Posts tagged ·

evangelism

·...

Second-guessing: the death of conversation

no comments

A blog post has been doing the rounds on the Internet recently. It describes the experience of someone who was the target of healing prayer. It’s a thought-provoking article, especially for  those of us who have been involved in outreach events. The question it raises for us hinges on this consideration:

Are the people we’re talking to/praying for/offering hot chocolate to seen primarily as potential converts, apologetics/prayer practice, or primarily as the individuals they are?

Just as importantly, is that how we are perceived? I remember going out to give ice lollies to people on campus one summer, with people from a local church. One person, wondering about our motives, first asked if they were laced with Rohypnol, and then jumped to the conclusion we were Christians, out to convert them.

agenda

Photo: Pava, reused under CC License

Second-guessing other people’s purposes. We do that all the time. School workers in France were recently asked to reflect on the shape education should take. Some took the view that this consultation was carried out in order for the government to look like it was listening, but that all decisions had already been taken; and that they would take any admission of failure as an excuse to give less funding.

Just so with the author of the blog post. She second-guessed the intentions behind the healing-prayer offer. She might have been right, but it could also be that the gentleman was moved by a genuine desire to see her healed. It could also be that he had a desire to get to know her, and to welcome her into the local church family, which he did by not tiptoeing around an obvious issue. The thing is, we cannot know; and the author of the blog post cannot know. Because in second-guessing the purpose of the conversation, in her head, that conversation could only end in one way: there was no room for genuine listening and for genuine conversation.

The same goes for every single time we second guess other people’s motives. If you see a stall of Christians with hot chocolate and assume they’re just there to shove the Gospel in your face and not interested in you as a person, then you’re not going to be able to listen to them OR to talk to them. If you assume that the government is out to justify cost-cutting measures, you’re going to make sure that you give them nothing – and conversely, they’re going to stop listening. Communication breaks down.

In communication, there are two main responsibilities: talking honestly (i.e., not hiding your motives) and listening genuinely. The latter involves trying, as much as possible, not to second guess what the other is trying to achieve.

Being a Christ-like Space Invader

1 comment
This guest post has been written by my good friend Joe, who is currently studying ancient history, and is prayer secretary for Warwick Christian Union. He has already published Minecraft-based fiction; and is a great metaphor for the Trinity (but that’s for another post). If you’d like to write a guest post, send me an email at guestpost@edsslipper.net!

A couple of mornings a week I head off to my local pool for a swim. Generally these sessions are quite relaxing; I meander up and down quite happily … except for one thing. Space Invader. This is the title I have (probably quite unfairly) ascribed to one of my fellow swimmers. The reasons for this are two fold:

  1. She has rather dangly arms and legs.
  2. She consistently collides with me, getting in my way, no matter how far I move over in the pool to escape.

spaceinvader

Photo: theyuped, under CC License.

As Christians, I feel it is very easy to slip into being a Space Invader in the way we share our faith. I do this on occasion. I enter my kitchen and just as one of my housemates says something like “Oh Jesus” and I manage to butt in with some glib comment like “That’s the guy!” Cue my cheesy grin and their momentary stare at me as if I’m some kind of alien before they turn away and get on with their conversation. Somehow in those moments I’ve become as annoying to them as Space Invader is to me, because I was intentionally thrusting my faith in the way of their normal activity. Paul warns us about these situations. He talks about being careful “that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.” If us invading other people’s space with our faith becomes a stumbling block to their coming into relationship with Christ, then this probably isn’t the best way of evangelising.

However I feel I have to stop here with criticism of approaching people with our faith before I become heretical. You see, Jesus was possibly the greatest Space Invader of all time.

Throughout the gospels, again and again, Jesus’ beliefs get in people’s way. Whether confrontationally when he encounters the Pharisees, whom he publicly decries as hypocrites;  or lovingly when he stills Martha’s busyness, Jesus regularly gets in the way. The difference with my Space Invasion, though, is that, in Jesus’ case, people’s lives were regularly changed. So, what is the difference?

