Monday, July 6, 2020

Spreading the Gospel

There's a fundamental difference between the way that we do evangelism today and the way that it was done in the first century by the apostles themselves. Over the years, we have made a case for our shift in emphasis, and certainly, we can talk ourselves into justifying it, but does it truly justify the kind of ministry that we are doing in the world right now?

The argument, as I have heard it and even as I am guilty of perpetuating it myself, goes something like this: today's younger generations are looking more for a cause to get involved in than a doctrine to know. It's important today that we put real skin on our mission and get our hands dirty in the world, doing good works and not just saying good words. Or even the Good Word. Today's seekers will fall in love with our loving actions more easily than they will fall in love with the subject of our preaching, so if you want to evangelize the world today, then you must serve it in the name of Jesus and let the world discover your Savior instead of be bullied into Him.

Sound familiar?

It is on this basis that we have gone out and created a ton of good works in which to become involved. We have set up food pantries and community meals and homeless shelters and all of the things that, honestly, the church should have been doing in the first place except now, we get to call them evangelism instead of service, and somehow, that's changed things for us.

Overwhelmingly, what we also say is that if we are doing the works of Jesus in the world, then we don't even really need to preach Him any more. We don't have to tell others about the Gospel; once they see our works, they will naturally want to know more. Once they come alongside us, they will be interested to learn how we got started and why we're doing what we're doing. If we simply serve faithfully in our communities, then the Gospel will come naturally.

After years of this kind of ideology driving our 'new missions,' it's worth asking whether that's really what's happening or not. Because there is a secular truth at work here, too; a truth that drives many of the non-church-based ministries that have come alongside us in our communities or that we ourselves have joined: you don't need God to be good. Good people exist everywhere, and they are good without having a religion to guide them into it.

So it's only natural that in our emphasis on service, we've lost our Gospel into a world of good because the culture that is looking for a work to get involved in doesn't need a reason to be good; they're already looking for good, they already consider themselves good, so if we're doing good, then good is enough for them. Most of the world never moves beyond our good to ask about our Gospel.

And that's where we're failing them.

When the disciples went out as apostles, when they set about spreading the story of Jesus through the regions, they did a lot of good works themselves. They healed the sick. They cast out demons. They fed the hungry. They came alongside those in the communities they were visiting, and they did good works there. So then we do good works and call ourselves apostles, but there's a fundamental difference here:

The apostles went out with the express intention of spreading the Gospel, and they did good works along the way as the opportunities presented themselves. Because that's what Jesus did. He went about preaching the Kingdom of God and did good works along the way, showing His power and love and grace whenever it was possible.

By contrast, we set out to do good works and figure we'll present the Gospel along the way when opportunities present themselves. We have set out to heal the sick, cast out demons, feed the hungry, and then if there's time or interest or if it won't seem too awkward or whatever, we'll tell them about Jesus, too.

Jesus spent His time preaching life and backing it up with His actions. The disciples followed His example. We spend our time acting out love and, if we get a chance, talking about it a little bit, too.

That means one of two things has happened: either our world has so dramatically changed that it requires a fundamentally different approach than Jesus Himself and the early church took...or we as Christians have so dramatically changed in two thousand years that we are not willing to even do Jesus the way that Jesus did.

Yes, that is an indictment. I think it's long overdue.

We, the church, are doing some tremendously good works in our world right now. Good works that we absolutely ought to be doing and ought to have been doing for a long time. They are the kind of good works that the church, throughout her history, have been known for - the kind of works that started hospitals and universities, that took in the sick and disabled, that visited the prisoners, that clothed the naked and fed the hungry. But what we're not doing any more - because we've convinced ourselves that's 'not our mission' or that 'our world doesn't want that' or that 'it might offend someone' is bridging the gap between our good deeds and our good God. We're not getting from pouring water to Living Water. We're not moving from our activism into the Gospel. We're working like we just expect the world to ask, but that's not how it works. That's not how it ever works. The world believes that good can exist without God.

What they need to see is a God that is purely good. And that's why Jesus's approach, and the apostles' approach, is so effective. They have a truth first. They have a grace first. They have a Gospel first. And then they back it up with miraculous wonders, with amazing actions, with good deeds. They prove what the say, rather than defend what they do. That's the difference. That's what we're missing.

Let us be a people again who start with the Gospel. Let's start with the Good News. And then, only then, let's show the world that it is what it claims to be. We cannot show them love and then try to circle back to Jesus. We have to show them Jesus and then back it up with our love. After all, His love is the place from which we start. 

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