Friday, November 14, 2008

Evangelism and the Eighth Commandment

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

Depending on the method of numbering the Ten Words or Ten Commandments, this is counted as either the Eighth or the Ninth Commandment. Since the numbering is purely an arbitrary assignment by those who honor these declarations of the Lord, and not a numbering by the Lord Himself, the number does not really matter. The content, however, does matter. The intended meaning is a matter of life and death, everlasting life and death.

This is especially true because of the impact that it has upon the Church’s witness unto the Gospel. The Gospel, or the euangelion, is the good message that bears witness to the fullness of God’s grace in Christ Jesus. The Gospel is the good message that gives life to hearts that are dead in sin. The Gospel is the message that revitalizes lives that have become buried in the worries and troubles that a sin filled world piles up over all who struggle to survive in this world.

The Gospel is Good News!

The Gospel is the good news concerning the salvation that is in and through Christ Jesus.

End of story.

Sadly, this is not where we leave it. Rather than trusting in the power of the Gospel, we turn away from this power and seek to make it about what we do. Those who claim to be the most “evangelical” are usually the ones who twist the Gospel in on itself so that instead of being the good news of Jesus Christ it becomes impossible to recognize and rather resembles a heavy burden that must somehow be carried by those who should be set free from all heavy burdens.

Often, the promoters of evangelism are the worst about this horrible abuse against the saints of God. Often the promoters of evangelism are the very worst violators of the Eighth Commandment, bearing the very worst and most horrible False Witness against their neighbors, and worse, against their brethren.

Yes. Sadly, very sadly, those who promote Evangelism and Personal Witnessing are often the worst of all those who bear false witness against their neighbors.

It is common to have a preacher or another church leader or organizer lay heavy burdens upon the hearts of the saints who gather to hear the Gospel. Rather than building them up in the knowledge of the Lord and all that the Lord serves in His Holy Communion, rather than lifting burdens from those who are drowning in their sinfulness, rather than reviving those whose ears and hearts have grown weary and need to be opened again to the precious good news of forgiveness and renewal, rather than fulfilling the office of the keys they turn to the people with a message of what they must do to be good Christians and what they must do to be good witnesses.

Of course, this is not a singular fault. The people share in this, too. They forget the power of the Gospel and turn back to their own efforts, efforts that surely fail them and leave them without true hope. Then they seek programs and training to become better witnesses in their lives and in their associations. They torment themselves over what they consider to be lost opportunities and blundered sharing attempts.

This is sad, very sad, from both perspectives. For this is not what Christ instituted for His Church. This is not the life to which our dear Lord has called us.

Jesus speaks of knowing the truth which sets us free.

What is this truth? Jesus, Himself, is this truth. We need to know Jesus and what He has done and continues to do for us through the life of the Church. We need to be reminded continually that He is the True Witness, and that we are the ones who are to are to receive His witness.

How does this miracle occur? How do we receive Jesus and the full knowledge of Him in our lives? He tells us plainly: Baptism and the Holy Communion.

This is the witness to which we are called.

Notice that I did not say the witness that we are to give. For this is the reception of God. This is how we receive Jesus, and with Jesus the fullness of God, namely, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. In Baptism, with the Word of God, that is, Jesus, we receive the name of God and with His name we receive the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. In Baptism God Himself bears witness to us and to all the world that He is our God and that He claims us as His children as coheirs with Jesus.

When I was a child, I never needed to tell anyone that I was the son of Louis Otto Siems and Helen Ruth Siems. People knew. How? I lived with them and under their care. I received my life from them. I also wrote and spoke their name and address as my own. I lived in dependence upon them and in the protection of their care. Therefore people knew who I was in connection with them.

This is the witness that Christians are to bear, also. To bear means to carry in or on one’s person and body. Mary was the theotokos, the God-bearer, because God used her as the vessel through whom He came into the world. She did nothing to make this happen. It was worked through the Word of God that was spoken to her through the mouth of Gabriel, God’s specially appointed heavenly messenger or angel. Aside from not having an abortion, what did the blessed virgin do? When we say it like this, even from this perspective she did nothing. She did not abort the Son of God from her body. She simply acknowledged the will of God that had been spoken to her and carried the Son of Salvation until the time to be delivered came.

This is what the Church does as well. The Church carries the Son of God in her body. This is not something that she chooses to do. The Church is the blessed virgin through whom Jesus is carried in the world. Jesus lives in the Church. Like Mary, the Church simply lives as the theotokos, the God-bearer.

As the Theotokos, the Church bears The Witness, Jesus. As the saints gather to the pure administration of Jesus, that is, The Word and Sacraments of the Word, they are the Church, the presence of Jesus. This is why the assembling must not be forsaken, as is the practice of some. The Church or Ecclesia is the gathering of the communion of the saints. If there is no gathering, there is no Church.

