evangelization

The Goal of World Evangelization

Two weeks ago, we started examining Ed Dayton’s expanded definition of world evangelization.

Because world evangelization is a task, it is essential to have a clear understanding of the goal of that particular task.

The nature of world evangelization is communication of the good news.

The purpose of world evangelization is to give individuals and groups a valid opportunity to accept Jesus Christ.

And the goal of world evangelization is the persuading of men and women to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and serve him in the fellowship of his church.

As I finished up last week on the topic of what constitutes a valid opportunity to accept Christ, I suggested:

. . . missionaries (and all evangelizing Christians) must take the time to understand their target audience as they present the good news. We must present the gospel in a language people understand; we must present the gospel with words whose meaning people understand (or, at least, don’t misunderstand); we must present the gospel in thought patterns people can follow; we must present the gospel in such a way that people understand they have a choice; we must be ready to present the gospel over and over again; we must be prepared to have people consciously reject the gospel, though we sincerely hope they choose the better way.

Having prepared ourselves and our message so that the receiving people and groups could fully understand what it means to accept or reject Christ, we can move on to the final point of Ed Dayton’s definition of world evangelization.

And the goal of world evangelization is the persuading of men and women to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and serve him in the fellowship of his church.

When Jesus gave what we call the great commission, he directed that, as a priority, we make disciples. They he spoke of baptizing and teaching the new disciples. As we learn later in Paul’s New Testament writings, baptism is something we do in tandem with salvation, an act of identification with Christ in his death and resurrection. In doing this, we proclaim our unity in the body of Christ, which is the church.

As I read the great commission, we are to help people make a valid decision to follow Christ, then baptize them as a sign of incorporation into the greater body of believers. Once people are identified with Christ and other Christians, they can be more easily taught as a body and we can all use our spiritual gifts to build up one another in Christ. As Paul taught the church at Ephesus:

. . . Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13)

My major hobby right now is working with bonsai trees. I am a member of several internet groups which share information about this hobby. Every so often someone new to the hobby gets into our groups asking, “how can I learn about bonsai?” Almost every time one of the long-standing group members will advise the newbie, “find a bonsai club near you and start attending their meetings. Working with them is the best way to learn.”

If you want to learn about bonsai, hook up with people who already know the hobby. If you want to run, join a local running club. If you want to grow in Christ, where else would you look than a local church, where you can find people directly gifted by God who will help you grow and find your own place within that local body?

Isn’t this what we see happening throughout the book of Acts? Paul, especially, goes somewhere, makes disciples, organizes a church, and then moves on to the next challenge.

Too often in the history of missions and evangelism, the goal has stopped with individuals making a profession of faith. Through our experience with mass evangelism, I dare say that most people in the United States think in terms of people raising their hands in a meeting, or signing a decision card, or just repeating the words of a prayer. People do this (and none of these is bad), and are usually urged to find and join a local church. But there is rarely any practical help or follow-up to match a new believer with a church.

Because of that, I’ve heard it reported that up to 90% of those people who make a decision outside the local church never settle into a church for themselves.

If we do not establish churches as needed and direct people into those churches, we end up having to repeat the evangelization process for every new generation.

On the other hand, if we “[persuade] . . . men and women to . . . serve him in the fellowship of his church,” we are doing our best to ensure they will learn and grow while serving in and through the church. The local church, then will be the best means of evangelizing their own society, allowing the cross-cultural workers to repeat the process in more spiritually needy places.

That’s a worthy goal. And that’s how we’ll get the job done.

The Nature of World Evangelization

As I’ve had the opportunity to teach about missions over several decades, I’ve tried to include this expanded definition as often as possible. This brief definition, which I’ve borrowed from Ed Dayton, helps us get a better grip on the entire process of what Dayton labeled world evangelization, and we in Mandate generalize as missions.

As we begin, here is the entire quote, an introductory sentence followed by three steps toward world evangelization.

Because world evangelization is a task, it is essential to have a clear understanding of the goal of that particular task.

The nature of world evangelization is communication of the good news.

The purpose of world evangelization is to give individuals and groups a valid opportunity to accept Jesus Christ.

And the goal of world evangelization is the persuading of men and women to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and serve him in the fellowship of his church.

Dayton was brief, but we’re not going to be so restricted. I’d like to take his three main points and, over the course of the next three weeks, expand on each. Let’s get started with:

The nature of world evangelization is communication of the good news.

Good news is an oft-used English translation of the word gospel. In our English Bibles, the two terms are relatively interchangeable. If we ask an average group of American churchgoers to define gospel, though, they’ll probably talk about personal salvation, repentance and forgiveness of sin, etc., and they will not be wrong.

The Bible.org website puts it this way:

The central truth of the gospel is that God has provided a way of salvation for men through the gift of His son to the world. He suffered as a sacrifice for sin, overcame death, and now offers a share in His triumph to all who will accept it. The gospel is good news because it is a gift of God, not something that must be earned by penance or by self-improvement (John 3:16, Romans 5:8-11, 2 Corinthians 5:14-19, Titus 2:11-14).

Looking at Jesus’ own words in the books we label the Gospels, He often ties the words good news or gospel with the phrase kingdom of God (as in Matthew 4:23, 9:35, and 24:14). This seems to come into play when Jesus taught about the two greatest commandments, as in Matthew 22:36-40:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.

And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

We can say from both of the previous illustrations that the gospel contains a vertical relationship (with God) and a horizontal relationship (with the world around us). Ideally, the good news begins with the inner change brought about by transferring our allegiance to God through Jesus Christ, which we call salvation. It continues with a renewing of our inner selves and a process of growth to become like Christ, which we call sanctification. It should then touch those around us through our lives and overt testimony, hopefully beginning with our immediately families (as seen time and again in the book of Acts), and extending from us to touch and improve our own society and, ultimately, the world. This might be summed up in Paul’s words from Ephesians 2:10, “. . . we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

That is the good news we must communicate to those who have not yet heard, and communicate it repeatedly even to those who have.