1972 Church of the Brethren Statement
The General Board recommends to the Annual Conference the adoption of the following Statement on Evangelism for the Church of the Brethren:
THE BEST NEWS . . .
God loves. God’s first and last words are: “I love you.” In the Bible, the love story between persons and God is told. His love is revealed from beginning to end.
In the beginning God creates, saying, “It is all very good” (Gen. 1). In the end God holds out a vision of a new heaven and new earth (Rev. 21).
Nature itself discloses the Creator’s sustaining power in the midst of creation. The renewing of existing things witnesses to a life process greater than any force that would alter its flow.
God loves me. The universal God of creation is also the personal God, the God who cares for and loves me. The universal love of God is understandable only through God’s particular love for me.
If God could not love a particular part of creation, God would not be large enough to love it all.
But God is large enough to love each part of creation (consider the lilies of the fields, the birds of the air). And I know I am important and loved, too.
God’s sustaining love comes to me in fresh new ways. It is new every morning. In spite of what I am, or do, God continues to support me. God’s sunshine and rain fall on my just and unjust ways. God is gracious to me . . . and to you.
God loves you. God’s personal interest in me is the same personal interest God has in you.
God wants a relationship of trust and integrity with every person (1 Tim. 2:4). So when I say God enters into a personal relationship with me, I must also go on to say that God and you have a deep and lasting relationship.
God extends himself to you directly. And he gives himself to you indirectly, even through me.
God’s love is persistent. In whatever way we can best receive God’s love, directly or indirectly, God wants to be with you and me.
THE BEST NEWS COMES TO US . . .
In our humanity. We are finite. The limitation on our perception and years leaves us with only partial answers.
We are susceptible to death. We strive by our will to be larger than the death that consumes us.
Yet it is in the nature of things that we die in old age, and from broken spirits, and even from frozen hearts.
To accept the limitations and the potential in our humanity is a very difficult thing. Despair often comes . . .
In our despair. The years of our lives are three score and ten. Sometimes more, sometimes less. We wither and vanish. All seems futile.
Everything we touch turns to ashes. We are given power only to discover we cannot control it. Much life is destroyed by our clumsy, self-seeking ways.
We live in sin. Alienated from the rest of creation and from our creator by attempting to be that which we are not, we practice self-redemption in vain.
Loneliness sets in. Isolation as individuals, we lean on each other only to discover in others our weakness. Frustrated at seeing ourselves in others we commit the final act of treason . . . hypocrisy.
In our hypocrisy. We pretend we are something that deep down we know we are not. Judgment of others comes easily as we cover our sin by pointing at others.
Repeating sacred precepts with our lips, we are unable to live them.
Thinking “we” are better than “they,” we lose sight of our true condition.
Never able to completely forget what we are apart from Christ, we must always remember what we can be . . . with Jesus Christ.
THE BEST NEWS COMES TO US IN JESUS CHRIST . . .
To give hope. To a struggling humanity, Jesus Christ brings home the truth: We are delivered! Turn toward the light! Let us grow!
In shadows of despair the Word comes clear: “Rise, pick up your life and run. I am running with you.”
With the Spirit we come clean. Confessing our hypocrisy, we breathe the newness of being found out and learning we are still lovable.
And with this new found assurance we hopefully participate in the salvation which has been created for all people through our Lord Jesus Christ.
To reconcile differences. There is available help to move me from where I am to where I need to be. Christ has given life (Eph. 2:1-5) to those of us who are spiritually dead, who drift along on the stream of this world’s ideas of living, who obey the rulers of this world.
Jesus is a meeting point between sinful man and righteous God. Through Jesus Christ differences are resolved (John 14:6).
We come as we are. We have nothing to put on. Nothing can make us more worthy of God’s gracious acceptance. We are just accepted.
To bring peace. “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:19,20).
Peace that is eternal comes to touch our fevered, frantic lives. Twisted, tormented behavior that tries to hide from its owner is untied and released.
To you who are released, peace is given so that by your joy others may be set free.
Peace that the world can neither give or take away is offered to all. Live in that peace and may your joy pass it on.
THE BEST NEWS COMES TO US IN JESUS CHRIST AND MAKES THINGS HAPPEN . . .
In every person. Things happen because the Holy Spirit provides the impetus for power and action. As a person is filled continually with God’s Spirit he is motivated to use all his gifts to channel the best news.
Things happen when persons acknowledge and accept their calling to be an evangelist, when they make articulate their beliefs and share with others what it means to follow Christ.
Things happen when people choose a life-style of personal and social holiness. They “count the cost” of discipleship and strive for personal integrity. Purity of thought and a quickening of conscience is their constant goal.
Things happen in homes developed as centers for love and support. They bring light and truth, tranquility, peace and beauty to their own and other families.
