Evangelism and Evangelical Christianity are the current buzz, but for all the wrong reasons. Many would argue that recent events have given it a black eye and many are standing in line waiting for their turn to sling mud.
But in light of recent events I woke up with a weird, poignant image in my mind. Kind of like a scene from a movie.
Picture a beer pong tournament being hosted in a large arena—much like a football stadium. In the center of the field, there is one table where two participants square off—one for the blue team and one for the red team. The stadium is packed with unruly spectators who are unrestrained in cheering for their side. The world watches. But there’s one unusual aspect. The participants each have customized ping pong balls labeled with the word, “Jesus”. As these custom-made Jesus balls fly, the masses soak in the enetertainment, fights break out among the spectators and the stadium erupts in a drunken outrage.
A subtitle flashes across the bottom of the screen:
“You’re tossing Jesus around like a ping pong ball at a beer pong tournament while the world gets drunk on entertainment.”
This scene may seem overdramatic or flamboyant to some, but it’s time to be honest about the state of affairs within modern Christian culture. In large part, we’ve treated Jesus like a popular consumer item that can be customized to our liking. As if we were shopping for an SUV or building a brand new home, we select the Jesus of our preference and criticize our neighbors for their lack of taste and understanding. But Jesus doesn’t come with options—He’s personal, not customized. There’s a big difference. In fact, the only option is to follow, or not.
Once we choose to follow, evangelism is part of the deal. While some might say the events in today’s culture signify the death of evangelism, I believe they signify a spiritual awakening among God’s people. An awakening that is transforming what we now call, church.
My intention for this article is to point out a few challenges as a way to create awareness. There is a vibrant and real battle being fought both in and out of our institutions. My prayer is that the Holy Spirit would awaken and convict individual hearts as needed. Also, that God’s anointed leaders would step forward. For such a time as this, our role is one of faithfulness and courage.
As we navigate the road ahead, here are five things we must consider.
1. Jesus Wasn’t Competitive
When Jesus said, “the first shall be last,” He declared the end of competition. By willingly giving His life, he proved His point. However, in modern-day religiosity we have failed to turn the other cheek. We’ve not only pitted Christians against non-Christians, we’ve become divided amongst ourselves—Baptists against Methodists and Pentecostals against Catholics.
As a result, lukewarm faith can be likened to a modified sporting event where we cheer on our team and compete against those who don’t think like we do. This has wrecked the institution for years and continues to dilute any hope of unity.
Unity is found when competition is removed.
2. We Don’t go to Church, We are the Church
A city on a hill should not be hidden. But by that same token, a box on a hill should not be idolized. Many of us go to church because it’s what our parents did, or it’s what we think we’re supposed to do. But the inherent problem is that our faith becomes relegated to an institution instead of becoming personal.
As a culture, we have placed churches and pastors on the throne of our heart—our own personal saviors to defend. The result is that church has become something we do or somewhere we go instead of something we are. In a world that continues to question the institution, we have to become the good news in the life of others.
Instead of going to church, we need to be the church.
3. The Gospel Isn’t a Hammer, It’s a Sword
The great debate between grace and truth rages on. And the pendulum swings from love to justice as circumstances send our emotions back and forth like a pinball inside of our chest. We use the gospel like Thor’s hammer to deliver the deadening blow to our adversaries. Instead of laying down our stones in light of our own shortcomings, we hurl them at those surely deserving of our reproach.
But the gospel isn’t a hammer, it’s a sword. A blunt object pounds, a refined edge pierces us to the core. And like a perfectly shined sword, the gospel reflects the image of the one who looks into it. The gospel reflects our truest image—not only who we are, but the identity we were created to bear.
It’s the gospel that pierces the human heart, not the craftiness of the one who wields the sword.
4. Theology is not a Substitute for Living a Life of Faith
When I was in college, one of my Bible study leaders handed me Systematic Theology and said, “Study this.” For a while, I did. I thought that arguing theological points was the good Christian thing to do. And with each internal victory, my self-righteous ego grew. Oh sure, I wanted to give glory to God, but I desperately wanted people to see how smart I was.
When we’re more concerned with how many verses we can quote than our willingness to live them out, there’s a problem. Our theological vocabulary isn’t the fruit that Jesus was referring to. But pride is the sneakiest of all vices because it blinds us to its presence. And the more consumed we become, the more we refuse the humility we need.
Just as knowledge is not a substitute for wisdom, theology is not a substitute for living a life of faith.
5. We Cannot Remove the Power of God
In most churches we recite liturgy like the Apostle’s Creed and declare that Jesus was “conceived by the Holy Spirit.” We make supernatural declarations yet we refuse to believe a supernatural God. He’s either not that powerful or we’re smarter than He is.
When it comes to the power and presence of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives, we must not write it off as spooky hogwash. As sure as “I am willing” was spoken from Jesus’s lips, we must be willing to trust in His supernatural ability to increase our faith.
The power of God always accompanies the people of God.
Beer Pong and Jesus
In the end, we are either using Jesus to win at a game of beer pong or He’s using us to advance His kingdom. Instead of picking a side, maybe we should learn to pick up our cross. And in doing so we will show the world that victory doesn’t bring peace. Peace is found when we know for certain that the battle has already been won. The ability to lay down our stones is found in our brokenness, not our strength.
You cannot separate evangelism and Christianity. As long as God’s people exist, evangelism is alive and well. But we must realize that evangelism has less to do with what we say and more to do with who we are. God leaves His fingerprints on the world through ours.
The question is, are we leaving a fingerprint or just smearing mud everywhere?