Sunday, 19 September 2010

Emmaus Road Type Evangelism

Part of what is fundamental to the Gospel is that we are called to share it. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations. But how are we to understand and expand all this in terms of mission and evangelism? How, in particular, can we define evangelism? The Bible says a great deal about evangelism and there are many examples that we could cite. Stephen Cottrell suggests, and I agree, that for many of us, for a long time, the controlling Biblical paradigm for evangelism has been Paul’s dramatic conversion on the Damascus Road. We do say that it doesn’t need to happen quite like that – but that story and that encounter between God and Paul have described the essence of what we have thought needs to happen. Even for Paul, of course, this moment was one step on the journey – but an extremely significant one and so this has been the example and the effect, as Cottrell says, is that: “it encouraged the church to think about conversion in terms of a moment of response, and evangelism as somehow catching, or even creating, that moment” From the Abundance of the Heart, Stephen Cottrell, Darton, Longman & Todd, 2006, p. 35). I do believe that such moments can, and do, happen, and it’s great when they do. But, sadly, I also agree with Stephen Cottrell that this has “meant that many churches didn’t really engage in evangelism at all: we just couldn’t imagine being involved in this type of ministry.” Of course, there are plenty of churches that can imagine just that and they do it well. But is there another Biblical model to be used? The one I want to use at this point is the story of the Easter Day encounter on the Emmaus Road. Again I should admit to drawing on Stephen Cottrell who comments: “This story also contains a dramatic encounter and a real turning around, but it is more obviously a story of gradual transformation within the context of an accompanied journey” (p. 36). These two disciples were on the rebound. It had all gone wrong, so horribly wrong. Their hopes, along with those of so many others, had been dashed. Jesus was dead. How could this have happened? In their conversation they went over the events of the last few days, struggling to understand what had happened. As the conversation continues, they are joined by a stranger. We are let in to the secret. They don’t know it’s Jesus – but we do. They go through it all. They get involved in some quite deep theology. In due course they arrive at the village. The stranger makes to go on. But they invite him in – and in the breaking of bread the light of realisation dawns. Stephen Cottrell again: “People are waking up asking questions about where life is going and what it is about. Many people don’t feel as if they have any sense of belonging in a confused and frantic society. People long for community but don’t know their next-door neighbour’s name. They are having dreams of another way of living. They are having nightmares about where the world is going” (p. 37/8). We are called to be, in the words of Richard Gillard’s hymn ‘companions on the road.’ That’s evangelism. If you happen to have the opportunity of some Damascus Road evangelism, and you feel called to it, great! But, with God’s help, may we all engage in Emmaus Road evangelism.

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