Category: Evangelism

Connecting religious liberty & evangelism

brent-walker-speakingEvangelism and missions can be conducted openly and forthrightly only in an environment that fosters and protects religious liberty. The United States, with its constitutional protections, is a shining example of this reality, while nations with limits on religious expression are examples of the opposite.

Brent Walker, in the January Report from the Capital, develops the link between religious liberty and evangelism. Americans are “able to practice our religion as we see fit and free to go tell others about it,” said Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty.

One person’s freedom, however, can best be expressed only in a context that respects another person’s freedom.

“Respecting the other person’s soul freedom does not mean we cannot share our faith; it does mean, however, that we respect and honor that person’s right to say no. We must fight to resist others doing, or the church doing, or the government doing what even God will not do — to violate conscience or coerce faith.”

A commitment to “religious freedom and sensitive evangelism has resulted in amazing religious and cultural pluralism” in the United States. It also has changed the missions task.

“The ‘world’ is now next door, down the street, in our workplace and throughout our culture.

“Living alongside people from around the world allows us to get to know and understand them and their religious points of view. Ideally, ‘with-nessing’ should come before ‘witnessing.’ That makes what we say so much more effective and credible. And, it allows us to learn from the Hindu, the Buddhist, the Jew, the Muslim and countless others. As Christians, we believe we know the ultimatetruth in the person of Jesus Christ, but we do not presume to know all the truth. We can learn a lot from our brothers and sisters from various religious traditions.”

The multi-religious culture that now exists in the United States makes the Baptist distinctives of soul freedom and religious liberty even more important.

Walker says:

“The Bible teaches both individual freedom and responsible evangelism. The Apostle Paul issues a clarion call for freedom in Christ to the Galatians when he said, ‘For freedom Christ has set us free, do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.’ (Gal. 5:1)

“Paul was a freedom guy through and through. But he was also the great missionary of the early church. His embrace of freedom did not detract from — but added to — his enthusiasm for sharing the Gospel. And, Peter tells us in his first letter that we must ‘always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence.’ (1 Peter 3:15) (emphasis added)”

The principle of religious liberty also is important in preventing human rights violations caused by religion. Walker noted that a recent op-ed piece in The Washington Post by Stephen Hopgood attributed the diminution of human rights internationally to the influence of religion. ”This need not be the case,” Walker said. “Religious freedom — including the freedom to share one’s faith and change one’s mind — is not antithetical to human rights. In fact, they are closely related.

“People of faith were integrally involved in the drafting and adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In fact, J.M. Dawson, the first executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee, along with Gov. Harold Stassen (a Baptist from Minnesota), were instrumental in convincing the United Nations General Assembly to embrace the Universal Declaration in December 1948 as the aspirational goal for the post-World War II world. Both Dawson and Stassen understood religious rights and human rights go hand in glove.”

In addition to the article, Walker has written a new book, a “basic primer,” titled What a Touchy Subject! Religious Liberty and Church-State Separation. The book is available at Amazon.comBarnesandNoble.com and NurturingFaith.net.

(This post originally appeared on the texasbaptists.org site.)

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Evangelism is part of ethical living

Living the Christian life is not just about morals; it includes sharing the love of Jesus Christ in hopes that others will choose to follow Christ. We call it evangelism — sharing the good news.

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.

Four parts of evangelism

Jon Randles is stressing four aspects of effective evangelism today — intentionality, relationships, events and prayer. None of the four will stand well alone, but when you incorporate all four elements you have created the best environment and opportunity for a working of the Holy Spirit in drawing people to faith in Christ.

I think it’s a solid approach. History and personal experience generally have shown that when believers are not intentional in sharing their faith, it seldom gets shared. Recent experience has shown the importance of building relationships, that events alone are not the holy grail of evangelism. Events have become more out of favor in recent years as people highlighted the importance of relationships, but our evangelistic results have suffered during that time. And the importance of prayer should be obvious to all of us.

It’s interesting that the “event” aspect of evangelism is the one that has been challenged most in recent years. Jon Randles, however, has had a different experience. The Lord has been blessing Jon’s four-pronged approach to evangelism on college campuses now for some time, and events are very much a part of it.

I find it interesting that evangelistic events have been out of favor, while worship events have not, at least among pastors. In other words, we all know that worship is about more than just holding a Sunday service; but we continue to hold those weekly worship events because they provide a great opportunity for the possibility of corporate worship occurring.

And there is New Testament precedent for evangelistic events. That’s what Jesus was doing when he spoke to the crowds of His day. Jesus’ ministry was much, much more than speaking to large crowds, but that was one aspect of it.

I think Jon’s approach is worth a try. Events have a place in our evangelistic efforts, but let’s not expect them to stand alone without the relationships, prayer and intentionality that should accompany them. Of course, the types of events that may work today may not be the kind of events that worked a few decades ago. Let’s experiment and dialogue as we seek effective ways to tell the story.

(Originally published by me on the We Are Texas Baptists blog on this date.)

It only takes a spark

There have been bigger evangelism conferences, but I have never been to a better one than this year’s in Rockwall. This was a special experience.

I don’t know the final registration count yet, but the reality is that a few hundred people rattled around in a large auditorium. I sat there tonight (Tuesday) thinking how great it would have been to have 2,000 Texas Baptists in the room and then spreading out around Texas with evangelism on their hearts and minds. But that kind of thinking is not very helpful. We had what we had. There may have been only 100 or 200 there tonight, but God has shown through the ages that he can do unbelievable things through a very few people. And, of course, the people in that auditorium are not the only Texas Baptists who care about evangelism and are actually working to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others.

I’m glad Jon Randles had the passion and faith to secure a big place for this event. There really was no way of knowing how many people would come to a new evangelism conference, but Jon erred on the upside.

I remember a pastor telling me the story of when he first became pastor of a small African American congregation in the Chicago area. The pews were virtually empty, and he was very discouraged. He went to visit his father, a pastor in another state; and his dad told him to go back and pray in that auditorium until he saw angels filling the pews. The young pastor didn’t think too highly of the suggestion, but a desperate man will do things that seem a little crazy to others. He prayed. Finally, he told me, he began to see angels in every pew and around the walls of that small auditorium. Convinced that God was in that work, this young pastor continued to preach and minister. When I left Illinois eight years ago, that congregation was the largest Southern Baptist congregation in Illinois, with about 2,500 in worship every Sunday, if my memory serves right — it may have been more because the auditorium was huge.

Some people may want to focus on the empty seats at this year’s evangelism conference, but I think it’s much better to pray for those who were in the seats as they go home and pray that in the years to come God will fill those seats, no matter where the conference is held. Not so we can brag of a big meeting but so more people can be encouraged and inspired to spread the good news.

Texas Baptists have always been an evangelistic people. The conferences are only a means to an end. So whether or not you were at this year’s evangelism conference, my prayer is that God will stir all of us to a renewed awareness of the importance of spreading His good news.

Now there I go, for the second time in two days I’ve gone to preaching. Maybe I should ask to have that added to my job description.

(Originally published by me on the We Are Texas Baptists blog on this date.)