Monday, July 27, 2015

Evangelism vs. Missionary Work

Hebrews 1:1-2
In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. (NIV)
John 1:14
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (NIV)

Recently I posted the following on Facebook:

For years American Christians have viewed sharing the gospel in America as "evangelism" and in the rest of the world as "missionary work." What we have to wrap our heads around is that NOW it's ALL "missionary work"--even in America.

Several people commented that they thought the two are the same. So I said I would elaborate in a blog post. So here goes.

Our two scriptures above shed some light on the matter. The first verse of Hebrews said that God spoke through the prophets from time to time. That’s how most people do evangelism: from time to time. Let me state up front that my next example is to be explanatory, not critical.

Some Christians, as a part of their ministry, leave their nice, comfortable homes once a week and go to minister to people in an inner-city slum area. After the ministry they go back to their nice, comfortable homes. Then next week they repeat the process. This is evangelism.

Verse two of Hebrews says that in “these last days” (as an aside, note that eschatological terminology) He spoke through His Son. To accomplish this Jesus came to earth and “made His dwelling among us” (or as John 1:14 is rendered in The Message, “the Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood”).

It was through the incarnation that Jesus spoke to us. He came and dwelled among us. This is missionary work—not a weekly visit but full-time “doing life” with the people we are trying to reach. It is very expensive because it costs you everything. However, Jesus requires nothing less.

Jerome and Shanna Crawford are missionaries to Sierra Leone, West Africa. Shanna had this to say about missionary work: “I believe a missionary leaves his friends and family to share the gospel in a place that is not his home.” That’s it!

But you don’t have to leave the United States to do this. Suppose that instead of leaving your comfortable home for a weekly visit to the slums you actually move into the slums and live among the people you want to reach. As radical as that may sound, it is far less than what your Savior did.

Paul said,

Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23, NIV)

Have you ever noticed that the church in Antioch was different from Jerusalem, the Galatian churches from Antioch, and the Ephesian church from the Galatian churches? The reason is that they were missional-incarnational churches. Paul visited these latter places (missional) and planted the seed of the gospel within the local culture (incarnational). The church that resulted contained both the DNA of the gospel as well as the DNA of the culture, just as a child carries DNA from both parents.

Paul visited each city, studied the culture, and then approached people with the gospel in a way that would be meaningful to them. A clear example was in Athens, Greece (Acts 17:16-34). Paul saw all the gods for whom they had altars including one to “The Unknown God.” He saw that they enjoyed philosophical discussions so he went to the place where this took place. Then he shared with them in a culturally relevant way about the God who was the Lord of all.

To reach even America with the gospel we need to go beyond building buildings and inviting people to come. Many today are open to Jesus but want to have nothing to do with the church—whether through ignorance or past experience. We need to go to them and then “show and tell” the gospel in a way that they can and will receive.

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