Monday, January 16, 2006

True Evangelism Grounded in True Faith

Evangelism is a word that makes many unprogrammed Friends cringe. I find it a touchy subject within my own heart, but perhaps only because I often do not feel clear about true purpose and meaning behind the mainstream evangelism commonly found in today's society. Evangelism is often defined as the spreading of the Good News of Jesus Christ. I can almost see Friends cringing now.

If the news is Good, why is it then, Friends, that so many of us cringe? Through today's society, many of us have associated evangelism with threats, or guilt trips - "If you don't accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you will suffer unimaginably in Hell for all eternity!". Others may associate it with tricks to lure people into churches where numbers mean more than one's true spirit; such dishonesty and lack of support is damaging, and not at all what most would call "good news". All of these societal factors make me cringe, too.

Recently, though, I find myself coming at the idea of evangelism from an entirely new direction. When we truly follow with our whole lives and our whole selves the leadings of the Spirit, through any hardship, over every mountain, we are then finally spiritually alive. In having such an experience one is grounded in faith and in God, with such an awesome and incredible trust and steadiness. In living in this Center, this Power, one joins in a divine Fellowship (to borrow the terms from Thomas Kelly) with others who have reached down deeply and found such spiritual trust. In a previous post I mentioned John Woolman as an example of such a life. This proposition is one I would not have understood before beginning to experience it myself (I do not claim perfection, only the beginning of serious striving). People encounter such an experience in different ways; there are many who find this experience through Jesus Christ. In having such an experience, no matter how one came upon it, it seems only natural that one would not just outwardly want, but would feel an inwardly deep desire and need to share the true experience of faith in God, with everyone.

This deep need to spread the experience of full faith and trust in God, the Good News, arising from a deep and full trust in the Spirit, this is what I'm beginning to see as a true call to evangelism. Here, spreading the Good News is not about keeping track of how many souls are "saved" or about which church can have the largest congregation, nor is it about threatening people into believing a particular theology out of fear rather than love and trust. For through such a transforming experience, through loving God so deeply to have such faith, we come to love deeply all the world. Evangelism is about having such a deep love for others that it pains us to see them living so blindly without the deep and transforming experience of the Light, of God, or, for those who find such an experience through him, of Jesus Christ. Out of love, we want to spread the Good News, and only out of such profound love and a deep trust in God arises true evangelism.

But what is the content and aim of this yearning Love which is the Divine Love loving its way into and through us to others? It is that they too may make the great discovery, that they also may find God, or, better, be found by Him, that they may know the Eternal breaking in upon them and making their lives moving images of the Eternal Life. ... Wherever any heart has tasted of the heavenly Love, ... there is the shepherd heart yearning over sheep not having a shepherd, not knowing where are the green pastures, not even aware that there are green pastures to find.

(A Testament of Devotion, Thomas Kelly, p. 76)

In such simple and eloquent words, Thomas speaks to the condition of all who live in the Life and Power, the Divine Love. It is not about fire and brimestone raining upon all lost and sinning souls, it is not about who has the correct theology and how many people can we get to believe in it. I find beliefs in this theology or that to be wholly subjective; to me, the Life and Power is not simply a belief, it is an experience, it is real, and it goes much deeper than who is right and who is wrong. I think this is what I was trying to articulate in my previous posting about just what the Important Question is.

In unbounded eagerness we seek for more such fellowship, and wonder at the apparent lethargy of mere "members." In the Fellowship cultural and educational and national and racial differences are leveled. Unlettered men are at ease with the truly humble scholar who lives in the Life, and the scholar listens with joy and openness to the precious experiences of God's dealing with the workingman. We find men with chilly theologies but with glowing hearts. We overleap the boundaries of church membership and find Lutherans and Roman Catholics, Jews and Christians, within the Fellowship. We re-read the poets and the saints, and the Fellowship is enlarged. With urgent hunger we read the Scriptures, with no thought of pious exercise, but in order to find more friends for the soul. We brush past our historical learning in the Scriptures, to seize upon those writers who lived in the Center, in the Life and in the Power. ... And we wonder and grieve at the overwhelmingly heady preoccupation of religious people with problems, problems, unless they have first come into the Fellowship of the Light.

(Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion, p. 55-56).

I quote Thomas Kelly, a soul who by the end of his life was truly living in the Life and Power of which he speaks, because I fumble with words attempting to express an experience that is truly wordless, and Thomas often expresses that which I also find to be true in my heart, in my Center.

It is through this Center, this groundedness in the Inward Guide that we can begin to recreate the Society of Friends and the Christian church and shake the countryside for ten miles around (Holy Obedience, Thomas Kelly). The fellowship .. is founded upon a common Object, who is known by them all to be the very Life within them. This is the Reality which removes Quakerism from pure individualism and from pure subjectivism, as it is so commonly and so mistakenly interpreted (p. 76, A Testament, Thomas Kelly, again).

It is through this Center that we can be called to evangelize, in the true sense of the word, beginning with our own Religious Society of Friends in the form of ministry. Come to think of it, is ministry not a form of evangelizing? True ministry does not come from our minds, but from the depths of our hearts, from the Spirit. By speaking the words of the Spirit from the place of the Life and Power, are we not ultimately calling others to join us this very place? Oh no, we've been evanglizing all along! Perhaps now we see that it's not something to make us cringe, but something with which we find deep love and inspiration, through which we begin to live in this Life and Power as part of the glorious corporate experience of the Divine Fellowship.

Though I began my spiritual journey years ago, I have only just begun to discover what truly living in the Center can mean - and I have begun trembling slightly in writing this post. I have begun to find myself caught in a place where I want to communicate and share the deep groundedness and faith and the seedling of deep Love within me to all those around me, but do not know how to go about doing it without profound (and perhaps damaging) awkwardness. It is a subject not to be thrown around lightly. I myself am just beginning to grow in this Center, and feel a bit scattered as I try to discern what reordering my life with the Spirit located in the Center, at the top of the priority list, entails for me.

I know there are Friends who have discovered this true experience. The Seedlings are there and are planted with deep roots. It is way past time that we share the Love, the Good News, even and especially within our own faith community.

Love and Light,
Claire

7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

akoy pinabayaan sa mundong ito walang nag-support ng faith ko on how to grow right sa spiritual life ko akoy naging alipin ng emosyon

akoy nadaya ng kaaway akoy naging kawawa sa mundong ito

17/1/06 1:32 AM  
Blogger Jeffrey Hipp said...

Wow, great post again, Claire.

This is an issue that has been a growing concern for me since I returned from the World Gathering of Young Friends. How do we share the Good News of God in our midst? How do we, in the Liberal Quaker tradition in particular do that, and what do we have to learn from our Evangelical Friends? What does Evangelism mean to us?

From my unprogrammed Friends perspective, I think the following points are worthy of exploration:

Positive: Evangelism isn't proselyting. It's sharing a positive message of love. I don't think it's convincing people that their faith is wrong, or that our is better. I don't think it's about well-crafted theological arguments. It's about sharing the beauty of the Spirit.

Experiential: Our evangelism should be based in our own encounters with the Spirit. Christ is an experience and relationship, not a theological notion. Theology isn't bad, but it must be rooted in our experience for us to share it in Truth.

It's not about results: It's not about "saving souls:" As the old Quakers might say, that's God's work, not ours. It's not about making Quakers. It's a message of encouragement to seekers. It's about just testifying to Emmanuel: God With Us. And when we are living in the Center, how can't we?

Let's find a time to discuss this after meeting some day.

Love,

Jeff
Friends Meeting @ Cambridge, NEYM

17/1/06 7:33 AM  
Blogger Claire said...

Mmm, yes Jeff. I would love to discuss this with you in person. Feel free to email, as well, if you are so led.

