Sunday, January 3, 2016

Evangelism?

This post is the result of a couple recent conversations about sharing the truth and about evangelism which got me thinking about some of Saint John Chrysostom's words:

"He left us on earth in order that we should become like beacons of light and teachers unto others; that we might act like leaven, move among men like angels, be like men unto children and like spiritual men unto animal men, in order to win them over, and that we may be like seed and bear abundant fruits. There would be no need for sermons if our lives were shining; there would be no need for words if we bore witness with our deeds. There would be no pagan if we were true Christians."

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Saint Seraphim of Sarov (commemorated on January 2 in the Orthodox church) is famous for saying "acquire the Holy Spirit and thousands around you will be saved". He was a monk and after living in the monastery community for many years, he received the abbot's blessing to go into the forest and live as a hermit. He spent years alone in prayer. He's famous for spending 1,000 days and nights kneeling on a rock in prayer. Eventually he came out of solitude and people just flocked to him. He was so full of the grace of God that people who knew him saw him shine like the sun. Thousands of people were converted or renewed in their faith because of his holiness, but he never once went out and tried to convert anybody. He did not have a goal to "win hearts for Jesus". But he was able to win them anyway because he truly and completely loved Jesus.

I am nothing like that. I wish I could be. But it is a comfort to me to know that hearts can be converted without anxious fretting or worry about whether or not my neighbor is "saved". We who are Orthodox don't actually speak in terms of people "being saved"; our mindset is one of process and gradual transformation rather than a specific point in time; but we are still called by Christ to share our faith in Him. And the desire to share is strong and it's authentic. As Christians we are in possession of the Great Truth and it is good and proper to want to share that. But there comes a problem when we start to think that the burden of bringing others to the truth rests only on our shoulders.

When we see the "right" way and we know where God is at work it's very easy to begin to compartmentalize and try to pin God down to one area. We forget that He is God and that He doesn't have to work within the framework of our limited understanding. I've heard Fr. Thomas Hopko say that we can say where God is, but we cannot say where He is not.

When we grasp a truth and desire to share it, it is very easy to begin to become judgemental and condescending. Unfortunately that's not the best way to go about winning people over. We may have a hold on something true, but we must be careful to remember that when we start to try to put God in a box and say, "God is with me, therefore He is not with you", or "I am right, therefore you are wrong", we are more likely to be setting ourselves up to judge and condemn, rather than to love.

I think that often we content ourselves with saying we "know" who God is and what He's done for us when we really only have surface knowledge. We think we have a handle on the truth and we become complacent, thinking that because we've taught others ABOUT Jesus, or about Orthodoxy, that we have done our "duty", or even that we are somehow better in some way. But knowledge about something is not the same as the living experience of that reality. The authentic, personal relationship is missing, and oftentimes the relationship is absent in our own lives, so that we are unable to even make the introduction when we want to.

Frankly, I'm not interested in listening to someone who is judging me, and I don't think most other people are either. You may have all your ducks in a row, and you may have complete understanding of right practices and teachings, but if you come to me and begin to tell me that I've got it all wrong without having made any effort to know me and to love me then it's not likely that I'll trust your words. All I'll be able to see is that you are trying to manipulate me into following your agenda and I'll miss the truth you're trying to share

Please note that I am NOT saying that we should not share what we know to be True. I am NOT advocating hiding any lamps under bushels or becoming flavorless salt. I am just trying to point out that we must be aware of the state of our own hearts before we try to convince someone else that they should want what we have. When someone looks at my life, does it seem like a life they would want? Not the outer circumstances, but the inner life - is the peace that surpasses understanding made manifest in my life, or am I spending my time worrying and being anxious because my brother has everything all wrong?

I can only work on my own repentance, my own turning away from sin. I can't make others do it and I know that the more I push, the less likely it is that others will even desire to be like me. It's so clear when it comes to parenting that we cannot save our kids, that the only recourse we have is our example and our prayers. But I think it really applies everywhere, not just in the family.

We all face the same choice as Adam and Eve - eat the fruit, and willfully disobey God, or abstain and freely submit to His restrictions, which are ultimately for our benefit. I can only hope that when others look at the choice I have made that it is one they want to follow in as well. I hope that I can grow and be transformed by my relationship with Christ so that others will see and will want that too. And that means I have to repent daily, even minute by minute sometimes. And it's hard and I sometimes want to give up and I sometimes wish I could just be ignorant of the truth and live an easier life.

But the reward that is the result of lifelong repentance is a reward indeed! And so I'll press on toward the prize. But for now I've got my hands full taking the log out of my own eye. I don't know that I'll ever be able to see to remove my brother's speck.



3 comments:

  1. Found your blog through AO! I am not Orthodox, but what you wrote resonates with my feelings about "evangelism." You put it into words so well! I have sometimes felt guilty for not being the type of "evangelist" my church says I should be, and have even wondered why I would consider the mission field when I am not one to shout my faith from the rooftop. What you have written describes my thoughts so well. It is the hidden character of the heart, the fruit of the spirit, and the Lord Himself that makes Christ known. It is no small thing to spend my energy in following Him, being an example to my children and showing kindness to my neighbors. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Sarah! I love how you put it when you said "the Lord himself makes Christ known". That's exactly what I was trying to say (with so many more words:) ).

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  2. I love this post. This is precisely how I see my role as a Christian--just to live life and let that be the influence on others that it truly can be (alas, I cannot claim to be like St. Seraphim!). It's funny that I am a member of an 'evangelical' church but don't see myself as evangelical. My sister is Catholic and we have similar views on many matters of faith/theology. In any case, I think you are spot-on!

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