THE EMPHASIS ON EVANGELISM

Jeff Atnip

As I was growing up in the church of Christ, I gradually became aware of a certain teaching that everyone accepted without question. This was the teaching:

1. The mission of the church is to evangelize the world.

2. Each of us must do our part of fulfill that mission.

This teaching gave the church organization much of its drive and purpose. With it we organized campaigns, neighborhood outreaches and supported missionaries. When I began meeting with a more radically evangelistic group, this teaching became the base for everything. They told us that we must win the world for Christ in this generation.

I have seen, and continue to see, evangelism preached and taught as a foundational motivator. In countless sermons and classes I have heard much lip service paid to God's love and grace as a motivator. The lesson, however, always ends with something like ... "and now that we know about God's love, let's get out there and do the job!" We use catch phrases like "the job," {the goal," "the mission," very often, assuming (and rightly so) that everyone knows what we are talking about. Visiting missionaries often quote frightening statistics about the numbers of lost people in various countries.

I do not have a problem with evangelism as a worthwhile and loving activity. Neither do I have problems with helping orphans and widows, washing feet and handing out cups of water to thirsty people. The problem we run into is when any human activity or performance finds its way down to the foundation of our motivations. If we could look inside of a Christian and see his motives arranged in order of importance we should see at the bottom a wide block of foundational stone called Love. The love is composed of our knowledge of God's love for us. When this foundation is firmly in place, all the Christian activities, including evangelism, become expressions of that love. However, when we dwell on evangelism in our thinking, preaching and teaching and constantly refer to it the goal, our mission, the work, the job, etc. .... then evangelism begins to replace God's love as the foundation.

When we base our security and our fellowship with other Christians on a human activity rather than on God's love we are on shaky ground indeed. We begin to measure ourselves and others with the measuring stick of performance. We then discover that we do not measure up. We tie our spiritual well being in with the success of our church organization and our faith wavers when activity slows down. We begin to look at people not through the eyes of love but through the eyes of a salesman sizing up a prospect. We experience the phenomenon of spiritual burnout when the frustrations mount up and we find that our performance is not paying off as we had hoped.

What is the contrast? What happens when we rely on God's love as a motivator? What happens when we find all of our security in God's love and acceptance of us? I wish I could answer all of these questions fully, but I cannot. I am not there yet. I do know I am less anxious than before. And I am a little bit happier. I look for opportunities to love and to serve and I find them daily. It is still hard to love the unlovable and easy to sin by not loving, and I am guilty of not loving. But I do not worry about it as much as before because I know how much God loves and forgives. Before, when I felt I had performed poorly or sinned I felt that I not only had to face God's wrath, but also face the loss of status in the organization. Somehow God, the organized church, and the evangelistic thrust were tied together in such a way in my mind that it was a continual struggle to feel any sense of peace. Now I realize it is just God and me. And he is an infinitely merciful and forgiving Father. Knowing this and feeling this makes me want to serve him all the more. It makes sin all the more distasteful when I think of betraying such a love.

Christians who believe that evangelism is "the goal" use scriptures to back up their belief. The "Great Commission" from Matthew 28 and the "Ministry of Reconciliation" from 2 Corinthians are the most often quoted. In Matthew 28, Jesus is giving his 11 disciples a mission which they fulfilled according to the book of Acts. In the 2 Corinthians passages Paul and Timothy are trying to get the Corinthian believers to change for the better. They do this by telling the Corinthians that they (Paul and Timothy) are ambassadors for Christ and so they (the Corinthians) should listen to their words. These scriptures from Matthew and Corinthians show God and man interacting. They show Godly men making decisions based on their relationship with God. We can learn from their example. I do not believe, however, these scriptures were meant to be used as proof texts on which to base a life's goal. I do not believe that the Bible was written to be a book of rules. I believe it was intended to help us get to know our Father and all the ways he reveals his love.

When we look at the Old and New Testaments as a whole it becomes clear that God concerns himself primarily with the contents of our heart. He wants us to love him and he wants us to love our neighbor. This is where our teaching should start and I believe this is where it should stop. We run inX-Mozilla-Status: 0009 we begin to tell each other how to love. By heart problems I mean guilt, pride, jealousy and other frustrating motivations. These occur when we remove God's grace from the front of our minds and replace it with performance, results, and group expectations.

What am I suggesting? Just this ... love. Love pure and love simply. Use the talents God has given you daily in a sacrificial way. Encourage your brothers and sisters to use talents that perhaps they have overlooked. But do not measure your faith or anyone else's by evangelistic performance. Above all, learn to relax and enjoy the state of grace into which your heavenly Father has delivered you.