My dear Friends
“Where do babies come from?” asks the child, who sees no reason why the apparently unlimited supply of human beings should be taken for granted! And parents and teachers have to give some answer, whether it’s in terms of storks, cabbages and fairies, or something a bit more scientific. Have you ever stopped to ask: “Where do new Christians come from?” I mean the church has been going for over 2000 years. How does it survive? Who replaces the Christians who die? It’s a question I’d like to put to the many people these days, including some in the church, who say that we have no business trying to convert others to the Christian faith. Rather than discuss or argue with Jews, Moslems or Hindus, Christians should leave them alone, or better still celebrate and worship with them, affirming what we have in common and ignoring our differences in belief.
Many denominations (including our own Church of England) have official ‘machinery’ dedicated to the work of evangelism – the technical term for seeking to convert non-Christians to Christianity. In fact there is a whole organization – the Church Army – within the C of E, whose brief is evangelism and whose ministers have the title Evangelist. The 1990s were designated a Decade of Evangelism, an initiative shared by Christian churches worldwide. During that Decade an evangelism project called ‘Springboard’ was launched, sponsored by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, no less, and which the previous Bishop of Reading, Stephen Cottrell, was involved in for its last three years.
I hope all this convinces you that evangelism is a proper activity and that Christians have a right to evangelise, with honesty, humility and courtesy of course. It’s a myth that those of non-Christian faiths find expressions of Christianity offensive; nearly always I find they are happy for us to speak out and respect us for it.
But I go further. I believe that evangelism is a positive duty. This is because I understand Christianity to be good news – about the love of God, and the possibility of knowing him personally and being assured of his forgiveness and acceptance. From reading the New Testament I believe these things are only available through Jesus. If so, then to keep this good news to ourselves is surely self ish, indeed downright wrong. Jesus’ final words on earth to his disciples, as recorded by Matthew,
were “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28.19f). And as I said earlier, how will the church continue if we don’t do that?
Your sincere friend and Vicar