Jesus does it with care for the person in mind.

With some examples (like that of Martha) it is easy enough to see how he acts out of love. When he encounters the Samaritan woman at the well, he doesn’t shout at her and condemn her for her sins, but instead gently teaches her about a God who loves her greatly. Even with the Pharisees, his love for them is visible. When Jesus is on the cross, he cries out to God to forgive those who have put him there, including the Pharisees. In every confrontation and encounter Jesus deeply cares about the person whose space he is invading.

And this, I guess, is the key. If we do have to be space invaders for God, it is so much better to be the Jesus kind, the kind who works on deeply loving the person before they open their mouth. And to do that, we need to listen to them and care about what they are saying. That being said, it is a challenge to do so, something I can definitely say from experience as one who is still struggling to love a certain lady who gets in my way at the pool…

Drinking coffee: evangelism revisited

4 comments

A while back, I took practical steps to stop a heresy. Someone in America was claiming that coffee was superior to tea. This heresy was just too much to take. So I took it upon myself to send this lost soul some tea.

coffee

Original photo: LoboStudioHamburg, in the public domain

I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself a tea specialist. I’m definitely not the kind of person who refuses tea that was made in a mug – although I do squirm when I see the teabag soaking in cold milk before the hot water is added. So, naturally, I asked for advice from my friends. They had great suggestions – some I knew really well and I had available at home; some other I had to go and buy; a special blend was provided by a friend of mine; and some blends were definitely out of my reach (Irish breakfast is a surprisingly hard blend to find).

All that I was able to do, I did. I even gave detailed instructions about acceptable amounts of milk; ignored the purist in me and mentioned some people actually put sugar in their tea (I know, right?). But in spite of my efforts, I could not ensure that: the tea would get drunk, much less that it would be drunk properly. Sure enough, I received a message from my friend later telling me that he didn’t quite like it as much with cream. Cream. (Dramatic pause). As it turns out, this was a slip of the tongue (or so I’ve been told); and my friend now likes tea while still preferring coffee.

The thing is: I didn’t simply want to grow the ranks of the tea-drinkers in our great war against the heretics. Quite frankly, I don’t care how many people tick the “I prefer tea” box in the next census (that SO should be a question); or how much tea is being consumed in the world (as long as there’s some for me). But when I see people who are missing out on the greatness of tea, I am saddened – especially when those people are my friends.

But here’s where it becomes more interesting: after I had offered to send tea, I was offered some coffee in return. Which I gratefully accepted. After all, it is only (a) fair, and (b) through seeing things from the other side that I can relate with the Lost. From the other side of the caffeinated evangelism, I got to realise a few things:

  • the first time you drink coffee, it is going to be a weird drink.
  • if the person offering you coffee is a specialist, you’re going to expect a perfect cup instantly.
  • it’s not worth wasting your time if you’re not going to do it properly. There’s no point in receiving coffee if you’re not going to try it; or if you’re going to judge it all on the first cup.
  • coffee is definitely not tea. We really, really, really need to save the Lost ;-)

I am far from having finished the coffee I have received; so this view might change. Not very likely, but my love of tea might grow stronger from the whole experience!

To my readers: are you a tea or a coffee person?

Unlike my previous dubious metaphor post, this one is pretty transparent (I think). But there’s  a lot of stuff in here which barely scratches the surface of evangelism. What *one* thing do you take away from it?

Are Christian Unions detrimental to the furthering of the Kingdom?

11 comments

I’m aware this blog has a readership in the US and in France as well as in the UK. I’m not sure how widespread Christian Unions (CUs) are in American universities, and I know they are nearly non-existent in France. So, to those outside the UK, you may find this post less relevant, and I’m sorry about that; but please bear with me as the issues raised may be relevant to your ministry. First, let me give a bit of background about CUs.

