The Gospel and Evangelism (Part 6): Evangelism and the Local Church
“Love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – Jesus
If we are united with one another and with Christ, then the world around us will believe that God has sent Jesus. That is a huge statement that we, as Christians need to take very seriously. Our corporate witness to the world should make the gospel visible. Francis Schaeffer rightly comments on this point:
Our love will not be perfect, but it must be substantial enough for the world to be able to observe…And if the world does not observe this among true Christians, the world has the right to make two awful judgments which these verses indicate: That we are not Christians and that Christ was not sent by the Father.
In other words, Christian proclamation makes the gospel audible, but we also need a corporate witness to make the gospel visible. We need to proclaim the gospel not only with our lips but make it visible with our lives.
God’s Mission has a Church
I recently heard Ed Stetzer say that “the church does not have a mission– It is better to say that the mission has a church!” I would argue that the mission is simple, ‘to glorify God by proclaiming the gospel and reflecting the kingdom of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.’ This is why the church exists, “the local church has been and will continue to be God’s primary plan of ministry.”
Lesslie Newbigin once described the local church as the “hermeneutic of the gospel.” He meant that the local church, in many ways, “examples” the gospel to those around them. The world should look at the church and see the gospel interpreted in everyday life since the local church is the fountainhead of gospel proclamation.
The authors of Total Church are right when they argue that “evangelism is best done out of the context of gospel community whose corporate life demonstrates the reality of the word that gave her life.” ‘The gospel word’ and ‘the gospel community’ (local church) are closely connected. It is through the ‘gospel word’ that the local church is created and nourished. But in the local church the gospel should also be embodied and proclaimed. In many ways, a gospel centered community authenticates the gospel word to the skeptics.
In Evangelism in the Early Church, Michael Green describes the lure of the early church as follows;
“They made the grace of God credible by a society of love and mutual care which astonished the pagans and was recognized as something entirely new. It lent persuasiveness to their claim that the new age had dawned in Christ.”
People outside of Christ should be fascinated by the church family. Those who are “seeking” should be drawn to the well to drink of eternal life because they see the refreshing culture of the church family.
The Church as Gospel Network
I think we need to train our people to see the church as a ‘network of relationships’ rather than ‘an event one attends’ or ‘building one enters.’ It seems to me that many missiologists are arguing that ‘skeptical people are often attracted to the Christian community before they are attracted to the Christian message.’ This seems obvious and inevitable when the gospel message is enshrined in the life of the church, and is it’s source of power for growth. This is where the gospel becomes fascinating for the non-believer. I think this dynamic is explained well in the book Total Church,
“Our commitment to one another despite our differences and our grace toward one another’s failures are more eloquent testimony to the gospel than any pretense at perfection.”
Simply put, true gospel fellowship within the local body transcends the barriers of race, sex, class, and education, creating a community bound by the gospel alone. With this in mind, introducing people into the church community (relational network) becomes an important to our being a ‘faithful presence’ in the world around us.
- Francis Schaeffer, The Mark of the Christian.
- Alvin Reid, Evangelism Handbook.
- The art of interpretation, or the theory and practice of interpretation.
- Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society.
- Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Total Church.