by Dr. Bob McKibben
The question has always been there. “Why?” It is framed in many different ways, but ever since the events of Acts, chapter two, the question has always the same. “Why do Christians always share their beliefs with others?” Perhaps you are a missionary on the plains of Africa or in the jungles of South America. Maybe you are just an everyday disciple on the streets of Anytown, USA. Sooner or later you will be faced with the question, “Why do you Christians always try to evangelize others – why are you always sharing your faith?”
Answers to this question are complex, but not really very hard to understand. The complexity usually lies in the source of the question. Who’s asking? Evangelism has been given a black eye in recent years by some well-meaning, yet insensitive disciples who got the key elements of their mission a little mixed up. The question of “why evangelism” has, of course, been voiced by antagonists who have encountered one of these witless witnesses. But the question has also been voiced by those within the church, who recognize that a problem exists, but aren’t sure what to do about it.
Evangelism has been given a black eye in recent years by some well-meaning, yet insensitive disciples who got the key elements of their mission a little mixed up.
The problem is that evangelism methods have often overshadowed the message. The solution is to better understand the true nature of Christian evangelism. This article seeks to offer a few points of understanding and possibly a few answers to the “why” question at the same time.
Those of you who have had close encounters with an over zealous disciple, a modern day follower of Christ, are going to love this first point. The noun “evangelism” has no direct counterpart in scripture. But before you fan the flames of resistance, there are some derivatives of the word in the New Testament. The Greek word euaggelion is translated into English as “gospel.” Gospel is a transliteration of the word “godspell”, which, like euaggelion, means good news.
Evangelism: ev (eu) = good
angel = message, messenger (news)
ism = English noun suffix
An evangelist is someone who shares the Good News, or proclaims the Gospel. The very first evangelists were the angels themselves.
And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Lk. 2:10-11 RSV emphasis mine).
The point is this. The very essence of the gospel is Christ the Lord. He is the Good News. Jesus is the Message. The birth of Jesus prompted God to send an angelic choir to proclaim the babe’s arrival and sing praises for the marvelous event.
Jesus is the Message, but He is also the Messenger par excellent. After being baptized by John and spending forty days in the wilderness combating the devil, Jesus returned empowered by the Holy Spirit to launch His earthly ministry. Jesus goes home and on the Sabbath goes to the synagogue. He is handed the holy scrolls of Isaiah and reads: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. (Lk. 4:18-19 RSV emphasis mine).
The mission of Christ was to be the Good News and to announce the Good News. Jesus was the embodiment of the Message that God wanted communicated to His creation.
Q: Why do Christians do evangelism?
A: Christians do evangelism because it is an elemental part of who Christ is and His mission and ministry.
Evangelism is a fundamental part of Christ’s ministry and thus an elemental part of all Christian ministries. Christian disciples are, as the Body of Christ, what Jesus was in the body of Christ. Jesus was the Incarnate God, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” fulfilling and proclaiming the Good News. The Church, the Body of Christ, is a continuation of what God started in Jesus Christ. Evangelism was God’s idea!
It might be that you have picked up a little clue or hint as to the problem that is giving evangelism a black eye. There are four parts to evangelism: Message, Messenger, Method, and Motive. We’ve already discussed the first two. When a person confuses the method with the Message and Messenger, problems are bound to arise. Many of the methods of evangelism focus on the method itself. Then the motive becomes distorted as well. The problem often lays in the fact that Christians try to evangelize people. Evangelism’s sole purpose is to proclaim or spread the Good News. You don’t spread people! Evangelism is not about recruiting people to the cause, but about introducing people to the Christ. Recruitment methods often are motivated by survival needs of the institution and not by the Good News. Revival and survival are not the same thing! Yes, in the process of proclaiming the message, there must be a recipient. But ours is not to convert, but simply to convey the message in hopes that the recipient will accept Christ into their hearts and enter into a life-changing relationship with Him. If we want to encourage people to trust the Lord, our methods of sharing our faith and our motives for evangelism must instill trust.
If we want to encourage people to trust the Lord, our methods of sharing our faith and our motives for evangelism must instill trust.