CU

In theory, CUs have a very laudable purpose: to share with people on university campuses and in colleges the Gospel. In theory, then, Christian Unions are merely evangelistic organisations. They are, in my experience, quick to warn members that they are not church, and that they do not, and should not, replace church. All very well in theory; but the place the CUs have in student Christian life is different. To understand their actual function, official and normative documents cannot suffice; rather, the origin of the CU movement should let us know where it fits and how it is used (1).

The UCCF is the national organisation to which CUs are affiliated. It started off, under a different name, as a reaction to perceived liberalism from SCM, and started in a logic of opposition to an organisation which was committed to ecumenism and which tried to cater for a wider spectrum of Christianity (in particular with respect to the place of atonement and Biblical infallibility). Evangelism soon became central to the work of the UCCF, something which could no longer be said of SCM.

Cue forward to 2013. UCCF-affiliated CUs are present in most universities; and often are the main Christian presence on campus. But the logic of dualism and opposition, and in many ways pride, which started off the movement, is still strongly rooted in them. It shows, in particular, through the emphasis on its Doctrinal Basis (DB, around which many tensions are crystallised), which serves mostly as an engine of distinctiveness: our way of imagining Christianity is the only way; these are the essential truths to which we hold, as a Christian Union. Want to know whether we hold your denomination as Christian? Check your beliefs against the DB. How far are we from the historical commitment to ecumenism of pre-split SCM; or even from the commitment to unity stated by the UCCF?

Mike Reeves, from UCCF, tries to justify this central position of the DB through reference to the long-lasting tradition in the churches of having creeds; but an ontological analogy cannot serve to win a functional argument: the DB has no doxological value, that is, it is not conceived as a statement of praise. If it is to be compared to anything functionally, the 39 articles of faith of the Anglican church are a better match; but these do not hold as central a place as the DB holds; and while the former were redacted with the aim to bring continuity to the experience of parishioners after a mostly politically-motivated change (2), the latter stems from a stand-offish attitude that tries to build barriers around a very specific view of Christianity. The contents of the DB themselves could be the topic of another series of posts, but those would easily degenerate into petty theological arguments, and prove divisive rather than uplifting. Suffice it to say, to appease the spirits of my CU friends, that I agree with what they point towards, even though I find the wording sometimes unhelpful.

Since the 1919 split, then, this commitment to a specific view of Christianity as opposed to others has remained part of CUs’ identity. But as offshoots of SCM affiliates, CUs share some of its traits, functionally. A CU is, functionally, a group of Christians on campus, and provides for them ways to explore their faith and to enjoy fellowship with one another. It leads to strong friendships, and to great growth. I am grateful for the role the local CU has played in my life, in giving me the chance to grow and test my gifts in various areas. I am grateful, also, for its official purpose of evangelism, and for the many people who could be blessed through our local action. But all the things that the CU does are meant to be geared towards evangelistic action.

  • Living holy lives turns into being good witnesses.
  • Baptisms are seen primarily as opportunities for evangelism.
  • Giving a warm welcome becomes a gateway for evangelism and that alone – even if covertly.
  • The ultimate aim of Christian life becomes the Great Commission, not the commandment to love God and to love one another – although these might be taken as read.
  • Churches are partners and equippers for evangelism. In particular, church can (although by no means always) becomes restricted to Sundays, with the CU taking over for the rest of the week for all Christian activity.

Why do I think this is detrimental to the furthering of the Kingdom? Because it has a double effect of boxing in Christianity into evangelism, thereby denying its members the full experience and joy of Christianity; and of boxing evangelism into an activity which we were commanded to do, rather than as something that flows from an outpouring of love for Christ and a desire to imitate him. Let me explain this a bit further: several people get involved in evangelistic activities because they are put on by the CU and by its small groups, and because there’s little better to do on a Friday night.While it is good that this happens, and that many are reached through such activities, it leaves me wondering whether it might not be a hypocritical way of engaging with others; and how sustainable it is: that is, how people would behave once they leave uni and no longer have these activities.