But this Ecclesia is a special gathering. It is not a gathering of the kind that men promote. Rather, it is the gathering that is accomplished by the calling of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the holy Christian Church. He calls sinners to gather unto Jesus to receive what He gives through the theotokos. Namely, He gives Himself, the Word of Life. As the assembled receive Jesus into their ears they are renewed in Him in His body, the Church. Through Baptism they receive the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. Through the Holy Communion they eat and drink the very body of this Holy Communion and drink the very blood of their salvation and life.

This is all God’s work. This is all God’s doing. This is all God’s Witness.

As St. Paul writes, “for as often as ye eat of this bread and drink of this cup ye do shew the Lord’s death till He come.”

This is the witness that we bear to the world. It is not OUR witness, except from the perspective that it is the Witness that we have received in Baptism and again and again in the Holy Communion.

This is God’s definition of Evangelism. It is pure. It is simple. It is easy. Why? Because it is His Witness, Jesus, at work reconciling the world unto Himself.

We do not need to make evangelism our work. That is why St. Paul tells Timothy to do the work of an evangelist. He did not tell the congregation under Timothy’s pastoral care to do the work of evangelists, but he told Timothy to do the work of an evangelist. Timothy served Christ to the congregation in preaching and in the Sacraments.

As the congregation gathers to the means of grace, this is the fulfillment of what we often label as the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20. If you read what Jesus says carefully, you will find that it really is this simple and easy.

So then, what about our personal witness?

Were you listening?

This IS our witness, even Jesus Christ. As we gather unto Him, we do give witness unto Him.

When this is our understanding of Evangelism, it becomes very, VERY easy and straightforward. All that we need to do is to tell people where Jesus is to be found. As we live in the freedom of the Gospel ourselves, people notice. When people ask, we simply tell what God has done for us and continues to do for us in Christ. When they ask how they can receive this for themselves, we invite them to come with us to meet Jesus. We invite them to “come and see.” As they observe the unity of the body of Christ, confessing with one mouth the great confession of the one true faith and receiving together the life of Christ’s blood, then they too may be baptized into the Holy Communion to live the life of freedom that the Truth provides.

Sharing the Gospel is not a burden. It is a joy. It is a privilege. No one who receives healing from a terrible disease finds it difficult to share with others. Perhaps the best example is the restoration of sight that some have received through medications or other treatments. No one who has suffered reduced or impaired vision or even blindness who has subsequently had that vision restored ever has any trouble telling the good news of what was done for him.

That is really the problem with how we approach evangelism. Instead of joyously telling what has been done for us, we imagine that we must do something for others. We forget that we are nothing more than witnesses unto what has already been done and what is promised by the One who has done it. We forget that this is not our work, but His. Is it any wonder that when we imagine ourselves be under the burden that only God can carry that we find ourselves struggling and totally unequal to the task?

Rather, let’s do as our Lord has commanded. Let’s gather to the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit and eat and drink the Supper of our Lord’s body and blood for our nurturing as His body and for our forgiveness and restoration in His blood. Let’s leave salvation to the Savior, and then, joyously tell others what He has done.

What do you think? Could this actually work?

He says it does. Moreover, He commands it. We don’t even have to figure it out for ourselves. This is His way. This is what He has ordained and commanded.

But this seems to be hard for us to acknowledge. So let’s hear it straight from the mouth of our Lord Jesus. In Acts 1:8, Luke records it in crystal clear language that cannot be misunderstood, yet our stubborn hearts often choose to misinterpret what Jesus says, as do many of our translations. Nevertheless, Luke accurately records the declaration of the Lord for us.

But you-all shall receive power of overcoming of the Holy Spirit over you-all, and you-all shall be My witnesses . . .

If we pay attention, we find that the Lord says exactly the opposite of what we usually take from this. We are inclined to hear this as what we are to make of ourselves and what we are to be determined to be and to do. But this is not what the Lord says.

He says that the Holy Spirit will overpower us and make witnesses of us. Jesus says that the Holy Spirit shall overpower us so that we cease to be witnesses of our own design and to recreate us as the witnesses that Jesus has placed in various locations in the world. HIS witnesses.

This is like the signs that a real estate agent places in locations that are under his authority. He puts up signs saying here is what I am doing. Then, when the property has been sold or rented, another sign indicating that the work has been accomplished is added, a little sign saying “SOLD”.

Jesus says that by the power of the Holy Spirit we will be His “SOLD” signs. Our hearts are the property that was for sale. He purchased us with His own life and blood. In Baptism He puts His “SOLD” sign upon us and sets us up for everyone to see. This is what He says of us when He says that we shall be His witnesses. We are His little signs throughout the world by which He tells the world what He has done.

So then, let’s not change this into a false witness. Let’s not change His witness to the world into our sinful and corrupt witness. Let’s not bear false witness unto our neighbor, not when we have already been made to be His witnesses, His pure and holy witnesses, washed and regenerated and renewed to eat and drink and live in His grace, mercy and peace. Let us be content, and more than content, let us Eucharist or Give Thanks as those who have been made to be His witnesses as members of His Holy Communion. Let’s let this be the Witness that the world sees and hears. Then both we and all who ask us will know what the Lord means when He says:

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matt 11:28-30)

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