To understand the force that is evangelism
today, we need to know that Christianity originated with an inherent duality. It emerged both as a religion of love and as one of salvation. At the deepest level and also in the earliest years of Christianity's spread, these two currents were one. Only later did they become separate, dividing into a 'current of love' and a 'current of salvation', separating the 'Word' from the 'word'.
The first stream of Christianity led to the fulfillment of the inner teachings of Jesus regarding the way of love and the teachings of love. The second, led to the message of the "good news" to Jew and Gentile alike - that sinners could be saved because the Kingdom of God was at hand. This message ultimately became the 'good news' of salvation through the Crucifixion. Its method, conversion through the preaching of the Word.
What is important to understand is that for Christianity, historically, the inner way was not the sole focus but rather part of two. From the beginning, through the empowerment of the disciples who became apostles, the understanding was created that Christianity was not meant to be kept to oneself but to be shared with the world. This is why discipleship and apostleship have such an important role in Christianity's beginnings. However, the understanding of 'what'
was to be broadcast and 'how'
it was to be spread has changed over the centuries, following the first generations of the disciples of Christ. Today, the 'what' and the 'how' of spreading the Word remain important questions for us to consider, at a time when evangelical fervor and Christian conservatism exert such a strong effect on public sentiment and on government
At several points in the Gospels, Jesus instructs his disciples to go forth and bring the Kingdom of God to people. In the later chapters of the New Testament also, the word 'preach' is used often by the apostle Paul as he instructs his listeners to 'preach to the nations' (my wording). This going forth was, and is, an expression of faith,
not an act of personal 'will'. It was, and is, part of what was meant by 'discipleship', growing out of adherence to the teachings of Jesus as originally interpreted. The reason it has become problematic for us today is not because of its original intent, but because the 'Word' - that powerful current of God's love which animated the original undertaking that was 'preaching' - has become separated from the 'word' (small 'w'), or spoken modality of the preaching itself. Here are some examples from the Bible of
instructions to preach to the world:
And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick.
And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.
For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.
For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!
To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen;
What does it mean, then, to 'preach the Kingdom of God' as described by Luke? In the beginning, it meant more than to teach the words and sayings that Jesus spoke. In the beginning, it meant both to speak, to save
, and to heal through the 'power of the Christ
10:1-20) which was, and is, the Word. This 'power' had little to do with the content of the words themselves and everything to do with the presence of God and love that could be felt within the early disciples. To 'save' and 'to heal' were not separate in the beginning, nor were they separate from the meaning of the word 'convert'. This conversion was not primarily about beliefs, words, and thoughts, but about the transmission of the original current that had been given to the disciples. This is not what 'preaching' has come
to mean today.
The original force that was to become a world religion was an energy - a current of light, love, and Grace. It was this 'power of the Christ' and of the Holy Spirit that introduced and planted Christianity within foreign lands - that infused whatever words were used to create the changes that took place. This same force was also present in the healings which the disciples were able to perform. Healings such as those mentioned in Luke 9:2 were not made possible by words alone. They were only possible through the energy that was, and is, a powerful current of transformation.
Today, the meaning of the word 'preach' has taken on a different connotation, due to the fact that the 'word' has become separated from the 'Word'. As a result, the efforts of the faithful to continue to bring the Word of God 'to the nations' has taken on a new form and a new energy. There is, indeed, among many, perhaps even among most, the sincere desire to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and to obediently reflect his instructions. Within this motivation, there is love for God and the soul's yearning for discipleship. But whereas the original apostles were able to manifest the larger 'Word' within their own persons because of the transformation they themselves had undergone, today's preachers more often speak words alone and more often lack that holy light that was part of the original transmission.
As a replacement for this, and for the capacity to heal through 'presence', (that is, to heal 'in the name of' or through the 'presence' of' Jesus), personal 'will'
has come to play an increasingly important part in the way in which preaching occurs. What is really needed in order that 'the power of the Word' be felt by those who are receptive is inner silence, and some degree of receptivity. Instead of this, we witness today a widespread doctrinaire approach, heavily laden with concepts and beliefs, sometimes also with a sense of pressure to convince. The original merging of 'I in thou and thou in me'
which is the keynote of discipleship described in the saying: "I am the Vine and ye are the branches"(John 15:5), is no longer a tangible presence today in most words that are used to convince or convert. By contrast, and due to the greater
distance between the Vine and the branch, a sense of threat can become activated in those who feel a calling to bring the message of the Gospels to others, when they receive lack of acceptance of their most cherished values by a secular world or by a world in conflict with the ideas being expressed. In such circumstances, they may respond as those who feel threatened often do respond, with pressure, excessive persistence, belligerence, or disdain, sometimes outrightly, and sometimes just as a feeling-tone.
