Reclaiming the Apostolic Tradition of Evangelism
Does “Orthodox evangelism” sound like an oxymoron? It shouldn’t. The Orthodox Church has an unbroken tradition of evangelism that goes back to the Apostles. But Orthodox evangelism does look rather different from the Protestant variety.
With his characteristic straightforward and humorous style, Fr. Michael Keiser covers the history of Orthodox evangelism, the rationale and the methods for continuing this tradition in our contemporary Western post-Christian society.
– From the back cover
Red text is mine
Chapter one: The Great Commission
‘We equate the promotional activities of our churches, some of which are quite worthwhile, with evangelism’
So we do not evangelize because we think it to be a good idea, or because we are good at it or have some free time; we evangelize because God has told us to do so, and we are following orders.
Evangelism is essential to who we are, because the Church exists by evangelism in the same way a fire exists by burning. Without evangelism, the Church is just a secret club for those who like that sort of thing.
Despite being an illegal, sometimes persecuted movement, by the third century Christians constituted an estimated twenty-five percent of the Roman Empire. This did not happen because they had written a good mission statement.
They did not worry much about their own self-preservation; they worried about doing God’s will. They did not have fundraising or administration seminars. They knew that God’s Church could not be overcome because Jesus had promised that the very gates of hell could not overcome it (Matthew 13:18).
These early churches were like beehives in reverse. The members were constantly coming in and going out; but they came in to get renewed strength-from fellowship, prayer, and the Eucharist-in order to take the Word of God out to the world. The Church’s job was to preach Jesus Christ crucified, risen, and returning. Everything else – the ladies’ guild, the parish council, the food festival-was subservient to proclaiming the Good News of salvation.
Evangelism is not an activity of the church, it is her very existence. Whatever we may think ourselves to be a church is not truly a church unless it is proclaiming Jesus crucified and risen. Jesus has won the decisive victory on the cross, and He now sends out His church – spread across the world – to push back against the lies of Satan and his minions. We get to proclaim the victory of Jesus over death, sin and the devil! What a glorious calling. That is what we are to be about!
Chapter two: New Testament Evangelism
The word evangelism conjures up different images for different people, generally based on something they have experienced, even if that experience has only been shooing a Jehovah’s Witness from the door or avoiding a street-corner preacher. Our reaction to the concept of evangelism tends to be negative because of experiences like that, and because we don’t understand what evangelism is supposed to be. We may assume it must be some kind of religious dog-and-pony show designed to stir up someone’s emotions. Evangelism is primarily concerned with helping people find and take those spiritual first steps that lead into Christian faith and experience. The biblical witness can help us in our understanding of what evangelism should be.
Jesus’ evangelism was based on establishing relationships, discovering people’s needs, and speaking the truth directly, without compromise, but compassionately. In the Scripture we see how the Church made this model its own.
Good evangelism means being open to any encounter as a means of spreading the Gospel. It does not mean you have to speak in every situation, because it may not always be the appropriate time; but you should be prepared to respond if God gives you the opportunity.
The Greek word euaggelizo (“to evangelise”) means “to preach, to proclaim the good tidings, to tell the good news. In that sense, anyone who tells someone about Christ’s coming is evangelising. The angels did so at Christ’s birth when they proclaimed “good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).
He sent His Son into the creation He had made. Since we had lost the power to move toward the Father, the Son became man so that He could lead us back to the Father and reconcile us with Him. What better definition of Good News could you find? This story must be told.
This variety-within-unity approach should be helpful in dealing with the multicultural, deconstructionist kind of world today’s evangelism encounters. The early Christian evangelist knew his audience and varied his approach appropriately, taking the “pattern of sound words” (2 Timothy 1:13) and making them meaningful to those he was trying to convert.
The witness would not be just to Jesus’ fulfilment of the Old Testament; this would have been important when speaking to the Jews, but might not have been the clincher. The witness would also have been their personal testimony of their experience of these things and of His resurrection from the dead. They were to bear witness to what they had actually experienced, and God would give them the power to do so. The message was, “We have seen it, we believe it, and we proclaim it.” Successful evangelism must be rooted in what we believe and experience to be true. If we have no experience to share, we have nothing to speak about. And what if you were not part of that first group of believers who actually saw and heard the Lord during His ministry? Well, Stephen wasn’t, but he saw the Lord at his martyrdom. Paul did not see the Lord during his earthly life, but he did at his conversion. We can still encounter the Lord in the preaching of His Word and in the sharing of His sacraments; the experience of the risen Christ is available to us if we have the faith to enter into His Kingdom. For us, believing is seeing, and we can witness to the fact that the Truth has come to us as a Person.
Being ‘relevant’ is not found in adding guitars to worship, or putting on an evangelistic events that are ‘accessible’, fun, or ‘trendy’ (yes – I recognise that by using that word I have shown that I am indeed not that) – but rather relevancy is by being sensitive to the situation and beliefs of the person we are talking to. Being open to a conversation about world views, first understanding where they are, and then showing how the startling news of Jesus death and Resurrection defeats all of their worries, anxieties and misplaced beliefs.
Chapter three: Evangelism in the Early Church
To be continued…