Evangelism: The church's missionary task in the world (4) - Rev. J.L. Van Popta

Taken from the Clarion (1997) Vol.46, No 14-18

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1. The missing piece

In previous articles we concluded that there is a need for Reformed people to develop scriptural, confessional and church directed material for evangelistic outreach programs. The programs that we use are a good ground work, but should be molded and adapted to a more confessionally based and church directed format. We noted however, that there was one more missing piece. We need to attend to that before we do some evaluation of all these programs.

Where are the fathers in all this? No one attempts to reach the fathers, the men. We reach out to children. We contact mothers and women, even young people, but not men. We make no concerted effort to reach the leaders of households. We ignore the covenant heads of households. When we see the powerful movements of Promise Keepers and of Louis Farakan's Million Man March of Black Muslims going to Washington then we see that there is a tremendous hunger for spiritual nurture among the men, black or white or coloured in our society. Look at the appeal the Mormons have with their accent on family values. Hundreds of men are drawn in with their families. But the church says by its silence, "We have nothing to say to them. We cannot reach them. We cannot reach the fathers, the husbands the men of Burlington, or Hamilton, or St. Catherine's or Winnipeg or Carman or Coaldale or Ottawa. VBS? Sure! Coffee Break? Sure! But men? No, we cannot reach them!" And why not? I think because the men of the church are too busy with their own lives. Yes, many are hard at work trying to make a living. They are trying to pay for mortgages, and school fees and kids' braces. I also think, however, that they spend time watching Hockey Night in Canada or Monday Night Football. They are relaxing on the chesterfield, or taking in a ball game or playing a round of golf. The men of the church need to get involved also.

2. Men's Bible Study

What we need to do is develop a well rounded evangelism program. For the men perhaps a men's breakfast Bible Study and prayer meeting. I suggest that some men from the church all invite a friend from work, or the neighbourhood, or the golf course, or business and meet others for breakfast down at the local restaurant. Arrange to have ten breakfasts ready for 6:30 AM and meet together over eggs and toast and coffee with open Bibles. Let these men know what Christ can do for them and their lives. Teach them that there is hope in the world. Teach your neighbours the truth of the gospel. And don't say they won't come. If Farakan can get a Million Men to Washington, then you can get five down to Archie's cafe. And realize that ultimately it is not you who will bring them in but God working by His Holy Spirit and His Word.

3. Some suggestions

What can we do to make our many efforts work better? I do not propose that we get rid of them, but rather bring them into a Reformed, that is into a covenantal, confessional and church oriented context. But even that is not enough. John Calvin is called the theologian of the Holy Spirit. Though the Heidelberg Catechism has but one question and answer directly on the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit permeates the catechism from start to finish. The Reformed faith is the faith of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who works faith. It is the Holy Spirit that changes churches. It is the Holy Spirit that softens hearts and breaks down church doors and church walls (often from the inside out).

3.1. Prayer and the Holy Spirit

We need to pray, pray fervently, for the power of the Holy Spirit working in our congregations. We should not begin evangelistic attitudes of defeat as if we don't expect a harvest. (I wonder if your church has a bigger budget item for mowing the lawn and tending the flowers than it does for its evangelism programs. There is often more money for harvesting the grass than for harvesting the souls. The Lord Jesus says that the fields are white for harvest. "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few," the Lord Jesus says and we can add, "And the budgets are small.")

3.2. Integrated programs

We should tie VBS to Coffee Break. Not just for two weeks in the summer but there should be a year round program for the preschoolers. There should also be a Sunday school for the school age children. We could begin adult Sunday school for the mothers and fathers who attend coffee break and breakfast meetings. Of course this should not be during church services but before or after. Maybe we even need to change the time of our church services to accommodate Sunday School. We have church at 9:00 a.m. in Ottawa because we share facilities with our landlords. But many churches could have 9:00 a.m. church services and then have Sunday school for all sorts of people from 10:30 - 11:30,

Maybe serve a light lunch. Let the congregation befriend the people who come. Open up your hearts and homes to them. Open the Bible for them. Get them to read Reformed literature. Teach them the confessions and urge them to come to church. We can incorporate all of our outreach and evangelistic efforts if we are willing to give up a part of our Sunday even if we need to get up a little earlier.

3.3. The welcoming church

It is often easier to inspire the church to send missionaries overseas than to welcome our neighbours into our lives. But the New Testament church must be a welcoming church. The church between Easter and Pentecost was a fearful church. With the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost the church became a bold and fearless church. They worshiped and prayed in their homes. Thousands came in by the overpowering work of the Holy Spirit and the members welcomed them all. Are you prepared to welcome sinners into the church? Are you prepared to welcome strangers into church? Will you be the one who extends the hand of fellowship to a newcomer?

