07.11.2014

Sergey Vdovin: Biblical Evangelism in Contemporary Society

Message in North Carolina, 7 November 2014

Sergey Vdovin (left) in North Carolina

Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ from Russian Evangelical Alliance, a body related to European and World Evangelical Alliance!

Praise God for this meeting, which I see as a next step in fulfilling Jesus' prayer for His Church in 17. Thanks to God for Billy Graham, his ministry and its worldwide impact for the glory of God! Thanks to God for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s efforts to help make this happen!

May God bless you all!

I'm privileged today to talk about Biblical evangelism in contemporary society. In fact, it's my passion. But I wonder what can I say here to you, dear brothers and sisters, who's experience in this field goes far beyond my own imagination. However, remembering that ministry comes out of obedience, I want to obey your decision to have me speaking here today on this matter.

Evangelism is the proclamation in word, deed and Christian character of the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross and through the resurrection. Evangelism lies at the core of the identity of being Christian. We affirm that it is not possible to be truly a Christian without radical commitment to world evangelisation. Evangelism is based on the understanding that Jesus Christ is the only Saviour of humanity and the Lord of all creation. The Bible is the ultimate authority in all matters of faith and conduct.

In all Christian traditions, there have been times when mistakes were made and Christians struggled to link the proclamation of the Gospel with acts of justice and peace. In Mark 5 we can find the way to overcome the dichotomy between proclamation and action. Here the author recorded the context in which the different stories occur:

1. What Jesus did

2. The impact Jesus had

3. The people’s reaction to him

In the first snapshot, Jesus encounters a demon-possessed man in the region of Gergesene and delivers him from this affliction, resulting in the man being found “clothed and in his right mind” (Mark 5:15).

The following two stories are intertwined: Jesus is on his way to the house of Jairus, a local religious leader, when he encounters a woman who had suffered from a long illness. While Jesus is busy healing the woman, Jairus’ daughter dies. The final snapshot is of Jesus restoring her back to life.

Two themes emerge from this chapter:

1. The authority and the power of Jesus and

2. The breadth of the Gospel

First, we see that Jesus has power over evil. He has power over disease and illness, and he has power over death itself. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, holds ultimate power! Thus, the Gospel is the ultimate story on which to base our doctrine, theology and practise.

Secondly, the text shows that the Gospel is for men and women caught up in evil, for people who are suffering from illness and disease, and for children and their parents.

The breadth of the gospel is for:

1. Those excluded from the community (the demon-possessed man)

2. Those who are outcasts (the woman)

3. Those in positions of power and influence (Jairus)

No one is exempt from the need for God’s free and saving grace. Transformation is for all.

Mark also gives us details about the response of people to Jesus. Some are fearful, others angry, some are amazed, others cannot but help tell their stories of what Jesus has done. Some laugh and mock. The question posed to all whom Jesus encounters is: How will you respond? The question for all who claim the name of Christ is: What will you do, personally and corporately, to further the cause of holistic, worldwide evangelism?

The Holy Spirit is a missionary Spirit - thus evangelism should arise spontaneously from a Spirit-filled church. A church that is not a missionary church,  is contradicting itself and quenching the Spirit. Worldwide evangelisation will become a realistic possibility only when the Spirit renews the Church in truth and wisdom, faith, holiness, love and power. All who claim to be followers of Jesus must proclaim both his authority – Jesus is Lord! - and the breadth of his grace.

We are learning how to do evangelism in the way of Jesus – how to proclaim that salvation comes from God and point to the implications of this proclamation for the transformation of society. We are also learning that truly biblical evangelism demands that the divisions amongst Christians be overcome. As Jesus states in his prayer in John 17, the witness of the disciples is hindered if they are not one in heart and mind.

Like Jesus in chapter 5 of Mark’s Gospel, we are called to bring the Good News to all: outcasts, women, men, children, the sick, the needy and the religious leaders. Not only are we called, but we are also enabled by the Father and the Son, through the Spirit, to carry out God’s mission – to let the whole earth hear the whole Gospel in word, deed and character.

What was Jesus like? The historical Jesus, the pre-Easter Jesus? What would it have been like to be a companion of Jesus? Jesus was a peasant, which tells us about his social class.

Clearly, he was brilliant. His use of language was remarkable and poetic, filled with images and stories. He had a metaphoric mind. He was not an ascetic, but a world-affirming person with a zest for life. He had social and political passion. Like a Gandhi, Martin Luther King or a Billy Graham, he challenged the dominate system of his day.

He was a religious ecstatic, a Jewish mystic, for whom God was an experiential reality.

As such, Jesus was also a healer. And there seems to have been a spiritual presence around him, like that reported of St. Francis or again, Billy Graham.

And as a figure of history, Jesus was an ambiguous figure – you could experience him and conclude:

that he was insane, as some of his family did;

or that he was simply eccentric;

or that he was a dangerous threat;

or that he was filled with the Spirit of God.

Today's realities include:

Knowledge doubling growth

Unimaginable levels of diversity

Self-destructive separatism

All-sufficiency due to ignorance.

The growing power and influence of single individuals

Concentration of unprecedented resources in the hands of one person or a geographical location

Aspiration to supremacy

Sharp polarisation

Limitation of resources and a fatal fight for access to them

Unheard levels and diversity of temptation

Lies of boundless depth and subtlety

A deficit of adequate perception and expression

Absolute impossibility of checking the authenticity of mass-media information

A speed of change beyond our abilities to adapt

A drift in common sense and healthy notions

The degradation, distortion and unhealthy revision of family and marriage

The increasing impotence of traditional moral reference points

Affection as an expression of decadence

Inadmissible cost of trust, faithfulness and responsibility

Growing insolvency of borrowers

Manipulation of public opinion In the interests of the ruling class

The growing chasm between East and West

Decline of average-level education and competence

What does it take to confront these trends from a biblical point-of-view?

We have no option other than to outlive and out-think this pagan world.

Where are we today in evangelism?

It started from the East, in Israel, as the teaching of one person. In Europe it became a philosophy, then  an institution. Then it went across the sea where it became an enterprise.

In the West we find ourselves in a more public, less personal and more democratic setting.

In the East we have a more personal, less public and more hierarchical setting.

This doesn’t imply that one is better than the other. It does mean that we are not perfect. It means that we need each other. It means that when we're together for Christ's sake, we complement each other.

What are the characteristics of evangelism in contemporary society?

1. A balanced world-view

2. A long-term, tested-and-proven example to the world

3. Relationships built with the world

3. A healthy impact on the world

4. An ability to see and tell the truth

5. The desire to serve the world and be within it

6. All this is partnership according to John 17

Thanksgiving

Thanks to God for the theological committee and leadership of the WEA, WEALI, the leadership of the EEA and REA, whose support and prayers have played a crucial role in the preparation of this presentation.

References

1. WEA evangelism statement

2. “Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World”

3. Lausanne Covenant, §14

4. “Body Matters” (Ernie Addicott, WEALI)

5. “Changemakers” (EEA GA 2003, John Smith)

6. “What Would it Have Been Like to be a Companion of Jesus?” (Marcus Borg)