The Evangelism Of Love
Christians have no duty to evangelize the unbelievers they encounter each day. Nor is outreach the chief agenda of the Christian congregation.
Some 50 years ago a book entitled "Evangelism Explosion" took Protestant churches by storm. It's purpose was to teach and equip every Christian to do "personal evangelism". Following in its wake was a bevy of evangelism programs, workshops, and workbooks all developed with the same goal: to make every Christian a missionary in his daily sphere.
Dismissing 2,000 years of church history, growth, development and practice late 20th century (and now early 21st century) Christians were encouraged to "return to the Book of Acts,” to imitate the missionary activities of St. Paul. Sermons were preached, tracts and special bibles developed and soon missions became the chief reason for a parish's existence.
There are so many errors in such thinking that we cannot begin to untangle them now, but let us remember the following.
The church exists to worship God in Holy Communion with Christ. Here God’s Kingdom comes to earth. Here heaven touches earth. Here sins are forgiven, eternal life granted, divine light imparted and Christians are well-nourished, equipped and empowered to live the baptismal life.
Where the baptismal life is lived Christians engage in every good work and act of love. They are a blessing to everyone they encounter. They become living witnesses of Christ's love by the love they display to one and all, even to their enemies. This love is the "evangelism" that is the duty of every Christian.
In the Lord's words, "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." (Mt. 5:16)
And again in the words of St. Peter: "Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation." (1 Peter 2:12)
Do you see, now, what causes men to glorify God?
By this Christian witness the Holy Spirit attracts the lost, wandering and confused and draws them into the church. No one can trace or replicate the mechanism, but be sure that no program or special technique is needed.
But love flowing from God’s love is.
One might ask, is there such a thing as intentional mission work? Yes. But it can only occur when God supplies three indispensable items: opportunity, qualified people, money and all other needed resources. A study of the history of missions teaches us that God provides these when and where he pleases.
But what are the greatest contributors to church growth today? Two are easily identifiable. Parents bringing their children for baptism, and raising them in the holy Christian religion. Young adults who insist that their suitors come to God's house because their faith is the most important thing in their life. (Here let us bow our heads for a moment of silence to mourn the passing away of the Parish Day School).
Also important, though measurable results in church membership are rarely seen, are the many acts of Christian charity that churches perform such as food banks, clothing banks, and tutoring programs and the like.
There are other contributors as well but they, too, are untraceable and resist duplication.
And let us not forget or minimize the fact that mission work is occurring on a larger scale within our own church body (LCMS), and may our parishes play their part by supporting that. Because rarely do the three indispensable items mentioned above come together at the parish level.
Instead the parish is the place that the Spirit brings those whom he calls by his various means. It is the place where baptism is administered, the faith taught, and where Christians are brought into Holy Communion with Christ. It is the place on earth where God's Kingdom has come, and where the Father is worshiped in Spirit and Truth.
And so let us, if possible, scrub our minds of half a century of wrong teaching that has only frustrated God's people by trying to make them what they are not meant to be. And finally let us all be fervent evangelists by displaying the love of Christ every day in the home and in the world.