Written Word

Evangelism – Part 1: An Unchanging Gospel In A Changing World

Recently I addressed a group of Africans about evangelism. Many Africans have come to Ireland over the past several years and established congregations, but they are at a loss as to how to spread the gospel in an alien culture. Because I am Irish and have been evangelising in Dublin for over thirty-five years, I was considered to be the expert, with insights on how to evangelise in this country. I’m sorry, but I was not able to offer a formula that guarantees results. However, what I was able to do was introduce them to the alien culture in which the gospel of Jesus Christ first took root. We began in Jerusalem, moved quickly outside the comfort zone of Judaism into Samaria and then into a culture inhabited by the majority of the world’s population – the Gentiles.

The cultural conditions existing when Jesus charged his disciples with bringing the gospel to all the world did not make the preaching of the good news easy. They proclaimed forgiveness of sins in the name of a Jew who died as a common criminal. They were confronted with ignorance, indifference and prejudice. The pagan world knew nothing of the one true God, the creator of heaven and earth; their religious world revolved around idolatry and pantheism. And let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that the pagans were waiting with open hearts for the apostolic campaign to arrive with the gospel. When they did arrive the audience was not receptive. The message of God’s love, power, justice and redemption was viewed as “foolishness to the Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23). Yet in spite of unreceptive soil the seed of the gospel was sown and bore the fruit of conversions. Where spiritual darkness was once the dominant force, the light of the gospel was making its presence felt, and an alien culture was beginning to be transformed by an unchanging gospel.

Today we can lament the lack of spirituality around us, the secular mindset that has no room for God, the spirit of tolerance for morals that offend God and the lack of opportunity to bear witness for the Christ. I’m afraid that if we keep moaning long enough about how terrible the world is we will become discouraged and disillusioned and never share the gospel with anyone. We have not been asked by Jesus to give a commentary on the state of the world. Our duty is to preach the unchanging gospel to a world saturated in sin; to bring hope to hopeless situations, pardon where guilt exists, life where death reigns. Though our world differs greatly from the world of the apostles, man’s spiritual needs have not changed. The same gospel that transformed sinners into saints will do the same in our society today. No one ever said it was going to be easy. It’s hard, but it’s rewarding. And we will do well to remember that we are not the first people, and we will not be the last people, who have to evangelise in a culture that is not seeking God. History bears testimony to godly men and women who have taken the gospel to the remotest parts of the world. And in true apostolic fashion they brought the gospel to alien cultures and the Gentiles – “the people living in darkness [saw] a great light.” (Matthew 4:15-16)

Evangelism will never be taken seriously if we are not convinced that (1) people are lost in sin, (2) people are unable to save themselves and (3) the gospel of Jesus Christ is their only hope. Technology has revolutionised the way we live our lives, but none of these advances can resolve the problem faced by every man and woman – we are all sinners. The solution to the problem is Jesus and him crucified. And the spreading of the gospel is not an optional extra undertaken by a few zealous fanatics among us; it is the duty of the church to be obedient to the command of the Lord and “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15)