EVANGELISM: A CALL TO RENEWAL

by BCBP Editor
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Are we “selling” Christ to others? Is evangelization the same as mission? Evangelism is not only sometimes misunderstood, it is oftentimes misapplied. As evangelism is a fundamental part of the BCBP Vision and Mission, let us review and reflect on what is really meant by “evangelism”.
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“I believe that much of our evangelism is ineffective because we depend too much upon technique and strategy. Evangelism has slipped into the sales department.” This statement by Rebecca Pippert, in her book Out of the Saltshaker and Into the World: Evangelism as a Way of Life (InterVarsity Press, 1979), reveals clearly to what extent evangelism is misunderstood today.

The product is Jesus Christ and His Gospel. The sales strategy has been defined and compiled into numerous manuals and step-by-step guidebooks. Books have been published, seminars conducted, doors knocked on, people earnestly prayed over, fiery exhortations and sermons preached.

And yet, how evident is the result? In the BCBP, for instance, is attendance in the breakfasts increasing steadily? What about participation in prayer assemblies, teachings and action group meetings? As Christian businessmen and professionals what impact have we actually had on our workplaces?

Evangelism is not only sometimes misunderstood, it is oftentimes misapplied. So that we can better respond to Christ’s Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20), let us go back to the basics, review and reflect on what is really meant by “evangelism”.

EVANGELISM DEFINED

To evangelize is first of all to bear witness, in a simple and direct way, to God revealed by Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit. It is to bear witness that in his Son, God has loved the world – that in his Incarnate Word he has given being to all things and has called men to eternal life (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 26).

The duty of Christians to take part in the life of the Church impels them to act as witnesses of the Gospel and of the obligations that flow from it. This witness is a transmission of the faith in words and deeds. Witness is an act of justice that establishes the truth or makes it known (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2472).

The dictionary defines witness as “seeing, hearing, or knowing by personal presence and experience”. To bear witness or to tell about something to another person simply means that we must first see, hear or know by personal presence and experience what we are talking about. John exemplifies this basic truth very well in his First Letter of John, v. 1-4.
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Thus, to evangelize effectively we must be able to see Christ in the sacraments, in the Church, in people around us. We must be able to hear Christ’s voice in Scripture and circumstances and people. We must have a personal relationship with Jesus and have experienced his healing touch and his power in our own life.

We must live our faith as renewed Christians. Our lifestyle must reflect our Christian values. If we preach a simple life, then we should be living a simple life. If we talk about honesty, then we should be honest in our relationships with one another, honest in our business dealings and sincere in keeping our promises and commitments. To put it plainly, evangelism begins with the renewal of self – a putting off of the old self and putting on Jesus Christ.

CLEARING UP SOME MISCONCEPTIONS

There is no such thing as instant evangelism, as an instant Christian. Yes, there may be an instant revelation experience for that person, but unless he or she is brought into a community of believers like the BCBP and into the sacramental life of the Church, we cannot say that true evangelization has taken place.

Evangelization is a process. It involves the continuing transformation of our hearts and our lives, a transformation that brings us into and unites us with the Body of Christ, the Church. True evangelization must always lead to communion with Christ in the Church. I think it was Bishop Ted Bacani who said that most Catholics today are sacramentalized but not evangelized. We participate in the sacramental rites of the Church, but we have not experienced in a continuing manner the presence of Jesus in our lives. The personal relationship is missing – thus the need for evangelization and community, where one strengthens and builds up the other resulting in a greater and deeper appreciation of the sacraments and the Church.

Evangelism is also not the same as “mission”. Evangelism is the renewal of our hearts and the sharing of our renewed faith with others. Mission is the way we do it. Evangelization includes mission, but mission may not always include evangelization.

If we review the mission statement of the BCBP for instance, nowhere is evangelism mentioned by name. Rather the mission statement directs the creation of a support environment and a body of Christian business people and professionals with the goal of transforming the marketplace by Gospel Values. This process of transformation is evangelism.

HOW DO WE EVANGELIZE?
evangelize all may know Christ
There are many different methods, perhaps as many as there are Christian organizations and people. We see TV evangelists, prayer rallies, young people handing out tracts in the malls. No one method is the best way. How we evangelize may vary according to the different circumstances of time, place and culture and according to our abilities and talents to reach out to other people in witnessing our faith. But all Christians recognize with St. Paul that we must witness Christ.

