Evangelization: Who We Are As Church

saint-paul-preaching-in-athens-3511-mid1Do you know what is the nature of the Church? You might come up with various answers, but when the Church asks who are we at our very nature, it responds–missionary.1 Evangelization is at the core of who we are as Church–to go out!

Orthodoxy is necessary for evangelization to occur. Without it, one hasn’t anything to share, but their own conjecture and opinion. Without orthodoxy, there is nothing to share, and no need to share it. For evangelization to have meaning there is a necessary precursor of catholicity (right thinking-truth, fullness of faith and universal mission). Evangelization is about conversion of hearts, leading others to Christ through word and proclamation, into his visible body, the Church.

The idea that one would share their faith so that others might convert is odd to many even among Catholics.  Too often I hear that one just needs to be a good person and when people notice, they will inquire as to the reason.  The quote by St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the gospel and, if necessary, use words,” has become a mantra to not use words at all.  Can you imagine if the Apostles followed this principle?  While our personal witness and holiness of life is important and necessary, so is being able and willing to articulate and share the faith we hold so dear.  It is not an either/or, but a both/and.  After the Second Vatican Council we have had an emphasis on our univeral call to holiness.  What has not, in my opinion, been equally emphasized (outside of social action), is our universal call to mission.  These two principles: holiness of life and sharing this with others must go hand in hand.  We have two goals in life– to become holy and to lead others to holiness!  

And, we need to ask ourselves how are we going to become holy?  It is only through a total gift of self.  It is through giving, that we gain.  So too with our faith.  If we want to gain in faith, we need to give it away.  If we want to gain in holiness, we (in a sense) need to give it away.  Holiness is not possible without mission.

  1. Ad Gentes 2 []

12 thoughts on “Evangelization: Who We Are As Church”

  1. Well said, Jason. I especially like how you related this to holiness itself: we must give ourselves away in both word and deed if our love is to be full.

    I was just studying Revelation 1:5-6 where Jesus is “faithful witness [prophet], the first-born [priest]…, and the ruler of the kings of the earth [king].”

    Because Jesus “loves us [prophetic witness] and has freed us from our sins by his blood [priest] and made us a kingdom [king], priests to his God and Father,” we are called to this three-fold office of priest-prophet-king in imitating Jesus.

    Certainly everyone has their own gifts and talents, but we are all called to develop these three offices to their fullness so that we may attain the full stature of Christ.

    Moses tried to bow out b/c he didn’t speak well, but he shared this concern with God and God helped him along and helped him to grow his gift for speaking until he was able to give us all of Deuteronomy – it’s basically one long speech!

  2. Jason,

    You have always been a voice for evangelization. An inspiration!

    I want to comment on your use of Francis’ quote, and how it is misused. I, for one, agree with you that it is misused. To be precise, it is mis-interpreted. I think what that quote is aiming at is that we cannot speak of the Word in such a way that it has no value anymore: something that is so easily communicable is something that is not of much worth. On the contrary, what we ought to do is: “PROCLAIM the Word”. In other words: evangelization is not reiterating to others our faith. It is, contrarily, proclaiming to others our faith. How is this different? To proclaim requires openness, gratuity, generosity: charity. Telling someone about Jesus doesn’t really require any of these. That is where I think many evangelization efforts have failed. True evangelization must be rooted in charity, love. If people have an authentic encounter with love, they will come to God and eventually, through grace, direction, and guidance, Jesus Christ. That is why Mother Teresa explained, in her book “No Greater Love” that she never mentioned “Jesus” to those who she worked with. There was no need to because she, so in love with Christ and the Church, became the personification of the phrase that Ratzinger stresses in “Introduction to Christianity”: existence-for-others.

    Sorry that that is a bit confusing, but I just wanted to share my thoughts. Enjoying reading this Jason. And your last paragraph was a home run.

    1. Here is a quote from Ratzinger that I was thinking of when I left my original comment.

      “The main point is that it is hte role of the Church to speak to the world the word of God given in Christ, to witness before the world to the public saving work of God so that everyone can hear it. At the same time, however, she must perform this task with a holy discretion. She must not try to catch men with the word unawares, as it were, without their knowing it. She has no right to draw the word out of a hat, like a conjuror. And she must recognize that there are places where the word would be wasted, thrown away, if it were spoken. These considerations are important for the question of Church propaganda, as for example in religious broadcasting on radio and television. He best disseminates the word who does not squander it (for what is too cheap or too easy is reckoned of little value) but proclaims it.” (The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood, Ignatius Press 1993, 82).

  3. Brother, I agree with the spirit if not the letter, the heart if not the reasoning. You have spoken truly; Without orthodoxy one has nothing worth sharing. The great tragedy is that RC evangelism is a misnomer, an oxymoron. Why? Rome has anathematized the evangel and replaced it with a gospel that is no good news, a wearisom treadmill of sacramental forgiveness that a fair reading of the New Testament will not countenance.

