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    Mar 17, 2016

    Class 13: Evangelism

    Series: Living as a Church

    Category: Core Seminars, Church Life, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Outreach, Evangelism, International Missions


    I. Introduction

    Evangelical Christians today often see evangelism as 100% the job of the church or 100% their own job. On the one hand, we think of evangelism as getting people to come to church—and then we structure church around the needs and interests of non-Christians. On the other, we might think the church has nothing to do with evangelism—swinging too far in the other direction. So evangelism and evangelism training become parachurch ministries. Now, there’s a problem with that first model: the church is not in its essence an evangelistic outreach. It’s a community of Christians, designed to model the character of God to a watching world. If we turn Sunday morning into nothing more than apologetic lectures, we wind up failing to grow and mature the church. So in the end we fail to present a compelling alternative to the world. And that stifles evangelism. But the second model is no better. Because the church is one of God’s primary tools for evangelism.

    Think of Peter’s description of the church in 1 Peter 2:9. He describes the people of God as a “chosen race,” “a royal priesthood,” and “a holy nation.” And what is the purpose of God’s people? Peter goes on to say: “that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Where did he get that idea? Think back to Jesus’ words in John 13:35 that we’ve mentioned many times in this class: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This is a love that is among Christians, but that speaks powerfully to those who are not Christians.

    And Peter saw this in action. We read in Acts 2 (vv. 44, 47) that:

    “And all who believed were together and had all things in common . . . And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

    These early Christians had a life together that became a theatre for their love. And God used this witness to draw people to Himself.

    The church is the grand witness of Christ. As Christians inside those churches, we are called to live our life together in such a way that the world will see the power of the gospel. Christians, not just as individuals, but as God’s people bound together in churches, are the clearest picture that the world sees of who God is.

    One of the most colorful early church scholars was Tertullian, a North African who lived from around 160-225 A.D. Tertullian wrote his famous work Apology to Roman magistrates to defend Christians against slanderous charges. In it he noted the unity of Christians saying: “We are a body knit together as such by a common religious profession, by unity of discipline, and by the bond of a common hope.” He then noted the impact that the love of the church had on unbelievers around them. He says:

    “But it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. See, they say, how they love one another.”

    A conspicuous, congregational love in a loveless world will not be ignored. By living the Gospel as a distinct community, the church accomplishes the important mission of displaying the transforming effects of the Gospel for the world to see. And that’s our topic for today: our corporate witness.

    What role does the local church play in evangelism in this city? And once we recognize the power of its corporate witness, how can we use it most effectively? This morning, we’ll begin by first looking at the power of a congregational witness. Then we’ll consider how we can apply that to our life as a church. And finally, we’ll end our time today with some closing thoughts on our life together in this church.

    II. The Unique Power of a Congregational Witness

    So: how can our life together empower evangelism? We saw from those passages a few minutes ago that our inward unity and love is to provide outward witness to God’s power through the gospel. But practically, how does that happen? Let me give you five ways.

    The display of unity among Christians is a powerful witness
    First, and maybe most apparent, a congregational witness enables unbelievers to see evidence of God’s power that they just can’t see in our lives as individuals. Think of John 17:20-23. Here’s what Jesus prays:

    “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”

    So our unity in the Gospel testifies to Christ and his love for His people.

    Just think of all the counter-evidence the world sees to this truth. War, conflict, disaster—all suggest that God doesn’t care. That he doesn’t love. But the main evidence God’s created for his love for us…is our love for each other. It says something true about God!

    So keep this purpose of unity in mind in how you relate to this church. There are times when you’ll need to decide between unity and a host of other good things—sound doctrine, holiness, love, and so forth. Whenever you make those decisions, keep in mind that difficulties with unity lead to difficulties with evangelism. The impact of your relationships with others in this church extends far beyond those small circles. In fact, it can impact the reputation of Christ in this city.

    The display of love among Christians is a powerful witness
    Second, related to this idea of unity is the power of a congregational witness through Christians’ love for each other. Francis Schaeffer calls the love of Christians for each other the ultimate answer or the “final apologetic” that we can give to the world. What marks us out as Christians in the eyes of the world—more than sound doctrine, more than passion in worship—is our love. I’ve already noted Jesus’ words in the Gospel of John (13:35): By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

    This love is often manifested in good deeds. So in Matthew 5:16, Jesus says " Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." Similarly, Peter states in 1 Pet. 2:12 – “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” According to Jesus, the good deeds of his disciples are the window through which the world comes to see and glorify God.

