Gospel and Culture: Evangelizing Like Jesus

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Gospel and Culture:

Evangelizing Like Jesus

This is a topic I've posted on before, so there's not much new in this post either. Just a regurgitation after a little more digestion on the topic.

Many of us find ourselves being caught either in one of two camps, or else somewhere in between: the fundamentalists (a.k.a. "fundies" or "fighting fundies") and the liberals ("libs"). Neither one really believe in biblical evangelism.

The "fundies" are definitely born again, having seen the grace of Jesus Christ in their lives and have a holy desire to flee from and be free from sin. However, it is reflected in non-Christlike ways. They believe in circling the wagons, maintaining the established theological order, and if lost people want to get saved, then get them in the doors of the church building and let them follow the prescribed means of grace, e.g. walking an aisle, throwing a pine cone in the fire at church camp, cutting their hair (if you're a male), wearing hose and dresses (if you're a female), using a KJV, keeping the nursery til you're in the "in" crowd, and always showing up for Tuesday night visitation. Evangelism takes place primarily in the confines of the church building, and even bus visitation is about picking up kids and teens to bring them back to the church grounds. Winning the lost is centered on a facility, a building, a compound where the saved huddle together on Sundays and Wednesdays and keep away from the world during the week. Weeknights are spent without television, away from malls and movies and bars, and occasioning the family-oriented, non-alcohol-serving restaurants, while weekends are spent grouping together farming, making apple-butter, sewing, making crafts, or reading. If I sound a bit harsh, it's an oversimplification...well...maybe not completely.

Then there's the "libs"...the ones who believe in a social-gospel. Jesus Christ is largely insignificant, except insofar that he was a great teacher who taught us and showed us a way to end poverty, save the environment, and be as good as we can be. There is no sin, so there is nothing from which to be saved. Consequently, there is no need for evangelism and so no one is really brought to Jesus.

In both extremes there is no Christlike evangelism taking place, is there? The one huddles around Jesus as if He were a football, and they guard it jealously and don't want others to play with it. The other kicks him out of the stadium and says, let's all just play whatever we want on the field and try and get along. But what does the Bible say about Jesus?

He hung out with sinners...plain and simple. He hung out with drunks, but didn't get drunk. He hung out with prostitutes, but never had sex with them. He hung out with tax collectors, but never cheated anyone. He hung out with sailors, but didn't cuss with them. He hung out with demon-possessed people, but never became possessed himself. He hung out with thugs, but never engaged in thuggery. He hung out with a rough crowd indeed. Yet He always remained the meek and gentle Savior of Matt. 11:28-30.

So why then has Christianity created subcultures around itself - in the form of "fundies" and "libs" - so that it is so ineffective at leading such people in their cultures to Him? Most evangelicals lean towards fundamentalism, believing the right things, and huddling around the right truths, professing the same Jesus. Why then are they so afraid to have unsaved friends? Why are they afraid to have the unsaved neighbors over to the house to talk over a few beers and steaks? Why are they afraid to hang out at the bar with the express purpose of proclaiming the gospel at every opportunity? Why are they afraid to hang out where the prostitutes are with the single focus of being a means to deliver them out of that lifestyle? Why are they afraid to hang out around the drug-reigned slums in order to rescue those whom God has elected?

By and large it's simple. And in its simplicity it's good and bad. The good is that we are afraid of sin. We are afraid of being effected by it. We don't want any part of it. That's good. No...that's awesome! I don't want any part of it. However, that's where the bad comes in. Because sinners sin, we are afraid of sinners. That's it in a nutshell. For some, we are afraid that if we hang around sinners, we might sin. For most others, however, we are just plain afraid of them...period. We don't know how to act around them. We may feel so separated from sin that we don't know how to act around sinners.

And herein lies the catch. Those who afraid of sinners because of the separation they feel from sin may be wading in a slough of self-righteousness. When we feel so separated from sin that we feel "icky" and wierd when we're around sinners, it's time to do a self-righteousness check. I think our inability to keep in touch with our self-righteousness, our sinfulness, our depravity, is probably the primary reason why it's so hard to relate to sinners. When I forget what my own sin is like, I feel uncomfortable with others' sin. When I lose touch with my own depraved heart, I'll probably elevate myself to a status above other sinners so that I'm afraid to be around them.

The truth is the matter is that most of us are Pharisees at heart, aren't we? This is just how they lived. They were swallowed up with their self-righteousness to the degree that their desire to be separated from sin meant separating themselves from sinners. And if any sinner wanted to be a part of God, then they had to follow certain prescribed means to get in on it. And even then, they would be looked down upon and never measure up.

Self-righteousness taints everything we see, taste, feel, touch, hear, and sense in general. If we make this our number one enemy, a fear of lost people will virtually vanish. We will see ourselves in them, our sin in their homes and marriages and parenting. We will see our cravings and lusts in their lives. We will sense our greed in their vocations. We will sense our own restlessness in their pursuits. When this is my aim in sanctification, I see me when I look at them. And because I know what Jesus did for me - crucifying my righteousness and giving me His - I am motivated to share that with them and I can do so in a way that relates to them. They know I'm just like them, except I've got a Savior. And they sense my love for them and want to investigate Him more.

In the end, I believe the key to breaking free of our evangelistic fears, whatever they may be, is the searching out and destroying of self-righteousness wherever it lurks. The Pharisee within must be destroyed. Then and only then will I see sinners as God saw me, and as I see me everyday. Then I will sense that I am one of them and I want to make them one of me. Let us crush the fear produced self-righteousness and break out of the walls of fundamentalism and liberalism in order to evangelism like Jesus did - hanging out with sinners where they hang out without sinning with them in order to save them from their sin.

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