Friday, March 08, 2013

Flashback Friday: The Three Prongs of Evangelism

Originally posted last December, I'm reposting now inspired by recent posts over at The High Calling discussing David Platt's new book 'Follow Me' and thoughts on teaching vs grace by both James Nored at the Missional Outreach Network and K Rex Butts at Kingdom Seeking. I encourage you to check out those posts and let me know what you think as they relate to what I write about below.


The Great Commission can be divided into two parts: “make disciples” and “teaching everything [Jesus] commanded.” In other words, sharing your faith and discipling- the two pillars on which my fellowship of churches are built. Most definitions of evangelism can be summed up by these two acts of faith. However, focusing only on these two parts of the Great Commission leave out what I believe to be a third “prong” of evangelism.

In John 13 Jesus instructs his disciples, “A new command I give you, love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (v 34-35) If our “great” commission is to make disciples, shouldn’t we be living consistent with the primary calling card of discipleship? You could extend this thought to argue that sharing your faith and discipling another are acting out in love. Of course, concern for the eternal destiny of another should be rooted in love. And discipling without love is at best legalism, at worst abuse. But love goes beyond this as John (same author, mind you) argues later: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with action and in truth.” (1 John 3:16-18) Later in the same letter John continues, “This is love for God: to obey his commands.” (v 5:3a)

Which takes us right back to the second half of the Great Commission, to teach everything Jesus commanded. But I fear when we do so, we often restrict ourselves to Jesus’ words, unintentionally neglecting his actions. In Matthew 4, setting up the famous Sermon on the Mount, Matthew introduces Jesus’ ministry writing, “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.” (Matthew 4:23) We are familiar with the call to evangelism that comes later in Matthew 9: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.’” (v 36-37) Yet we easily overlook the “bridge” verse that precedes it. “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.” (v 35) Between these identical verses in chapters 4 and 9 is a sampling of “the day in the life…” showing Jesus doing just that- teaching, preaching, healing; the “three prongs” of evangelism.

Preaching and teaching are explicit in the Great Commission, but healing is not. Yet it is clear in the ministry of Jesus and in the example of the earliest accounts of the Church in Acts. Extending the definition of healing to include meeting material needs, we see the Peter preaching the first sermon, the fellowship of believers being “devoted… to the apostles’ teaching” and “[giving] to anyone as he had need.” The result? “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (vs 14-36, 42, 45, 47) implying that these actions were, in fact, forms of evangelism even if it doesn't follow our traditional view.

Preaching, teaching, healing- three prongs of evangelism. If we focus solely on preaching, we may grow in number but not in spiritual maturity. If we over emphasize teaching then we create a culture of academic and religious snobbery that does not grow. If all we concern ourselves with is the poor, then we are nothing more than a charity devoid of the Gospel. All three ingredients are crucial to the spiritual health and growth of the Church.

How has your approach to evangelism reflected either of these three prongs?

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