This is why St. Paul in his letters does not find it necessary to urge his readers to be active in evangelism but does find it necessary to warn them against any compromise with the rulers of this age.
Leslie Newbigin’s words about evangelism in The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society will catch some readers by surprise. Those of us raised within evangelical forms of Christianity can easily assume that evangelism – sharing the Gospel of Jesus – is an activity widely prescribed by the New Testament. And while Paul does teach about the spiritual gift of evangelism and encourages pastors to do the work of evangelism, evangelism as we’ve come to conceive of it – the individual’s responsibility to share the Gospel – is difficult to spot within Bible.
As I preached about on Sunday, the fact that the Bible doesn’t affirm this type of evangelism doesn’t mean that Gospel proclamation in all forms is unimportant to the church. It may mean, however, that some of us need to rethink how we expect the Gospel to be shared.
As Newbigin points out, Paul urges faithfulness to the Gospel through every means at his disposal to the early churches. His priority for those who’ve received the Gospel is to put all of their energies and efforts into being the church, the presence of Christ in the world, all the while aware of their dependence on God’s grace. As the church lives within the pattern of our Savior, demonstrating the coming kingdom of heaven, we will naturally find ourselves in opposition to the corrupt, unjust, selfish “rulers of this age.” Considering evangelism from this vantage point is not easy; suffering may result when the ethics of the kingdom collide with the way of the world.
And what about evangelism? When the church lives this way, including the possibility of suffering graciously, we will be asked questions by the watching world which can be given but one answer: the Gospel of Jesus. When the church’s priority is faithfulness to the Gospel in community, everything we do becomes an opportunity for evangelism because our words and actions can only be understood through the lens of the event of Christ’s death and resurrection.
Of course, evangelism considered in this manner will call into question those things within our churches that can be understood without ever considering the Gospel.