But how can they call to him for help if they have not believed? And how can they believe if they have not heard the message? And how can they hear if the message is not proclaimed? And how can the message be proclaimed if the messengers are not sent out? … So then, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message comes through preaching Christ.” Romans 10:14-15, 17.

Pope Paul VI in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi presents seven ways that he feels have fundamental importance in modern times. They are: the witness of life, a living preaching, the Liturgy of the Word, utilization of the mass media, indispensable personal contact, the sacraments and popular piety (EN 41-48). He goes on to emphasize that no matter who is the evangelizer or who is the evangelized, nothing can be accomplished without LOVE and the HOLY SPIRIT.

We should never attempt to spread the Good News in a confrontational manner or try to motivate people to turn to Jesus through fear. For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and self-control (2 Tim. 1:7). We must seek to be perfect in love, for, as John tells us, perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18).

THE ROLE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

From the first to the last, the spread of the gospel is God’s work, not our own. Yes, God uses us as his human instruments, but we cannot give, dictate, command or compel anyone to have faith. No one can make a person believe in Christ. That is the Spirit’s domain; he alone is capable of revealing spiritual realities. It is not us who evangelize; it is the Holy Spirit. And yet we are privileged to be cooperators in the Divine Plan.

We are all familiar with the parable of the Sower and the Seed. We can only plant the seed, it is God who provides the sun, the rain, and the time needed for the seed to develop into fruit ready for the harvest. We need to remember, however, that we can’t labor in the harvest if we’re not out in the field.

WHAT’S THE QUESTION?

John Powell of Loyola University tells of an evangelical student who sneaked into his classroom before class time to write on the blackboard in bold letters, “JESUS CHRIST IS THE ANSWER”. The student, however, was startled to discover when the class convened that an anonymous response had been scribbled beneath his slogan: “Yeah? What’s the question?”

This brings us to a basic rule of effective communication that as evangelizers we cannot ignore. Unless answers correlate to questions, communication aborts. If I share about my experience of being renewed in the Spirit and my listener is not very sure who or what the Holy Spirit is, nothing is going to be accomplished. If I answer questions the listener is not asking, I’m only talking to myself.

Persuasion takes place on the listener’s terms, not on the speaker’s terms. Jesus used down-to-earth, everyday examples that his listeners could understand and relate to, to illustrate great truths. He could have quoted Scripture for hours and yet He didn’t; He spoke his message succinctly, concisely and clearly, many times telling stories to help his listeners understand his message.

People, then and now, are looking for what is real in life, a sense of self-confidence, the meaning of it all, the “what’s in it for me” answer. If we fail to address and answer these oft unspoken questions, we fail to touch that person’s heart. We need to learn to listen before we speak, if we are to learn to hear the questions we need to answer.

KEEPING THE GREAT COMMISSION

Jesus does not give us any choice. He commands us to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations …” (Matt 28:19-20). He doesn’t say, “I am inviting you to go and be my witnesses.” He issues us a direct command.
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How shall we respond? We don’t have to appointed or anointed to special missions or service. We don’t have to be more mature or more holy. Witnessing and introducing Christ to others is an integral part of being a normal, everyday Christian. If we believe that Christ has called all His followers to share the gospel, and if we believe God never calls us to do something without giving us the means to do it, then we must know that for each one of us who believe there is an appropriate and effective way of evangelizing.

Effective evangelization depends on prayer. As we come into God’s presence every day and prayerfully read his Word, we will grow in our understanding of his salvific message and our desire to proclaim it.

However the best preparation for evangelism lies not in the method, the place, or the time, but in the renewal of our own hearts. We must evangelize ourselves before we reach out to others. We cannot share something that we don’t have. We ourselves must be on fire with the Holy Spirit before we can spread this fire to others. Our very lives, thoughts, words and deeds must manifest Jesus Christ to everyone around us. Good examples have twice the value of good advice!

And the more we share our faith with others, the stronger our own faith becomes. As we evangelize others, we ourselves are also evangelized. But the starting point must always be ourselves, our own spiritual renewal, our own continuing transformation and our own commitment to holiness. In keeping the Great Commission, we must begin with ourselves. –Nancy R. Catan, BCBP Manila

Reprinted from the KAPATIRAN Magazine, Jan-Feb 1997 issue.

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