We marginalize evangelism when we say the good news is social action.
I’ve read many mission statements of churches and faith-based ministries during my four decades working with evangelist Luis Palau. Most of these statements declare that one of the reasons why the church or mission exists is to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.
Yet we find ourselves now in a critical time for the Church in America and some parts of the world because some believe we can take the whole gospel to the whole world without the use of words. Romans 10:13-15 reminds us:
Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
One of the marks of a Christ-follower is that we want everyone to know “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). This is the essence of our evangelistic message. It is a message centered on the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Today’s evangelists have a vital role to play in calling the Church back to declaring with our words, and not just our deeds, this good news.
Recently, I’ve been impressed by how many times I have heard a church leader say, “I want people to know what I am for, not what I am against.” Why? Because we have a positive message that leads to changed lives and transformed communities. However, we have a tendency to get out of balance when it comes to lifting up Jesus in both word and deed.
We see it today in the number of interviews, speeches, and books implying the gospel does not require words. Advocates of this belief will often quote Saint Francis of Assisi, who allegedly said, “Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words.” This is the rallying cry that the gospel must be seen and not heard. Forget it! Most serious theologians doubt Saint Francis ever uttered this phrase, because he knew everyone has the right to hear the gospel. We are called to share this good news with our words and with our lives.
We live in a biblically illiterate culture. If a person has absolutely zero church background, knows nothing about Jesus Christ, His virgin birth, His atoning sacrifice on the cross, His death, burial, and resurrection, His offer of forgiveness of sins, or His offer of eternal life, then how will he or she ever know without words?
These truths cannot be explained through body language. We can’t explain the gospel with just facial expressions. The gospel message demands of us that we be witnesses (Acts 1:8), and witnesses use words to share what they have seen, heard, and experienced.
In recent years, the Church, motivated by our love for Jesus and for people, has led the way in championing social justice. This is appropriate biblical engagement, resulting in better communities as we answer the call to meet human needs. But nothing is more deadly to the future of the Church than to think the important role we play in community service is the gospel.
Evangelism and social action are two arms on the same body. We begin to head down a slippery slope of marginalizing evangelism when we say the good news is social action.
Today’s evangelist has a key role to play in helping the Church to reflect, model, and speak the good news with our words. The Apostle Paul said, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes…” (Romans 1:16).
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