Tag Archives: Christian Church

Why Inviting Someone to Church is not the Same Thing as Evangelism

“If you think about church, there’s very little that’s bad. It’s singing awesome songs, hearing interesting talks, thinking about improving yourself and helping other people — and doing that in a community with wonderful relationships. What part of that is not to like?”

http://news.msn.com/us/atheist-mega-churches-take-root-across-us-world

These words were not spoken by a Christian pastor. They were, in fact, not spoken by a Christian. These are the words of Sanderson Jones, a British stand-up comic who happens to be an atheist. These words explain why he and his entertaining partner, Pippa Evans, are holding “church” for atheists in the US and Australia, taking up collections during the “fellowship” hour after “church,” in an effort to spark a movement for atheists that includes “church” every Sunday.

Sadly, the words very neatly define what many people believe church attendance means, and it is the reason that our secular culture and our secular government do not fear the existence of church buildings and church organizations that meet for worship. What the culture and the government fears is what happens when Christians burst out of the church building and start acting like Christians everywhere else.

The culture and the government are aghast when a Christian refuses to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple, because a Christian knows from biblical teaching that a same-sex couple engaging in sex is an abomination in God’s eyes and that God calls Christians to refrain from approving or participating in sin. When Christian employers refuse to buy insurance packages including as covered services procedures and medications the Christian understands to be sin, the culture and the government accuse the Christian of bad citizenship, rather like the accusation made against first century Christians who refused to worship the emperor of Rome. When Christians advocate starting public meetings and ceremonies with prayer, the culture and the government think the Christians are asking for special privileges.

The culture and the government don’t much like Christians who act like Christians outside the worship sanctuary.

The obverse of worship in the sanctuary is evangelism in the streets. In case you don’t have the definition of obverse on the tip of your tongue, obverse means “the side of a coin or medal that has the more important design on it.” Many Christians believe that “going to church” is synonymous with “being a Christian.” It is not. Going to church is important to Christians, but it is not the most important thing. The most important thing for a Christian is knowing Christ. Everything else grows out of that relationship. Therefore, sharing Christ anywhere and everywhere is the obverse design of Christianity, while worship in the sanctuary is the reverse side.

This is why inviting people to church is not the definition of evangelism. A non-Christian who visits a church worship service will be exposed to the gospel and meet a lot of happy Christians. He (or she) may even respond to the Holy Spirit and receive Christ in the course of a worship service, but that is not the definition of evangelism; it is a subset of evangelism for someone to meet Christ because he was invited to a worship service. If Christians want to bring many people to meet Christ, they will need to do things other than invite people to visit a worship service. In fact, the statement made at the head of this post was made by an atheist who had just visited a worship service. He did not take Christ into his heart while in the worship service. Rather, he heard the prodding of Satan saying, “Isn’t this fun! Wouldn’t it be even more fun if they didn’t keep harping on the God thing?”

I’m not a good evangelist. I want to be. I have always felt completely inadequate to be an evangelist, actually. I have tried in the past to make it be enough that I invited people to church. In the world I see changing around me, I know that such invitations have limited value, especially if atheists are now offering the option to “go to church” without being bothered to recognize that they are sinful, without being asked to submit to the sovereignty of God, without being called to dethrone Self and put Christ on the throne of their hearts.

I have a lot to learn about being an evangelist. I pray I am a fast learner. The world needs more churches, but it only needs more churches that meet God’s definition of a church, not the atheist definition of a church. The world needs more Christians to burst out of their churches and start acting like “little Christs” in the streets.

The Church Shocks the Culture

It has been quite interesting to listen to the comments of various media personalities following the announcement that a new pope had been selected. Even as the cardinals were meeting to discuss and vote, the media had breathlessly speculated about what the new pope might be like, and all their speculation centered on his ethnicity and his social agenda. This sort of chatter seems completely irrelevant to the real work of the pope. The way things worked out, it appears that the cardinals did not consult the media for guidance in the process.