Christians also share their faith because their faith demands it. The Christian faith is centered on the Person of Jesus Christ. But more than that, it is empowered by the Living Holy Spirit of Christ. The force or drive behind a disciples’ faith is grace. In writing his Gospel account, John gave us these powerful words:
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father…And from His fullness have we all received, grace upon grace. (John 1:14, 16 RSV emphasis mine). The totality of what God in Christ did for us is wrapped up in the word grace. The Greek for grace is charis, which means, “gift.” All the benefits of the Christian faith come to us as gifts – grace. We can’t earn them, we don’t deserve them, and we can’t buy them. The very nature of the Christian faith is that it must be received as a gift and it must be given away in the same manner.
James, the brother of Jesus, caused a lot of trouble when he tried to put this idea in writing. …faith without works is dead…(James 2:26). You cannot receive faith or its saving benefits through works. If you could, it would no longer be a gift and your life would no longer be empowered by grace. On the other hand, if faith is simply received and finds no life beyond itself, it dies. The Christian faith has to have expression by giving itself away. Essentially, it must be shared with others by word and deed. (Romans 15:18).
Have you ever considered why the Dead Sea is dead? It has no outflow. The waters of the Jordan and other tributaries flow into the sea, and where the ecosystems meet, life abounds. But there is no life in the main body of the sea because it has no outlet, no flow. Faith that becomes bottled up and stagnant soon dies. It must be shared with others in order to live.
Q: Why do Christians share their faith?
A: We share our faith because our faith demands it.
Yet another way to answer the question “why?” is to admit that our times demand it. It is possible to pick any number of world events to highlight “our times”, but consider these. When two students can walk into their high school with guns and bombs, killing indiscriminately teachers and fellow students, and then themselves, it’s time for Christians to put their faith into action. When a person can walk into a Baptist Church in Texas and begin shooting young people who have gathered to pray, it’s time for Christians to being sharing their faith with others.
The events of September 11, 2001 are certainly those that have changed all our lives forever. More than that, it has changed the entire human population. When a group of men can simultaneously hijack four commercial airliners and fly them into national landmarks with the intent of killing themselves and thousands of others – IN THE NAME OF GOD! – it’s time for Christians to put their faith into action.
Scott Beamer’s wife, Lisa, has written her story of the event of that day. In her book titled Let’s Roll! Ordinary People, Extraordinary Courage, she reveals the chilling events aboard United Flight 93 that crashed in a Pennsylvania field, claiming her husband’s life. Except for the extraordinary faith and courage of those aboard, Flight 93 would have likely been crashed into the White House, or some other Washington landmark. If the event itself isn’t shocking enough, the radio and intercom transmissions tell a horrifying truth. These men were willing to kill and be killed because they believed that God was directing them to do so.
In each of the horrifying stories above, young boys and grown men were deluded by a terrible lie. They were duped by a false message into believing that they would be honored and revered for such murderous acts. Some were even deceived into believing that they would spend eternity in heaven for their “faithfulness.” A secondary, but equally tragic result of all this is that others across our planet are being drawn into the same horrible lie. They are being led down the path that leads to eternity – an eternity with the Father of Lies. Almost every religion believes that our world will someday come to an end. The events of our day appear to be plunging us more rapidly than ever toward that day. Christians must proclaim the truth about the One True God. They must share their faith in hopes that others won’t be duped and deluded by the author of lies. God doesn’t need to be defended against the liars of our world, but His divine truths do need to be proclaimed and shared for all to hear. God wants His followers to be ordinary people with extraordinary courage.
Q: Why do Christians share their faith?
A: Christians share their faith because our times demand it.
For all the opponents of evangelism who are still reading, thank you. Christians share their faith because it is intrinsic to all Christian ministries. Christians share their faith because their faith demands it. Christians share their faith because our times demand it. To all disciples of our Lord still reading, thank you. Christians must never confuse method and motive with God’s Message. We must insure that our methods and our motives reflect God’s method and motive. After all evangelism is God’s idea. And what is His method and motive? Love (John 3:16)!
I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may promote the knowledge of all the good that is ours in Christ. (Philemon 4-6 RSV).
Dr. Bob McKibben is pastor of Pine Forest United Methodist Church. He has a degree in Music Education from Florida State University and Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees from Emory University. He has served as a guest speaker at Camp Meetings, Revivals and other events throughout the southeast. Dr. McKibben has been designated a Growth Plus consultant and is a faculty member of the Faith-Sharing Initiative, both sponsored by the United Methodist General Board of Discipleship. He is a former Community Spiritual Director and board member for the Walk to Emmaus.
You can read another article by Dr. McKibben at Pacesetters Bible School website.