Invite A Friend Sunday . . . Every Sunday
Reverend Bryn MacPhail / November 17, 2002
For the Presbyterian Church in Canada, this is the year of “Active Evangelism”. Now, someone will have to explain to me what “inactive evangelism” looks like, because evangelism, by definition is always active.
One of the things the evangelism initiative has recommended is that churches hold a special service called, “Invite A Friend Sunday”—a practice this congregation is familiar with. I am thankful that this is a practice our Mission Committee has abandoned. Inviting friends to church on Sunday is something that should happen on any given Sunday, not just once a year. If we are committed to a high standard of hospitality to visitors every Sunday, if our worship is Christ-centred every Sunday, then any and every Sunday is an appropriate Sunday to invite a friend to our service of worship.
To be faithful to the Scripture, evangelism must not be regulated to a single day, or to a single year, but it should be woven into the fabric of who we are as a church.
So what is evangelism? Strictly defined, evangelism is the proclamation of good news. And, if we define evangelism within the context of the New Testament, we learn that the good news is the proclamation of the work of Jesus Christ. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus lived a perfect life on our behalf, He atoned for our sins with His death, and He sealed our inheritance through His life-giving Resurrection.
I am thankful that our denomination has formally recognized the need for our churches to be engaged in evangelism. Yet, I am curious about a few things that have been conspicuously absent from this emphasis. The first has to do with our motivation for evangelism. Why should we be doing evangelism? I hope you do not think me unkind for saying that the underlying motivation that I have discerned—from speaking to colleagues and reading recent PCC literature—is that our primary motivation for evangelism is to keep our particular churches alive. It appears, to me anyway, that the great motivator for evangelism is to preserve the institution.
What I have not heard in this emphasis on evangelism is the reality of God’s judgment for those who reject the gospel message. A verse that strikes me is Romans 8:1 where Paul writes, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” What a blessed statement this is(!), but let us not ignore what is implied here. What is implied here is that there is condemnation for those who are not in Christ Jesus. Or do we think John the Baptist was only kidding when he said that “the axe is already laid at the root of the tree; and every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire”(Lk.3:9).
Before we dash out of here energized for evangelism, let us first get straight the reason why we are doing this. The goal of evangelism is not the survival of St. Giles Kingsway—although evangelism will indeed secure our survival. And the goal of evangelism is not increased revenue—although, this too, is a subsequent benefit. Our primary motivation for evangelism should be our conviction that, all around us, people are perishing apart from Jesus Christ.
As I think about the many responsibilities of the Christian Church, I can think of no task more important than the task of proclaiming the Gospel.
Have you ever wondered why God leaves us here on earth, with all of its pain, sorrow, and sin, after we become Christians? Why doesn't He just zap us immediately to heaven and spare us from all this hardship? After all, we can worship God best in heaven. We can enjoy Christian fellowship, we can sing, and we can understand God's Word best when we are in heaven. And while we experience a measure of joy and peace on earth, in heaven, we gain everlasting joy and perfect peace.
In fact, there are only 2 things you can't do in heaven that you can do on earth: sin and share the gospel with non-Christians. Now which of these 2 things do you think Christ has left us here to do? Sharing the gospel must, therefore, be a priority for every Christian.
I suspect it is for this reason that Paul declares, in Romans 1, verse 15, that he is "eager to preach the gospel".
The other omission that I have discerned from our denominational emphasis is the role of prayer in evangelism. In the New Testament, scarcely will you find an injunction to spread the gospel divorced from an injunction to pray for the spread of the gospel.
What you find is Jesus instructing His disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into the harvest"(Lk.10:2).
What you find is the apostle Paul telling the Ephesians to "pray for all the saints", and to pray for him that he might "make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel"(Eph. 6:18, 19). In the same way, Paul instructs the Colossians to pray so that "God may open up (for him) a door for the word, so that (he might) speak forth the mystery of Christ"(Col. 4:3).
