Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmas, Christendom & Evangelism

If a Christian is not vigilant, Christmas can cause him to forget this world is not his home. Songs about Jesus, nativity scenes and statements about the virgin birth abound. It could be easy for the believer to rest on his laurels, thinking these must be evidence that the gospel has reached all corners of the globe! Our society is speaking favorably of God and Jesus, that must mean we've made some headway, right?

Often, we parody the non-believer into a belligerent atheist that hates God. They want anything religious removed from every possibly arena in life. They want to take our children away from us for fear we are "brainwashing" them. However, this just isn't how most of society thinks. Derek Kidner, in his commentary on Ecclesiastes states:

The secular outlook is not necessarily theoretical atheism, but a thoughtless attitude towards a God whose existence is unquestioned but unappreciated.
The fact that the "traffic circle" in our town is adorned with a nativity scene is not a sign of the triumph of Christianity, but of Christendom. Most non-believers can drive by it without offense because they haven't thought fully about the purpose behind the incarnation. In fact, many will assume they must be a Christian because they aren't offended by the display!
She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.--Matthew 1:21
Imagine our community with a cross and empty tomb displayed on the property of a municipal building. Why doesn't that happen? Sure, Christmas gets polluted by all kinds of distractions, but we still see many symbols of the Biblical description of the incarnation. Why don't we see those things around Resurrection Sunday? Wouldn't it be easy to display the same syncretism? Couldn't the easter bunny stand at the tomb in awe? Why does our society want to distance itself form the Biblical account of the resurrection, but not the incarnation?

I think there are a couple of answers:
    1) Jesus the baby is less threatening than the resurrected Jesus who was crucified and now sits on His throne as Lord of All. Everyone loves babies. Babies are cute. Babies are manageable. Babies are under our control. The Infant Jesus doesn't scare us. He's vulnerable. He needs His mother for His survival.
    2) We've removed the blood. The birth of Jesus is filled with reminders of sin. The bloody, painful mess of childbirth serves as one great reminder. The sin offering Mary makes for herself (Luke 2) serves as another. However, look closely at a nativity scene. Mary is spotless and appears fully recovered. Joseph somehow managed to escape the whole event without a mark. Even baby Jesus is spotless; His hair is not matted nor does He show any signs of the stress of labor. And you won't find any filthy rags out back behind the manger, as if Joseph quickly cleaned up the scene. No, it was a silent night, remember?
So a man looks at a spotless, helpless baby and does not find it offensive. In some ways, this is a two-fold tragedy. First, he is often deceived that his lack of offense is evidence that he must be right with God. Second, the believer, who should know better, naively assumes this must mean the man is "on the right track." We assume that since he has not called the ACLU and filed a suit against the city, this must mean he close to conversion!

We must remember that while it is essential to believe that Jesus took on flesh (1 John 4:1-2), this is not the only doctrine a person must accept for salvation. They must see their sin, and that it deserves death. They must see the perfect Jesus Christ, both fully God and fully man, as their sin substitute. They must believe He died to pay their penalty and that He rose again to grant us life. They must believe this gift is received by grace through faith. In short, they must be driven to the cross; it's purpose, function and reception.

The timeline for conversion can be difficult to spot. We're tempted to create clear lines through altar calls, sinners' prayers and decisions. However, this is even cloudy for how many people have you seen who prayed the prayer, yet never exhibited any form of fruit? Wouldn't you say that the person who came forward to publicly declare he is a sinner in need of the shed blood of Jesus was already saved before he stepped out of the aisle? Our attempts to clarify the moment of conversion have only muddied the waters.

Strangely though, we've done the opposite with evangelism. As a young man, I remember being exhorted regularly on the virtues of "God-talk." While it was labeled "pre-evangelism" it was also consider part of the work of an evangelist. (Catch the confusion there?) So we were presented with the nebulous "1 to 10 scale." The God-hating, ACLU supporting, nativity kicking Atheist was a 1. A genuine believer was a 10. Our task was to simply try to raise every person we meet by a point. (I say it was nebulous because number 2 through 9 were never defined...wholly subjective.) Perhaps the person who agrees to come to your Christmas Eve service, brings a Bible (and their family!), cries during part of the sermon and tells the pastor "that was beautiful" on the way out is a 9? They're soooo close!

But that's not the reality of Darke County (or much of the world, I would suggest). Churches in our community (and some pulpits) are filled with people who bring their Bible, acknowledge the "real meaning of Christmas" and support the view that we were created. Yet they are no closer to the gospel than the tribesman who has never heard the name "Jesus." They're happy with what they've got of Jesus. He's not bloody. He may not be a baby any longer, but He still is not threatening. He's controllable; manageable; and best of all, that means they are still in charge.

"God-talk," like nativity scenes, do not save anyone. They may serve to open the door for us to present the gospel, but until the words of the gospel have flowed from our mouth, we have not done evangelism. Our feet are not beautiful because of "God-talk" but because of the gospel! Christmas should serve as a great reminder of this. There are wheat and there are tares. The point of the parable is that tares look like wheat. Our harvest field around us is filled with people who are saying, "Merry Christmas" rather than "Happy Holidays." Sadly, we walk by encouraged that they are so close while they walk by thinking God must be pleased with them for they are keeping "Christ in Christmas."

We should realize that our call is to take that to the gospel. Perhaps the believer should think of the holiday as "Crossmas," reminding him that the gospel must be declared for conversion to take place.

Don't look to conform people to Christendom, share the gospel, trusting that the Holy Spirit is looking to convert people to Christ!

1 comment:

April said...

Amen! Sadly, I can relate to secular outlook in this post (from my non-Christian life) because I thought the very same things. I believed God existed, but I also believed I was in control and I did not appreciate God at all. But, by the grace of God, I know better now! Thank God for His Son!