(This is post three of a four post series on evangelism. The other posts are archived in the Pr. Klemet Preus section of the Brothers’ CafÃ©.)
I have a theory about one of the great challenges facing our church when it comes to talking to others about Jesus. It’s our vocabulary. We insist on using the wrong words and this makes the task seem much more difficult than it is.
We use the word “witness” to refer to talking about Jesus. It’s as if we saw something when we really didn’t. Or it’s as if we are testifying in court. Who wants to do that? Do you want a subpoena? I don’t. The use of the this word also has the effect of taking away from us the objective historical eyewitness nature of the Bible regarding which the word “witness” is actually used in the Bible. Further the use of the word “witness” makes it seem as though the task is something different than just talking about something. It really isn’t. We need to knock it off with the use of the word “witness” to refer to talking about Jesus.
We use the word “evangelize.” It’s as if you have to be on a committee or have a spiritual gift or be engaged in a task so specialized that the only way you can refer to it is to use a Greek word. In the Bible evangelism refers to a task which requires specialized training and a unique call. My people are too busy in their vocations for that. Besides they don’t like doing things which are referred to with foreign words.
Why can’t we just talk about Jesus? Why can’t we find a couple of words from the Bible which actually refer to people simply talking about Jesus? Thankfully there are such words. I’ll mention two of them.
Tell. That’s a word. It isn’t a technical word like “evangelize.” It doesn’t require a special experience like “witness.” It’s a word which everyone knows. Tell. “Tell everyone what he has done.” It’s even in the liturgy so we should all know it.
Jesus cast out the demons of the man from the Gadarenes. They went into pigs and plunged to their death in sea. The local people asked Jesus to leave so he got into the boat to do so. The man who had been demon possessed begged Jesus to go with him. Jesus said, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” How tough can that me. Tell someone in your family about what Jesus did for you. The Bible says that he went around and told people. (Mark 5:19-20)
Mary is weeping outside the empty tomb. Suddenly she sees a man who she mistakenly thinks is the gardener. “Why are you weeping?” “Sir, tell me where the body is.” “Mary!” “Rabboni.” You know the conversation. Here’s how it ends. Jesus says, “Go to my brothers and tell (literally “say to”) them, ‘I am returning to my father and your Father to my God and your God.'” So Mary went and “told” the disciples. (John 20:15-18)
In Matthew you have the same thing. The women have a conversation with a couple of angels and quickly run to tell the disciples. On the way the meet Jesus who instructs them to tell the disciples to go to Galilee where they will see him. Matthew 28:8-10.
The word is sometimes translated “announce” but it’s not like getting up in front of a crowd to make an announcement. Sometimes it is translated “report” but it’s not like giving a long, tedious report to your teacher or your boss based on extensive research. Really it means to speak out a message. It means to tell. It is linked with others words such as “say” or “speak.”
There is something very interesting about the resurrection appearances in Matthew, John and even in Luke. In all three gospels, the resurrection chapters (Matthew 28, Luke 24, John 20) begin with the women being asked to “tell” or reported to have “told” (Luke 24: 10). The women are not called witnesses even thought they certainly saw something very significant. They are not called evangelists even though the clearly communicated wonderful news. They are “tellers.” Then in the second half of each of these chapters pastors are commissioned to do their work. In Matthew 28: 19-20 they are to baptize and teach. In Luke they are to told that “repentance and forgiveness are to be preached in his name to all nations” (Luke 24:47). In John the apostles who are pastors are sent to absolve sins (John 20:21-23). So in each of these chapters there is something which any Christian can do – tell. And there is something which pastors are specifically called to do – baptize, teach, preach, absolve.
Why is it that we call Matthew 28:19-20 the great commission? It’s the job of pastors. Why do they get the great commission? Why don’t we call Matthew 28:10 the great commission? “Don’t be afraid. Go tell my brothers.” It applies to all Christians. It is easy to do. It doesn’t require any special training. It does not require a divine call. Why not call this verse the great commission?
If our church wants to be serious about job number one and world evangelism then we will begin to talk like we are serious. We will let pastors do what they are called and trained to do. And we will free every Christian to be like pious Mary Magdalene or the demoniac from the Gadarenes. Don’t be a witness. Someone else already did that job. Don’t worry about Evangelizing. That’s being done as well. Just go tell someone about Jesus.
But what precisely should Christians say? That is the topic of the next and last blog in this series.