Wednesday, January 11, 2023

 

 187.  GOSPEL EVANGELISM IN HUMAN TO HUMAN INTERACTIONS -- 

Jesus said to his disciples in Acts 1:8:  "...you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  

How is this done?  What forms of action has the church used in trying to carry out this mission?  Types of approaches might be categorized as counseling, preaching, lecture, therapy,and sales.  How do these approaches measure up to the Scripture?

The foundation for the answer is formed by the definitions of the words.

Gospel - "Good news."  And what is that?  It is the foreordained plan of God, out of which the physical realm was created and purposed to fulfill.  The church (the kingdom of God on earth, the spiritual representation of the body of Jesus Christ in the physical realm, in which God dwells by His Spirit, Eph. 2:22) is being transformed into the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ, the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15), until the members making up the church become the fullness of Jesus Christ who reigns supreme over all the spiritual and physical realms - heaven and earth (Eph. 4:12-16).

Evangelism - the action of spreading (communicating) the good news so that everyone in the world has opportunity share in this transformation into the likeness of God, which is what we have been created to do (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10).

Counseling - Helping another person to recognize their need or deficiency in experiencing the maximum benefit intended for them in life, leading them to a self-recognition of this poor state, helping them to desire to improve or be raised to a better state and to realize how this could be done, and encouraging and assisting them to be successful.  In the case of the gospel, the benefit would be sharing in the divine nature with a relationship with God through the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 1:4).

Preaching - Publicly explaining the truths in the word of God (the Bible), recognizing that it is being presented in one-way authoritative manner which is subject to influence by personal opinion and interpretation of the Scripture.  The result can be edifying (usually good) or intimidating (usually not good) - explanatory or condemning.  This is probably the most efficient ratio of information proclaimer to the receiver(s) from the use of everything from amplification of voice to broadcasting through electronic social networks.

Lecture - Involves passing knowledge regarding particular subjects from an informed person (by education, experience, study, research, reading) to another person uninformed about the information and its details.  This information transfer is usually associated with a corresponding difference in social standing or status between instructor (who tells the student) and the student (who is to listen, observe, and learn). 

Therapy - One person of training, knowledge, and/or recognized certification identifies what is wrong (deficiency, clinical manifestation, symptom, disease) in another person and tells the person what their problem is and what needs to be done to fix it.  A remedy or solution or answer is prescribed, sometimes even with legal consequences.  One person's expertise provides another person's answer to their problem.  Religious doctrine could be worked into the identification of problem sources as well as the recommended (even commanded) corrective action (therapy). E.g., sin. 

Sales - One person convinces another person (or other people) that they need to accept or buy an item or service represented as a product that is needed (wealthy, smart, beautiful, envied, or protected from evil, Gen. 3:6), irrespective of whether the representation of the product is true, correct, accurate, and helpful, or untrue, fraudulent, unhelpful, or harmful.  

Service (a sharing of "gifts" - 1 Cor. 12:27-28; Rom. 12:6-16; Eph. 4:11-13) -  for "edification" or "building up"

Let's play the "Match Game" -- In the activities described above and listed in the figure below, what is the direction of each of the actions between people? 

 

 Which category(-ies) might fit the following statements:

"I need to tell you what is wrong with you and tell you how you should fix it."

"I need to point out your mistakes (sins), from which you need to stop doing, repent, and ask forgiveness, so you will not be condemned or removed from the church fellowship."

"I need to give you some information you do not know, but if you did know, it would benefit you greatly."

"I need to convince you that you are lacking in resources - finances, happiness, possessions, wealth, assurance, health - and I have what you need, even though you may be unaware of your deficiency.  After I explain things to you, you will owe me something to buy what you need." 

"I will be glad to help and serve you in whatever way I can.  Can we talk, share, and pray together about this problem (question, goal, etc.)"

"I want to find out why you are doing all these acts of service -- being so gracious and helpful. You say it's because of love, but what does this mean?"  "Let me tell you about Jesus." 

Of course, these categories are generalizations that do not fairly represent every situation or group of people.  Preachers can be counselors, sales people can have servant attitudes, etc.  But these categories help distinguish the impressions that may accompany actions done in the form of "evangelism."

Using "original sin" as a straw man to keep the law

Elevating the importance of sin.  For instance, if there were messages about sin from the podium, lectern, pulpit, video screen, tract, bulletin, Sunday sheet declaring that you have some sin(s) that you need to repent of or else you are headed to a place where ice cubes boil, which action category in the above cartoon would it most likely match?  Would it matter if the action took place concerning members in a church or about the unsaved in the world?  Why would it matter?  (Note that 1 Cor. 11: 31-32 is often taken out of context as a faux justification to preach against sin within the body of Christ under the supposed banner of protecting holiness.)

Are we being witnesses for Jesus (evangelizing) by continuing to use the condemnation of the law?

Examples in the New Testament

Teaching by serving.  Jesus was called a teacher, and He did teach the people (Matt. 5-8) and preach against the yeast (sin) of the Pharisees (Matt. 16:6-12; Mark 8:15; Luke 12:1), but what life example did He use as model for His disciples to follow?  (John 13:1-17)

12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

Coming along beside.  What is the action of the Holy Spirit?  In John (14: 16, 26) the words used are "counselor," "paraclete" (coming along beside), "helper," "advocate," "enabler."  Rom. 8:25-27 adds "intercessor on our behalf;" Eph. 1:14 "guarantor of our inheritance;" Eph. 3:20 "the power that is at work within us;" Phil. 2:1 "fellowship."