I want to end with a few true stories.

A woman I know was somewhere in Canada, west of Ottawa. (Every Canadian church in our federation is west of Ottawa). She went to one of our large churches. She was visiting her elderly and invalid mother who, with her other relatives, was a member of another Reformed federation. On Sunday she went to the Canadian Reformed Church. She slipped into church just before the service started, without a Book of Praise or Bible expecting to find some in the pew. She did not. There were no greeters or ushers. She could have been anybody. She stands about 5 foot 2 and (being in her 60's) is silver- haired. Perhaps a widow from down the street, for all anybody knew. After church she waited in the foyer for the one person she knew in the congregation. 300-400 people walked past her and nobody greeted her! That is not a church that can say it is oriented to a European contemplative, worshipful and majestic attitude.' It is not a church which desires to reject American activist Christianity. It is a church that has forgotten how to welcome strangers.

An other anecdote. A young woman becomes a Christian at university. She becomes a member of a Reformed church. She marries a Reformed young man. They raise a family. She attends Bible study faithfully. She works hard for the Ladies' Auxiliary. Then at a Canadian Reformed congregational meeting she suggests that perhaps the church lacks evangelistic zeal. Another woman is overheard saying, "What can you expect from an outsider!" Even members who come from the CRC are often known as such - Outsiders! Or as many have been heard to say, "Oh well, what do you expect? They're Canadians." Well, so am l! A church that speaks this way is not a welcoming church. It is a church that needs to consider and reflect on the grace of God. Paul I writes that Jesus Christ breaks down the dividing wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile. The Lord is also able to break it down between those born Canadian Reformed and those who were not. Who are we to build it up?

3.4. The welcoming Christian

When we bring the gospel to our friends and acquaintances in the world we also need to be welcoming on an individual basis. We need to have compassion. We need to learn to accept people where they are at. The young man with tattoos and earrings needs to feel welcomed, not judged. When you speak with him, however, you need to do so with confidence. That means that you need to engage in personal Bible study and meditation praying for the grace and the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. You need to be prepared to be a constant friend. Constancy in all sorts of situations, ready to be a friend all the time. This is perhaps the hardest as those whom we evangelize often fall and stumble on the way.

4. Where do we go from here?

Where do we go from here? I think that each and everyone of us has a duty to shine like stars in a dark universe, like the lights in the cosmos2 That means that we must engage the world with a lifestyle evangelism, in the church and outside. We must not buttonhole people with the gospel but rather befriend the people of the world with the stated intent of bringing them to knowledge of the gospel. They need you as a Christian presence in their lives. So then let us as a church community reach out with the gospel to those around us. Individually, corporately, and as church. But each of us must do that in a lifestyle and friendship evangelism that never compromises the truth of Scripture but rather confronts those in the world around us with the demand and promise of the gospel. We need to proclaim the truth to those whom we befriend. "Repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved." And we must be willing to receive sinners into the church. Christ Jesus did and so must we. He took me in, accepted me. (I pray, "Lord, do not remember the sins of my youth.") As sinners come to hear the gospel we must persuade them of the truth as we welcome them.

As someone in the discussion in Coaldale pointed out, "We must love God above all and our neighbour as ourselves." Evangelism must be motivated by our love for God who is to be worshiped by all, and by our love for our neighbour, lest he by our silence and uncaring attitude be condemned eternally.

5. Summary

Here is a helpful way to remember the things we have discussed in these four articles:

  • Three C's --------- Church (official), Committee (group), Christians (individuals).
  • Three more C's ---- Confession (basis), Church (direction), Covenant (theology).
  • And then three P's----------- Presence, Proclamation, Persuasion.
  • And then three more C's - Compassion, Confidence, and Constancy.

6. Conclusion

Develop an open, prayerful, welcoming, friendship and lifestyle evangelism depending on the power of the Holy Spirit and Christ's life transforming Word. Have a Christian presence in your neighbour's life; proclaim and persuade him with the good news of Jesus Christ. Be a willing instrument of Christ who by the outward voice brings sinners to faith and into his church and God's covenant. Do so with compassion, confidence and constancy. Your neighbour down the street, or on the job, in the university cafeteria, or in the office car pool may one day thank God you did.

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This was Part 4 of a series of 4 articles