Things happen when persons realize their true vocation is being Christian. Every aspect of their lives—economic, political, cultural, and domestic—comes under the scrutiny of responsible Christlike living.
Things happen when people discover they must be stewards of their personal resources. Everything—finances, books, tables, cars, recreational equipment, travel opportunities—is regarded prayerfully so that its use may be for God’s glory and a neighbor’s good.
The Holy Spirit makes things happen as hearts are open to God’s movement in and beyond the institutional walls of the church. As people discern the need and the power, they support the Spirit’s encounters everywhere.
Things happen when each person is encouraged to respond as he is led. There is need for a variety of witness and for many different expressions of evangelism.
In pastors. Things happen when the pastor is the key to action as he inspires, challenges, sets goals, plans for action, and invites the congregation to join him.
Things happen when pastors take a stance of vulnerable love and have a solid life-style to support the risks. Taking risks for the sake of love gives integrity to their leadership and encouragement to their friends.
In congregations. Things happen when local churches develop their own evangelism papers, giving specific consideration to implementation and resources.
Things happen when congregations make membership more meaningful, asking not merely for a once-in-a-lifetime decision but also providing frequent opportunities for persons to declare their intentions to follow Christ.
Things happen when worship becomes the work of people expressing their mutual joy and commitment to Jesus Christ. Celebrating the common life in faith may take a variety of forms such as situation dramas, plays for involvement, gospel sings, and the creation of paintings, sculpture, and banners. Congregations may invite open expression of “this is the way I thank God for what he means to me.”
Things happen when congregations allow a variety of forms and styles in the way members affirm their faith in Christ. They may choose mass evangelism, pulpit evangelism, church school evangelism, person-to-person evangelism, and unconventional evangelism, so long as they meet persons with the love and reconciliation that is implied by the message.
Things happen when support groups emerge within local congregations wherein people may share their daily aches and joys of living, and feel the close acceptance of their friends and so live the best news. Equally significant are groups committed to special ministries—such as prison visitation, housing, peace, creative worship and drama.
Things happen when congregations commission individual members, sending them out to share their gifts and spirit in witness and service within the community. Or when congregations provide lay schools to undergird personal gifts, to teach pastoral skills, and to explore the depth of faith and the art of expressing it.
Things happen when congregations make provision for financial and personal assistance to individuals so that some may participate in lay retreats and conferences. And new vitality comes when lay witness teams from various congregations share their personal faith and pilgrimage with other congregations.
THE BEST NEWS CHALLENGES THE CHURCH TO BE EVANGELISTIC
We are challenged as well as comforted by “the best news” in the world. Up to this point we have affirmed the gospel and attempted to describe some of the happenings it prompts and promises. But we need also to observe its implications in developing evangelistic concern and in guiding evangelistic activity in the Church of the Brethren.
1. Let our evangelism be activated by God’s love. From first to last it is the work of God to reconcile all men to himself through Christ. He has enlisted us in this service of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18). His gospel is one gospel and it is intended for the whole person. Sharing in his love for all human beings, we must be careful not to isolate what we regard as “spiritual” needs to the neglect of the total person for whom the gospel promises a new birth, a richer life, a fulfillment of human potential as well as new relationships. God calls and commissions us to go into all the world and make disciples in his name.
2. Let our evangelism be affirmative in spirit. The news of God’s mercy and grace is essentially positive, emphasizing life rather than death, deliverance from bondage, freedom in place of slavery, acceptance instead of alienation. That news can best be shared affirmatively by bearing witness to the saving action of God in Christ and by recognizing that it is the presence of Christ and not the pointing finger of accusation that brings people to an awareness of what they lack and what guilt they carry. The Christian message is communicated by persons who refrain from judging others (they are themselves sinners saved by grace), but who also bear witness to the joy they find in Christ. Let our methods as well as our message be life-affirming and constructive.
3. Let our evangelism be open and inclusive. All persons, however, unpromising they may seem as candidates for conversion, are equally eligible for God’s mercy and forgiveness. There are no initiation requirements, no special preparation before one can come into his presence. We dare not be more selective in deciding to whom we communicate the good news of Jesus than was Jesus himself. Let the church, let each congregation become a many-faceted mosaic of many colors, ages, cultural heritages, abilities, and needs, making a joyful scene of worship and witness in the larger community. We must take care lest we project our own cultural standards, require certain behavior patterns, or insist on conformity to our own prejudices as conditions for accepting another person in the name of our Lord. His arms still reach out to embrace the least attractive as well as the most promising prospect for his kingdom. Evangelism that is selective or discriminatory, that is restricted by prejudice or pride, contradicts the purpose and denies the power of the gospel.
