Friday, June 20, 2008

The Baptismal Covenant - Part 4

Continuing in our discussion of the Baptismal Covenant, we come to the third question:

Q: Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
A: I will with God’s help.

I’m not sure if we all realized that we promised to be evangelists! Each time we renew our Baptismal Covenant (and we do that at every baptism!) we promise that we will tell others about the Good News of God in Christ! We also promise that our lives will show forth the Good News of God in Christ! Note that is promise is not an ordination promise. It is not the bishops, priests, or deacons who are to proclaim and live the Good News; it is all baptized Christians!

So, this brings up a good question. What is the Good News of God in Christ? Just what is it that we are supposed to proclaim by word and example? Well, that is not really a suitable subject for a blog post, but I’ll take a crack at it.

God loves us so much that He became incarnate (as the Second Person of the Trinity) to free us from the powers of sin and death. God loves us so much that He became one of us to both pay the penalty for our sins - to pay a debt we owe – and to defeat death and sin by subjecting himself to their power and then defeating it. God desires us to have a life qualitatively like His own Life. God doesn’t want to make us better; He wants to make us new. God wants to give us the divine life that we try to grasp by our own sinfulness.

That is the good news! God wants to give us, freely give us, something that is infinitely better than anything we can ask or desire for ourselves. God wants to give us Himself. We were not created to be individuals who are concerned with their own welfare or their own rights or their own good. We were created to be persons whose common life together reflects the inward life of the Holy Trinity and, even when we run from that kind of life or try to bring about that life through our own power or our own strength, God continues to pursue us to invite us into communion with Him, with the Holy Trinity and – thus – with each other.

Now, an interesting point, is that we only know what the Good News is by continuing in the Apostles’ teaching. The best example of that is found by remaining in the Apostles’ fellowship. Breaking fellowship is not living a life that reflects the life of the Holy Trinity..

So, if that is the Good News of God in Christ, how, then, are we to proclaim it? Well, we proclaim it in two ways – by word (speaking) and example (living). In order to keep our Baptismal Covenant, we need to be evangelists in word and example.

So, let’s discuss word first. Just about every Christian I know is afraid of evangelism. Why is that? Well, I think it is for two primary reasons. First, there is the natural fear of rejection. What if we offer ourselves and we are rejected? What if people laugh at us? What if they ask questions that we can’t answer? What if we are wrong? What if we really blow it?

All these are real fears and we need to be aware of them. People don’t like answering the door when the evangelists come by, so they are afraid that being an evangelist will force them to go door to door asking people if they died are they sure they would go to heaven.

First, let me make one thing clear. We do not save anybody. We don’t bring people to faith. We don’t convert anyone. That’s God’s job. Our job is to simply share what God has done and is doing with us. Something every Christian should do from time to time is to write a “spiritual autobiography.” This is your story of your life and how God has acted in it. Try this, if you haven't already. Look at your life and see where God has acted to save you from yourself. Share this with Christian friends at first and then with non-Christian friends. You don’t have to get them to commit or to sign or to pray. You just have to proclaim by word the Good News of God in Christ.

The second major reason is that the worst sin our society tells us we can commit is the sin of hypocrisy. We are afraid of being (or being called) hypocrites. When I go to prison, the men there tell me that they hate hypocrites more than anything else. When I share that I am a hypocrite, they are somewhat taken aback. We are all hypocrites! We all want to be thought of as better than we are! If you are sharing what God as done in your life and how God wants us all to live and realize that you don’t live up to that yourself, then aren’t you a hypocrite? Well, in one sense you are. We propose a standard and can’t live up to it. But, on the other hand, you realize that and to pretend to live up to the standard. As long as you are honest that you don’t live up to that standard even when you recognize it to be the standard, you are not really being a hypocrite.

This post has gone on a little longer than I planned. What we have to recognize I that we must be evangelists to fulfill our baptismal covenant. Evangelism is not optional nor a calling for professionals or clergy. It is the task of all baptized Christians.

In part 5, we will talk about proclaiming the Good News by example of life.

Phil Snyder

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