Encouraging, not condemning.  (John 8:1-11)

Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

One can find sermons of Paul in Acts before philosophers in Athens (17:17-31), the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem (22:30-23:10), government officials and royalty in Caesarea (24-26), and to Jews in Rome (28:17-30).  Paul instructed Timothy about preaching and teaching (1 Tim. 4:13).  Paul's letters to the churches were also filled with personal greetings, encouragements, and statements of affection and concern.

The message.

The eternal plan of God, the gospel, can be misrepresented and be given in an incorrect and even fraudulent manner -- either intentionally or unintentionally depending on the motive.  Perhaps the message glorifies the messenger with promises of money or attention (but first come your contributions). Perhaps the message is poorly understood by the presenters who are doing their best to pass along the inadequate information and training they have received through institutional traditions.  Apollos was doing this in Acts 18:24-28, who was preaching accurately about Jesus but who only knew of John's baptism of repentance.  Apollos preached the complete gospel after it was explained to him "more adequately."  Apollos changed his traditional thinking; institutional thinking today maintains and protects itself from change.

Justification by comparison?

Do we look around at others who claim to hold Jesus Christ as Lord and identify those who really could be classified as deceitful and false apostles (2 Cor. 11:13) and who are "eternally condemned" from preaching another gospel (Gal. 1:6-9).  Or maybe they are just saying "Lord, Lord" - and we judge that Jesus will some day respond, "depart, I never knew you" (Matt. 7:21-23)?

"Well, they have their eyes on self-glory, pride, money, name, and human organization instead of Jesus."  This assessment might be correct, but in making it, who are our eyes on - Jesus or other humans we are comparing ourselves to? Can we pridefully elevate ourselves by judging others, when we should be looking only to Jesus and be elevated toward Him by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 12:1-2; 2 Cor. 3:18; Heb. 12:1-2)?  Does the "first, remove the plank from your own eye" message (Matt. 7:3-5) apply here?

In 1 Cor. 10:1-12, Paul recounts historical events when the Israelites received the penalty for having chosen to disobey God.  He concludes, 

11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!

We stand upon the word of God and by faith in His eternal plan in the unseen spiritual realm (Heb. 11:1; 2 Cor. 4:18) and not by our performance standards sourced from our own doctrinal interpretations, building human institutional authority in the physical realm.

Some of the human methods of evangelism match examples in Scripture better than others.  Some methods are "top-down" in informing, some more "side to side" in helping, and some more "bottom-up" in service.  Some methods are more effective than others even when measured in terms of human effort.  But all methods fall short unless empowered by the Holy Spirit, and all efforts so empowered will succeed and glorify God.

So, we come full circle on Acts 1:8.  This blog message started with the second half of the verse, and too often the church has also started there, trying to interpret the evangelistic action using its own ways of carrying out the "command." But, "you will be my witnesses..." is not a command; it is a statement of fact - this is what will happen.  The second part of the verse follows the first part for a reason.  Otherwise, you're on your own to accomplish the second part.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you,

     ...and...

you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

When we receive the first part, the second part will follow.  That is the word of the Lord.  The church doesn't know what to do with the first part, other than it first occurred on the Day of Pentecost. Some will make human doctrinal interpretations of the verse to impose on others by "reverse engineering."  (Let's evaluate your second part manifestations to see if you really have received the first part*). 

*Paul revealed to the church at Corinth that unbelievers could be more accurate at discerning the Holy Spirit at work in an assembly than immature Christians.  The Corinthians were using their self-assigned hierarchy of spiritual gifts to determine who had the most Holy Spirit power.  Those who spoke in tongues were rated to be on the highest rung, but most could not understand what was being uttered (including the speaker).  If an unbeliever were to come in while the perceived babbling was going on, he would say that their display of self-organized and chaotic human power structure was crazy.  But if they were prophesying so that all benefited and the church was edified, the unbeliever would recognize the presence of God and be convicted. (1 Cor. 14:22-25).    

But without a true understanding of the first part of Acts 1:8, the church is left using human methods to "accomplish" the second part using its own efforts.

 

Therefore:

Gospel evangelism occurs when the world comes to believe in the love of God by witnessing the power of the Holy Spirit transform the kingdom of God on earth into the unity of the fullness of the Lord Jesus Christ, carrying the character of God through Christ in the spiritual realm into evidence of God in the physical realm.

The response of unbelievers to the presented gospel is a litmus test of the presence of the Spirit at work.  The power of the Spirit is not summoned by human effort, size of church buildings, attendance, budgets, number of clicks, work programs, incantations and prayers, utterances, activities, names and titles, garb, contrived environmental settings, or obedience to law, even when formed by doctrinal interpretations carried along by long traditions.  The world sees through this facade.  The only people fooled are the Christians, themselves. 

The Holy Spirit is given to carry out the foreordained plan of God on earth.  God's plan has been revealed in His Word and described in the Bible.  Do our self-preserving/perpetuating human religious institutions cloud our vision so much that we cannot recognize God's eternal plan?  The ones who can't see through the smoke are the same ones who produce it. 

What does "you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you" mean in the context of God's foreordained and eternal plan for Creation?  How does this power relate to evangelism and the gospel?  How is faith involved - "the evidence of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1)?

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