Mixed Berry Tart, Joe Christian as Evangelist and Missionary, Wild Rabbit Stew
Needed a think some days ago, so made a mixed berry tart to allow all the stuff swirling in my head the opportunity to settle down and get organised. Had been doing quite a bit of reading on the Heresy Of The Month and argued variously with Associates and Staff Workers alike, many of whom thought me quite the heretic. Some said i was making a fuss merely to avoid God-given responsibilities or getting knickers into twists for useless academic reasons that were far removed from practical reality.
Thought none of this quite valid though. Finally had a good old chat with the long-suffering Tutor about my concerns. The total smack-down i expected didn’t come and he instead agreed with me, with gentle smack-arounds of caveats and corrections (both hermeneutical and pastoral) of course.
The query was this: is there an explicit biblical imperative for all people to do evangelism and/or mission? After all, we’ve all been on the receiving end of many a sermon or bible study that has laid the guilt on us for not telling our family and friends about Jesus.
Well, there isn’t any explicit imperative for every Christian to do so:
- Many proof-texts used to rouse the masses were primarily applicable to the 11 (and later 12 (with the replacement of Judas) + 1 (Paul)) apostles, for example Mark 16:14-20 (also, this section wasn’t in the earliest manuscripts), Luke 24:44-49, John 20:21, Acts 1:8, and most famously, Matthew 28:19-20:
Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
(The Tutor thought that if these passages had to be applicable today, they would be to the church as a whole since the 12 disciples were meant to represent the whole people of God – the number “12” recalling the 12 tribes of Israel.)
- It was the apostles who talked about bringing the gospel to people who did not know God, as themselves as ambassadors for Christ, and frequently asked for prayers for themselves to continue to preach God’s word with all boldness (Acts 4:29-30, Acts 9:19-43, Romans 15:18-21, 2 Corinthians 5:18-6:1, 2 Corinthians 10:14-16?, Ephesians 6:18-20, Colossians 1:25-28, Colossians 4:3-4, 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2).
- There was a specific group of people called “the evangelists” in Paul’s list in Ephesians 4:11-12, alongside the apostles, prophets, shepherds, and teachers, who were to equip the saints for the work of ministry. See also Philip the evangelist (Acts 21:8) and possibly Epaphras (Colossians 1:5). (It is uncertain what an “evangelist” meant in New Testamental times; the word just means “gospeller”. We must certainly not import our modern definitions into the first century.)
- Timothy was asked to the work of an evangelist (2 Timothy 4:5).
- No where does Scripture explicitly require individuals other than these to do the work of evangelism or mission.
What is explicit and/or clear, though, is this:
- God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
- Christians must ensure that they are good “witnesses” of the gospel and that their conduct does not hinder people from deciding to trust in Christ (“Give no offence to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.” (1 Corinthians 10:32-33); “If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds?” (1 Corinthians 14:23); “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).)
- We know that at least one church, the one in Thessalonica, proclaimed the gospel to those who had yet to hear it (1 Thessalonians 1:8).
- Romans 10 says: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!””
So it would seem that one of the main missions of the church would be to proclaim the gospel to those who are not yet saved. But there does not seem to be any basis for us to burden each individual to do so. God gave different gifts to the church (1 Corinthians 12).
However, one has to be careful not to (i) overstate the case (eg. by saying that no one should do so except for certain people who have been so gifted, nor that others not so gifted should not be assisting (in accord with proper behaviour and with their own gifts) in evangelism and mission); nor (ii) introduce false dichotomies in exegesis (eg. either specific to apostles only or applicable to all; either prescriptive or descriptive).
The ex-Principal said he thought that speaking the gospel would come from the overflow of the heart, citing John 7:38. We weren’t sure that John 7:38 definitely alluded to that, though any cursory observer of human nature could easily conclude that we speak most about things that are most important to us and occupy our thoughts. That’s not quite an imperative though.
To allow time to think further, proceeded to stew a wild rabbit in red wine. These free-range bunnies are cheap environmentally-friendly protein and with the recession on in the United Kingdom, might possibly be becoming just as popular as a nutritious thrifty food as they were during World War II. Unfortunately, the housemates were less than enthusiastic, likening the skinned carcass to an alien baby.