Nevertheless, undaunted, the media immediately began to press for an agenda from this pope. Since none has been announced, and likely none will be announced to the media, the press feels compelled to speculate. The most startling element of the conversation for people of faith is the suggestion that a new pope might act to alter fundamental church teachings that are, in the minds of reporters, out of touch with modern realities. The media often appears to believe that Christian teaching ought to be reshaped as the culture reshapes itself from time to time.

For example, since the culture in the US and the western world has improved the opportunity and freedom for women to wield power in the world of politics and business, the media constantly hammers on the fact that the Roman Catholic Church does not ordain women to the priesthood. Likewise, since there is a cultural move afoot to legitimize not only homosexual practices but to legalize homosexual unions as if they were marriages, the media seems to think that a new pope ought to be more open to these changes. In discussions of contraception, abortion and sterilization, the media constantly asks why the Church does not change its views since a majority of Catholics are believed not to comply with church teaching on these matters. The media treats the teachings of the Church as if they should be reviewed and revised and subject to a vote of the members at frequent intervals.

The Roman Catholic Church has a large membership, but it is far from the only Christian denomination. There are so many denominations because Christians don’t agree on all the fine points of theology. However, if asked, all Christians would agree that Christian teaching is not a matter subject to evaluation for customer satisfaction. Christian teachings are based on God’s revelation of himself and of certain absolute truths that cannot and will not be changed based on member opinions. Lutherans, for example,teach that Holy Scripture is the sufficient guide for faith and life. We mean that when we want to know how to live in a way that pleases God, we look in the Bible for guidance.

Some Christian individuals, some Christian churches, and some Christian denominations soften that view in practice, even though they may say that they hold the principle that the Bible is God’s sufficient guide for faith and life. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, for example, publicly asserts the principle of the Bible’s sufficiency when, on its website, readers find this statement: This church accepts the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm of its proclamation, faith, and life. Christians looking for a church home might take comfort in that assurance that the ELCA looks to the Bible for guidance in faith and life. When they find “A Social Statement on Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust” on that same website they might again feel reassured of the biblical foundations of ELCA teaching when they read on page 10: As we determine how to love and serve the neighbor in a complex world, Lutherans rely on Scripture. Yet they must certainly pause on page 20 of the statement to read and reread in a state of confusion if not outright dismay: some are convinced that the scriptural witness does not address the context of sexual orientation and lifelong loving and committed relationships that we experience today. To put this statement in plain English: Lutherans of the twenty-first century know things about human beings that God forgot to put in the Bible when he inspired it back in the day.

ELCA Lutherans are not alone in their assertion that either the Bible is irrelevant on some subjects or that the plain meaning of the words in the Bible is not the meaning God wants us to understand from his revealed Word. There are a number of denominations, numerous churches and many individuals who have abandoned the Bible in favor of making sure the church is not in conflict with the culture on politically sensitive issues. Since Peter’s first sermon in Jerusalem Christians have been challenged to obey human preference rather than God’s revealed will. The conflict raged to a greater or lesser degree through ensuing centuries. Whatever the situation, however, Christ’s church has stood firm on the principle that the church’s teachings do not develop in the culture for the church to absorb when they mature. Rather, Christ’s church has listened to Christ and proclaimed Christ’s message, even when that message was a judgment on the culture. The church has thrived best when it stayed closest to Christ and his message. The sorriest days of the Christian church have been the days of collaboration with culture and/or government when the church sought popularity rather than truth.

The Catholic Church has not been immune to that temptation, and it has its own issues with cultural collaboration. In Mexico today there are churches where Catholicism has submerged itself in the indigenous cultures, barely sustaining any connection with the teachings of Christ. There are state churches in many countries which have become so thoroughly enmeshed in politics that it is hard to identify the church within the political garments. Thus, it is possible to understand why reporters might breathlessly ask communicants in St. Peters Square in Rome, “What is your greatest hope for this new pope?” and expect an answer such as, “more emphasis on women’s rights” or “he should stand up for marriage equality.”

