way of being church, nor recovering lost property, nor getting a new bishop who will be soft-hearted and sympathetic. All those things may be desirable, but not for the reasons most of us want them, and they may even further complicate the situation if we get them without a more realistic view of our present self-absorption.

The Great Commission was given to a broken church. It was a broken church that spread Christianity into every corner of the globe. Being a broken church is no reason not to get on with the work of proclaiming salvation through faith in Jesus Christ to a world that is as broken as we are. And the sooner we stop whingeing about what we’ve suffered, the sooner we can get on with the work we’ve been given to do.

It’s about 35 years since I first set foot in an Episcopal Church, and I’ll bet that in the first year alone I met ten people who told me they had ‘become Episcopalian’ in college, usually because a friend or room-mate took them to an Episcopal Church or Canterbury Club (as most Episcopal college chaplaincies were once known). After entering ordained ministry some years later, I continued to hear similar accounts, but also became depressingly familiar with its contrary: parents telling me that their son or daughter had dropped out of church while in college, or, what seemed to some of them to be even worse, were attending a non-Episcopal Church—again, usually because a room-mate or friend had taken them to one.

Next week is orientation week at many colleges and universities around the country. Another cohort of freshmen will be free, often for the first time, to make decisions about how or whether to continue any commitment to the Christian faith.

What can you or your church do to help them?

Tim Keller, in an excellent article called Evangelistic Worship, has a section headed ‘Three Practical Tasks,’ which begins with No. 2, ‘Getting Unbelievers into Worship’.

The numbering is not a mistake. This task actually comes second, but nearly everyone thinks it comes first! It is natural to believe that non-Christians must get into worship before “doxological evangelism” can begin. But the reverse is the case. Non-Christians do not get invited into worship unless the worship is already evangelistic. The only way to have non-Christians in attendance is through personal invitation by Christians. Just as in the Psalms, the “nations” must be directly asked to come. But the main stimulus to building bridges and issuing invitations is the comprehensibility and quality of the worship experience.

Christians will instantly sense if a worship experience will be attractive to their non-Christian friends. They may find a particular service wonderfully edifying for them and yet know that their nonbelieving neighbors would react negatively. Therefore, a vicious circle persists. Pastors see only Christians present, so they lack incentive  to  make  their  worship  comprehensible  to  outsiders.  But  since  they  fail  to  make  the  adaptations, Christians who are there (though perhaps edified themselves) do not think to bring their skeptical and non-Christian friends to church. They do not think they will be impressed. So no outsiders come. And so the pastors respond only to the Christian audience. And so on and on. Therefore, the best way to get Christians to bring non-Christians is to worship as if there were dozens and hundreds of skeptical onlookers. And if you worship as if , eventually they will be there in reality.

The article is full of great ideas for making Sunday morning services genuinely evangelistic, and they can be applied as easily to liturgical services as to any others. Do read the whole thing. It’s here.

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