This kind of defensiveness or self-protection of Christianity's 'current of salvation' - that which endeavors to make the 'good news' known to all and to bring religion from the background to the foreground of our awareness - has become more common today. For example, when the Ten Commandments monument
, placed in the rotunda of Alabama's state judicial building by Chief Justice Roy Moore, was removed in 2003 by another judge's ruling, many Christians were greatly upset, taking the position that:
"the Ten Commandments are the foundation of the U.S. legal system and (that) forbidding the acknowledgment of the Judeo-Christian God violates the First Amendment's guarantee of free exercise of religion. "
There is, in a similar protective vein, an ongoing battle between Church-and-State-separatists and Christian Conservative groups regarding school prayer
. Recently, an attempt was made to propose an amendment to the Constitution
because of strong fears regarding the exclusion
of the right to pray at schools. Jerry Falwell
, a well-known evangelical spokesperson for the Christian 'right', says about this issue:
"Today, school children are barred from singing Christmas carols on the school bus (Lake County, Ill.), school bands are prevented from playing carols (Maplewood, N.J.) and school productions of Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol' are halted (Kirkland, Wash.)...These are just the most recent examples of the growing hostility toward Christianity that is transpiring in schools across our nation because groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State have fallaciously convinced educators that even the most rudimentary mention of Christmas (or Christ) is illegal."
Because of the loss of inspiring inspiration which, in the beginning, infused each branch of the Vine with the holy and with a deeper capacity to embody the teaching "love thy neighbor as thyself", a new kind of 'spreading the Word' is present today - one which contains both purity and impurity of motivation. The original love for God and for the Christ may be there in its pure form, creating a calling to speak and to preach, to offer the Kingdom of God and to save. But more frequently now, it is covered over by the use of 'will' in the absence of Grace. As a result, elements of pressure, aggression, or fear may intermingle with the original pure motive of devotion. Elements of defensiveness or belligerence may replace the capacity to "love thy neighbor." For most, this is not a conscious process, but one that arises due to the need to perform one's
duty as a disciple or follower of Christ in the absence of
an inner experience of holiness and love. In fact, given enough of a separation between the mystical Vine and its branches or between the 'current of salvation' and the 'current of love', preaching can easily drift into the use of emotional force or even threat as a tool. This can only happen when the predominant energy which gave rise to the capacity to 'preach and heal' together, no longer holds the linkage.
This is not to say that the 'word' (small 'w') that is offered is offered entirely without love. If that were true, Christianity would never have grown to the size it now is. Nor is it true that all who strive to be faithful to the original teachings of Jesus have a need or desire to persuade others. But the linkage between preaching and healing, between love and salvation, has become limited due to the increased secularization of society and also just to the passage of time itself, which tends to weaken the original inspiring current of many spiritual traditions. Thus, we see and know today that one cannot heal others without the power of love, (often called the 'power of prayer' or the 'power of healing'), but one can preach without it.
Because personal 'will' has come to play a larger role in the 'method' of Christian preaching and teaching today, it allows for other motives and energies to come into play as well. Beliefs can be put forth with little tolerance for disbelief or for others who are not receptive. They can be put forth with an unwillingness to love the other, no matter what they believe. Also, personal 'will' invites those who preach to rely more on charisma and on emotional appeal to get their message across, even on the hypnotic effect of mass contagion rather than on holiness or discipleship.
Charisma or personal power had nothing to do with the way of the early disciples. 'Not 'I', but Thou within me' was the way of those who went out "two by two", who, if they were not well received in the town to which they were sent, were instructed to shake the sand off their shoes and move on. (Matthew
For centuries, the goal of transformation through the 'salvation of the Cross' has led the faithful to preach the Crucifixion to others for the purpose of remission of sins and for the purpose of gaining the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever the means currently employed, the original motive was based on universal love for souls. This motivation was embedded within a powerful spiritual current that originated two thousand years ago that had not existed before.
Today, this current is moving forward once again, focusing not on 'salvation through the Crucifixion' but on 'redemption through the Resurrection'. Today's movement is based on the understanding that because of the Resurrection, understood in its deepest meaning, the power of the Christ and the energy of the Christ is accessible to everyone, everywhere, within their own selves. This is the transformational belief of the present time. We are not there yet, in terms of the movement of either Christianity or of popular understanding toward embracing this next phase of spiritual growth. But we are moving in this direction. The importance of the shift from the Crucifixion to the Resurrection is that it brings with it an understanding of inclusiveness
that transcends religious orientation or particular beliefs. The Christ within belongs to everybody,
no matter what their belief. It does not require an outer adherence to Christianity nor to a particular relationship with Jesus. It requires an adherence only to the inner work of love and purification. This is the Resurrection, in its fullest, most universal meaning. It is this understanding, both historical and present, which will bring the Judaeo-Christian current to the next step of its unfoldment, and the experience of the Christ-self to every soul.
* * * * *
"Empires Prefer a Baby and the Cross to the Adult Jesus." (Dec. 24, 2004)
Rev. Giles Fraser speaks in this article about his own version of the duality in Christianity that I have referred to above as the 'two currents'. Here, he pictures that duality in terms of the separation between, on the one hand, the baby Jesus and the crucified Jesus to whom many Christians relate, and on the other, the adult Jesus who preached compassion for the poor and forgiveness of one's enemies.
"No longer a Christian." (Oct. 25, 2004) - Karen Cobb (See also: Nov 15th LO Newsletter
Another version of the duality, stated here as the difference between meekness and gentleness, and "the religious Christian right who vote for war and weapons."
"Rev. Billy - Preaching Against the 'Evil' of Consumerism." (Jan. 1, 2003)
An article with a funny twist in relation to preaching.
John Hagee's website, section on beliefs: http://www.jhm.org/beliefs.asp
On Evangelism: "We believe that evangelism is the obligation of every follower of Jesus Christ. The Lord commands us to go out and make disciples of all the earth. We believe that each person is first responsible to evangelism in their own family as the Holy Spirit leads them and gives them the ability."