If we accept the idea of Orthopraxy over Orthodoxy, then what does evangelism look like? What is the Witness of those who try to follow the Way of Christ Jesus?
To evangelize is to spread the good news that we claim to believe. It is also, when done in the usual old fashioned manner, the most absolutely hated thing about Christians by non-Christians. We live in a post Enlightenment world and thumping on a bible with claims of fire and brimstone are not going to convince an educated Millennial of anything but our insanity. To try and use the old words to convey what we see as the reality of Jesus is doomed to failure in the first world because the have no reason to believe. When we try to cite the bible to a non-believer, it might just as well be Bullfinch’s Mythology. They know the stories - the myths of Noah, David & Jesus - but those stories have as much meaning to them and their lives as the myths of Athena, Ares & Zeus.
So if talking and threatening no longer work, what can?
This is where the apocryphal statement attributed to St Francis of Assisi - “Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words” - shows it’s stark truth. This goes to the heart of the problem of evangelism in the modern world.
Jesus, as a good Jewish man in 1st century Roman Palestine, taught how to live a good, godly, life. And his example, his Witness to God, is what has been passed down to us as the Good News. He lived as he preached and it was the doing that came first. He healed and helped all that he could where ever he was. As I noted earlier, he did not tell people “Imagine how nice it will be in heaven” rather he did all that he could - healing the blind and the lepers - here and now.
And he taught us by his example
- by his Witness -
how it is to live a godly life.
Look at your TV. Count the people on it who claim to be Christian. When you get to 100 pause and consider them. Most will be people who loudly claim to know God’s will for all and that we must follow their teaching or there will be (literally) hell to pay. If you’re lucky, out of that hundred, you might see 2? perhaps even 5? that actually live the Way of Jesus? The ones who actually give Witness to God rather than to the dictates of their wallet?
For that majority, their words are put to the lie by the lives they live, the actions they call “good”, and that more than any other reason is why so many Millennials are rightfully walking away from the church. Possibly as much as 99% of current evangelism is based on the arrogant presumption that they are - no, make that we are - the only doorway to God even though so very few of these ministers have ever walked through that doorway themselves.
Instead of worrying about what to believe or concentrating on things indifferent such as who should be allowed to love each other, we need to go back to the beginning and live the lives of radical love that our messiah taught us to live. The Way that is his example, his Witness, of a love so radical and expansive that even death could not end it.
But is it radical and expansive enough to survive the modern church choking the life out of it?
The early Christian book, the Didache, gives one example of how to organize a small faith community in such a manner as to enable everyone to live the Way to the best of their ability. In such small communities, the church, at it’s best, becomes a support group in it’s corporate worship, helping it’s members to perfect the real worship of God - the living of good and loving lives helping and loving anyone and everyone by living the Way of Jesus in this world. This world. Again - This. World. Not the next. Imagine there is no heaven and you’ll be closer to it than you ever were before.
In this modern world, the young & the Millennials see very little called Christianity that is not venial, deceitful and, yes, even evil. They see practitioners of bigotry, greed, lust, and every other unrepentant sin and heresy who proclaim that they are the most Excellent of all possible Christians. And can we be surprised that the young take them at their word and flee to agnosticism and atheism in a God given moment of spiritual self defense?
Why shouldn’t they if the rest of us who claim to believe in the Lord and his teachings do not stand up and call out those who are Christian in name only and do not oppose their multitude of modern heresies such as the “Prosperity Gospel” or a so-called “Pro-Life” agenda that simply means forcing the birth of children they are quite willing to then let die in one way or another?
To Evangelize - to spread the good news we claim to believe today - requires us to to live the Way we proclaim to be good. It requires us to bear Witness by our lives rather than by our words to the love of God in the world. It requires us attempt, as best we can, to lift the yoke of Jesus ourselves and learn that it is not so hard a thing when all are working together for the greater good of the world.
Our words are without meaning - a noisy gong if you will - if we do not live the Way. We have talked till we are blue in the face. We have thumped our bibles to no avail. We have seen that this does no good. If we do not have an example - a Witness - to show why this is a good way of life, to provide an empirical example of what others can stand to gain by living the same way, then it is meaningless. It does no one any good if the only example that people have is that of those who claim to be Christians one moment but then piss on the gospel the next.
Faith without works is a dead thing.
Evangelism without an example is dead as well.
Until that changes, until there is a real Witness to the way of life that is of Jesus and God in this world with no concern for the next, the church will continue its rapid decline to irrelevance.
Only when there is an example provided will Evangelism be anything other than the dirtiest word in Christianity.