Friday, March 30, 2007

Reaching the lost...

"For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings."

1 Corinthians 9:19-23

We studied this passage last Sunday during Sunday School and without deliberate examination one could easily justify a sinful lifestyle as a means to "reach the lost". I have heard this passage used before in conjunction with the argument that we have to be "out there like Jesus was". You know, in the bars, at the lake on Sunday morning, etc.....basically "being all things to all people". There are impassioned pleas from the "Missional Church" to be out there in the community and reaching the lost, just like Jesus. There is one glaring inconsistency with this concept. Jesus called sinners to repent. Period.

Merely adjusting our lifestyle a bit (some would say) and being willing to change our church view so that we could encompass so many different "types" of people is what they say Paul is campaigning for. It is critical when reading scripture to determine who the writer is speaking to and the context in which he is speaking about. Are we talking about evangelism or are we talking about church? Are they different? Do they co-mingle ? These are questions that divide a large number of Christians but the answers determine the authenticity of the church and whether it is a true reflection of what the New Testament gives us as it's model. Paul is clearly speaking about sharing the gospel. The question is where this kind of teaching and relationship building should take place.

Through studying God's word I have determined that evangelism is a charge that has been given to me and without exception or excuse I am obligated to fulfill this command. Daily, weekly, my neighbors, my family, strangers, and to the ends of the earth. This command challenges every part of sinful me and is something that I am struggling with right I write this. I want to tell. I want to share. I want to love. But I want to honor Christ. I want to obey his commands. I want to also adhere to scripture like 1 Corinthians 15:33 & 2 Corinthians 6:14. I am not "above" those who have yet to know Christ as their savior but I am well aware of my own flesh and it's predisposed desire to choose sin. I am praying, reading and under the full accountability for my lack of evangelism. Still, I could not be absolved of this command by simply encouraging one to come to church. I'll go one step further and say that inviting someone to church is actually not evangelism at all, and I know that flies in the face of all things "evangelical". The mandate for us to share the Good News could not possible consist of a mere invitation. It is so much more.

I do not take issue with the speculation that Jesus (if his days on earth were now) would not hesitate to meander through the seediest parts of town. He would share the truth of the gospel message and to teach the truth of what His Father had sent Him to do. He would most likely reach out and touch the unclean, the forgotten, and most importantly the unforgiven. Above all....he would admonish sin. He would never leave a lost and forsaken child in the midst of their transgressions. It is shameful to scripture and to the purpose of His death to never acknowledge the wretched, deplorable, empty, dead, sinful state of the lost.

The sinner without Christ will never seek Jesus or God or His love without first affirming their own depraved soul. That comes first. (Romans 3:23) Then would come the recognition for the need to be saved. (Titus 3:5)

I am getting off course and headed to the pulpit with my preach, so I'll go back to the passage and try to stay on track.

Paul is speaking to the saints about how he is ministering to the lost ....not how to "do church". He even makes clear the statement regarding reaching those "not under the law" but still "under the law of Christ". To make himself weak he would never advocate sin, but is reminding the saints not speak in a condescending way and remember who we were when we are completely and totally lost and all the ways and words of the Lord were foreign. "Becoming all things to all people" as Paul has put it, does mean that we are not above sharing the gospel...with anyone. We should humble ourselves so that God is glorified....not our lifestyle or our haughty choices. Righteous choices are only made righteous because of God's good grace in our lives for which we do not deserve. We have no reason to boast in ourselves.

Paul's letter to the Christians in Corinth is so powerful on so many levels. He advises them about marriage, counsels them about relationships with one another, instructs them on church matters, and commands them to honor Christ. I am burdened with the knowledge that there are so many developing churches that desire "their method" with such voracity, they have forgotten the glorious truth of the gospel. That apart from Him we are dead. But the Good News.... The Good News is:

"He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed"

Isaiah 53:5

Praise God for his grace!


Brian Barber said...

Nice post today Kim. You must be reading J.I. Packer!? I've read about many "missional" churches who are biker churches or punk churches or surfer churches - and this is exactly the opposite of what Paul is teaching. How can you be all things to all people when the very nature of the church you have planted/started is geared toward a certain target audience. There are many churches out there who follow the market driven methods that are deliberately fashioning their building, worship services, and even the teaching/preaching so that it is tailored to the "market demographic" they are trying to reach. Most of them are trying to reach the people that they call the "holy grail" of church growth - the 20-35 year old singles and young married folks with young children, because "this market segment has sooo much energy and injects life into a church". They may not misuse Paul's words in this text specifically, but I would say they are involved in practices that are contrary to what he is teaching here.

Here are some thoughts on this passage that occurred to me in my study of the text. Sometimes - Paul has to give up his freedoms in Christ and so he must refuse certain things, like money or certain foods. Sometimes he may have to endure certain things, like being around sin that he has been set free from and no longer causes him to stumble. For us sometimes in evangelism we must give up certain things, like rest, like time doing what we want to do, like comfort, like money. Sometimes in evangelism we must endure certain things, like the foul speech of coworkers, like the bad habits of other parents at the soccer field, like the public sin of criminals in the prisons, like the godlessness of an abortion clinic, or like the discomfort of ministering to people who are sitting at death's door and may already be mentally gone. All this in the context of Paul's practice of personal evangelism. And now I'm done with my cup of beefaroni, so I have to get back to work...

C.T. Lillies said...

I love that passage and yes I have seen it misused--a lot. I like the way talked about how they are actually going against that passage because of how they're doing it. Very good. I'd even take it a step further, though, and say that many of them are using it as a method to justify a certain lifestyle or even live out some idea they were never able to attain.

Thats my first thought. The second thought is of the man the disciples caught casting out demons in Jesus name who 'was not one of them'. To which he replied 'leave him alone.' I don't know, Paul also rejoiced that the gospel was being preached--even out of wrong motives. So I may not agree with the idea of a biker church that holds services in a tattoo parlor... *chuckle

"...the word of God is not bound."
--2 Timothy 2:9

Kelly said...

Loved this post. We were a part (as "seasoned" Christians) of a seeker church for several years and finally just couldn't take it anymore. It was so hard to see the attitude of making people feel comfortable take precedence over sharing God's Truth and allowing the Holy Spirit to do the work. God is God- we don't need to make Him more appealing, and I think that is a huge crisis in our Christian culture today.