Of course, it may not be the job of the CU to do anything other than evangelise; but as long as they remain the main Christian presence on campus, the very people they reach out to will experience a very limited aspect of Christianity, especially if the church they get directed to is a Sunday thing. That’s how some of my friends who became Christians through the CU affirm, with great conviction, that the only purpose of us as followers of Christ is to make more disciples.

It can seem ironic, or hypocritical, that I would promote Christian unity and holistic Christian life by giving such a damning profile of Christian Unions. But as I see it, there are two ways Christian Unions can take – two strands of their DNA they can choose to follow, but keeping both of them together will lead to the problems I outlined:

  • either embrace the part of their heritage which comes from SCM, and become a community of Christians on campus – a union of Christians on campus. But if it chooses to do so, it needs to embrace other parts of Christian life or risk leading its members as well as those it reaches out to, to a cheapened version of Christianity: a commodity rather than a pervasive identity. For that, it needs to face the daunting task of ecumenism and shake off the parts of its make-up that come from wanting to be distinctive from SCM.
  • or embrace the focus on a purely evangelistic activity. But if it chooses to do so, it needs to stop being “the” Christian presence on campus: it needs to stop being the go-to place for young Christians joining university and even for the people it reaches out to, and leave that to others. And that might have to go through a reduction of its activities, where and when they take up the bulk of the week.

In any case, it needs to bridge the gap between its ontological and its functional identities. If it doesn’t, it will bring up a generation of people who pay lip service to Christianity but restrict it to evangelistic action. That would be (pardon the pedantry) bringing the Kingdom farther but not further, making it wider, but doing so at the expense of meaning and of joy, and leaving for many a shallow experience of Christianity.

Bringing the Good News to strangers and to friends is, in both cases, still very relevant and part of the DNA of the CUs. But it cannot be exclusive, or it cannot functionally claim exclusivity over Christianity on campus.

(1) Most of this history I get from Wikipedia. I’m old, I know – but not quite old yet to know this history first-hand. If you know better than Wikipedia, do let me know! UCCF have also put together their own video to relate their history, although no mention of SCM is made. Equally, SCM relate their own history without mentioning the UCCF.

(2) This analysis is from ATP Williams – although, admittedly, article 22 is worded in a fairly stand-offish way.

9 myths about baptism

13 comments

Baptism is still considered by most denominations to be a very important moment; yet there is relatively little teaching about it in churches and much confusion about it still abounds. Here are 9 myths about baptism

baptism

Photo by ucb, reused under CC license

1. You have to be ready to be baptised.

Why is it a myth? Because we couldn’t get ourselves ready. We couldn’t make ourselves acceptable in the sight of God. The idea that you’d have to be a shining example of good behaviour before being allowed to get baptised, is just wrong.

So, you might tell me, “ah, but you have to know what you’re getting yourself into before you can make the decision”. A bit like knowing whom you’re marrying. And whilst there is some truth in that, the argument can be pushed to the extreme: why not complete a doctorate in theology before making the decision?
Within the Anglican church, a simple set of six questions is asked to candidates for adult baptism. They’re simple enough and they are most definitely sufficient. I would even argue they ask too much, in too theologically loaded phrasing, and that the word “candidate” in that setting is incredibly misused (as if you could fail at baptism!)

We love,  because God loved us first. That love is not conditional upon our actions, our theological knowledge, or any such thing. The same goes for baptism: as soon as we are able to recognise that love and where it comes from, we are as ready for baptism as we’re going to be.

2. Once you’re baptised, you stop sinning.

If only! Baptism is no magic wand. It is not something that turns you instantly from a sinner into a saint. It marks symbolically the start of the sanctification process, the death to the old self and the birth to the new self. But being baptised does not make us perfect. Church remains a hospital for sinners rather than a museum of saints.
Crucially, though, thinking that sin stops after baptism reinforces the (wrong) idea that you have to be ready for baptism: ready to give up sin, and strong enough to do so. But all that is asked is a willingness to do so – to turn to Christ and to realise that we have something better to hold on to.

