Evangelism Redux

For over a year I’ve been fielding questions, having conversations and receiving…ehem, interesting emails over a post called “The Silence of Paul On Evangelism.” I’ve been called a heretic and I’ve received an amazing amount of notes of gratitude. I expected the criticism but not the gratitude. And honestly, I’m thankful for both.

But I think it’s time to say more. I know it is unthinkable to wait as long as I have to say more in a world like our own. Everything so immediate. But the weight of the subject has kept me back from saying much more. But I need to say more and maybe…hopefully close the discussion. Eventually

So I wanted to offer some thoughts that will hopefully clarify further, provoke some more thought and get us on the journey of loving God and neighbor.

A couple things before we begin: First, please read all of these. Especially if you find yourself confused or angry. Second,   I ask that you stop and think before you respond. I do not ask you to agree with me so much as think deeply.

With that, let’s begin.

1. There is no command after Pentecost for believers to evangelize. This is a fact. Paul does not command evangelism in his letters to the churches. Peter doesn’t do it. John doesn’t do it. In the letters to the churches, the command is just not there. This is not an argument for anything. It’s just not there. I know there are some passages which come close and there are examples. But close is not the same. And examples are not commands. There are commands to pastors and vocational missionaries to evangelize but not to ordinary believers.

2. The above statement should not cause you alarm if you love evangelism. If you think it is dangerous for me to point this out, your beef is with reality. With God himself. You are alarmed that someone is pointing to something the Holy Spirit did. Not Matt Redmond. Not anyone, save God. The truth sets us free because it is entirely in step with the character of Jesus. Embrace it and look to it for warmth in the midst of a cold world that denies the power of truth.

3. No one gets reprimanded for not evangelizing in the Scriptures. There are no rebukes. No one is made to feel they have erred or sinned. No one is guilted into doing it more. No tweetable statements making those who have not evangelized today (or lately) feel like they have neglected their duty. There is nothing of the sort. This is in stark contrast where the majority of pastors across the evangelical landscape lean heavy upon those in the pew to be about the business of evangelism. And yet, there is no example for them to do so.

4. The lack of commands in the letters to the churches must be meaningful. If there were many commands we would point to them often. Those who are passionate about evangelism would wield them with ferocity against those who questioned the wisdom of evangelism. If you deny any meaning to the silence, you cannot ask with any seriousness for us to pay attention to the noise.

5. I think evangelism MUST have some place in the Christian life. I just do not think it is the thing. I do not think it is the sign of faith. In other words we have no justification for questioning the salvation of a person who is not engaged in evangelism. But evangelism to some degree may be beyond  a command. Why do I say this? We must speak of the reality around us, within us, beyond us and out in front of us. But primarily because it is reality. To call this evangelism always is to reduce it to something smaller than what it is.

6. The guilt poured upon those who have no desire nor inclination to do cold evangelism is wrong. I do not think we can justify it biblically. We have no cause to guilt someone into a practice which most unbelievers have no desire to be involved with. This is not a blanket condemnation of cold evangelism. But I do not think it needs to be reigned in.

7. Evangelism seems to be the trump card for the evangelical church. This is insane. Think about it. A guy can be a complete jerk, lack any generosity, have a mess of a home-life but if he is known as a soul-winner, nothing can be said against him. For some reason we have exalted a practice the ordinary believer is not commanded to pursue. And we have done this while ignoring the prevailing horizontal ethic of the New Testament: Love. That is what we are called to over and over and will be distinguished by.

8. There has to be a happy medium between those who make evangelism the most important thing and those who would make it nothing. I’ve no tolerance for either position. Both are skewed to the personality. One is a bully pulpit and one is a coward’s castle. I do not know that this happy medium can be plotted on a graph or made into a plan of action. But I do assume if we continue to love God and love our neighbor, believing the gospel of grace in Christ and seek to manifest the fruit of the Spirit, we will see people converted.

