Evangelism: Witnessing to Our Hope in Christ

Article excerpt

Introductory Remarks

Evangelism is the queen of all Christian ministries. It is the highest calling of the Christian community because the community itself is borne of evangelism and exists to evangelise. "It is the raison d'etre of the Church," according to this paper ([paragraph] 35). As such, this statement is intended to be a call to action, a prophetic voice to remind the church and the entire global Christian community of the duty and joy of telling "the story of Jesus" ([paragraph] 67). Evangelism "is intrinsic to the life of the dimple" (ibid). The paper is not intended to be "Just" a theological paper: if you, the reader, accept it only as such, it has failed in its purpose--yet if you are inspired to greater evangelistic effort, then this statement has succeeded.

Behind this work lies a process of theological reflection and personal fellowship. As with so many aspects of the Christian life, the process is as important as the final product. In this instance I had the privilege of facilitating a diverse Evangelism working group (a sub-group of CWME), and a microcosm of the global Christian community. The reality of how such a mixed group functioned was a delight to observe: even when there were difficult issues to address or profound theological disagreements between members, the group found positive ways to surmount such obstacles. I was impressed at the sensitivity that was at times displayed even in the midst of hard critical debate about a presentation. Participants developed deep mutual respect despite--and sometimes because of--the differences in theological tradition, educational attainment, ethnicity, gender, status, geographical location and experience. I am deeply grateful and wish to thank all those involved for a splendid ecumenical experience: thank you!

The resulting paper does have weaknesses. It is simply not possible to address all aspects of a theology of evangelism within the constraints with which the group had to work. There is, for example, no clear definition of "the gospel," which some missiologists may struggle with. On the other hang there are significant strengths. The scriptures, for example, are accepted as authoritative and handled with respect. The pitfalls of "proof texting" or weak application are avoided and at the same time there are some imaginative uses made of biblical narratives. "The church" is likewise treated with reject. The limited ecclesiology with which the paper engages holds both affirmation and challenge: "God's presence is promised and granted in the midst of the believing, worshipping, celebrating and caring congregation. There is no other hermeneutic of the gospel" ([paragraph] 10, quoting Newbigin)--this quote raises the question where is God if a local congregation is none of these things? Can such a collection of people truly be part of "the church" without God's active presence? To quote, "we also note with grief that churches have often been silent when they should have been boldly proclaiming, apathetic when they should have been hard at work or prayerless when they should have been earnestly seeking divine life-bringing intervention in the lives of women and men" ([paragraph] 11).

Since the beginning of the church, conversion to Christianity has always been a controversial issue. In its 2000-year history, too often have violence or inducements been used to "secure" conversions. Usually when such anti-Christian methodology has been employed there has been a close relationship between the ecclesiastical authorities of the time and the politics of empire and "expansionism." Today's world is complex and multi-faceted. There are many competing claims for what is right and true. Within this context one of the most important debates for the church continues to be that of conversion. "Evangelism: Witnessing to Our Hope in Christ" is a modest contribution to this discussion. The central sections offer an ethical framework in which the methodologies used in evangelism can be considered leading to an appraisal of the characteristics of authentic evangelism ([paragraph] 40-53). …