Evangelism: A Responsibility
How do you react to that word? If you are of stolid Anglo-Saxon stock, you may well be wary of any overt display of religiosity, whatever its form! Is there, perhaps, a slight “un-Englishness” about it? Is it more appropriate, perhaps, to the North American social culture and lifestyle? Whatever your views or temperament, there is a very clear imperative in the New Testament (Matthew 28:18-20) for us to take the Gospel to the world! Whether we like it or not, the New Covenant implies “outreach!”
Orthodoxy tends to be rather reserved over any form of proselytism – especially where there is a risk of being insensitive to the “church of the land” so to speak. Our reticence may be the result of a vision of evangelism that has been distorted by the heavy hands of zealous crusaders on our shoulders asking us if we have been “saved” or “born again.” What one might term “confrontational evangelism” can be harsh and indelicate. There are, however, different forms of evangelism to suit differing temperaments and gifts.
Firstly, there are those whose lives exude a holiness and who evangelize without being conscious that they are doing so. I can personally think of a nun I knew as a boy, who, by her very demeanor, radiated a Christ-likeness that was challenging and disturbing. I can never forget her. I am also unable to forget the many valiant souls I have met or been aware of in my lifetime who have been utterly selfless in their devotion to a worthy cause. Goodness does not always hit the headlines, but hits the heart.
Secondly, there are those with gifts of hospitality who can make you welcome in their homes.
Then, thirdly, there are those who can “come alongside people,” put them at ease and empathize with them. There are many ostensibly serene people in churches who conceal a desperate need for a pastoral hand on their shoulders. More people are hurting than we realize.
Fourthly, giving a testimony, whether written or oral, can be helpful and inspiring. Some personal experiences are quite remarkable.
Fifthly, some people need a very cerebral approach to theology and doctrine. There are some Christians who are able to meet that need and be theologically analytical in discussion. It has always been my experience that males are more deductive and females intuitive!
May I quote the following:
“Don’t tell me ‘it is impossible for me to influence others.’ If you are a Christian, it is impossible for you NOT to influence others! Just as the elements that make up your human nature do not contradict each other, so also in this matter – it belongs to the very nature of a Christian that he influences others. So, do not offend God. If you say, ‘the sun cannot shine,’ you offend Him. If you say, ‘I, a Christian cannot be of service to others,’ you have offended Him and called Him a liar. It is easier for the sun not to shine than for a Christian not to do so. It is easier for light itself to be darkness than for a Christian not to give light. So don’t tell me it is impossible for you as a Christian to influence others, when it is the opposite that is impossible. Do not offend God. If we arrange our affairs in an orderly manner, these things will certainly follow quite naturally. It is impossible for a Christian’s light to lie concealed. So brilliant a lamp cannot be hidden.”
The words of a modern-day crusading evangelist? They are the words no less of St. John Chrysostom from his Homily 20 on the Acts of the Apostles.
On my first visit to an ethnic Greek church some years ago, I was informed by a nun that “there are no such people these days as Catechumens”! Presumably this was highlighting the absence of mission?
Effective evangelism cannot be conducted without vision, unity and cohesion. The unity on Orthodox theology and doctrine is wonderful to behold. It is the strength of Orthodoxy at a time when the fundamental truths of the Christian faith are “up for grabs” and being “adjusted.” But, there is a desperate requirement within Orthodoxy for jurisdictional cohesion and “streamlining” if mission is to be strategically effective.
We are living in days when evil seems rampant and people – particularly in the West – are crying for spiritual realities. “Psychic Fayres” are popular. People are discovering spiritual dimensions in their lives. We live in a “Global Village” and have access to incredible communication facilities. Perhaps more importantly, we have to ask ourselves whether, individually or corporately, we are being receptive to the Holy Spirit. The New Testament warns us, surely, not to “grieve” or “quench” the Holy Spirit by disobedience. One of the most exciting books I have ever read about mission has been one covering the exploits of Saint Innocent in Alaska. Perhaps we need to recover some of his spirit.
Most of us will not be called upon to kayak between iceflows! But we are called to be envoys; disciples, not just converts. As it has been said: “no GO, no LO!” (see Matthew 28:19-20, The Orthodox Study Bible)
17 November 1998, original post: www.antiochian-orthodox.co.uk/evangelism.htm
Article graphics and editing: Tony Hatzidakis