And again, in our text in 2Thessalonians 3, Paul writes, "pray for us that the word of the Lord may run and be glorified, just as it did also with you"(2Thess. 3:1).
Let's take a few minutes to unpack 2Thessalonians 3:1, a verse that is loaded with meaning and application for our Christian life. The chapter begins with Paul writing, "Pray for us".
Was there ever a more effective communicator of the Gospel than Paul? And though Paul likely surpassed all of these people in the discipline of prayer, even still, he recognized his own need to be prayed for. Paul understood that his preaching of the Gospel needed to be energized by the prayers of the people.
One of the great preachers of the 19th century, Charles Spurgeon, was once asked what the key to his success in ministry was. Spurgeon's answer, without hesitation was, "My people pray for me."
It is imperative that we all commit ourselves to pray for those individuals who are teaching the Gospel. That means praying for me before I get in this pulpit. That means praying for the Church School teachers. That means, praying for any Christian who is committed to proclaiming the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And what do we want to happen when the Gospel is proclaimed? We want lives to be transformed. We want the Word of God to convince people of their sin, and that they might turn from their sin and believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that He has secured atonement for all those who call upon Him.
The apostle Paul often talks about the need to have doors opened for the Gospel. John Piper likens these doors to people's hearts and so he says that our task is to "Pray the locks off people's hearts". And as we pray, the locks come off the people's hearts, the door swings open, and the Gospel enters in.
This is Paul's passion—that "the Word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you". A more literal translation of the Greek reads, "pray for us that the Word of the Lord may run". What an interesting way to talk the spread of a message! The Gospel message, Paul writes, has the ability to run. What does this mean?
Allow me to explain what it means by way of example. One evening, when I was in Oakridges Presbytery, I got a call from the clerk. She had evidently received an e-mail from me that contained a virus.
Now, for those of you who might not be familiar with computer viruses, it may be helpful for you to know that they are not totally unlike viruses that you or I might get in our body. There is a sense, where you could say that a computer can get "sick". And if your computer gets "sick", and it talks to another computer through e-mail, it can infect the other computer with the virus.
The Clerk of Presbytery informed me that the virus I had sent to her had caused her computer to seize up. So I turned on my computer and soon learned that she was right. My computer did indeed have a virus and it was causing my computer to malfunction. Thankfully, I was able to acquire an antidote for the virus and the problem was eventually solved.
During that process, I learned quite a bit about this computer virus. I learned that this particular virus not only hampers the performance of your computer, but what makes this virus so dangerous is that it has the ability to send itself by e-mail to every person in your address list. Do you see the potential for harm here?
I get the virus and send it to 20 people. Then, potentially, each of the 20 people I send the virus to send it out to 20 people on their list, and so on. You could certainly say that this computer virus had the ability to run! And what I find amazing is that it didn't even need me to physically e-mail the virus. I was simply a conduit in the process.
I share this example with you because there is a sense where the Gospel message runs in this manner. Once the Gospel message has transformed your life, you become a conduit for the Gospel. The Gospel message is meant to run from you to those who you are in a relationship with. And, if it transforms some of them, then they become conduits of the Gospel, and so on.
But, of course, the running of the Gospel is not always as smooth as that. When the Gospel runs, it meets obstacles, it meets closed doors, it meets personal security measures, it meets hardened hearts. And this is where prayer comes in. Our prayers help the Gospel run its course.
The New Testament is clear on this issue. One of the primary tasks of prayer is to support the mission—Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Our General, Jesus Christ, has assigned us to a mission. We have been commissioned to share the Gospel with others. And, even as we pray for daily bread and for the forgiveness of our sins, we do so in order to be strengthened for the mission.
Friends, I implore you in the name of Jesus Christ to pray for the mission entrusted to us. Pray that the Gospel may run from you to those who do not know Christ. Pray that the Gospel may run and bring glory to God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.