4. Let our evangelism be varied in its expression. Today, as when Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit . . . varieties of service, but the same Lord . . . many forms of work, but in all of them, in all men, are the work of the same God.” We must be open to a diversity of ways the Holy Spirit may be working among us. God can use the efforts of fellowships promoting revival and movements calling for commitment to radical discipleship. His Spirit can be felt in conventional services and in experimental modes of celebrating the gospel. Along with conferences and public meetings designed to reach audiences that gather in one place, along with local and district workshops providing training in evangelism, the church must be ready to offer attractively printed literature and to use various other media—films, recordings, dramas, posters, buttons, banners, for example—which convey the meaning of the gospel in contemporary terms.
5. Let our evangelism respect the integrity of individuals. No matter how reasonable the claims of the gospel may seem, many persons will exercise their God-given right to say No. There is no place in the gospel for manipulating the responses of people, for forcing a decision or for requiring a commitment that does not honestly represent a free response to God’s invitation to life. God does not twist our arm. He respects our need to be ourselves even as he offers to help us become more than we are. But if God does not twist our arm, neither does he let us go, but his love hounds us through all our days. Let our evangelism also respect the individual’s freedom, yet never cease to pray for and seek his response to God’s love.
6. Let our evangelism be forthright in its proclamation. Christians have too often been tongue-tied, hesitant or apologetic when they have had natural opportunities to tell the good news of God. Or because they regard themselves as unworthy, their witness has been weakened by the sound of an uncertain trumpet. But our confidence is not in ourselves; it is in Christ whose example and teachings, whose life and death still speak with authority to the hearts of men, even those who seem least likely to make a profession of faith. If we experience the love of Christ, like Peter and John, “we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”
7. Let our evangelism be incarnated in persons. The good news must be communicated by individuals who are themselves the good news. One stranger can say to another, “God loves you,” but the full meaning of that affirmation will be felt only when the speaker cares enough to say “I love you.” The love and concern that God feels for human beings must become incarnate in persons who will risk danger, endure suffering, and give generously of themselves on behalf of others. Without this dimension the full impact of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross will not be understood. The best evangelists are those who today, for the sake of persons, bear in their own bodies “the marks of Jesus.”
8. Let our evangelism be incorporated in actions. Through deeds of service, through evidences of personal concern, and through programs and policies that enable persons to become whole and fully human, the gospel is communicated and authenticated. The good Samaritan and the evangelist are not different persons. Individuals and congregations cannot divorce what they do from what they say. By taking a stand when basic issues are at stake; by rendering service when it may be unpopular to express concern for the oppressed; by challenging evil systems that demean and destroy human personality; by creating a caring community—in ways such as these the good news is translated into a language of deeds that everyone can understand.
9. Let our evangelism be extended through the home. The home, like the church, is of divine origin and undergirds our civilization. The church is no stronger nor more effective than the homes which compose its fellowship. At a time when the future of the family is being questioned and the stability of many homes has been threatened, for the sake of the gospel we urge parents to be more loving and understanding and to communicate through their natural affection for their children the eternal truths of the scriptures, constantly emphasizing the securities of the Christian faith. Let our homes uphold the sanctity of the marriage relationship, and let them also demonstrate by means of the covenants that create a family what is the nature of reconciling love that unites Christ and the church.
10. Let our evangelism be facilitated through the church. Important as personal evangelism may be, it needs the support of a warm and trusting fellowship in which acceptance can be experienced. Many may find this support in a small group only incidentally associated with an institution, but even such groups derive help and strength from the congregation to which they are related. As a denomination the Church of the Brethren can provide an abundance of resources and programs, as well as trained leadership, needed to facilitate evangelism in all of its aspects. But it does not work alone in any community. It is everywhere a part of a larger fellowship of believers who share the same “best news” and who together must be responsible for living up to the demands of discipleship. There are many creative and effective ways in which ecumenical efforts will help Brethren to join with God in the ministry of reconciliation in which he has already enlisted us.
In Conclusion. As a part of the total Christian fellowship the Church of the Brethren has been entrusted with a message—the best news of God’s love for all persons. We have also been enlisted in his ministry of reconciliation. But for far too long we have allowed our uncertainties to inhibit our evangelism and we have been hesitant to share enthusiastically our convictions about God’s love and grace. Surely we are called to be more positive in affirming our loyalty to Jesus Christ and more aggressive in seeking commitments to him, to his church, and to his kingdom. As persons, as congregations, as a Brotherhood, we prayerfully anticipate the renewal of faith that will be reflected in a desire to grow, to be fruitful and multiply—both for the glory of God and for our neighbor’s good.
Alan L. Whitacre, Chairman; Phyllis Carter; Olen S. Landes; Robert W. Knechel, Jr.; Kenneth I. Morse
Action of the 1972 Annual Conference: The Standing Committee’s recommendation, presented by Hiram Frysinger, was that the paper should be adopted. This was the action of the conference.