    The human cost is countless millions who – generally ignorant of the teachings of their own church much less the gospel – seek to approach God through priestcraft, superstition and good-works. Only a remnant embrace, by virtue of fortuitous ignorance and grace, the gospel of justification by faith in Christ as our only and all-sufficient righteousness. To replace this glory with the synergistic, man-centered system of Rome! I have no words.

    But why does the Roman Catholic need to bother with evangelism anyway? Most, we are told, are already fine. (I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating.) The catechism (section 841) tells me that “the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge their Creator, in the first place among whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day.”

    Indeed, all sincere adherents of religion are saved, for the Roman Bishop himself told us in 1998: “Through the practice of what is good in their own religious traditions, and following the dictates of their consciences, members of other religions positively respond to God’s invitation and receive salvation in Jesus Christ, even though they may not recognize Him as their Savior. ”

    The sound you hear is the sound of legions of saints turning in their graves. God love you brother; I love your heart but we are on very different pages.

    1. Josh, forgive for the bluntness: I hope you are not on very different pages. Do you really disagree completeley when Jason says, for-instance: “These two principles: holiness of life and sharing this with others must go hand in hand. We have two goals in life– to become holy and to lead others to holiness! And, we need to ask ourselves how are we going to become holy? It is only through a total gift of self. It is through giving, that we gain…If we want to gain in faith, we need to give it away…Holiness is not possible without mission.”

      I understand you may have some problems with the Roman Catholic Church (I assume with the larger Catholic Church, as well), but I would encourage you not to always attack. Your deep dismissal of anything catholic is harmful, and at best, discouraging. For-instance, when you said that “The human cost is…millions who…seek to approach God through priestcraft, superstition and good-works”, I hope you were not thinking of Catholicism. If you were, please forgive, but such a comment is inundated with ignorance.

      I am very confused. I did not think that any Christian of any denomination could respond with such a spirit of dismissal and disgust to this post. This post is about evangelization, of sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others: it is about the ontological importance of sharing the faith, of in a spirit of charity and living as gift.

      You asked why the RC Church bothers with evangelization. Again, your dismissal of Catholicism here is, even with your quotes, full of misinterpretation and a lack of understanding. I would encourage you, instead of consistently bashing the Church, try and establish a dialogue, that is, a form of communication that seeks to bear fruit toward a greater understanding of the truth. The Church bothers with evangelization for the sake of mankind. I can’t write more–out of characters! I hope none of my words are hurtful. May we both continue to grow closer in love with Jesus Christ always!

    2. In passing, I might add that the quote by the Pope provided above indicates quite plainly how he conceived of salvation. This is very telling! The fact that he believed that men could attain salvation “by following what is good” in their respective traditions, and “following the dictates of their consciences,” compels me to believe that he was operating out of a view that is wholly at variance the scriptures. What is this but some kind of works-based, self-salvation?

      You may say, “Yes, but he says that by doing this they are receiving salvation through Jesus Christ.” True enough; This is what he says. But consider this: The Pharisees would have said that their works were wrought by grace. And the Judaizers Paul condemns in Galatians would have said that their adherence to the law was done as a part of salvation in Jesus Christ.

      In other words, this kind of thing is unmistakably wrongheaded. The Bible roundly condemns it. We may say “I am saved by grace, through Jesus Christ;” But if by this we understand only that Christ provided some kind of foundational grace or graciously created a way wherein I might save myself by meritorious works…Well, we have missed the point entirely.

      I submit to you that in this quote we are given a glimpse of the mechanics of salvation as it stood in the mind of the former head of the Roman church. I ask you, was the center of gravity in his understanding truly grace, or some kind of meritorious living on the part of man? The answer is clear.

      1. (I posted an earlier comment as a response to your original comment but it says that it is “awaiting moderation”. Hopefully that will show up soon!)

        Regarding salvation, the Church is not about works-righteousness. This was Augustine’s issue with Pelagius.

        Salvation is totally gratuitous.

        Also: “receive salvation in Jesus Christ”. I don’t think Pope was speaking the Pelalgian heresy. On the contrary, if we mature in our dignity through virtue (I hope you don’t deny that living a “good life” or fighting the good fight does not bring one closer to God) then we are more aptitude to accept the gratuitous grace of God that offers salvation.

        Again, your consistent and automatic dismissal of anything Catholic is quite harmful to your own understanding of the Church. Pax et bonum.

        1. Tommy,

          I look forward to interacting with your comments more when I have some time. However, I will say now that, thought the Roman Catholic church does not espouse in its dogmas some kind of naked works-righteousness, it does promote a kind of synergistic, part man-part God hybrid that is not consonant with scripture. And as I indicated above, saying that my works merit salvation by grace or increase my justification (or whatever the dressing de jure may be) does not square with scripture. Just saying that salvation is totally gratuitous may sound good, but anyone can say this, regardless of the specifics of their view.