Christians must not go along with this sort of thinking. Christians in the US have a civic obligation to participate in their government and in the conversations that shape public policy. However, their faith, not polls and cultural norms, must shape their views. Christians must put Christ ahead of their civic concerns, and they must follow his guidance as they act and speak on political issues. The founders of the nation expected and desired that individual citizens would follow their individual consciences in the discussion of public concerns. The founders considered the influence of churches in the culture to be a good thing, and they expected the moral and ethical discussions to include input from religious convictions of citizens. In fact, contrary to the common contemporary notion that the culture should shape the church, history demonstrates over and over that the founders believed the churches should shape the culture.

Christians all know that they must live “in” the world without becoming part “of” the world. It isn’t easy to do when the world is clamoring to know what Christians will do to make Christianity fit better within the culture.

 

A Hymn for Meditation

The Church’s One Foundation hymnal

The church’s one foundation
is Jesus Christ her Lord;
She is his new creation
by water and the word.
From heaven he came and sought her
to be his holy bride;
with his own blood he bought her,
and for her life he died.

Through toil and tribulation
and tumult of her war,
she waits the consummation
of peace forevermore.
Till with the vision glorious
her longing eyes are blest,
and the great church victorious
shall be the church at rest.

Yet she on earth has union
with God, the Three in One,
and mystic sweet communion
with those whose rest is won.
Oh, blessed heavenly chorus!
Lord save us by your grace,
that we, like saints before us,
may see you face to face.

  • Why is it important to know that the church is built on Christ alone?
  • Where does the Bible teach that the church is the bride of Christ? (Hint, Revelation 21 is only the last place. Where else in the Bible do we find this image? Hint, Song of Solomon is a great place to look for God’s model for marriage, the relationship between a man and a woman, as a picture of his relationship with his people. Hint, the book of Hosea is a poignant cry from God to his people, his chosen nation, which has cuckolded him with idol worship and a profane lifestyle. Where else?
  • The image of “peace forevermore” is appealing. When will it happen?
  • What elements of the Creed are recalled by verse 3?
  • In what ways does this hymn encourage you as you face daily challenges or even threats to your faith?

What Are You Worth?

Recently a friend on Facebook posted the image below.

 Jon Stewart’s comment reveals a secular world view that is quite disturbing. He observed that the “government’s investment in her had really paid off.” The government’s investment in J. K. Rowling? Is charity toward people in need really an investment? Does the government give to the poor with an expectation of a return on the investment? Is a citizen’s human worth established by that citizen’s value to the government as a “return on investment?”

This statement contrasts sharply with Christian teaching about human beings. The Bible reveals that human beings are loved and valued by God, because they are human. Christ died for all human beings, despite the fact that humans routinely do not give God a fitting “return” for his “investment” in them. In God’s eyes, human beings have value whether they provide a “return” or not. God’s admonitions to be kind, generous and helpful to human beings in need are based on a high regard for each person’s humanity, not for that person’s potential “return on investment.”

The gospels make it plain that God’s love for human beings, expressed in Christ’s death and resurrection, grows out of the value he places on humans even before he creates them. The gospels further reveal that government is not the agency chosen by God to help human beings who suffer hunger, poverty and disease. The agent of God’s kingdom on earth is the church. When Jesus talked about an assault on the gates of hell to set free the people enslaved by sin (which shows itself dramatically in hunger, poverty and disease), he said that the gates of hell would not prevail against God’s church. Jesus did not see the government as God’s tool for alleviating human degradation and suffering.