    What might that look like for us? Here’s where these passages are so different than our natural inclinations as evangelicals. Normally, when we read a passage like John 13, our minds immediately go to loving those around us. They’ll know that we’re Christians because we love them, right? Actually…no. Read that passage again. “If you have love for one another.” The witness Jesus has in mind isn’t our love for the world. It’s our love for the church. If we love each other well—and the world sees that love—that is profoundly compelling. So should we love the world? Yes. Of course. We should love our neighbors as ourselves. And by God’s grace we see all sorts of examples of that in our church. But let’s never think that love is the grand witness of the church. It is love for each other that Jesus says will mark us out in this world.

    As a church, we help each other witness
    Third, another great advantage of evangelism in the context of a congregation is that we help each other witness. In this way, our evangelism as a church is more powerful because many members with different gifts are involved in witnessing to unbelievers. One member may have a particular gift in initiating a conversation with a non-believer and inviting him out to eat. Another might be particularly gifted in communicating the gospel in a powerful way. Another may have a gift in making the non-believer feel at ease in the conversation. We all work together to display Christ to this friend. This is a really powerful idea. Are you beating yourself up over the fact that you can’t do all of those things well when really you should be teaming up with other Christians to combine your gifts with theirs? Talk with people who have become Christians through the ministry of this church. Quite often, while an initial contact was made by one person, what happened wasn’t so much one-on-one, but group evangelism. Now, there are many relationships in which you alone can make that initial contact. So in no way should you remove yourself from responsibility for boldly sharing the gospel. But what happens from there can follow many different paths as we help each other witness as a church.

    A corporate witness glorifies God in a unique way
    Fourth, God is uniquely glorified when we bear witness to Him together. The broader the testimony, the more God is glorified. An assembly of believers can give glory to God with greater volume and variety than the individual can.

    So, let’s say that you’re out at dinner or a sporting event with a group of Christians from the church and there are one or two non-Christians in the group. An opportunity arises and you begin talking about how you became a Christian. One person talks about how God used a difficult event in her life to draw her to Christ. Another person talks about being raised in a Christian home, and so on. God is glorified by this type of congregational witness because it testifies to the manifold ways that He extends His saving grace. And it presents to a non-Christian a much richer picture of how God works in this world than simply talking to you alone.

    Christians work together through the church for global missions
    The last way we’re involved corporately in evangelism: church planting around the world. In the local church, we can pool our wisdom, experience, financial support, prayers, and callings—and direct them all to making God’s name great among the nations. Proclaiming the Gospel around the world should be a key purpose for every local church. As a church, we do this by supporting workers overseas through financial help, by praying for them, by visiting them, and by providing hospitality when they’re home.

    III. How can we be a better congregational witness?

    OK. So all sorts of ways we witness better together. So how do we do that? How can we be good stewards of the wonderful blessings of unity and love that God’s given to us in the church to reach our friends with the Gospel? Let me offer a few thoughts.

    Exposing non-Christians to our life as a church
    First, for our love and unity to be visible and real to non-Christians, we need to expose them to our life in the church.

    The most natural place to begin is in our regular assemblies where non-Christians may be attending. Here are some questions for us to think about regarding our regular meetings: What might non-Christians see on a Sunday morning or evening? Do they see Christians that have an evident love and care for one another? Do they see church members who are quick to greet them, and express an interest in how they are? Do they see members inviting them to lunch after the service where they can get to know a cross-section of the body? One thing I hear over and over about this congregation is how friendly and welcoming it is to visitors. That’s great, we should keep doing that. But there’s always room for improvement, and unfortunately not everyone feels welcomed.

    So, here are a few thoughts:
    • Make a point to talk with people you don’t know after today’s service.
    • Show hospitality to non-Christian friends and church members at the same time. Let your friends peak in on your relationships at church.
    • Invite non-Christian friends on weeks when we have baptisms. It’s a great chance to hear how the body was involved in conversions.
    • Get involved in outreach ministries like ISM where non-Christians interact with groups from our church.

    [Spend time as a class brainstorming how we can expose the inner life of our church to those who don’t know Christ.]

    Talk to non-Christians about our life in the church
    Often it’s not possible for us to introduce our friends and colleagues to other church members or to our life in the church. Maybe schedules conflict—or they just don’t want to. What do we do then?

    Well, people naturally talk about those things that they care about. And as Christians, that means a lot of what we’ll want to talk about is this Church. So look for ways to talk about activities or ministries of the church that you’re involved in. Or maybe you heard a sermon recently that raised a particular issue that you know a friend or colleague is struggling with, or might be interested in discussing.

    It could be as simple as asking your co-worker on a Monday morning about his or her weekend. That’s a great way to get to know more about her. But then, how will they respond? By asking about your weekend, right? And there, you’ll have an opportunity to talk about your church. And when that happens, don’t just say, “I went to church.” Talk about what church is like. Why do you care about these people so much? How do they show that they love you?

    Let’s pause here again and brainstorm together: what are some ideas you’ve put into practice on the topic of talking about your involvement in church? How do you make sure that speaking of things at church is used most effectively to advance the gospel?

