Class XIII: Corporate Evangelism
Christians today often see evangelism as either 100 percent the job of the church or 100 percent their own job. So either they structure church life around the needs and interests of non-Christians and then invite people to church; or they see the church's job as training Christians to share their faith with family and friends.
The problem with the first model is that the church is not fundamentally an evangelistic outreach. It's a community of Christians striving for holiness and maturity in Christ. Thus if Sunday morning is treated as nothing more than an evangelistic appeal, we will fail to grow and mature as a church, which will ultimately stifle evangelism.
The second model is no better, though, because the church is one of God's primary tools for evangelism. Evangelism is not just an individual activity; it is a corporate one. Throughout the Bible and the history of the church, God has used the witness of the church to draw people to himself.
I. THE CORPORATE WITNESS OF THE CHURCH
The church's corporate witness is a common theme in the New Testament. Think of Peter's description of the church in 1 Peter 2:9. The people of God are a "chosen people," "a royal priesthood," and "a holy nation," whose purpose is to "declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light" (1 Peter 2:9).
Think also of Jesus' words in John 13:35—"By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." The early church saw this in action:
All the believers were together and had everything in common . . . And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:44, 47)
And Acts 4 says:
All the believers were one in heart and mind . . . with great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. (Acts 4:32-33)
Indeed the grand witness of Christ in the world is the church. As Christians, we are called to live our life together in such a way that the world sees the reign of God in our community. For all that the world may see in the life of an individual Christian, the clearest picture of God's character and will for human beings is always the church—a community of God's people bound together in love for Christ and for each other.
One of the most colorful early church scholars was a North African by the name of Tertullian, who lived from around 160-225 A.D. Tertullian wrote his famous work Apology in order to defend Christians against slanderous charges being made against them. In that work he noted the unity of Christians, saying:
We are a body knit together as such by a common religious profession, by unity of discipline, and by the bond of a common hope.
He then noted how the church's love impacted unbelievers around them.
But it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. See, they say, how they love one another.
A conspicuous, congregational love in a loveless world will not be ignored. By living out the gospel as a distinct community, the church displays to the world the gospel's transformative power.
II. THE UNIQUE POWER OF A CONGREGATIONAL WITNESS
So how does that happen? What about our community compels an unbelieving world? Put another way, what does the church contribute to the whole picture of the gospel that can't be communicated by an individual? Here are five ways our life together can further and empower evangelism.
First, Christian Unity in the Church Is a Powerful Witness to the World
The life of the church shows Christian unity to the world in a way that personal evangelism cannot. Jesus said the world would believe our message when they saw our unity. In John 17:20-23, Jesus prayed,
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
In a world full of war and constant conflict, the supernatural unity of a church family bears witness to the power of the gospel. It's much easier for someone to dismiss your individual testimony than it is to discount the testimony of an entire group of people living together in unity under Christ.
One implication of this is that we should always be careful to protect and preserve unity in our church. Of course there are times when you will be forced to decide between unity and a host of other good things—sound doctrine, holiness, love, and so forth. But when you are forced to make those decisions, keep in mind that breaking unity has effects on the church's witness. Your relationships with other Christians in this church can impact the reputation of Christ in this city.
Second, Christian Love in the Church Is a Powerful Witness to the World
Francis Schaeffer calls the love of Christians for each other the ultimate answer, the "final apologetic," that we can give to the world. What marks us out as Christians in the eyes of the world—more than sound doctrine, more than passion in worship—is our love. "By this all men will know that you are my disciples," Jesus said, "if you love one another" (John 13:35).When Christians love each other, it is a reflection of how God has loved us in Christ.
Our love is often shown in good deeds. So in Matthew 5:16, Jesus says "Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." Similarly, Peter states in 1 Pet. 2:12, "Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us." Christians' good deeds are a window through which the world comes to see and glorify God.
Third, Christians in the Church Can Help Each Other Witness
Another great advantage of evangelism in the context of a congregation is that we help each other witness. As we've already seen, God has given Christians all kinds of different gifts. That diversity can be invaluable in the task of evangelism. One member may be particularly good at initiating a conversation with a non-believer. Another might have a particularly powerful testimony. Yet another may be gifted at making people feel at ease in the conversation.
In this way, various members of the body support each other in displaying Christ to non-believers. This is a really powerful idea. Talk with people who have become Christians through the ministry of this church. Quite often, an initial contact was made by one person, but then others contributed to the process. Ultimately, the person was converted not through one-on-one but through group evangelism. Are you beating yourself up over the fact that you can't do all those things well? Well then, team up with other Christians to combine your gifts with theirs.
Of course that initial contact still has to occur. So don't shirk your responsibility to build relationships with non-Christians in order to share the gospel. Once that happens, however, the corporate witness of the church can be a powerful help in communicating the gospel to your non-Christian friends.
Fourth, the Church's Corporate Witness Glorifies God in a Unique Way
God is uniquely glorified when we bear witness to him together. An assembly of believers can give glory to God with greater volume and variety than the individual can alone. The broader the testimony, the more God is glorified.
Imagine you're out at dinner or a sporting event with a group of Christians from the church, and there are one or two non-Christians in the group. An opportunity arises and you begin talking about how you became a Christian. One person talks about how God used a difficult event in her life to draw her to Christ. Another person talks about being raised in a Christian home. God is uniquely glorified by this type of congregational witness because it testifies to the countless ways that he extends his saving grace. Ultimately, it presents the non-Christian with a richer picture of how God works in the world than any picture you can present by yourself.
