Reaching the ‘Nones’
In this section we explore more thoroughly why we reach out to others with the Gospel, including the ‘nones’ who may not even want or feel the need for it?
The Task of Proclaiming the Gospel to all is for all believers
Jesus left his Church with a mighty task and privilege of proclaiming the Good News to all nations, being witnesses to the ends of the earth! From the word ‘Go’ he never diluted it by saying ‘only go to certain groups’ or ‘to those who recognise their need.’ Thankfully he did not leave us on our own to do this but sent His Holy Spirit, God’s empowering presence, to live inside us and give us confidence and courage to proclaim Jesus in word and deed.
At times, the Church has drifted rather off-message, or sharing the Gospel has been seen as the domain of a few specialists whilst the rest of us have been content to bring people along to hear the experts! But sharing Good News is not the task of some, but the honour and vocation of the whole body. We are all called to be witnesses to what Jesus has done for us. It is the essential life of the church of Jesus Christ and at the heart of all our ministry and common being.
Amidst talk of decline in the Church in the West, it is easy for this God-ordained vocation to become about preservation of an institution. But our motivation is far deeper. We are motivated by our compassion – our desire to see all people come into a saving knowledge of Jesus who offers life in all its fullness. And we are motivated by our concern to rescue people from the alternative, allegiance to other contemporary world views with the potential to lead away from the love, freedom and joy that Jesus offers all who put their trust in him. In a world that is constantly being shaken, we have a sure foundation, and there is a deep hunger for this which cannot be found outside of Jesus.
Sharing this Good News is an overflow of being the Holy Spirit-possessed people of God. It is who we are – we are those who have become new creations – recreated by the Spirit through the death and resurrection of Christ. It is the love of Jesus which compels us to awaken the world to all that is offered to all in Him. The gospel is both universal – it is for all, with no exclusions – and particular – each person has a unique journey to faith and must come to a point of confessing Jesus as Lord.
For some it is a concentrated event of decision, for others it is a process of response and discovery, a gradual awakening to faith. There is no one way to become a follower of Christ. What is common is that in almost all cases, somebody made the introductions. Someone was praying, looking for opportunities to talk about their friend Jesus, and eventually said ‘Come and see’. In His grace, God uses broken and flawed people as midwives as He brings about the miracle of new creation.
The Mission of God
God is the one who is most committed to evangelism. The Bible shows him as constantly making the first move towards a stubborn and disinterested people, taking the initiative in meeting them where they are. 1 Timothy 2 reminds us that God ‘desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.’ It is certainly not limited to those who seem to find ‘believing’ easy or who grew up in a Christian home. God’s desire for people to respond and receive his love in Christ is impossible to overstate. This desire is seen in his commitment to us in the life, death and resurrection of Christ, in his continual work by his Spirit to form the Church, empowering his people to proclaim and witness effectively, and in his work to enable people to hear, receive and respond to his call to faith in Christ.
‘For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.’
2 Corinthians 5:14-15
Jesus did not come among us to tell us what we already knew, give us what we already had, or lead us in a direction we could have found for ourselves. The gospel is ‘good’, and it is ‘news’. It is ‘good’ because it tells us the truth which sets us free. And it is ‘news’ because what we hear in the gospel cannot be heard anywhere else – the claims of Jesus and what is required of us in response stand alone from any other religion or world view. Moreover, it is always good for all – whatever the implications of repentance and faith. And it is news which is for all – however religious, wise, disinterested or hostile.
Everyone has been chosen in Christ – that is, in Christ Jesus God has chosen to be born for every person, to bear every persons’ sin, be judged in every persons’ place, die every persons’ death, experience every persons’ separation from the Father, and open up resurrection life for all. Therefore, everyone is counted worthy of hearing the gospel in a way that they can respond to. The word of God is for them and the invitation of Christ must be issued to them. This brings us back to our central Mission as the Church.
The part we play
‘…But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?’
Romans 10: 14-15
To evangelise is to proclaim or herald the gospel. There is an essential telling, a passing on of this news which is not fully known or comprehended apart from in the telling. The Holy Spirit works in us as we listen and discern the entry points for the Gospel in each situation. And there is a dependence on the Holy Spirit who Jesus said leads us into ‘all truth’. He is the one that brings the revelation of the truth of this Gospel. There is nothing we can do to change a person’s heart and if a ‘none’ is really not interested, so be it but if people haven’t heard the message, as many ‘nones’ won’t have, how can they respond? (as Paul argues in Romans 10, above).
It can be easy for us to excuse ourselves from our responsibility with the assumption that some conditions are more favourable than others for the gospel. This is a debilitating myth! The Bible teaches that there is no-one beyond the reach of God’s amazing grace, not even if they tick a box saying they have no faith or if they commit their lives to preaching atheism. If God does not disqualify anyone, neither should we. Our culture may not feel as conducive to hearing and responding to the gospel as it once was but that is no reason for hiding or down-playing the greatest news ever.
As William Abraham puts it:
‘Evangelism has never depended on a sunny analysis of the culture it is seeking to Christianise; if that were the case the West would never have been evangelised in the first place… there is no good reason why the evangelist should be intimidated by prophets of doom who urge that the prospects for evangelism are bleak in the extreme’.
The gospel has a logic, a beauty, a power of its own, which is a gift beyond value. This is news about who God is and how God loves, what God has done, and the difference God makes. This is the message of our souls’ deepest longing – redemption, reconciliation and the reason to live. It is the transformation Jesus brings.