It may seem a little strange to say ethics includes evangelism, but it shouldn’t. Ethics is about doing what is right, about doing what we ought to do. After his resurrection, Jesus told his disciples, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (John 20:21) There also is his Great Commission to, “Go therefore and make disciples.” (Matthew 28:19).
Ethical living for the Christian, therefore, involves evangelistic living. A related hope is that our evangelism will be pursued in an ethical manner that respects the value of all people and the freedom God has given them to choose whom they will serve, to use Joshua’s language.
We Baptists and other evangelicals are not alone in understanding the evangelistic imperatives of the body of Christ. The Roman Catholic Synod of Bishops just completed an assembly with the theme “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith,” and one of the wonderful things about this assembly was that a representative of the Baptist World Alliance was invited to speak.
Timothy George spoke to the bishops. George is dean and professor of divinity, history and doctrine at Beeson Divinity School in Alabama. He also is chair of the BWA Commission on Doctrine and Christian Unity and a member of the Advisory Committee of the BWA Division of Mission, Evangelism and Theological Reflection.
Dean George had three points:
“First, Baptists confess with all Christians a robust faith in the one triune God who in his great mercy and love has made us partakers of his divine life through Jesus Christ, the Great Evangelizer, who saves us by his grace alone. This faith is based on the inspired Holy Scriptures, God’s written Word, especially on the primal confession of St. John’s Gospel, … ‘the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us’ (John 1:14). …
“Second, the missionary God who gave the church this commission also placed before her an imperative for Christian unity. We are not only to proclaim the Good News to all peoples but to do it in a way that visibly reflects the unity and love between the Father and the Son. … By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 20:21; 13:35). … Where our witness is fractured, our message is unpersuasive, if not inaudible. Baptists and Catholics differ on important ecclesial and theological issues but we are committed to seek greater mutual understanding through a process of loving dialogue and respectful listening. …
“Third, throughout our history Baptists have been ardent champions of religious freedom, not only for ourselves, but for all persons everywhere. … Today in many places, religious freedom is under assault in many ways—some blatant and others more subtle. All Christians who take seriously Jesus’ call to evangelize must also stand and work together for the protection and flourishing of universal religious freedom, both for individuals and for institutions of faith.”
George’s final comment is important to note. We do not always make the connection between religious freedom and evangelism, but the former makes possible the flourishing of the latter.
A prayer: Help us, Lord, to understand that evangelism is part of ethical living, and help us to share our faith in ways that honor You and do not discredit You. We pray for unity among all Christians even as we have disagreements. And, Lord, we ask that religious freedom may spread throughout this world in order that Your Son may be more widely proclaimed.