So What is Evangelism?

main image

This morning the line in the Psalm for Morning Prayer which always strikes me is the following: “put me on a rock that is higher than I.”  What might this mean? We need to get out our own head, the series of mental loops we are all prey to.  But it means something deeper as well. At the heart of the Christian Gospel is that I cannot save myself, that I need help I cannot provide.  This is offensive to the self-reliance so central to our culture!  But why can’t I help myself? Because there is a flaw, a “crack running through everything,” including me, and not only at my worst, but even at my best.  I need another we have the leverage to move me when I couldn’t move myself.  There is a place for my own effort, but always at a result of, and by the impetus of, the initiative, which is to say the grace, of God. Entailed in this insight, central to the Reformation because it was central to Paul, is that cluster of terms which define aspects of what God has done for us: sin, redemption, contrition, conversion, salvation.

I mention all this because I have just read the official account of evangelism offered by our own denomination. It emphasizes paying attention to how God is already at work in all people around us.  Attention and appreciation are certainly virtues on evangelism.  It emphasizes that the Gospel announces God’s love and His will to free His people. No argument there either! 

The problem is not in what the statement says, but in what it leaves out.  First of all, it leaves aside the vocabulary I have mentioned above. It gives no account of our condition which would indicate that we need a rock higher than ourselves.  And this being taken and set in a new place is not attributed to the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Now showing how these events as the culmination of the Bible’s story can change our circumstance is challenging, but it is also the heart of the task of Christian theology. Obviously, all this puts the name of Jesus, His work, His continuing presence, His promise to be with us to the end of the age, at the very center of the evangelistic task.  We do not stop with its effect in the lives of the believers, but go on, as the official account suggests, to show how it reigns over the whole world. 

Is there a distinctive Episcopal evangelism? I am sure there is, insofar as we have traditions of prayer that are distinctive, not to mention a rich history represented by the mission societies, none of which are mentioned in the documents.  But in another way, there must not be such a thing as Episcopal evangelism, insofar as it depends on the victory of Jesus, attested in the Scriptures, which are equally the inheritance of all Christians. 


What Are We Doing Sunday Morning?

main image

We understand things by comparison: what is something similar to?  So it is with corporate worship, which is really not exactly like anything we do, and requires being thought about.  What it ought not to be like is paying for entertainment, and we would lose at that game anyway!  What it is most like is the fiesta, the celebratory gathering of relatives and friends because of something joyful to mark.  If this is right, then worship doesn’t do anything, any more than a birthday party or a revel after a sports win does.  

But there is a second setting in life to which we can compare our worship, one that probably comes less readily to mind.  It is also like giving testimony in a trial, or maybe talking to a reporter, or even voting. We attest in public to what we think is right and what is true.  We are saying that something is so, and we are thereby willing to bear whatever consequence there might be.  We see this particularly in the recitation of the Creed at the Eucharist, and likewise of the baptismal covenant that includes the Apostles’ Creed in Baptism.  We are making truth-claims together, even though we may argue over exactly how to understand this clause or that, or may be growing into a fuller understanding of a claim - still this is essentially different from saying them out of rote, or antiquarianism, or “with our fingers crossed.”

In the ancient Church it was said “lex orandi, lex credendi,” or “the law of praying is the law of believing.”  It was originally used so as to infer our theology of the Holy Spirit, which was being debated, by the way Christians were accustomed to speak of the Spirit.  This has been a popular saying among theologians in the last generation.  Sometimes it was a way of saying that our believing ought to be affected by our experience of praying, but it equally means that our praying must be guided by the truths we confess.  And, of course the adage only makes sense if there is a stable liturgy, over time, which reflects the prior Biblical witness. 

When I, the youngest, was little, I invented a card game called “Blank Off,” with rules only I knew, so that when my older siblings seemed to be prevailing, I could shout “blank off” and carry the day. I think that if we rewrite our prayers frequently to conform to our latest notions, it has the feel of “Blank Off,” and it nullifies the value of a guide like “lex orandi…”

Where am I going with all this?  Worship is also witnessing to the world, and that to which we witness does not come from within us.  And while we’re at it, notice how the strong claims about Jesus Christ, and the traditional triune name, and the forgiveness of our sins, are inherited and ecumenical truth claims to which we have sworn.  This understanding is a vital part of what it means to share in membership in the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church,” which by its very definition is not something we can make up.  This inheritance, and the long line of saints and martyrs of which we are thereby a part, is a great comfort in our own walks as disciples.




Previous12345678910 ... 6869