    The standard post-modern response to Christianity is, “I’m glad you’ve found something that works for you. It doesn’t work for me.” How does exposing someone to the life of your church chip away at this?

    IV. Reflections on the class

    Well, as we end this core seminar, let me conclude by offering some reflections on the church and our lives together in the church. This class has been about living together as a church. How we as church members can promote the unity that protects our doctrine, safeguards holiness, displays the wisdom of God, encourages, exhorts, teaches, promotes evangelism, and communicates the character of our merciful God to a watching world.

    As we’re reminded in Ephesians 3:10: “[His intent was] that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” And as we consider our great responsibility in this area, we can take comfort in the knowledge that not even the gates of hell will prevail against Christ’s church. Why? Because its glorious mission is to display before all the heavenly hosts the remarkable wisdom of our God. The wisdom that determined before the beginning of time to unite Jew and Gentile by the horrible death of a crucified Messiah.

    One day, the whole world will bow before our God in worship and praise. On that day, every eye shall behold him, robed in splendor’s majesty, the One who is called Faithful and True. But we’re not there yet. For now, God in his wisdom has left the task of displaying the glory of his perfect character to his Church—composed of very imperfect people. The question of how that can happen has been the focus of this class. And particularly, our goal has been to understand the opportunities and responsibilities that we as church members have to contribute toward that end. We have seen that our unity together as Christians in the local church acts as a compelling testimony of the Gospel to a watching world. Just as God’s manifold wisdom was displayed in the early church through Gentiles and Jews coming together as members of one body, it’s displayed in our church today when people who are different in so many ways unite in the body of Christ. That’s a display of God’s glory like no other.

    And what makes it such a display of God’s glory is that our unity is not just a unity in anything, but a unity in the Gospel. This unity is so powerful, it can only have come by the hand of God. And this unity is our responsibility as church members. It’s the church together that has been gifted by the Spirit. It’s the church together who is called to be completely humble and gentle, keeping the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

    How can we exercise our responsibility to preserve unity within the church? This has been the topic of our discussions for the last thirteen weeks. Let me highlight two points as a summary of our time together:

    Preserve Gospel Message:
    First, preserve unity by preserving the Gospel message that creates it. Whether we are in this church, or in another church, we should always make sure that the teaching and preaching is true to scripture. Remember that in the New Testament, when error slipped into a church’s teaching, the apostles did not blame the preacher; they blamed the congregation. (2 Tim 4:3).

    Love each other:
    Second, our unity is furthered by sincere love for one another. There is so much we can say about this and have said throughout this course. In Christ, God showed us a love as vast as an ocean; a love that was sacrificial, self-less and costly. And now we show that love to each other. We read about this love in 1 Cor. 13: 4-7:

    “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

    So brothers and sisters, love like this. Love those who are different from you. Love through your service, and your prayers, and your encouragement, and your admonishment; love through your patience and forbearance and your humility; love by discipling and teaching others; love by being present at the church at significant events and not so significant events; love by using your spiritual gifts to build up the church; love by clothing yourself with kindness, compassion, warmth and generosity toward each other. As we’ve seen in this class, love like that is a great witness to the Gospel. Love like that promotes unity, strengthens the body, and most importantly, displays God’s glory.

    And love not because you’re able but beyond where you’re able. As one who’s compelled and empowered by the truth of the Gospel. The truth that says you were a sinner in rebellion against a just and all-powerful God—but that in his mercy he changed your heart, forgave you of your sins, clothed you in the righteousness of his perfect son, and chose to dwell with you for all eternity. That simple message is the power of God for you to love.

    Most of us I suspect live our lives without considering much how our lives fit into God’s eternal plan for the church. And consequently our lives often lack the flavor of eternity and the aroma of something ultimate and inspiring. Well, let’s be motivated by this thought today. Our lives in the church are part of God’s eternal plan to display his glory, not just to this world, but to all heaven.

    Human history began in a garden with a fellowship of a husband and a wife. It will culminate, as we see in the book of Revelation, as a city, an eternal society of light in which God Himself is personally present. The fellowship of Eden has been restored. And the number of inhabitants has been multiplied many times over as the garden becomes a city. Beyond that, our intimacy with God has been multiplied many times over as we are now indwelt by his Spirit. God’s glory is magnified as the eternal love between the three persons of the trinity is reflected forever in the interpersonal love shared between the bridegroom and the bride, between Christ and his church. The book of Revelation tells us that “his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure.” Rev. 19:7-8. In that city, we will enter fully and eternally into the love of God. Today, the local church is a glimmering and growing picture of this coming reality. That is our calling in the nitty gritty work of crossing society’s boundaries to love each other in this church. And, praise God, that is our future in perfection for eternity.

    So in God’s power, let us walk worthy of our calling as we read in Ephesians chapter 4: “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”