The Rapidian

Ethics and Religion Talk: How Do You Understand and Practice Evangelism?

Faith asks, “What are some forms of 'witnessing' or 'evangelism' to spread belief?”

What is Ethics and Religion Talk?

“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at http://topics.mlive.com/tag/ethics-and-religion-talk/. More recent columns can be found on TheRapidian.org by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

Father Kevin Niehoff, O.P., a Dominican priest who serves as Adjutant Judicial Vicar, Diocese of Grand Rapids, responds:

“For those of us who are Catholic the phrase we have been hearing since Pope Saint John Paul II was alive is the ‘New Evangelization.’ The act of evangelizing in terms of the above is two-fold. First, all Catholics are called to renew their relationship with Jesus Christ and his Church, and second, to go out and proclaim the Gospel. The source for the ‘new evangelization’ is the Gospel of Mark 4:31-32.

“Proclamation of the Gospel will take many different forms. For some it will mean dedicating one’s life to causes, e.g., teaching youth, pro-life, or vocational choices (remaining single, marriage, priesthood, and religious life). For others, witnessing to the presence of God is as simple as allowing the light of God, in whose image humans are created, to shine forth. This light is too bright not to be seen by others and often manifests itself in random acts of kindness. In other words, when one knows God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit one’s actions reflect the goodness that only comes from that same God.”

Rev. Ray Lanning, a retired minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, responds:

“Reformed Christianity holds that the first and most effective form of Christian witness is the faithful preaching of God’s Word, by those who are called, trained, and set apart to this office. ‘Faith Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God’ (Romans 10:17). Part of the work assigned to every minister of the Word is to ‘do the work of an evangelist’ (II Timothy 4:5). The ‘good news’ of Christ’s atoning work to save us, and the call to believe in Christ for salvation, should feature prominently in the sermons preached in our churches from week to week.

“Next to this public work of preaching the gospel, the oldest and best form of ‘personal evangelism’ is the way Christians live out their faith at home, in the workplace, and in the life of the wider community. We should be ‘epistles of commendation … known and read of all men’ (II Corinthians 3:1, 2), commending our faith to others by the way we live among them, and engage with them from day to day, ‘that by our godly conversation others may be gained to Christ’ (Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 86).

“With no clear idea of what the ‘good news’ is, we cannot ‘evangelize.’ If our ‘conversation’ or manner of life contradicts and conflicts with the faith we profess, we cannot be effective ‘witnesses.’ Other modes of Christian witness have been devised, but none of them can match the things commanded in God’s Word, in terms of content, method, or fruitfulness.”

Chris Curia, the Director of Youth Ministries at Fairway Christian Reformed Church, responds:

“The first chapter of John, the fourth canonical (and a particularly theological) account about Jesus, sets up how I think evangelism best functions: ‘There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light’ (Jn. 1:6-8).

“With this preface, the author intends to set the record straight that Jesus and John were not equals. There was a sub-sect of people in his community who believed they were. We see echoes of this confusion in how the author frames John in the subsequent verses, denying the assertions that he was a prophet, a Messiah, or Elijah reincarnate.

“John instead points to Jesus and gives an account of his distinctness. If we are to emblemize this same evangelical method, then we must step out of the way and point to the ways that we see Christ breaking into our world. Any act of love, beauty, goodness, kindness, freedom, justice, and peace is the evangelistic work of suggesting the reality of Christ and proof of a God at work in all things.

“In Insurrection, theologian Peter Rollins puts it this way: ‘[In] the image of Christ, we bear witness to the divine sharing fully in our existence (Incarnation) and offering a way of gaining victory amidst it (Resurrection) through the loss of all that would claim to protect us (Crucifixion). Names like Conversion and rebirth are given to our participation in this divine movement.’ Evangelism acknowledges that this movement is already happening all around us.”

Note: Because of space considerations, I omitted the following response from the print edition of the column in the Grand Rapids Press. Enjoy the online-only bonus!

Fred Stella, the Pracharak (Outreach Minister) for the West Michigan Hindu Temple, responds:

“With very few exceptions, Hindus have not sought out converts in the manner that others have. It is considered inappropriate to encourage someone to leave their current belief system (or lack thereof) in favor of joining our fold. That said, we have no problem offering our teachings and practices to those who may be seeking something in their spiritual lives that is going unfulfilled otherwise. So offering lectures and classes or publishing books for the general public is considered quite appropriate.

“As you can see above, my title with the temple is ‘Pracharak.’ This is a Sanskrit word that has a few definitions. The community felt that an appropriate translation would be ‘Outreach Minister.’ I felt comfortable with that. Well, during a lecture given to a group of non-Hindus someone questioned me on the title. If Hindus don’t seek to convert, why does the temple have an Outreach Minister? I asked the crowd if that is what the term indicated in Christian churches, and there was full consensus that it did. It taught me to explain in my lectures exactly what we mean when we use the title. While I do mentor those who wish to explore the Hindu Dharma, my focus is simply bringing the temple into the community, and bringing the community into the temple.”

 

This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up in the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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