Considering “Friendship Evangelism”: Answers

This blog post was originally posted on Facebook as a note.

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Now I am revealing my own opinion to my own questions.

Once again, here is the quote we are considering, which was originally provided by my friend, Pat McCoy:

Friendship evangelism that doesn’t seek a way to quickly tell people about their eternal fate is the ultimate betrayal of trust. (“The Way of the Master”)

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Is it really betrayal at all for a believing friend not to tell a non-believing friend about life after death?
I suppose it depends on your point of view. I agree that, in a sense, it is a betrayal on our own part for not communicating something as important as life after death. But in my opinion, it seems that the friend may not have placed trust in you regarding spiritual matters, so that, since there is no foundation of trust regarding this topic, there can be no betrayal. However, it is possible to view it as a betrayal of one’s own commitment as a Christian, so that it is a betrayal of God. The Church has been called to evangelism. Failure to participate in this task could legitimately be seen as a betrayal. But what is evangelism, what are its methods or means, and what is its purpose?

What is the point of evangelism? Is it to tell people about life after death? Or is it to tell people about the present life? Or is it both?
Evangelism is not about life after death. The afterlife (in general, this term in this Facebook note means anything that happens after death) is a reason for evangelism, but it isn’t primarily the good news itself. The afterlife is one leading factor that makes evangelism so important. Evangelism, rather, is about what God has done in and through Christ and humanity’s behalf, so that people can have life now in the present to the fullest. A result of such a saved condition is life with God in the afterlife. So, in a sense, the point of evangelism is first and foremost about the present life, but it is also about life after death. The problem, as I see it, is that we have forgotten about the present life and we have made evangelism into something that is primarily or solely concerned with life after death. For example, the instruction for one to properly evangelize by quickly informing non-believing friends that they are headed to hell. As I see it, that sort of thing is not evangelism. What kind of good news is that information?

What are the means of evangelism? Is there such thing as “friendship evangelism”? Is there a way to evangelize without explicitly communicating with words?
As I see it, there are many means for evangelism. The spoken word is obviously one way, but it is not the only way for evangelizing. I believe that one’s own life, from one’s own actions and words to one’s own beliefs and customs to one’s own attire and adornment, can have an evangelistic purpose and effect. As a result, I can accept the concept of “friendship evangelism,” which is, in my own words, befriending non-Christians in an effort to lead them to faith in Christ. This form of evangelism may or may not lead to an explicit, spoken communication. It is at least conceivable that someone might be attempting to evangelize a friend by simply living out his or her life and allowing that life to be a telling contrast to the life of the non-believer. This conceivable method is quite passive, but nonetheless it is evangelism: with or without words, it points the non-believer to Christ, albeit in an indirect way, and it directs the non-believer to a lifestyle that is pleasing to God. I am not advocating “friendship evangelism,” but I am at least arguing the conceivable; nor am I advocating an evangelism without words necessarily, but I am at least stating that it is one way of legitimately evangelizing. But are Christians required to perform evangelism in any specific way?

What is the biblical support for the activity of evangelism and its means?
Summary:

  • the Church as a group has been charged with the task of evangelism
  • evangelism is a gift that is given to some, but not all
  • evangelism was focused on the resurrected Christ; it was focused on discipleship, forgiveness, and repentance in this life
  • evangelism could be thwarted by the Holy Spirit
  • evangelism could be done in public or in private, but it most often was done through oral communication, though there is a sense in which one’s own actions serve an evangelistic purpose

