Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Redefining Evangelism

 “. . . who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13).

When a baby is born into a family, that baby obtains a name by birthright. Obviously, the baby doesn’t know that right away, but that’s who she or he is. We are children of God even if we have not learned that yet or claimed our identity.

Sophie, my granddaughter (will be four in June), went through a stage, where if I said, “Sophie, you’re silly,” she would say, “I’m not silly, I’m Sophie Jordan Griffith.” How silly of me not to know that. She’s Sophie Jordan Griffith. She knew who she was. When it comes to our true self and our identity in God, not all of us know who we are.

We are all children of God by divine birth. We did absolutely nothing to effect that birth. Our spiritual claim to be children of God has nothing to do with human belief, wisdom, or accomplishment. There are no doctrines to believe, no rituals or religious deeds to perform, no spiritual hoops to jump through in order to secure our identity. Our identity is given to us by God through grace. 

This, I believe, is the key point made in Ephesians 1 where the writer says that God “chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world,” that “in love he destined us for adoption as his children” (meaning that he destined us to realize our full position and potential as God’s daughters and sons). We were chosen before we could believe or do anything.

I don’t read this in a dualistic way to mean that some are chosen and others are not. In fact, the writer envisions a future, which he calls “the fullness of time” when God “gathers up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph. 1:10). The writer is declaring what is true about all of us, not a certain few.

We all know what it feels like to be passed over don’t we? When I was a kid we played sandlot baseball in the field behind our house. Two captains chose sides. I can’t remember how we decided who got to be a captain. I guess the captains decided they would be captains. One of the unofficial rules of the playground has to do with who is in charge. There is a pecking order to the playground. Typically, the same kids were picked last.

I suspect that all of us have had experiences where we didn’t make the cut. The only thing worse than have too many of those kind of experiences is having too few, because it’s important we know what that feels like – to not make the cut, to not be chosen, to not be considered good enough.

Author Robert Roberts tells about a fourth grade class that played “balloon stomp.” In “balloon stomp” a balloon is tied to every child’s leg, and the object of the game is to pop everyone else’s balloon while protecting your own. The last person with an intact balloon wins. It’s a game rooted in the philosophy of “survival of the fittest.”

In this particular fourth grade class balloons were relentlessly targeted and destroyed. A few of the less aggressive children hung shyly on the sidelines and, of course, their balloons were among the first to go. The game was over in a matter of seconds. The winner, the one kid whose balloon was still intact was the most disliked kid in the room. 

But then, says Roberts, a second class was brought into the room to play the game, only this time it was a class of mentally challenged children. They, too, were each given a balloon. They were given the same instructions as the other group, and the same signal to begin the game.

This time, however, the game proceeded very differently. The instructions were given too quickly to be grasped very well. In all the confusion the one idea that stuck was that the balloons were supposed to be popped. But instead of fighting each other off, these kids got the idea that they were supposed to help each other pop their balloons. So they formed a kind of balloon co-op.

One little girl knelt down and held her balloon carefully in place while a little boy stomped it flat. Then he knelt down and held his balloon still for her to stomp. On and on it went, all the children helping one another, and when the last balloon was popped, everybody cheered. They were all winners. No one was put out of the game.

What if more churches decided they would go about their mission the same way. Instead of insisting that others, who they would deem outside the circle of the chosen, believe everything they believe and do what they do, what if more churches decided that all are chosen already and their mission is to help others discover and claim who they already are. What if we defined evangelism as helping others realize and become who they already are?

Do you think we might have more winners and fewer losers? Would the world be a better place? If that inclusive grounding became foundational to our Christian faith do you think Christianity might actually make a difference in helping create a just world, rather than foster further polarization and division? Perhaps then, we would make a significant contribution to the common good and the realization of God’s kingdom on earth. 

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