Belonging Before Believing
By Jeremy White | Valley Church | Vacaville, California
A key focus of 2020 is evangelism – building toward the huge CLAIM YOUR CAMPUS event in Kansas City, July 3-5. We are initiating this focus with Jeremy White’s excellent article from Youth Leaders Only.
Sharing the Gospel is hardly a cut and dried methodology. How can we best communicate both the simplicity and the complexity of the greatest story ever told to an American culture that seems to reject the very idea of Christian spirituality? How can the truth of the Gospel be relayed effectively in a system where the only thing for sure is that there is nothing sure? At the risk of oversimplification, one place to begin is with Matthew’s account of the first Easter morning.
When we think of Matthew 28, “the Great Commission” comes to mind. If the end of the chapter is the what of evangelism, then I suggest we go back to the beginning of the chapter for the how. We can’t follow the Commission if we’re clueless about the Mission. We need to understand the first few verses of the chapter – without which we cannot attempt the last few.
According to Matthew, the Gospel is…
PROPOSITIONAL – therefore, it is meant to be understood and believed. Because of our tendency to reduce the Gospel to a mere set of facts to be accepted, some have responded with scathing criticisms of a purely factual Gospel which is void of any life-changing substance. While I agree with these concerns, propositional truth has not become irrelevant to the preaching of the Gospel.
The angel told the ladies that Jesus had “risen, just as he said.” This is a clear affirmation of the propositional nature of the truth of the Gospel. God proposes something (i.e. that Christ would rise), and we then receive or reject that proposition as a matter of our will. While the Gospel is more than facts, it nonetheless involves facts to be believed and accepted in order for faith to be genuine. Paul said that the facts of the Gospel were of primary importance in passing it on to others (1 Corinthians 15: 3). However, many people are either lukewarm or bored to tears with their Christian experience because their faith stops with the facts. As important as Christ’s proposition about rising from the dead was, the story would be incomplete if it stopped there. Thankfully Matthew goes on to tell us that the Gospel is not only propositional, but…
EXPERIENTIAL – therefore, it is to be participatory. The angel invited the women to “come and see the place where he lay.” One of the most satisfying realities of Christ-following is that we partake in a “come and see” kind of faith. The ladies were invited to experience the empty tomb for themselves.
Many youth ministries are finding something different from the traditional “believe-before-you-belong” approach. Not-yet-believing students are taking part in mission trips or in service projects. That kind of involvement authenticates the relevance of a relationship with Christ. Today’s kids want to know that their faith is more than just a personal ticket to heaven, but that it makes the world a better place as well. Students must be invited into the resurrection experience for themselves. Additionally, the Gospel is…
RELATIONAL – therefore, it is to be celebrated. The communal nature of living for Christ is a constant theme throughout the New Testament. Immediately after experiencing the empty tomb, the ladies were told to “go quickly and tell his disciples” about what they had seen and heard (vs. 7). Christian spirituality is a “come and see” faith, and a “go and tell” faith.
In The Radical Reformission, Mark Driscoll notes that Billy Graham presented the Gospel as “Steps to Peace with God” for a generation having endured the horrors of a world war and its residual turmoil. Campus Crusade for Christ’s “The Four Spiritual Laws” resonated with an audience schooled in the ideas of Newtonian physics. The Jesus Movement stressed a “personal relationship” with Christ to a generation thirsty for a “personal spiritual experience.”
As for reaching our current generation, often the best context for conversion is the experience of a joyous, celebratory community of Christians – another affirmation of a “belong-before-you-believe” approach to evangelism. This does not downplay the reality of a personal relationship or mystical union with Christ, but instead stresses the blessings of Christian community as a primary attraction inherent to the Gospel.
Furthermore, in our story we find that the Gospel is…
AUTHENTIC – therefore, it is to be patient. One characteristic of “belong-before-you-believe” evangelism is that everyone is in process. Admitting to doubts and fears does not show weak faith – but authentic faith. Faith void of mystery and mystique is both boring and decidedly unChristian. Our story says that the ladies were “afraid, yet filled with joy” (vs. 8). Later we read that the disciples “worshiped him, but some doubted” (vs. 11).
If today’s students reject anything, it is when Christians come across with a smug arrogance as though they know everything there is to know and never fear being wrong. True Christian spirituality does not deny the fact that even mature believers wrestle with fears and doubts. On the contrary, we invite students to bring their doubts and questions to the table. In addition, the Gospel is…
There are 5 other great articles on the theme “Evangelism – Important Things Are Never Easy” in the current YLO that our Members receive. Let us serve your ministry through Youth Leaders Only!
EQUITABLE – therefore, it is to be inclusive. The word “inclusive” naturally evokes all types of emotion in those who care about the purity of the Gospel. By “inclusive” I simply mean that the greatest story ever told includes the marginalized. Here, women.
In ancient culture, women were often viewed as little more than property to be owned instead of as co-equal partners with men. Christ questioned and destroyed those erroneous and evil ideologies that divided people by race, gender, ethnicity, or socio-political status. The inclusion of women as the discoverers of the empty tomb (vs. 1, 5, 8, 11) is a full-blown affirmation of the equitable nature of the Gospel – that nobody is to be excluded from equal participation based on false societal norms.
We have a long way to go, but thankfully many in the Church are embracing the Gospel mandate of equality. These issues are of crucial importance to this generation – as they should be to every generation. And showing the uniquely Christian virtue of equality is essential to the relevance of the Gospel now more than ever. Finally, the Gospel is…
PERSONAL – therefore, it is to be intimate. This Gospel account includes Jesus’ dramatic personal appearance to the women, who respond by coming to Him, falling at His feet and worshiping. Truth is not about following a program or a principle or a philosophy – but about a Person.
The women in the story were deeply moved in many ways throughout the narrative. They were intrigued and amazed intellectually; overjoyed and fearful emotionally. But, only one reality made worshipers out of them: a personal encounter with Truth Himself.
We must resist the idea that propositional truth is an outdated facet of the Gospel. It is and must remain of first importance. But, true Christian spirituality cannot stop with mere facts or propositions. Matthew’s resurrection account beautifully merges the simplicity and complexity of the Gospel in such as way as to address issues about evangelizing postmodern spiritual seekers. What else should we expect from such a vivid narrative about the Way, the Truth, and the Life?