9. C.S. Lewis said, “You can’t get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first.” And I think this wisdom can be applied to our present subject. I think if we seek after what is explicit – love and all else commanded (did you know we are commanded to live quiet lives more times than we are commanded to share our faith in Paul’s letters?) – we will see what we want to see happen. I think we will see people who cannot help but talk about reality. But as it is, all of reality is filtered through a grid where all information, experience, knowledge and need must pass through the non-commanded command of evangelism.

10. I often wonder if our lack of trust is betrayed by our feeling we must always be talking about something Paul never really talked about… much less commanded. We have constructed a narrative which says you do not trust God if you are not always encouraging and engaging in evangelism. But I wonder if such activity is clouding our ability to see that we really do not trust him. Stop. I know what you are thinking. But I am not a hyper-Calvinist. I believe the pastor should call unbelievers to belief. I believe there are times neighbors should do the same. But I wonder if we are trying to get ahead of God. God’s means just may not be pre-packaged formulas given by spiritual spammers to real people with real beating hearts and real problems and real dreams and real failures. They are often more kind and loving than we are. Maybe we should trust God when he says to love them – by doing so I assume we will be seeking the kingdom and then maybe, just maybe all else will be added. Including some conversions.

Conclusion: I am pro-evangelism. However, I do not think it is a central part of Christian ethics. I think our current teaching on evangelism is out of proportion to the teaching contained in the Scriptures and this leads to misplaced guilt and ends up being a hindrance to the spread of the glory of God instead of a profusion.

What do you think? Why do you think we see no commands in the letters to the churches and yet are so quick to command people to evangelize? How can seeing the lack of something help us do something better?

14 thoughts on “Evangelism Redux

  1. C-Dub Collins August 29, 2011 / 2:18 pm

    I'm not sure what's happening. Things keep coming up on which we agree. This is strange and unfamiliar to me. I kid, of course. Great post. I believe your provision of clarity on this topic will be most beneficial. I am very encouraged to read this and hope to point many others to it. Thanks.

  2. Amy August 29, 2011 / 9:32 pm

    God could have used any means to spread the Gospel. He chose us. If we don't, what will? It's an honest question. One I wrestle with. I honestly wonder why chose us, the most fallible of choices.

  3. chriscanuel August 29, 2011 / 10:00 pm

    You certainly touched on it a bit…but I would say, the call to love IS a call to 'evangelism'. I think first we need to define what 'evangelism' is and what it is not. Also, how do you define an 'ordinary' Christian? I wonder if that in itself is a Biblical concept. The term 'missional' gets thrown around a lot, I personally prefer the term 'intentional' though I use them interchangeably. I think if we are intentionally loving people, we will see conversions happening, as you touched on. I think living in a way in which we are intentionally loving our neighbors in a way that we put the interest of others before ourselves, and in a way that makes it obvious who our God is and who we serve…I think that is the evangelism that we are called to. The problem isn't 'evangelism' as I believe it is clear in Scripture, and not just in the New Testament, but even as far back as the call of Abraham…The problem is how we've defined it and the methods we've shoved down people's throats. Just my 2 cents.

  4. Matthew B. Redmond August 29, 2011 / 10:03 pm

    Amy, Well, I've no doubt he chose us to spread the gospel. It is after all a word, a particular differentiating trait of us humans is this use of words.

  5. Matthew B. Redmond August 29, 2011 / 10:08 pm

    Chris,By "ordinary" I mean those who are not pastors or missionaries. The term as I mean it is certainly meaningful biblically speaking since there is a distinction between those who are pastors/elders in the NT. These are the ones who the letters are written to.And I agree we see evangelism in the Scriptures. No question. What we do not see is a clear command in the NT in the letters to the churches. I agree of course with your conclusion.

  6. chriscanuel August 29, 2011 / 11:33 pm

    There are certainly differences in offices and in giftings, but I don't know that there is a difference in our call to evangelize. I would say perhaps there is a difference in the way each of us are called to evangelize based on our gifts and our set of circumstances. The letters were indeed written to particular churches and leaders but were they not written for the benefit of the entire church? Though I do see your point…and honestly I think we agree for the most part. My question would be though, what is the importance of the fact that there is no 'clear commands' as you say to 'evangelize' in these letters? We both agree that evangelism is indeed in the Scriptures. And I think this holds true for all members of the Christian community. Does the fact that these commands or mandates aren't in these letters but are found elsewhere make them any less authoritative? Is the call any less real? I think though if we are truly honest, the call to evangelize (love, live your life as an example) is indeed in these letters…though not in the way that most would define the term. I still believe the key to the entire discussion is the way in which we define the term evangelism, not whether or not we should be doing it. I believe that is clear.

