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Not about butts in seats, evangelism is recruitment for the rebellion
The church is an alternative to and an antidote for evil
I showed the Cell Leaders perhaps the most boring part of Return of the Jedi, which by the way has recently climbed up my ever-changing ranking, to illustrate the importance of preparing for a battle, an insurgence, a rebellion. I wanted them to see themselves as part of a rebellion against evil, darkness, and death.
I was happy that at least some of them caught on to the analogy and really saw themselves as a part of the rebellion. We’ve collected some rebellious people for good reason: the world is full of trouble, and too often Christians are complicit in that trouble, and so authentic disciples of Jesus feel the need to rebel against not only the evil in the world, but also the evil in the church! I can’t believe I am agreeing with David French, but he’s absolutely right when he says that Franklin Graham is sacrificing the witness of Evangelicals in his support of the President. Furthermore, Trump has changed the very moral fabric of Evangelicals. There is plenty to rebel in, as so many Christians fail in their rebellion, and like the Sadducees before them simply become complicit in the Empire’s crimes.
Circle of Hope attracts, appropriately, rebellious kinds of people and I would never have it any other way. I really do think the church is not only the alternative to the world’s evil, it is also the antidote to it. We aren’t just creating a separate, sacred walled-off commune; no, our gates do not close, and you may come into our community, and we think entrance into the community is the very way the world will change.
I want to stay on this point because I really do think we need to see sharing the Gospel as elemental to peace and justice, to turning the world over. Christians need to see themselves as organizers for the rebellion: we need to see our efforts at revealing the Good News of Jesus to the world as liberatory, as freeing, as part of the revolution. We might see our evangelism as enlistment to the rebellion, to the Rebel Alliance. And hell, maybe you’ll convince someone to join us for less-than-pure motives, not unlike the infamous mercenary Han Solo. But by the end of the movies, he’s General Solo.
If the Good News is real, it must be shared
If Good News is really good news then it must be shared. I love how the late, great brother James Cone put it in the final chapter of Black Theology of Liberation:
The church is fundamentally founded on the reception of the Holy Spirit, and the commitment to reveal the Spirit through actions; preaching the Gospel is liberation, and God proclaims his gospel through Jesus and “the outpouring of his Holy Spirit.” The church is compelled to tell the whole world about the good news of freedom—keeping it to one’s self is not an option. The Great Commission is about freeing the oppressed from slavery and moving the oppressors to rid themselves of their chains. The church also needs to participate in the “liberation struggle,” yearning for the last to be first and the first last. Finally, our fellowship needs to be a “visible manifestation that the gospel is reality.” “If the church isn’t free, if it is a distorted representation of God’s kingdom, if it lives according to the old order (and it usually has), then no one will believe its message.” The future eschatological hope of resurrection must be expressed in the present day. “Something can be done about this world.”
Amen, Brother Cone. That’s at the heart of why I want to create a group of rebels with a cause, rooted in a mission for Jesus. I think that’s a message people want to hear and they want to belong to. I think that people want to be recruited and participate in an effort to make the world a better place, to have a part to play in our effort to be and do the greater good.
But as any activist or organizer will tell you, you really do have to believe in the bigger mission, in order to do the hard work of enlistment. Organizing isn’t just about lofty ideas or intellectualism (as appealing as academics are for some of us), it’s about things that appear much more mundane than that, and some that require more nerve. It means signing someone up for a mailing list. It means asking for a donation. It means recruiting for membership. It means carrying a pamphlet and knowing an elevator speech. That’s what activists do who want to change the world. That’s what my friends who are trying to make overdose prevention sights a reality in Philadelphia do too. They stay on message and they share their good news.
I want to build a movement of people doing that for Jesus, because I think Christians need to be like activists; sometimes they are actual political activists, that’s true. And the church’s history is full of great demonstrations of activism and progress. But more than just improving the present world through liberal politics, or something, I actually think sharing the Gospel gives people a chance at participating in something that supersedes the worldly order, but also subverts it. The transmission of the Gospel, the revelation of God in the world, the redemption project of Jesus, the event of salvation inaugurated on the cross, punctuated in resurrection, and sown around the whole Mediterranean and beyond, is what we are talking about. Jesus started a revolution and you can be a part of it.
Why don’t we act like we’re in a rebellion?
So why aren’t Christians activists for Jesus? Why do we often seem sheepish about our faith? For what it’s worth, I have generally rejected the idea that millennials aren’t evangelizing, largely because of my own experience in Circle of Hope. You can read about my criticism of Barna’s recent study here. But I still think of the activist with the clipboard asking you to sign up for the cause seems to spark some fear in us. And maybe not so much anxiety, as much as ambivalence.
One of the best things about the church, and especially ours, is that it soothes fearful, anxious hearts and minds. People come here and receive comfort and relief. I think Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden is light, so I am glad we create that kind of environment.
I think we create a sense of community, too. And we alleviate people’s loneliness, and fatigue in trying to socially navigate the complex world. We are a place for community, friendship, love.
I have a sneaking suspicion that people don’t always feel like they are joining a rebellion when they join the church, because the church is about pastoral care and community and fellowship. Those are “nice” things, not necessarily rebellious things. They are things that comfort people in distress and we don’t want to presume someone is in distress, so we are sensitive in our invitation.
Furthermore, I think we are insecure or put off by the actual invitation. So many Christians have missed the point of the expansive revolution that Jesus is inaugurating by reducing evangelism to a confessional prayer, a set of doctrine, or even something as weird as weekly attendance at a worship meeting. I admit, if that’s the thing we’re doing, it’s a little lame.
More than a safe place
Circle of Hope has been a refuge for many people burnt by the church; but I think we can be much more than that and I think we are much more than that. We are more than a refuge, we are a fortress, a bulwark, one that is ready for a battle against the powers of evil, darkness, and death. The very powers that bring us wounded people, we are ready to take on. That’s the kind of rebellion we are on: one for freedom, liberation, redemption, salvation. Indeed, something can be done about this world.
So, earnestly, when I share the Good News, I’m recruiting for the mission, for the cause, for the rebellion. I want people on our team doing that with me. We have a lot of work to do in our struggle, but I think we have the stuff, the people, and the vision from God to do it. I’m motivated by Paul when he tells the Ephesians:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.