Christian theology in a Sudanese context. How God saves His people from their sin.
It is possible to have a ‘heresy of method’ as well as a ‘heresy of message’ in evangelism. A ‘heresy of method’ is a method that takes little or no account of what God is doing in the hearts and lives of the listeners. Too much emphasis can be placed upon what we want to be able to report to our church head office or to our supporting organisation overseas. The love of money – even money to use in our evangelistic programmes – can corrupt the evangelism that we do
(1 Timothy 6:5-10). Examples of dangerous practices in evangelism would include giving Christian baptism to babies, or baptising adults, without properly discerning the faith of those involved; saying or implying that those who are physically healed in a meeting have experienced the ‘saving’ touch of God; assuming that everyone who raised their hand – or came to the front – indicating they had prayed the ‘sinners prayer’, has actually done anything more than be moved in their emotions. There are plenty of evidences in Scripture, where people were very close to a life-changing meeting with God, but they did not experience it themselves:
the rich young ruler, (Matthew 19:16-22);
many of Jesus’ own disciples, (John 6:60-66);
the people travelling with Saul on the road to Damascus, (Acts 9:3-7);
the others at Lydia’s prayer meeting, (Acts 16:13-15); etc.
If we give the understanding that people can be saved – or can show they are saved – simply by any outward practice (baptism of any form, healing, hand-raising, etc.), our evangelism is dangerous. None of these things automatically give us the life of Christ. Salvation is only experienced by having the life of Christ in you, not by any ritual!
(1John 5:12). Yet, in order to live the church must evangelise! I am not suggesting for one moment that we stop evangelism. I am strongly urging that we be careful how we do it. Michael Green was a rector in Oxford, England, before becoming Professor of Evangelism at Regent College, Vancouver, Canada, and then the Archbishops’ adviser on Evangelism in Britain. Quoting Archbishop WilliamTemple he defines:“To evangelise is so to present Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, that men shall come to put their trust in God through Him, to accept Him as their Saviour, and serve Him as their King in the fellowship of His Church”.
This definition demands that in our evangelism we trust in God the Holy Spirit to use the message of Jesus Christ – we do not trust in our own methods. People must be encouraged to respond to God – not to us, or to our methods. The trustworthy evidence of salvation will be seen over a period of time as the person becomes a Christian disciple in their local church community and in their everyday life – it will not necessarily be immediately obvious at the initial meeting.
The key message of the church is “Jesus saves” (Acts 2:36; 3:18-20; 4:12). These words include: the deity of Christ – Jesus is God; the incarnation of Christ – God became the Man Jesus; the atonement made by Christ – God was in Jesus reconciling the world to Himself. Evangelism centres on the cross of Jesus Christ. Who was Jesus and what did He achieve? Evangelism demands a response from people to the actions of God in Christ. Evangelism focuses on facts not theories. The Lausanne Covenant was drawn up by leading evangelicals under the auspices of Billy Graham in 1974. Here is their focus on the Lord Jesus Christ: “We affirm that there is only one Saviour and only one Gospel, although there is a wide diversity of evangelistic approaches. We recognise that all men have some knowledge of God through His general revelation in nature. But we deny that this can save, for men suppress the truth by their unrighteousness. We also reject as derogatory to Christ and the Gospel, every kind of syncretism and dialogue which implies that Christ speaks equally through all religions and ideologies. JesusChrist, being Himself the only God-Man, who gave Himself as the ransom for sinners, is the only Mediator between God and man. There is no other name by which we must be saved. All men are perishing because of sin, but God loves all men, not wishing that any should perish but that all should repent. Yet those who reject Christ repudiate the joy of salvation and condemn themselves to eternal separation from God".
"To proclaim Jesus as “the Saviour of the world” is not to affirm that all men are either automatically or ultimately saved, less still to affirm that all religions offer salvation in Christ. Rather it is to proclaim God’s love for a world of sinners and to invite all men to respond to Him as Saviour and Lord in the wholehearted personal commitment of repentance and faith. Jesus Christ has been exalted above every other name; we long for the day when every knee shall bow to Him and every tongue shall confess Him as Lord”. (Galatians 1:6-9; Romans 1:19-21; Romans 1:32; Romans2:14-15; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; Acts 4:12; Matthew18:14; John 3:15-16;
2 Peter 3:9; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). In the diversity of approaches to evangelism, I strongly suggest that we give room to, and look for, the following – based on our understanding of the whole ‘salvation’ process: 1. Look for those God is awakening to an awareness of Himself and of their personal sin. There will be some people in your class at university, some in your neighbourhood, some of your work colleagues. Some, but not all. When I take teams for outreach visiting from house to house, I encourage them to understand that even doors closed to us are being used by God, to move us along more quickly to where He is working in people’s hearts (Acts 16:6-14). Our responsibility towards all the others is to pray for them, live and speak in a Christ-like way before them, and watch for God to open their hearts. 2. Be sensitive towards people who are experiencing the pricking of their consciences by God the Holy Spirit. The adult person who remains unconscious of their own sin cannot be saved. They will not see the need of salvation, except perhaps to avoid meeting God as Judge in, what seems to them to be, the distant future. The Holy Spirit ‘convicts of sin’ (John 16:8). He begins to accuse people of their guilt before a holy God. People do need to feel worse before they can really feel better! Do not offer the ‘good news’ until people have really grasped the ‘bad news’. People need to have a firmly held conviction that they are ‘wrong with God’ before they can understand and appreciate being made ‘right with God’. Do not try to limit the distress and heaviness people are under at this time. It is God Who is at work (Acts 2:37; Romans 2:14-15; 1 Corinthians
14:24-25; Hebrews 4:12-13). 3. Watch for signs of a new way of thinking. Repentance will bring to the listeners a new way of thinking about God and about Jesus Christ. Repentance lays the foundation for their trusting in God – and not in anything they can do themselves – for salvation. In repentance people let go of all that God does not want in their lives. True repentance brings a fear of sinning. Someone has described ‘legal repentance’ as ‘a fear of being damned by God’s wrath’; while ‘evangelical repentance’ is ‘a fear of sinning against God’s holiness’. This is a living, and spiritually healthy, fear of God. Repentance brings a change of attitude. We do not bargain with God. We accept His offered terms. God works repentance in people who are open to Him (Luke 15:7; 2 Corinthians 5:9-11; Philippians 2:12-13; Romans 2:4-5; 2 Corinthians 7:10).