3. Baptism is, first and foremost, an opportunity for evangelism.

I have heard that one before, and more than once. Some churches encourage this by getting the baptised-to-be to give a testimony of how they came to Christ at the baptismal service. It is true that baptism is a public affirmation of a private change.Yet imagine the same sentence with “baptism” replaced by “marriage”. Or “Christmas”. It would sound weird to treat either of these occasions as primarily opportunities for evangelism. It is true that they are moments when unchurched people may attend a service; and as such they do constitute opportunities for evangelism. But that’s not what they are about.
Just so with baptism. Leaving the God-directed part of baptism, the commitment to God out of it, makes baptism a hollow shell.

4. Baptism is a private affair.

Faith can be seen as a private affair in secular countries. On top of that, baptism is something very intimate, and personal: it can be seen as either the start or a significant stage at least in a very personal journey. Therefore, some could argue, baptism should remain between me and God, and whosoever is baptising me.
If baptism were private, though, it would be a private affirmation of a private change: in other terms, it would simply be a validation of what has already happened. A bit like receiving your degree certificate through the post. Is that validation necessary, though? Considering baptism as something private is both giving the event too much importance, and the process of sanctification too little.

5. If it’s not full immersion, it doesn’t count.

A lot of modern, evangelical churches insist on baptism being full immersion. I find that quite ironic, given the same churches’ reticence to follow set liturgy, but are so deadly intent on doing other things the “proper way”. Yes, βαπτίζω, whence we get the word baptism, does mean “immerse”. And yes, symbolically, full immersion implies the entire person, body and mind; and therefore reflects the fullness of the commitment made to Christ in baptism. And refusing full immersion for the sake of keeping your sinning hand from this commitment denotes a lack of willingness to submit to Christ altogether!
But while full immersion should not be shunned, it should not necessarily be insisted on: the apostles gave specific guidance on baptism, which recognises baptism by affusion as a proper way to proceed, and suggests other parts to baptism which aren’t really adhered to; and – most importantly, what is it supposed to count for?

6. If it’s not said with the proper words or by the right person, it doesn’t count.

This is the opposite end of the low/high-church spectrum. There is an authorised liturgy for baptisms in the Church of England – but this is more for the sake of unity than on theological grounds (I hope!). After all, in all that, the same as above applies: what is it supposed to count for?

7. Baptism is not really important, so it doesn’t matter whether you get baptised or not.

This is a tough one. If baptism is not what you get saved by, why the hell should you get baptised? After all, it’s not like you’re going to stop sinning afterwards…
While you’re at it, why should you take communion? Or worship?

And it is true – some denominations do not practise baptism. But then the question comes up: why did Jesus get baptised? What was the point, other than showing us the way, and marking his acceptance by his Father?

Baptism is a mark of submission, it is a step forward, an important stage in a journey – and a public commitment to which we can be held to account. That, in itself, makes baptism important – without even needing to use scripture as back-up.

8. Baptism is so important that if you don’t get baptised, you’ll rot in hell. Therefore, babies should be baptised.

Again at the opposite end of the spectrum, some denominations hold that baptism is necessary for salvation; and therefore baptise babies just to make sure they will make their way to heaven. Yet grace, not baptism, is what saves us. And that grace is through faith, not through baptism. (And, in any case, those who are saved were predestined… what? :-P )

9. Infant baptism is an abomination/plainly repugnant to the Bible

While infant baptism seems to suggest that salvation is obtained through reception of sacraments, it is not necessarily the theology behind the practice. Baptism denotes more than a one-way process where an individual declares their informed decision to follow Christ. It also marks a welcome into the Christian church; and there is no reason to withhold that welcome from children. How Jesus deals with children goes a long way to show that.

What are your thoughts? How do you see baptism?