08 September 2008

Should We Evangelize in Church?

This is a topic I’ve long thought about posting but why reinvent the wheel, right? Tony Payne has done a great job exposing the fallacies of why church gatherings (Lord’s Day Worship services) are not for evangelism. Sounds odd to many of you? Payne in just a few paragraphs lays out the truth of the matter and I commend him for it. I was raised in a church where virtually every service was evangelistic and to some degree that led to a season of apostasy my late teens and early twenties. I’m quite, possibly overly, sensitive to this subject. Many of my friends of youth left the church never to return. They were not taught the true principles of faith, worship, love and service to Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Instead, we were hammered, week after week, to be saved or to renew their commitment to Christ. It was and is so weak and ineffective it is nearly unfathomable to me why folks return to these churches week after week. What a revelation the Reformed faith was to me when I first began to learn its teachings in my early twenties. This is true Christianity I thought and I never looked back on that weak Arminianism I was raised on again. A worship service that has all the prescribed elements will be and is, by its very nature, evangelistic. There is no need to have an "evangelistic" service or alter calls or tent meetings. Our Father can use a proper sermon on any portion of Scripture to bring about his will. It is all so unnecessary and man-centered otherwise.

Payne writes, …even if we acknowledge that there will be ‘gospel’ things happening all over the place in church, it is also important to say that evangelism is not the purpose of Christian assemblies. It is certainly not their focus. In the New Testament, churches are characteristically the fruit of evangelism, not its agent. Evangelism usually takes place outside the assembly—in the marketplace, the synagogue, the prison, and in daily gospel conversation.
More to the point, theologically, the Christian assembly is a fellowship of the redeemed. It is a manifestation, as well as an anticipation or foretaste, of the great assembly that Christ is building—the assembly of the firstborn in heaven that will be revealed on the last Day (Heb 12:22-24). The purpose of our earthly assemblies, therefore, is to fellowship together in what we already share—our union with Christ—as we listen to and respond to him together, and build his assembly by the words we speak.

This runs counter to the common (although often unspoken) assumption that one of the main aims of a church gathering is to be attractive to non-Christians—to draw them in, to intrigue them, and to evangelize them. Perhaps it's a legacy of the parish model, where those attending the Sunday assembly were often not Christians at all, and evangelism consisted of preaching the gospel to them. Or perhaps it is the influence of the seeker-service model, where the main aim is to attract and win over unchurched Harry. Or maybe it's a bit of both.

There is an important difference, it seems to me, between running a Christian gathering whose focus is on evangelizing the outsider, and running a Christian gathering that is welcoming and intelligible for the outsider, but where the focus is on fellowship with Christ, in speaking, hearing and responding to his word.

Thanks, Tony for putting this into proper perspective for us all. Read the whole article here.



Gordan Runyan said...

As a rookie pastor, this question haunts me pretty regularly. "Officially" I'm with you, that God can convert a sinner with any scriptural sermon. Emotionally, though, I believe there are routinely unconverted persons in my congregation on a given Sunday, and it's tough for me to imagine there being something more important than faithfully urging them to reconciliation in Christ.

I have decided that this is precisely why consecutive, expository preaching is a good thing. You are then constrained to bring out of the text the same message that the Spirit put into it. You will then preach the gospel when the Scripture preaches it, and you will round out the Christian life of faith the rest of the time.

But I also think that Christ should be preached in every sermon regardless, because all Scripture is ultimately a witness to Him, and each sermon should constrain its listeners to faithful obedience.

Reformed Renegade said...

Outstanding comments, Gordon. I'm with you. I'm in total agreement - Christ should be the culmination of every sermon. Excellent!

Scrape said...

As Christ said in Luke 24, all of Scripture speaks of Him, so I would imagine any sermon should/could speak of Christ. Indeed, this was our previous pastor's technique--he's been preaching out of 2 Chronicles for nearly a year now, yet every message he preaches is about Jesus.

RR, this is one of many of your posts that I starred in Google Reader over the past couple months, and am just now getting back to!

I am inclined to lean with you as well here, and my position has been that, if a congregation is filled with people who exhibit Christ's love, then that will draw people even if they don't yet "get" all of the "deep" stuff.

On the other hand, I do think there is significant latitude for customization of worship services to fit their social and cultural contexts. I don't think the expository-sermon-as-central model need be universal, for example. I don't know that the New Testament provides regulatory models of church services, and I'm reminded that the early post-apostolic church tended to order their worship services around the Lord's Supper rather than around a sermon.

This doesn't really speak specifically to the issue of "evangelism" versus "building up of the body", but merely serves to point out that there is room for flexibility (and of course, part of the nurturing of the body -is- evangelism--adding new living stones to the temple).

I -don't- really think we should have "seeker-sensitive" churches and "spiritual growth" churches. I think we should simply have churches that are able to build up and equip their local congregations and serve their local communities, which speaks more to cultural/social sensitivity.

That might mean some being more "seeker-friendly" in some locales, or more disciple-oriented in others.


Scrape said...

None of the above, of course, was really meant to disagree with you!