May 2, 2011

Evangelizing the Church

The new issue of Preaching is out and contains my article "Evangelizing the Church". Here's the intro:
If you are like me, there may have been a time in your preaching ministry when you thought the gospel was really only for evangelizing unbelievers and did not need to be a part of every sermon on a weekly basis. After all, aren't we to be moving on from the milk of elementary teachings to mature spiritual meat? If we address the basic gospel on a weekly basis, are we not hindering the growth of our people into deeper biblical truths?

This was the rationale behind my understanding of the place of the gospel in preaching. In thinking the gospel was only for evangelistic purposes, I did not necessarily incorporate it into every weekly sermon because those sermons were directed primarily to church members who already had heard the gospel and professed faith in Christ.

Then I came across Romans 1:15. Once again, Scripture overturned my preconceived and erroneous notions, this time with regard to the gospel and its function in the church. In Romans 1:15, Paul expresses his eagerness to "preach the gospel" to the Christians in Rome, whom he already has addressed as "beloved of God" and "saints" (v. 1:7).

The Greek word translated as "preach the gospel" is a form of the verb euangelidzō, which is where we get the language of evangelism. So, a legitimate and literal translation of Romans 1:15 could read, "I am eager to evangelize you also who are in Rome." This translation clearly reveals the importance for Paul that the Christians in Rome hear the gospel again in order to grow in their Christian faith.

Having been confronted by Scripture with an understanding of the gospel that did not fit my thinking, I was forced to reconsider the function of the gospel in Christian preaching by asking: What does it mean to evangelize the church?

3 comments:

ἐκκλησία said...

You wrote: "If we address the basic gospel on a weekly basis, are we not hindering the growth of our people into deeper biblical truths?"

As you've likely surmised from previous responses, your point here about evangelising the ekklēsia is one I frequently ponder. (At some point I even asked the rhetorical question When was the last time you attended a church whose constant focus went something beyond mere personal salvation?" suggesting, of course, that far too many preachers see their flock only as the 'unsaved' (while ignoring the saved).

While I strongly agree with your conclusions, that the church itself must continue to be evangelised to with preaching that is grounded in the basics of the gospel, I would add that it must also be preached something more than it currently is. The evangelisation it is currently receiving is not sufficient to mature its understanding, IF all it addresses is the cross's relationship to salvation or sanctification; it is missing too much

YES, Jesus IS the redeemer, but he is SO much more (being preeminent in all things as [Col 1:18] says) and the redemption he bought is too. Our redemption in Christ, also preeminent in all things, is preeminent in God's complete work in the world, not just our lives. Even as a process, the significance around it was as a beginning, not an end. You are not being criticised here Matt.

Clearly, you're article was not limiting the evangelisation of the ekklēsia to mere salvation since you specifically defined salvation in broader terms than most by saying "Salvation deals with the past, present and future of the Christian life" which is true, but considering the full implications of that for a second, there is more to see.

ἐκκλησία said...

Jesus' words said all scripture bore witness of him [John 5:39]. Since the entire old covenant prophesied a messianic hope in Christ, a view that was so much more than mere redemption (or sanctification), evangelising the ekklēsia about Christ must embody at least that broader messianic view as it was recorded to be more complete.

For example, when John the Baptist expressed doubts in [Matt 11:3], Jesus responded in [Matt 11:4-5] by quoting [Isa 35:5-6][Isa 61:1-4], and although [Matt 11:4-5] seem to describe Jesus' ministry only – the Isaiah quote in context goes beyond: “For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert;”and so on (to the end of the chapter), clearly suggest something more, something His ministry (and redemptive work on the cross) would originate.

Likewise, the messianic hope in [Isa 61:1-4] is also evident, but since the jubilee was only established though Jesus' Crucifixion, verses 3 onwards seems to speak to the power of His messianic work through a post-crucifixion redeemed Kingdom (especially [Isa 61:6]).

All of this to say, redemption was only the beginning. If it didn't end there, what is the new covenant to make of the two millennium since? Did Jesus redeem the lost, and then simply vanish from history (and prophecy?). To further explore this, look at the role of the Christ in the relationship between [Eze 36] (starting at 16 onwards) through to the end of [Eze 37] (with [Eze 36:4] sounding very much like [Isa 61:4]).

Ezekiel speaks historically [Eze 36:19] of how the ekklēsia was scattered among the nations, but then look; God says in [Eze 36:33] that on that day He cleanses us from all our iniquities, but this cleansing bit [Eze 36:33] at the beginning of a longer vision ending with the valley of dry bones, is nothing less than Christ's redemptive work on the cross. Except that the redemptive work precedes (and lays the foundation for) everything that follows, including what transpires in the valley of dry bones. (Here is the messiah in Ezekiel's vision). Since in Ezekiel's vision, all that follows presupposes Messianic redemption, the cross becomes a sign post for the rest of that prophecy (at least through to the end of chapter 37), thus if we ignore all that follows, our preaching itself is not mature having stopped on redemption.

ἐκκλησία said...

Consider resurrection; do most Christian's await resurrection in Christ as some future event? So, even if there were a view that treated personal redemption as a life long process, we've still halted our view of the power of Christ's work because we wait for bodily resurrection to witness His power. What if one says “No! Wake up! Resurrection has already happened – IT IS NOT some future thing!” Most would reject such an assertion and ask ”What folly is this?”.

Except that Paul, in Roman times, saw our death and resurrection as a thing of the past with Christ, and not a thing of the future. Although he asks us to see our baptism as our death in Christ [Romans 6:3-10], he also asks us to see it as our resurrection. If our baptism is a baptism unto death, our death is a thing of the past once we've been baptised. Thus he argues we should now consider ourselves 'dead to sin' [Rom 6:10]. Likewise, if we've already died, we have also already been raised incorruptible in Christ and are therefore now set free from sin [Rom 6:7] which is also why we can be alive to God in Christ [Rom 6:11]; we have already been resurrected with Him, just as we have already died with Him! Death and resurrection both occur in our baptism! So after redemption, resurrection immediately follows. (It is only because Satan tricks some of us into forgetting that we have been raised with Christ that we sometimes continue to sin)

Can you imagine the power of Christianity in this dead world if Christianity actually believed radically (as Paul did), without doubt, that we have already been resurrected in Christ, that sanctification follows resurrection, and gives complete power over sin (and Satan), through faith in Christ. Christ's power is more evident in our spiritual resurrection than it would be in our bodily one anyway since it was through Christ we were first made, and we've already seen evidence of bodily resurrection (in Lazarus and Jesus Himself). If we wait for bodily resurrection then – we miss becoming mature in our faith spiritually now (which is why Satan seeks this)

So, a life-sized understanding of salvation must mean more than realising that salvation is a continuing process throughout the life of the Christian (in an individual sense). It must also mean that salvation be recognised as the means by which we are resurrected back into the Kingdom of God, and are made co-heirs with Christ [Gal 4:7][Titus 3:7][James 2:5]. If this is so, salvation in a collective sense, imposes the expectation that the Kingdom will boldly use Christ's power, and strive (H8280) with God (against the world), (as in [Gen 32:28]) and work Christ's redemptive role in its broader history, as a beginning, and not an end to the Gospel. (Remember, Noah's righteousness condemned the world, as did Abel's and so did Christ's says [Hebrew's 11]) We see this messianic hope along with its broader collective role clearly expressed in old covenant prophecy, as long as we examine the old covenant prophecy in context.

With this view in mind, we can then start to appreciate what the last two millennium were about, starting with the role Christianity played in the destruction of the Roman Empire IAW [Dan 2:34-35].