  7. Pat Kyle August 30, 2011 / 1:00 am

    Also note that the Great Comission was given to the Apostles, not the church at large.

  8. Anonymous August 30, 2011 / 6:49 pm

    I also think it may come down to how Evangelism is defined. Evangelism comes from the greek word euangelion (G2097) which is used quite often in the New Testament. It is typically translated as the Gospel or good news. So we are all as believers dedicated to the Gospel. It should run through everything that we do. I think we have changed the definition somehow to make it sound more like a sales pitch. Paul gave us the example of discipleship which I think is just as important if not more than evangelism. I would say we are (as the Church) to make disciples of all nations. “And this gospel (euangelion) of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). When the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost the first thing Peter does is starts preaching the Gospel. With that said I do feel a bit uneasy when someone comes back from a mission trip and says “we had 256 people dedicate their lives to Christ.” It is like they are taking credit for it and I wonder who is going to disciple these people. The way I look at evangelism is that yes we are all evangelists as believers because we live for and to share Christ (The Gospel) but it is the work of Christ in us. It may not be as a sales pitch to a random stranger but it should be seen in our actions. I think it should come natural to the believer (not forced in guilt) and may be manifested in different ways perhaps based on the gifts we have been given. – Step

  9. Anonymous September 6, 2011 / 5:11 pm

    I'm so thankful to read this post (and your earlier one). I spent years in a church where I was not allowed to exercise my gifts because I didn't go out "soul-winning"; I was (and still am to a bit) weighed down with enormous guilt about not being acceptable to God because of it.They treated it as a retail sales contest; they gave us tips to increase our sales, and rewarded the top performers. Careful numbers are kept (do they sin the same sin as David in numbering the people?), and used to reward or beat up people. I fear that many who were "saved" under such a program, are not saved – they just prayed a prayer to get the annoying people off of their porch, or they wanted to escape hell, but not become a disciple of Jesus Christ.Thanks for letting me share a small part of my story, and thanks for the post.- Fred

  10. Matthew B. Redmond September 6, 2011 / 6:46 pm

    Fred, I'm the one that should be thanking you for the story. So 'thank you', these kinds of stories mean the world to me.

  11. Matthew B. Redmond September 7, 2011 / 3:06 pm

    Chris,Thanks for this. I have no doubt this will be *the* subject very soon. And sadly, the discussion will get very ugly.

  12. Anonymous May 2, 2012 / 11:43 pm

    I'm Fred; I posted last September.I've discussed the items in this article with a couple of close friends.One was interested, the other was abhorred at the concept. She took the concept that churches can demand that all leadership positions can demand that people do cold-calling or not teach, or sing, or usher. She said that it is entirely fair for the pastor to set "standards" for these positions.I think one of the problems is that when there is a command to, for example, the disciples… how can one say that this command does not apply to "ordinary Christians".The so-called Great Commission was clearly given to the church, not to individuals (individuals generally are not allowed to baptize). It is possible, yea, Biblical, that God has placed people in the church to help its overall three-fold mission, as given in the Great Commission, but not that everyone has to do every part of the Great Commission. Clearly, some people are NOT teachers and cannot do the 3rd part. Most churches limit the 2nd part to the pastor. It is only the first part that is commonly never admitted to be limited to certain people. A hardware store stocks hardware and has a "mission" of selling it, but people working in the store have different jobs; some keep the shelves stocked, some run the cash register, some are salesman, some keep the books, some decide which merchandise to order.Just some thoughts…Fred

  13. Matt Redmond May 2, 2012 / 11:47 pm

    Thanks Fred. Those are some really good thoughts.

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