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Archive for the ‘Evangelism’ Category

Before commissioning the church with the task of evangelism (making disciples, baptizing, and teaching), Christ first gave these interesting (and assuring) words:  “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Mat. 28.18b).  John Calvin comments quite helpfully:

Before relating that the office of teaching was committed to the disciples, Matthew says that Christ began by speaking of his power; and not without reason. For no ordinary authority would here have been enough, but sovereign and truly divine government ought to be possessed by him who commands them to promise eternal life in his [name] to reduce the whole world under his sway, and to publish a doctrine which subdues all pride, and lays prostrate the whole of the human race. And by this preface Christ not only encouraged the Apostles to full confidence in the discharge of their office, but confirmed the faith of his gospel in all ages. Never, certainly, would the Apostles have had sufficient confidence to undertake so arduous an office, if they had not known that their Protector sitteth in heaven, and that the highest authority is given to him; for without such a support it would have been impossible for them to make any progress. But when they learn that he to whom they owe their services is the Governor of heaven and earth, this alone was abundantly sufficient for preparing them to rise superior to all opposition. As regards the hearers, if the contemptible appearance of those who preach the gospel weakens or retards their faith, let them learn to raise their eyes to the Master himself, by whose power the majesty of the Gospel ought to be estimated, and then they will not venture to despise him when speaking by his ministers. – Calvin’s Commentaries: Harmony of the Evangelists.

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So I’ve been thinking about how the gospel of grace strikes the mind of fallen man as so foreign that it often will sound absurd and foolish.  Even as a Christian, to my own mind, it sometimes sounds absurd and crazy. It is utterly anti-intuitive to our natural selves. One might object and say “this emphasis on the foolishness of the gospel is itself foolishness.” And I would counter with the words of Paul: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1.18).

And yet in Romans 6 we see that God recognizes this weakness of ours and condescends to meet us in our need by inspiring the Apostle Paul to pen these words that are aimed at this very objection — thus to alleviate the potential confusion and vindicate the message from all derision. Calvin comments on this issue:

Throughout this chapter the Apostle proves, that they who imagine that gratuitous righteousness is given us by him, apart from newness of life, shamefully rend Christ asunder: nay, he goes further, and refers to this objection, — that there seems in this case to be an opportunity for the display of grace, if men continued fixed in sin. We indeed know that nothing is more natural than that the flesh should indulge itself under any excuse, and also that Satan should invent all kinds of slander, in order to discredit the doctrine of grace; which to him is by no means difficult. For since everything that is announced concerning Christ seems very paradoxical to human judgment, it ought not to be deemed a new thing, that the flesh, hearing of justification by faith, should so often strike, as it were, against so many stumbling-stones. Let us, however, go on in our course; nor let Christ be suppressed, because he is to many a stone of offense, and a rock of stumbling; for as he is for ruin to the ungodly, so he is to the godly for a resurrection. We ought, at the same time, ever to obviate unreasonable questions, lest the Christian faith should appear to contain anything absurd.
– Calvin’s Commentary on Romans

It seems to me that Paul offers us an example not only of boldly placarding and proclaiming Christ before the eyes and ears of fallen sinners, but also of anticipating and forestalling the certain objections that will arise.  I think we see here a principle of cognition and condescension to both the confusion (of honest folk) and the derision (of dishonest and unbelieving folk) that will inevitably confront the announcement of this greatest news in the world.

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Thanks to Nic Laz, I was reading through J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Culture lecture.  Amongst other things, Machen touches upon our presuppositions when engaging in missional or missionary work. I found these interesting quotes:

We are all agreed that at least one great function of the Church is the conversion of individual men. The missionary movement is the great religious movement of our day. Now it is perfectly true that men must be brought to Christ one by one. There are no labor-saving devices in evangelism. It is all hand-work.And yet it would be a great mistake to suppose that all men are equally well prepared to receive the gospel. It is true that the decisive thing is the regenerative power of God. That can overcome all lack of preparation, and the absence of that makes even the best preparation useless. But as a matter of fact God usually exerts that power in connection with certain prior conditions of the human mind, and it should be ours to create, so far as we can, with the help of God, those favorable conditions for the reception of the gospel. False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel. We may preach with all the fervor of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here and there, if we permit the whole collective thought of the nation or of the world to be controlled by ideas which, by the resistless force of logic, prevent Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion. Under such circumstances, what God desires us to do is to destroy the obstacle at its root.

This seems to call for a rigorous philosophical approach to our evangelism — quite contrary to the prevailing anti-intellectualism of our day.  Machen writes,

What is today [a] matter of academic speculation begins tomorrow to move armies and pull down empires. In that second stage, it has gone too far to be combatted; the time to stop it was when it was still a matter of impassionate debate. So as Christians we should try to mold the thought of the world in such a way as to make the acceptance of Christianity something more than a logical absurdity.

He asks,

Is it not far easier to be an earnest Christian if you confine your attention to the Bible and do not risk being led astray by the thought of the world? We answer, of course it is easier. Shut yourself up in an intellectual monastery, do not disturb yourself with the thoughts of unregenerate men, and of course you will find it easier to be a Christian, just as it is easier to be a good soldier in comfortable winter quarters than it is on the field of battle. You save your own soul—but the Lord’s enemies remain in possession of the field.

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