4. Discern the presence of God’s gift of saving faith. The Bible tells us all the way through that faith is seen by its actions, and usually actions over a period of time. If a person is seen to be trusting in anything they themselves have done, trusting in any ritual they have been through, trusting in any experience they have had at a Christian event, then it is likely that they have not yet received the gift from God of saving faith (Ephesians 2:8-10). God is the One Who makes us spiritually alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:5). Something may begin at our meetings, but it is unlikely to be clearly evident until it passes the test of some life in the real, everyday, working world. When a man starts telling the truth, instead of lies, even though it is going to cost him business, it is a sure sign God is at work. It is no accident that the name ‘Christians’ was first given to followers of Jesus, by those outside of the church. They noticed the lives of people who were so much like the life of Jesus, they sneeringly called them ‘Christians’ (Acts 11:25-26). I believe it is also no accident that this happened after one year in a Bible Class with Barnabas and Paul as the teachers. 5. Celebrate and encourage the new birth. It is right to do this. The evidences of new birth are numbers one to four that we have just looked at! A person who is awakened to God, who is convicted of personal sin, who is repentant in heart attitude, and who has received saving faith from God, is born again. No-one expects a brand new baby to show the maturity of an adult in life. New babies in a family cry at the wrong and inappropriate times, demand feeding rather than politely ask for food, make bad smells in the most inconvenient places, and so on. New Christian babies will sometimes be an embarrassment to the Christian family too! But, no-one would reject a baby just because he or she still has a lot to learn about life. Parents, and older brothers and sisters, will help to train and encourage the new life. And we must do that for ‘new born’ and ‘infant’ Christians (1 Peter 2:2-3; Romans 14:1; Romans 15:1-2; and see what Barnabas did for Paul in Acts 9:26-30; 11:25-26; 11:30; 12:25; 13:1-3). God uses Christians to help each other in this.
6. Teach new Christians to listen to the Holy Spirit. Since God the Holy Spirit is the One Who gives witness to the spiritual birth of Christians, there is no greater encouragement and help we can give them, than teaching them to listen. A young baby, growing into a young child, learns by seeing, hearing and copying its parents and siblings. A young Christian will learn from other Christians. Yet she or he must learn not to depend on other christians only, but to develop their own, personal, life with God. Praying and reading the Bible, regularly thinking about life and about what the Bible says related to it, this is communication between the individual and God. It is a two-way conversation. Asking questions about ‘why?’ and ‘how?’ Christianity is worked out in everyday life situations, is an important aid to Christian growth. Questions can be asked and answered privately in devotions with God, and publicly in small groups deliberately aimed to nurture and establish new believers. God makes His work in peoples’ lives more and more evident as people become more and more Christlike in their lives (Romans 8:15-16; Galatians 4:6; Romans 8:29; Colossians
1:6-10; 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4).
Evangelism is much more than the narrow preaching of the gospel to lost people. To quote Michael Green again, “Evangelism will not be effective unless it springs from community, and draws people into community: a community which is warm, accepting, unjudging and supportive. That will touch people at a level reason along cannot reach”. Good evangelism makes Christian disciples in local congregations or churches. The New Testament church had compassion for people outside of Christ, which moved them to evangelise in spite of the persecution they consequently suffered. Methods of evangelism varied. They included formal preaching in the synagogues, debating in public halls, giving personal testimony where opportunity arose – out among the lost (Acts 13:14-15; Acts 17:2-3; Acts 19:8-10; Acts 22:1-21). The New Testament church did not rely on ‘pastors, ministers and evangelists’ only. Evangelism was the spontaneous and natural chattering about Jesus by all people whose lives had been revolutionised by Him, and who were themselves in vibrant touch with Him day by day (Acts 5:41-42; Acts 11:19-21). They mixed with the lost, and as they did so, they saw God open the hearts of some to be saved!
God has placed His people in all walks of life in and around Khartoum – and I’m sure throughout the rest of Sudan. He will use you as your life shows the likeness of Jesus Christ to your colleagues. In university, in the suk, in the government civil service, in the shop, in the office, in the factory, in commerce, in agriculture, in industry, in education, in the home, in the street, in the neighbourhood – “Go and make disciples” Jesus said. God’s Kingdom will extend as we do so (Matthew 5:14-16; Matthew 11:12; Matthew 28:18-20).
Thinking it through.
(a). What could the differences be between people responding to the evangelist and his or her message, and people actually responding to God?
(b). How can we be reasonably sure the people we are witnessing to are genuinely responding to God?
(c). Who is responsible for evangelising the lost? Support your answer from Scripture.