          We are saved by grace, through faith, and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God, not as the result of works, so that no man may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9) But we are saved so that we may bear the fruit of good works to God’s glory (Ephesians 2:10) Confusion in these matters is very tragic.

          And you are incorrect in your assumption; I do deny that “living a good life” can bring one closer to God so as to make us more apt or fit to accept salvation by grace. Indeed, I deny that a man apart from Christ can live anything like a “good life” as scripture truly defines it. Rather, as Paul says in Ephesians 2:1-5, we are spiritually dead before he graciously makes us alive. And, as he says in Romans 8:6-7, the mind of the man who is in the flesh (not in Christ) is hostile to God and cannot follow God. In that state our best works are but filthy rags and glittering sins. God himself must save us. We cannot and will not approach him apart from his grace.

      2. Josh,

        The quotation from the pope must be read in context. Actually, it isn’t a quotation from the pope at all, but from the Second Vatican Council in its Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium, in Latin).

        When she writes about the “plan of salvation,” the Church is not saying that Muslims are then saved. The Church is making a assertion about God’s sovereignty: nothing happens without His willing it or permitting it. God’s plan, in Greek, is His oikonomia or economy: literally, His house law, or His wise arrangement of things. For some reason, God has permitted Islam to come into existence and flourish. Why? We don’t know. But we can say that God is calling everyone to salvation in Jesus Christ: some “belong to it,” and others are “ordered to it in various ways” (Lumen Gentium 13). Those who “have not yet accepted the gospel” (LG 16) are still being “called to salvation,” that is, “to believe in Christ” (LG 13).

        Muslims may indeed fall into the category of “those who without any fault do no know anything about Christ or His Church,” or have been told lies about Him, “yet who search for God with a sincere heart and, through the influence of grace, try to put into effect the will of God as known to them through the dictate of conscience: these too can obtain salvation” because it is “through no fault of their own” (LG 16). The Church is simply saying that God may indeed show mercy upon those who are in this situation “through no fault of their own.” Salvation is through Christ alone, but those in the above situation have not rejected Christ in any proper sense.

        However, what frequently happens, I think, is that “deceived by the evil one, people have gone astray in their thinking and exchanged the truth about God for a lie and served the creature rather than the creator (cf. Rom:1:21, 25), or living and dying in this world without God they are exposed to the extreme of despair” (LG 16). These folks are in danger of eternal loss.

  4. Dear Josh,

    I want to thank you for faithfully reading and responding to our blog. To be honest I have often been frustrated while reading your responses, and reading today’s response I can sense that you have been frustrated reading our posts. Let us begin by acknowledging that the struggle is worth it. While it is emotionally taxing on both sides, partially because we are friends and partially because we don’t understand why the other is not seeing what we see, still the dialog is worth the effort. As you said in your post the human cost is countless of millions. We do not speak merely as individuals but our dialog represents millions of voices on each side attempting to bring their brothers and sisters closer to Jesus Christ and his saving revelation.

    You closed your post by stating that we are on very different pages; I agree, but that is the very point of ecumenical dialog. You are reading the world and scriptures and your experiences from a Protestant perspective. Likewise we are reading the world, and scriptures and our experiences from a Catholic perspective. Together we both hope that through reason and the Holy Spirit we may convince the other of our point and in doing so, move the other a step closer to the truth. So in such ecumenical dialog we each sincerely believe that our views are correct and the other’s views are incorrect. Does this effort have any hope of success?

    I think so, but the road will be long and difficult. The Catholic Church is engaged in numerous ecumenical dialogs, and many have yielded measured rewards. I believe the most prominent achievement has been the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification in which Catholics and Lutherans together struggle to understand one another better and to together articulate specific points of agreement in our understanding of justification. Now the document admits that there remain numerous points of disagreement, and there is plenty of work yet to be done for future discussions. I would like to point out that the JDDJ is one document built on the work of teams of theologians, priest and laity, who have been examining their consciences and the scriptures together for thirty-four years. Indeed these joint discussions began during the Second Vatican Council which ended in 1965.

    So if full time theologians are taking over thirty years to reach agreement, I think we can expect that our discussions will also proceed slowly. As much as we are able to we need to attempt to step into the other person’s shoes. In my classes I often have students play the “What if it was true?” game. Students are asked to bracket their own beliefs, and attempt for a moment to adopt the position that the claim being made was true and accurate. Then I ask them to consider the origins, motivation, implications and supporting corollary principles or beliefs. This is very hard for people to do. Take for example the abortion debate. My pro-choice students are firmly convinced that the fetus is not a human person. So I ask them to play the “What if it was true?” game. Many are unable to set aside their beliefs and consider the implications of the claim that the fetus is a living human person. But for the few who are able to attempt this, even imperfectly, they take a step towards understanding their opponents and seeing the pro-Life side as something more that the cardboard fanatics they are frequently cast by the media. So too in our discussions I would suggest we both play the “What if it was true?” game.