(Though I may not make it out there this coming weekend. I lost my wallet this past weekend which prevented me from catching the bus to Cambridge (my bus pass was in my wallet), so I instead walked Wellesley Friends Meeting, and feel a nudge to go again this coming First Day as I continue the process of replacing the contents of my wallet (including my bus pass). Sorry for the long-winded aside.)

Love and Light,
Claire

18/1/06 12:33 AM  
Blogger Nancy A said...

Lately I too have been thinking about reclaiming the word "evangelism," mostly from the perspective of stealing it back from the clutches of fundamentalists. Really, they take too darn many of the good words!

Did you know that Apple Computers calls their chief sales staff "Mac evangelists"? The sales staff are not supposed to sell computers so much as to believe in the Mac and want to pass on that belief to others. The computers sell if the faith spreads. This is an innovative use of the word.

However, it's the connotations of words, not their denotations, that possess power; and the connotation of "evangelism" in a religious setting is still "fundamentalism" (aka Christian-copyright), no matter what you or I do with it.

I think that to evangelize, one needs to know what one's gospel is. So what is our gospel? And more to the point, what is my gospel?

We know that this gospel is largely different for each person. Moreover, it's experiential (as you mentioned) rather than doctrinal. As a result, it's not a gospel one can "proclaim" (to use another Christian-copyright word).

So what, then, is evangelism for a nonproclaimable, nondoctrinal, experiential gospel with infinite variations?

Maybe it's just outreach with focused energy. Maybe it's just ministry to others with the aim of enriching their lives.

There are several reasons why many silent-meeting Friends aren't open to the idea of evangelism. One is their allergy to all things copyright-Christian and fundamentalist. Another is that many are refugees from religions that have used these words with a very different meaning.

But I suspect the main reason is that most silent-meeting Friends don't really know what they believe. They haven't zeroed in on their gospel yet.

18/1/06 2:13 PM  
Blogger Roberta said...

The greatest apostle (not the same as evangelists), I have ever encountered is one that lives a life so close to God that in the living of it, she is able to create a longing in others to model their lives after hers. She is a missionary's wife and it has always amazed me how many people (men and women) have stated they want to be like her in their faith. She is in very poor health and has been for a number of years but she never complains. And quite amazingly, despite the great number of years I have known these two, no one has ever said that about her husband despite his out-there efforts to win souls. I can only think that God's light shines brightest through those that fully trust him to use them as just a vessel. Just my opinion.

21/1/06 6:47 AM  
Blogger Claire said...

Nancy - yes, it is true that we need to know ourselves what it is we hope to share with others before we go off and start sharing things!

Roberta - The example you give is one that I have thought of, and feel a deep authenticity in it. What also comes to mind is that in being faithful, people can be called to express their faith in very different ways, and such diversity is vital. Some, in their deep, deep faithfulness, such as that of the woman you describe, aren't called to more explicit forms of ministry; just their example of authentic faith is their faithful and authentic form of ministry. Others, I feel, in their faithfulness are called to more explicit forms of ministry, equally authentic in their faithfulness. To me, no form of ministry is more noble nor more important, but all that we are called to is of utmost importance, whatever form it takes.

Thank you for sharing that story, as stories like those can be rare, and very moving. Sharing, after all, is also vital.

Love and Light,
Claire

21/1/06 5:03 PM  
Anonymous Bill Samuel said...

There are a number of churches (including the one where I am at now) and people who are spiritually active who have become reluctant to use the term "evangelical" because of the baggage it carries, and are using the term "missional" instead. There is even a missionalchurch.org Web site.

Those that see themselves as missional don't tend to believe in a rigid framework for living this out. They tend to see it as incarnational and inviting people into a journey in which they can explore spiritual reality and grow into wholeness with God. Missional is seen as opening people up to Good News about the possibility of participating in God's redemptive mission in the world, not as putting people into the "right" box.

24/1/06 7:34 PM  

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