Dear Praying Friends:
Although many responded positively to my last letter on biblical methods of reaching Chinese, some did not. One person said, “Don’t put God in a box!” and another wrote, “Surely, since God has brought many to himself through a ‘prayer to receive Christ,’ you aren’t saying that we shouldn’t use that method, are you?” It is certainly true that God can use anything, even Balaam’s donkey, to speak to people, and that he has been pleased to use a variety of techniques, some of them even a bit bizarre, to bring people to himself. On the other hand, it would seem reasonable to say that the most lasting fruit would come from evangelism that was built upon the Bible and reflected both its explicit teachings and normative examples. So, what might biblical evangelism look like?
The Message: “The whole counsel of God.”
God himself began his revelation with the account of the creation; the history of his chosen people Israel; explicit instructions on how to live and worship; promises of blessing for obedience and warnings of punishment for sustained rejection of his Word. The Old Testament comes before the New. John the Baptist continued the tradition of the prophets, with specific denunciation of sin, a simple lifestyle, and powerful promises concerning the Savior to come. Jesus spoke of God as both loving and holy; offered rest to the repentant believer; and pointed to himself as sole savior from sin. But he also issued detailed instructions about the obedience that he requires of his followers, even before he offered himself up as a sacrifice for their sins. He called upon all his disciples to renounce everything, take up their cross, and follow him. He promised eternal life to his faithful disciples, and endless torment for everyone else. Peter, Paul, and the other apostles likewise spoke of God’s holiness; our need to repent; Christ as the only way of salvation from eternal wrath; the gift of the Spirit for true believers; and the promise of eternal life. They, too, described in great detail the obedience that God requires of us, both before and after they presented the Gospel. John the Baptist, Jesus, and the apostles called for a response, but it was baptism and identification with Christ and his people, not just a simple prayer expressing a desire. Only those who had joined the new community through baptism and regular participation in the life of the body were considered “Christians.” We must note especially that the Cross of Christ was central to the message– both the suffering of Christ for our redemption and the absolute necessity of a cruciform life for all believers.
The Methods: “In various ways.”
Like Jesus, the apostles used a variety of methods and approaches to communicate the Good News. Systematic instruction; earnest appeal; exposition of the Scriptures; convincing arguments; and stories. Stories feature prominently in Jesus’ preaching, but we must not forget that much of the Bible consists of narrative – that is, stories. Even the apostles’ doctrinal teaching often used reference back familiar stories in the Old Testament. Throughout church history, lively accounts of how people have trusted God and followed in the footsteps of Christ have been used powerfully to bring others to faith. That is a major reason for the two Global China Center projects, the Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity (www.bdcconline.net) and the series of books which we are editing called Salt & Light: Lives of Faith that Shaped Modern China. Responses to these stories have affirmed our belief in their effectiveness as tools for encouraging faith in Christ and following in his steps.
The Messengers: “Witnesses of Me.”
“As the Father has sent Me, even so I send you.” These words point to the greatest challenge of biblical evangelism. We must not only proclaim the Gospel, but live it! When others look at us, do they see love; humility; implicit trust in God; a consuming zeal for his glory and his kingdom; and renunciation of anything that would hinder our testimony? “Follow Me!” Though he may have owned a house, most of the time the Son of Man had no place to lay his head. He commanded his earliest disciples to leave everything. The apostles maintained that sort of pilgrim lifestyle, even though they founded home-based fellowships. Clearly, only a few Christians are meant to be frequent travelers, but just as clearly, we are all expected to renounce the love of the world and hold our possessions lightly. “Here we have no continuing city.” Most of our workers live away from “home”; the rest of us leave “home” often. Dori and I are about to go to Asia for eleven weeks; two in our group are engaged in a costly move; several others are planning trips to Asia. We deeply appreciate your prayerful support. Your fellow-witness of Jesus Christ, Wright