Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Great Commission

In my earlier post on evangelism, I complained about the brute-force tactics of evangelization by apologetics. I tend to have a rather strained relationship with evangelism anyway, and not just because I'm Lutheran. It's something I struggle with on multiple levels.

I touched on this in the comments on the other post, but it seemed worth dwelling on a little more. The Great Commission tels us, "Go and make disciples of all nations." We're not called to make "believers" but rather students. I think the model of a Christian and a Jew having lunch and discussing the teachings of their religions is a better model of discipleship than a guy in the public square handing out evanglism tracts.

But how convenient that it's also something that I'm more comfortable with. Am I turning a blind eye to something? Certainly what I've described isn't what we find in the book of Acts. And I do think that there's a place for missionary work.

It's been noted that North America and Europe are mission fields. But what methods apply? How do you share the gospel with people who already share your cultural history, who have not only heard that Jesus died for theirs sins but have also seen the works, both good and bad, of his followers?


P.S. (an after-thought) said...

In a study of Acts some years ago, I was taught that we are told to "tell people" about Jesus. That is our job. We are not responsible for converting people. This is a freeing message! I think it leads away from the type of "evangelism" you mentioned in the other posting.

We certainly are NOT to keep the Good News to ourselves, see I Peter 3:15.

I recently read a book I haven't had time to blog about. I was inpressed by the concept explained in the book, that the job of the church is to make disciples, not to "make members." This would mean a difference emphasis in how we treat our members and potential new members and visitors. See Power Surge. I hope this link works.

P.S. (an after-thought) said...

I see that the link didn't work. So go to and put in Power Surge by Foss, a Lutheran pastor in a suburb of Minneapolis.

I had hoped to blog about this and see how people have reacted to this concept if it has been tried where they have attended.

In any case, we need to get far away from the model of the pastor pastoring the flock that is already prepared for him/her. There are more unchurched people in our communities than those who have a connection with God's church.

LutherPunk said...

Evangelism is a bit tricky. I read in an article recently (I don't recall where) that there are to models for evangelism: actively "witnessing" and living the faith through deeds. It seems to be a false dichotomy.

I like to think of evangelism in terms of reconciliation. In Christ, God is reconciling the world to Himself. Our "task" as Christians is be ambassadors of that reconciliation. It can take a number of different forms, depending on the circumstance. I have "done" evangelism in bars and coffee shops and shows and tattoo shops, not going there intentionally to do that, but by having conversations with folks. I think this is much more reliable than simply handing out "Gospel" tracts.

Andy said...

Actually, p.s., the link worked for me when I pasted it in my browser.

Mike Foss was a former pastor at a church I used to go -- that is, he left before I arrived. He was legendary there. They joke that people came to church to hear him more than to worship.

I haven't read the book, but I'll put it on my list.

BruceA said...

Something I've been noticing a lot lately in the gospels is how Jesus spoke of faith in terms of actions, not beliefs.

The Good Samaritan did what was right, even if he still held heretical Samaritan beliefs.

Jesus told Zacchaeus he had received salvation after Zacchaeus offered to pay back fourfold for any fraud he had committed.

Jesus's conversation with Nicodemus ends with the promise, "Those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God." Not those who believe what is true, but those who do what is true.

Maybe the best evangelism is to follow the words attributed to Francis of Assisi, "Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary."

David said...

I agree that in the Great Commission we are called to make students (disciples), but what do you do with the other half of that verse, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, Holy Spirit? Such action would initiate them into the church would it not (effectivly making them Christians)?

Andy said...


I absolutely agree that we want to bring people into the Church through baptism. One of the brilliant things accomplished by retaining infant baptism (although undermined by confirmation) is that the emphasis on baptism as a beginning, not a graduation, is clear. And, of course, the command to baptize is only the middle of the commission and is followed immediately by "teaching them to obey..." (in line with what Bruce is saying). But you're right in pointing to the importance of baptism.

Tom in Ontario said...

I think the whole idea of evangelizing by being nice helpful loving people is a Lutheran copout. The St. Francis quote ("use words if necessary") is way overused.

I agree that coming on too strong, beating someone upside the head with a Bible, just handing out a tract and running, is not likely to work. Now I'm pretty liberal, all for social justice initiatives, etc. but we've got to TELL people about the love of God in Jesus that has changed our lives.

Now it takes relationships to be able to go about proclaiming the gospel. But why would anyone want to keep such good news from their friends, neighbours, even family? We've got to tell people the good news. It's life changing and I'd hope we'd want everyone to experience the life changing love of God. It's not going to happen very effectively by osmosis.

BruceA said...

I think the whole idea of evangelizing by being nice helpful loving people is a Lutheran copout. The St. Francis quote ("use words if necessary") is way overused.

Just to clarify: In using the St. Francis quote, I'm not saying we should just "be nice loving helpful people." That's not the gospel. I'm saying we should put our beliefs into practice. Like Jesus said, "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hid." If Christians were better at putting our faith into practice in everyday life, people would notice. If we took the demands of the gospel seriously, then even those of us who are not gifted evangelists would have an effect on the people around us.

Yes, the St. Francis quote is overused, and misused, if it is used as an excuse not to follow Christ's call.

Chris Sagsveen said...

Excellent topic as well as many others I've read through on your blog. The topic of Free Will was especially interesting.

My church is currently reading/promoting Real Faith by Pastor Foss on the Six Marks of Discipleship and it too is a great book.