    For an example in your response you wrote, “RC evangelism is a misnomer, an oxymoron. Why? Rome has anathematized the evangel and replaced it with a gospel that is no good news, a wearisom treadmill of sacramental forgiveness. . .” So you identify that we have two different ways of conceptualizing the gospel. (Explaining and comparing these two views is worthy of many future posts, but for now let me focus on one difference between the two views, that being whether or not humans are called to participate in the salvation process.) I believe your position is that according to the gospel humans do not cooperate in their salvation and our position is the opposite, that according to the gospel humans are called to cooperate in their salvation. What if it was true?

    If God called humans to cooperate in their salvation, would it make sense for the Church to “anathematize” other versions of the gospel? If it was true and God worked with humans to improve their spiritual condition, would one experience it as a “wearisome treadmill”? When you claim that only a remnant of Catholics embrace the gospel. Can you see that you are measuring Catholics with a Protestant ruler? You take your understanding of the gospel, and claim that on a remnant of Catholics are saved according to it. But the proper understanding of the gospel is exactly what we are trying to define and debate through our dialog. To my ears it would sound odd for me to say that only a remnant of Protestants are in a state of grace and fully participating in the grace of the sacraments. I understand that you are fully convinced that your understanding of the gospel is the correct reading of the Bible (i.e. humans do not cooperate in their salvation). But we too are convinced that our understanding of the gospel is found in the Bible (humans do cooperate in their salvation). Offensive terminology such as “priestcraft” only makes it harder for us to dialog respectfully. One should perceive from Jason’s post that he is writing as a Catholic author to encourage the Catholics in his audience to share their faith. It is normal that he will utilize Catholic terminology incorporated into Catholic beliefs and practices to educate and encourage the Catholic readers to know and share their faith. If a non-Catholic wishes clarification on the terms or principles, I think it is very reasonable to ask for support/evidence/rational. However, to assume and dismiss the post because it reflects the Catholic position, does not advance the discussion and exchange of learning. We are all passionate about our faith and our love for the Lord and one another. Let us pray for one another and inspect our words carefully. I would ask that each side give the other the benefit of doubt.

    You ask, “But why does the Roman Catholic need to bother with evangelism anyway? Most, we are told, are already fine.” Let us again play, what if it was true. If Roman Catholics thought most everyone was fine (saved), would Catholic do evangelization? Probably not. If Catholics believed nearly everyone was fine, would Jason be encouraging other Catholics to know their faith and evangelize? No, probably not. Would we (Jason, Jeff, Ryan and myself) maintain a blog devoted (among the numerous ends) to ecumenical dialog? Not likely. So by playing the “What if” game I hope you can see that somehow Catholics must not believe that claim in the way you are understanding it. If they did, their actions would indeed be different.

    Well brother I have spent all morning and afternoon reflecting, typing and responding to your post. Now I must go and teach class. I pray that I have been loving and kind. It is not my intent to insult or harm. I really do sense and share your frustration and I want desperately for all of us to understand one another and Christ more deeply and consistently.

    Your brother in Christ,

    Biff

    1. Biff,
      Thanks for taking the time to respond so thoughtfully. I really appreciate what you’ve said. I agree, dialog is worthwhile, if often frustrating and painfully slow going. I take some solace from the fact that I cannot doubt that all of us sincerely have the best interest of the others in mind. That alone is of great value. So, please pardon what you may perceive as overblown rhetoric as heartfelt concern and a desire that we stand together in the truth.

      I like the “What if it were true?” approach. I really do believe that the only way to truly understand another perspective is from the inside and on its own terms. But, as you observe, it is extraordinarily difficult to really bracket your own beliefs – especially deeply held, core beliefs.

      What makes this unusually difficult is the nature of the issue. It’s one thing for me to assume, for the sake of argument, that Marxism is the best approach to governing. It is fantastically more difficult to provisionally assume the truth of a system that proposes a fundamentally different paradigm of salvation that I honestly find unbiblical.

      In that connection, the “What if it were true?” cuts both ways. If it were in fact true that Rome is promulgating a gospel that is fatally flawed and traps multitudes in a system that keeps them from the truth…Well, then you would expect and even insist that I do everything in my power to convince those I regard as friends of its falsity. What if it were true?

      At the same time, I agree that we must find the best way to advance the conversation. Just grandstanding and trying to show how vehemently we disagree is not so profitable. I confess my original post was short on argument and long on expressing my disagreement. In any event, I really do appreciate what you guys are trying to do with this blog. I don’t for a minute question your sincerity or heart. May God help us as we seek the truth.

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