Evangelism or Witness? 2: WHY OUR CHARACTER MATTERS

If “witness” is the mode of the church’s proclamation of the gospel, then “the kinds of people” we are as Christians becomes central to the Mission of the church. We can no longer consider our character incidental to the gospel of Christ. Once we realize the gospel must be embodied in order to be proclaimed (a.k.a. witness), we can no longer consider discipleship an option. We therefore, as pastors, must shepherd communities for the growth of Christian character as opposed to leading organizations geared for the growth of other kinds.

I’ve been ruminating about this for a few weeks because I am in the middle of a writing project that describes how “the kinds of people we are” is absolutely essential for our witness. More than anything else (I argue), it is the kind of character we exhibit in our lives in everyday life before the hurting, downtrodden and lost that God shall inhabit to spread the good news. This is more than individual character; it is the character we exhibit as a people together and in the world.

If this is true, pastors must guide their churches differently. For our focus can not be lazered upon organizing for numbers, the production of “decisions for Christ,” programs to entertain children in the hopes they will want to be Christians because its cool. Instead, we must organize with the purpose of discipleship, spiritual formation into Christ. For it will be out of this that His Mission shall flow with such integrity it cannot be stopped. And we will not have the time or concern to count numbers and/or decisions.

We therefore must order our churches to be communities of formation. Worship must be ordered more for shaping the soul into Christ and His Mission, not for emotional stimulation. We must organize communities for the practices of knowing one another, speaking truth in love, supporting one another, confession, truth and honesty, the sharing of the gifts all for the growing in the stature of Christ (Eph 4:15). This cannot be done on large scale (I consider the whole of Eph 4, 5 to be read organically as an order for a community about the size of 50 people). And it cannot be accomplished instantaneously (See Todd Hiestand’s piece here on Tim Keel). Yet the flow into true mission will be enormous over time.

A footnote in Guder’s The Continuing Conversion of the Church (p. 53) outlines the case NT scholar E. G. Selwyn makes for asserting MARTURIA (WITNESS) over KERYGMA (preaching) as the indispensable core of the NT Christian message. I was shocked to see how the number of occurrences of the use of MARTURIA in the NT outnumbers KERYGMA 6 to 1. Guder says MARTURIA “serves as an overarching term drawing together proclamation (KERYGMA), community (KOINONIA) and service (DIAKONIA).”(p. 53) Guder argues this defines the NT Spirit-enabled witness for which the church is called and sent.

If all of this is true, we in the ministry have the basis upon which to change the way we talk about, teach and guide what has been called evangelism in our churches. We must shift from evangelism to witness, from packaged truths to incarnational witness, from cognitive techniques to interpersonal engagement, from the attractional church of individual consumers, to missional communities of discipleship and witness.

In my upcoming book project, These Kinds of People: Evangelical Fundamentalism and the Moral Life – What Have We Become? Where Do we Go From Here? I describe how the current image of evangelicals in N America is brutal. I describe how it has destroyed our witness. I ask how this could have happened. I describe how our doctrine and practice could have predicted this. I describe how the way we look at the Bible, the way we understand church and culture, and the way we define salvation all have contributed to producing a people whose corporate character stands largely impotent to impact our culture. To me this is why witness is important. Evangelism, as construed in the West, allowed for separating character from the message, for separating what we say from who we are. For it focused on a detached message that could be packaged, argued for and presented on HD Plasma Screens in large stadiums. In the process we lost discipleship. And now I fear we’ve lost our witness.Do you think the way we articulated evangelism in the American church has allowed for the diminishment of discipleship?______________________I’ll be on the radio (WMBI) with Scott McKnight talking about the REVEAL report Thursday 7:30 a.m. CT . If you’re interested check out what Scot says here, and what Bill says here.

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