A few weeks ago, I addressed the general subject of missions/evangelism in the Sunday morning worship service. I want to touch on that again and go a bit further. I think the subject is important.
I will concede that some folk understand this as THE most important aspect of one's life in trying to follow Jesus and that it should be a part of every moment of every day. I also recognize that still others have seen the effort and end result of this approach and they have been completely turned off by it all. So the question becomes, given the demonstration of some tactics of evangelism, do we indeed want to consider that we are to evangelize?
The word is defined along the lines of "announcing good news." Another question follows, namely, what is the good news? Answers normally fall along the line of how one is made right with God because of what Jesus has done (death/resurrection) and that if one but trust this Jesus and what is said about how one is made right with God, then one will be "saved" and, when one dies, will go to heaven. This is seen as the impetus of how churches are to grow and expand. Numerous mega-churches will state that their large memberships are due, in the main, because folk took seriously this task of evangelizing.
My concerns about this go to how the "good news" is presented. We all may be familiar with high pressure tactics, arguements against a person's worldview or lifestyle, a questioning of whether one follows true orthodoxy (right thinking) in knowing that one has responded to the call of God, and even an attempt to cause a response with the desired end being that one gives money to a particular institution. I once heard a man speak facetiously of "assault and battery in the name of Jesus" as his understanding of the evangelism he was observing.
Those who participate in this activity often refer to themselves as "soul-winners." Their thought is that by convincing a person to understand certain basics and respond in a particular way, that they will have "led" a person to a relationship with Jesus which then puts them "right" with God. Soul winners have sometimes, with distaste, been referred to as being likened to the old West gunslingers...namely keep notches on their belt for every person they have won. Soul-winners is not a Biblical category, nor can it be developed with Biblical understanding. It is entirely a human construct and can, gradually, become a monument to self-righteousness and ego-expression ("I have won X number of people to Jesus!!!).
Can there be an authentic evangelism or is that an oxymoron? I believe the answer is yes, it can be authentic.
We do not "win" folk for God. If there is any wooing, drawing, or winning, that is done by the Spirit of God, touching and somehow speaking to our very lives and calling us forth into a new dimension. Human beings don't get to classify themselves in that effort, although many try. We can, on the other hand, "bear witness" to our faith and that can have an influence on another person's consideration of spiritual matters. Of course, we have to have some kind of faith, feeble though it may be, to which we bear witness. We are "witnesses" not "soul-winners." The very act itself may be a speaking of and about our faith or it may come as we demonstrate our faith by our works, which may, itself, lead to a conversation.
I fear that what goes under the guise of today's evangelism is nothing more than an effort of recruitment. Get folk like unto or similar to ourselves to come join up with our own local group. We used to sing "Bring them in from the fields of sin." We never did really bring them in. Some, by our very attitude toward them, were kept out. It was as though we created a litmus test that folk must pass before we would ever include them. I can't help but wonder if the understanding of evangelism or "bearing witness" had been more along the lines of reconciliation instead of recruitment, would it have made a difference in how evangelism is viewed and its impact on the larger church? The good news we should be announcing is that God accepts....everyone....regardless. That has more of a ring of authenticity for me and to my ear, it is good news. Anything less than that is bad news. Our efforts are for the pulling down of walls. I think St.Paul said it thusly, "God was, in Christ, reconciling the world..." I don't believe I can improve on that. And you will never convince me that the present effort of recruitment has been reconciling. It has been the cause of building more walls.
As a P.S., let me broaden the subject just a bit to include MISSIONS. For years, churches have sent missionaries to the far hinterlands to "win" people to Jesus. Problem is, we didn't want the "won" to come state-side and join our churches. Some were even blocked at the front door when they tried. We also did not consider that people in other countries are indigenous to that land. They had their own customs and worldviews. We wanted them to change and give up who they were as a people before they could be "won." In truth, it was only an effort to transport an American world-view, tinged with our understanding of democracy, which is not a bad thing. But it was not, and never can be, squared with an invitation to participate in the kingdom of God.