This is an interesting thought most have probably never given any attention to. The problem is too often we fail to think what we are to be about. So, in light of our discussions on Sunday mornings about “How to choose a church and what makes a healthy church member” I decided to bring you this little article from Tony Payne. Enjoy. Think. Discuss.
Apologies for posing what, at first glance, may seem an obvious and even silly question, but it’s one I’ve pondering lately: is evangelism a key purpose of Christian assemblies (or ‘churches’)?
Now, at the very least, we would have to say, “Yes, evangelism should and will happen in Christian assemblies, because of their very nature as places where the word of God is prayerfully proclaimed”. In any true Christian gathering, the gospel will be taught and heard, and since outsiders or non-Christians will often be present (by invitation or otherwise), evangelism, by definition, will take place.
There’s another sense in which the answer is yes: the Christian assembly functions as a testimony to Christ by its very existence. This is Paul’s point in Ephesians 3. In the assembly, God’s manifold wisdom is on display as he brings together Jew and Gentile in one new humanity. Mind you, in Ephesians 3, it’s the powers in the heavenly places who receive this testimony, so maybe it doesn’t really qualify as ‘evangelism’ in the normal sense.
However, even if we acknowledge that there will be ‘gospel’ things happening all over the place in church, it is also important to say that evangelism is not the purpose of Christian assemblies. It is certainly not their focus. In the New Testament, churches are characteristically the fruit of evangelism, not its agent. Evangelism usually takes place outside the assembly—in the marketplace, the synagogue, the prison, and in daily gospel conversation.
More to the point, theologically, the Christian assembly is a fellowship of the redeemed. It is a manifestation, as well as an anticipation or foretaste, of the great assembly that Christ is building—the assembly of the firstborn in heaven that will be revealed on the last Day (Heb 12:22-24). The purpose of our earthly assemblies, therefore, is to fellowship together in what we already share—our union with Christ—as we listen to and respond to him together, and build his assembly by the words we speak.
This runs counter to the common (although often unspoken) assumption that one of the main aims of a church gathering is to be attractive to non-Christians—to draw them in, to intrigue them, and to evangelize them. Perhaps it’s a legacy of the parish model, where those attending the Sunday assembly were often not Christians at all, and evangelism consisted of preaching the gospel to them. Or perhaps it is the influence of the seeker-service model, where the main aim is to attract and win over unchurched Harry. Or maybe it’s a bit of both.
There is an important difference, it seems to me, between running a Christian gathering whose focus is on evangelizing the outsider, and running a Christian gathering that is welcoming and intelligible for the outsider, but where the focus is on fellowship with Christ, in speaking, hearing and responding to his word.