We are called to witness not evangelise
Careful!! I am not saying do not evangelise, but I am challenging the core of what we are called to be. I also promised to write a little tersely so do not want to nuance what I write too much. I do write though with a conviction that we are first called to be witnesses, and in particular witnesses to another world, or maybe we could say to the true calling of this world. Summed up in 2 Corinthians 5: 16-19 (emphasis added):
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.
Good verses to read while also looking in a mirror… Everything is new, not will become new, and not simply the born again person has become a ‘new creature’ but there is a whole new creation. What a challenge to live bearing witness to the new creation. Talk about a tension that affects all of life. We often say, for example, ‘money is rubbish’ yet we, like our neighbours buy our food, pay our bills through the rubbish that money is. How do we live having to use it, but to live in such a way that we bear witness to a different world?
Evangelism is challenging. When to say something, and how many times have we all kicked ourselves afterwards when we missed an opportunity. Yet evangelism can become an excuse not to live the life of witness, and even worse it can treat people as objects, thus effectively demonising the image of God. Evangelism in the sense of sharing the realities of sin, Jesus death on the cross, forgiveness etc. fits into the context of witnessing, but witnessing cannot be reduced to evangelism. It is a much bigger concept, and a much more demanding one. Come follow me as I follow Christ is much more demanding than ‘do not look at me but let me tell you the facts I have distilled from the Bible’.
The need for witnesses of the new creation is so needed, and if we took it more seriously would affect so much of what is taught and practised.
The body of Christ as royal priesthood
This has been a strong theme for us over the past few years but I do not apologise for the repetition. Losing sight of this is what caused Israel to lose her way, and is probably behind what gave rise to the synagogue life. In Babylonic exile because of sin can both be seen as a punishment and an opportunity. The opportunity being to live in the context of alienship within a strange land, but deeply connected to that strange land to help it move forward.
I grew up with only a pejorative understanding of the word ‘world’. It was not simply fallen but essentially evil and to be avoided. However, reading the Gospels it is evident that Jesus embraced that world. His work in Israel was both to bear the sin of Israel and to get the calling of the redeemed people back on track, restoring ‘witness to the nations’ as royal priesthood.
There are two ways in which a community of people, or a defined society / group can be seen. They can be seen as a community that is shaped by a concept of being there for one another. That clearly is an emphasis in Scripture concerning the church. Some 30 or so times we read in the Pauline letters the phrase ‘one another’ (love, encourage, rebuke, care for etc.). The other way of understanding a defined group is that their core raison d’être is as a movement. A movement is not in existence primarily for one another, but is motivated with a vision for the society beyond the movement, the society of which they are a part. MLK’s ‘I have a dream’ speech is a very clear articulation of a movement’s inner core. The dream is not that the Civil Rights movement will pat each other on the back but that they will catalyse a future day that is in line with the movement’s core convictions. A movement lives and acts to see the wider community transformed, and once the vision is fulfilled the movement no longer has a reason to exist. Community in the sense of being there for one another is present within Scripture but is subsidiary to that of movement. Israel was a community but had a calling that gave their ‘one another’ element a context. They were not to be a ‘I’ll pat you on the back’ kind of people but were to carry the Creator’s image into the whole world. The idea that an embassy in Jerusalem is fulfilling prophecy seems so sadly missing the point of prophecy… embassies of heaven in every locality, not found in a building with a plaque on the wall but living stones thorough whom the presence and values of Christ are shown. Buildings might be present but the real issue is the spiritual building fit for God’s presence.
If we grasp the royal priesthood call of God’s-through-redemption-people we will see that God has commissioned such a people to impact the world of God’s-through-creation-people. God is not coming to condemn the world but to redeem the world, the church and all that is in it is not the sum total of God’s belongings, the Scriptures pronounce that the earth and all its fullness is God’s.
God is at work in the church so that he can be at work in the world. This was the call of Israel all along as a special chosen people, chosen to be uniquely aligned with God so that the world might come into her destiny, so that the nations (Gentiles, not ‘nations’ in the narrow and modern sense of nation-state) might live out their destiny. We have to work out what means, the same as ancient Israel was to work it out. Were the nations to become subsumed under Israel, were they to live out all the same laws, even the ones that instructed them to avoid mixing the materials that their clothes were made from! Likewise we have to work it out, and I don’t think the direction is toward a ‘Christian nation’, but to enabling a nation to fulfil her destiny. Destiny seems always to be defined by something outward, hence a nation reaching her destiny can only be measured by the level to which they serve others, others outside its borders and all others within its borders.
The church in the land then has to serve in such a way as to limit the influence of the dominant principalities that resist the true destiny of a nation manifesting. In that sense the church will never make a good state religion! But is there to enable the nation to serve and facilitate values that are Jesus-values.
We could also write that God is involved in the world and there are areas where the church has to get her skates on and catch up, and in catching up get on board with some Jesus-values also.