The secular world view sees human beings very differently. In the secular world view, for example, a human being can actually have no value. A human being may even be a detriment. An unborn baby, for example, has only the value that the mother “chooses” to bestow. The mother may see the baby as an impediment to her career, to her social standing, or even to her economic comfort. If so, the baby has negative value and must be removed. The outgrowth of that judgment classifies abortion as a “preventive health service” and thereby a baby is proclaimed not to be a baby but an inconvenient parasite.

In the secular world view, an elderly woman with erratic heartbeats is unable to produce any “return” for the “investment” of giving her a pacemaker. Her life, therefore, has no value. A presidential candidate with a secular world view feels comfortable declaring that the state could not afford to invest its limited resources in her life. She should be satisfied to take pain pills until such time as she died and ceased to burden society. The panels established in the Affordable Care Act to distribute “scarce resources” will need some standard for determining who gets the resources. Will that decision hinge on the ability of the recipient to make that investment “pay off?”

Secular thinking allows human beings to judge other human beings as valuable or worthless, and the standard of measurement is the standard the human judge wants to apply.

Mother Teresa’s life was a statement of a very different world view. She cared for people who had no way of giving her a return on her investment. She loved people and valued them before she did anything for them. She loved them because they were human beings created by God. The fact that God created them gave them infinite value. They didn’t need to “pay off” in order to deserve her care and her love.

After my grandmother died, there was a great deal of work to be done in her house to get ready for the influx of family. My grandfather sat silent in his favorite chair in the living room as we bustled about. At one point, my mother pointed to me, struggling to fluff grandmother’s featherbed, and said to my grandfather, “When this grandchild was little, climbing trees and chasing chickens, did you ever think she would be coming back to help you this way?” It seemed like a silly statement to me. At a time like this we all worked and grieved together. I turned away from the conversation, shamed that she had called attention to me. Obviously my grandfather was sitting there thinking of all the grandkids and probably remembering how grandmother had doted on each one. He looked up and said, “They all help, even when they don’t come back.” My grandfather assigned value to his grandchildren because they existed, not because they “paid off.”

Christian thinking asserts that human beings have value because of the value God imputes at creation. The standards for the value of human beings come from God, not as the result of evolving thinking.

My grandfather valued people because they were people, not because they gave him a return on his investment in them. Secular philosophy, on the other hand, sees human beings as an evolutionary experiment that survived. Statist governments build on that view. Unborn babies and elderly patients may not deserve to survive. To a statist government, recipients of services from the community need to “pay off” a debt to society as certainly as any prisoner does.

The comments about Rowling include yet another secular construct – that people pay taxes in order to “give back” to the government. Government is the servant of the people, not the other way round. When citizens give the government money, the best way to view it is like giving someone the task of buying your groceries. The amount of money given should be limited to the actual cost of the groceries on the list. If some is left over, it should be returned to the giver. Only the groceries on the list should be purchased. The government should not make up a list and then put a gun to the heads of the citizens and demand they pay for what the government chooses to do.

Furthermore, government services are funded by the money citizens have already handed over. The services are rendered in response to the directives of the citizens for the use of their money, not as the government god investing in the citizens in the hope they will prove their worth later. Citizens thrive when government is small and when its powers are limited to work which protects the freedom and prosperity of the citizens. When government assumes the right to assign value to the citizens and to expect that “investment” in the citizens will produce a “return,” the power structure is upside down. Jesus directed his followers to give to Caesar only what belonged to him, and that statement defined a limited role for government in people’s lives. It pointedly rejected any notion that a human being’s value is defined by the government. People would do well to remember that when a citizen pays high taxes, the consequence is that the government, not the citizen, becomes richer and more powerful.

J. K. Rowling is a wonderful success story. Her success is due to her God-given talent for the craft and the business of writing. She is not a success because a socialist state invested in her and it “paid off.” She deserved social services because she was human. J. K. Rowling deserves respect and admiration because God created her and because she used her God-given talents with skill. The government did not create her value, and the government does not deserve anything special for doing the work assigned to it by the citizens. The glory for J. K. Rowling’s life belongs to God, not to the state.