Obviously, in Acts there are several speeches that preach the good news of Jesus Christ, and many believed as a result. This act of public proclamation is a verbal means for evangelism. But, we must ask, was it required of everyone in the Church? Additionally, there is the great commission, in which the Church is called to go out into the world making disciples and baptizing in the name of Jesus Christ, as it is in Matthew. This task belongs to the group, which we know is the Church. Yes, it is up to individuals within the Church to carry it out, but, technically speaking, it is the group that has been charged. In Mark, the similar command is also given to the group, not to individuals. In fact, no where in the New Testament is this command: “Each and every one of you must go out into the world and evangelize.” In Acts, they publicly preached in the temple and privately at home (5:42). But, many who believed went out proclaiming the good news of Jesus (Acts 8:4). When someone did convert, baptism could follow, as in Acts 8:12. Several key early church figures teamed up to spread the gospel, such as Peter and John (see Acts 8:25) or Paul and Barnabas (see Acts 15:35). At times, the Holy Spirit could prohibit the gospel from being spread, which is what happened to Paul in Acts 16:6. The good news itself was about the resurrected Jesus (Acts 17:18). It was Paul’s own mission to spread out into the world where Christ had not yet been preached (Romans 15:20). According to Ephesians 4, evangelism (more specifically, “the evangelist”) is a gift provided to some, but not all, in the Church (v. 11). Perhaps Ephesians 6:15 is a command to proclaim the gospel (the act of evangelism), but it is not certain. It could be translated in this way, which is not clear: “and putting on the feet with a readiness of the gospel of peace.” Is it “of the gospel” or is it “for proclaiming the gospel”? The former bears the idea of allowing the gospel of peace to protect one’s feet; the latter bears the idea of running into opportunities for proclaiming the gospel. It is my view that it is the former: our readiness to stand against the wiles of the devil comes from the content of the gospel, so that the peace proclaimed by Christ makes us ready to stand. Finally, note in Ephesians that the Church is responsible for revealing God’s diverse wisdom to the world (3:10); furthermore, the Church was created so that it would complete the good works that God has predestined it to do (2:8-10). Ephesians 4-6 describe how the Church is to fulfill those tasks. It is important to realize that the Church performs good works not only because God predestined it but also because those works are in themselves a declaration to the world. In this sense, the Church’s actions are a sort of evangelism, even though no oral communication is involved. Indeed, as Christ put it, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16). This concept is found also in 1 Peter 2:12: “Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, . . . , they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.”

Based on this information, it appears that the Church is required to evangelize, and while it is dependent upon individuals to carry out that task, the biblical evidence suggests that not every Christian is required to evangelize. Furthermore, it is part of the biblical evidence that the Holy Spirit can even keep evangelism from happening. People who specialize in evangelism seem to have a gift, and this is a gift meant for the edification of the Church, but it is Christ who supplies this gift through the Holy Spirit. However, this gift is not given to everyone in the Church. Yet, those who became Christians helped to spread the gospel by word of mouth, not only by their actions, but especially through oral communication, so that, through their doubtless excitement they spread the good news of the resurrected Christ throughout the Roman Empire very rapidly.

How did the early church perform evangelism, and what was the point of evangelism in the early church?
Here I rely on the work of Michael Green’s book, Evangelism in the Early Church; I will make summary statements from his book to paint a picture of what evangelism looked like in the early church. I have already begun to paint a picture based on the New Testament, which is to paint a picture of the early church. The value of Green’s book is that it goes beyond the New Testament to include evidence found in the few centuries that follow the period of the apostles.

In the early church, evangelism was done through various means, such as, but not limited to, preaching in synagogue, preaching in public, prophetic preaching, teaching, personal testimony, personal lifestyle especially in the home and the decoration of the home, household gatherings, personal counseling, literary works, and discussion of Scripture (the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint; for a thorough discussion of the means of evangelism, see chapter 9).

The content of evangelism in the early church was the resurrected Christ. To the Jews, they would proclaim that in Jesus who is the eagerly awaited Messiah all of the promises of the Scriptures are fulfilled (for a thorough discussion of the approach to the Jews, see chapter 4). To the Gentiles, they would proclaim the gospel in various ways, being able to adapt it or translate it, so to speak, to the concepts that the Gentiles already understood (for a thorough discussion of the approach to the Gentiles, see chapter 5).

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Green rightly points out the three leading factors for evangelism in the early church, which are as follows: first, a sense of gratitude; second, a sense of responsibility; and finally, a sense of concern. The early church was thankful for what God had done in their lives and they wanted to share that good news with others. But they also believed that God had given them a responsibility, so that, in conjunction with their gratitude, they were expected to spread the good news. In addition, they knew that the stakes were high: Jesus came for those who are hurting, those who are suffering, and those who are a mess; Jesus came to give abundant life to them; and Jesus came to provide life both now and after death. The early church was concerned for the spiritual well-being of the unbelievers. These three factors had such an impression that the early church consistently spread the good news all throughout the Roman Empire, so much so that it grew leaps and bounds in a relatively short amount of time (for a thorough discussion of the reasons for evangelism, see chapter 8).

So, what can we conclude?

Other posts in this three part mini series: Questions, and Conclusion.

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