Fifth, Christians Work Together Through the Church for Global Missions
Christians can work together through the church to advance the gospel around the world in a way that individuals cannot. In the local church, Christians can pool their wisdom, experience, financial resources, and prayers, directing them all to the common purpose of making God's name known among the nations. Proclaiming the gospel around the world should be an end and purpose for every local church.
III. HOW TO USE THE CHURCH'S WITNESS
How then can we take full advantage of the church in our evangelism?
First, Expose Non-Christian Friends to Our Life as a Church
Invite non-Christian friends and co-workers to church, and plan ahead to make good use of the church body during their visit. Ask a couple of other members to pray for your friend. Invite your friend to a service where there's a baptism so he can hear a testimony of how a life has been changed (which is one of the reasons our church has people being baptized give their testimonies). Look at the sermon text in advance so you can discuss it with your friend before and after the visit. Arrange with a few other members to go out to lunch after the service, so your friend can interact with a group of members.
For that matter, help to make this church a place where members will be excited to bring their non-Christian friends:
- Make your love and care for other Christians evident.
- Greet visitors warmly and quickly, and express an interest in their lives.
- Invite visitors to lunch after the service or to some other social event where they will be able to interact with the body.
Here's a challenge to you: After the service today, look for people who are standing by themselves and don't seem to know anyone. Strike up a conversation with them. They might be Christians, or they might be non-Christians. But either way, you'll be welcoming them with Christ's love.
Second, Talk to Non-Christians About Our Life in the Church
Sometimes it's just not possible to introduce our friends and colleagues to our life in the church. Perhaps schedule, location, or circumstances make it impossible for them to attend a service or a social event right now. Or maybe they're not interested. How can we use the witness of the church under these circumstances?
The simple answer is to talk to them about the church! People naturally talk about the things that are most important to them. As Christians, that means we will want to talk about this church. Look for ways to talk about activities or ministries that you're involved in. Talk about a sermon you heard that addressed an issue of particular interest to your friend.
Maybe it's as simple as asking your co-worker about his or her weekend. That's a great way to get to know more about that person, and perhaps even gain an insight into their mindset and worldview. And then maybe your friend will ask about your weekend, too. If so, don't just talk about the game you went to on Saturday. Talk about the church! Sometimes, that exchange will naturally lead into a conversation about the gospel.
IV. REFLECTIONS ON THIS COURSE
As we come to the end of this course, let's reflect a bit on the church and our lives together in it. This class has been about living together as a church—how we as members can promote the unity that protects our doctrine, safeguards holiness, displays the wisdom of God, encourages, exhorts, teaches, promotes evangelism, and communicates the character of our merciful God to the watching world.
God's Purpose for the Church
Ephesians 3:10 tells us that the church stands at the very center of God's purpose in the world:
His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The glorious mission of the church is to display before all the heavenly hosts the remarkable wisdom of our God, and we can take comfort in knowing that not even the gates of hell will prevail against it in that mission. One day, the whole world will bow before our God in worship and praise. Every eye will behold him, robed in splendor's majesty, and every tongue will praise him for his glorious work in redeeming a people for himself.
But we're not there yet. For now, God has left the task of displaying the glory of his perfect character to the very imperfect people of his church.
The question of how that can happen has been the focus of this class. Particularly, our goal has been to understand the opportunities and responsibilities that we as church members have in pressing toward that goal. Above all, it is our unity that displays the power of the gospel to a watching world. Just as God's wisdom was displayed in the early church by Jews and Gentiles coming together as members of one body, so it is displayed in our church today when people who are different in so many ways unite in the body of Christ.
How can we exercise our responsibility to preserve unity within the church? That's been the topic of our discussions for the last thirteen weeks, but let me highlight two points as a summary of our time together:
First, Preserve the Gospel Message
This is our most important responsibility as Christians—and as church members. Whether we are members of this church or another church, we should always make sure that the church's teaching and preaching is true to Scripture. Remember that in the New Testament, when error slipped into a church's teaching, the apostles did not blame the preacher. They blamed the congregation (2 Tim. 4:3).
Second, Love One Another
In Christ, God showed us a love that was sacrificial, selfless, and costly. Now we are commanded to show that same love to others. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 says this:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
This is how we should love. Love people who are different from you. Love through your service, your prayers, your encouragement, and your admonishment. Love through your patience, forbearance, and humility. Love by discipling and teaching others. Love by being present at church services. Love by using your spiritual gifts to build up the church. Love by clothing yourself with kindness, compassion, warmth, and generosity toward others. And do it all for the sake of Jesus Christ.
That kind of love is a great witness to the gospel. It promotes unity, strengthens the body, and most importantly, displays God's glory. That is because you are incapable of loving in that way by your own strength. You were a sinner in rebellion against a just and all-powerful God, but God in his mercy changed your heart, forgave you of your sins, filled you with his Spirit, and enables you now to love other people in a way that glorifies him.
Human history began in a garden with the fellowship of a husband and a wife. It will culminate, as we see in the book of Revelation, in a city—an eternal society of light in which God himself is personally present. The perfect fellowship of Eden will be restored, and God's people will enjoy a perfect intimacy with him made possible only by Christ's work of redemption and the Holy Spirit's indwelling presence. The garden has become a city. Faith gives way to sight. Thus, in that city, God's people will enter fully and eternally into the love of God.
Believe it or not, the church on earth today presents a true, if imperfect, picture of this coming reality. Our calling in the nitty-gritty work of church life is to show the world a glimpse of that coming glory.
Most of us live with too little awareness of the enormity of what we are caught up in by belonging to Christ. Most of us don't take enough time to consider how our lives fit into God's eternal plan for the church, and consequently our lives lack the aroma of eternity. Let's be motivated today by knowing that our lives in the church are part of God's eternal plan to display his glory—not just to this world, but to all the heavens.