Confession AS Evangelism?
You’ve heard of friendship evangelism. You’ve heard of street-corner evangelism. Perhaps you’ve heard of power evangelism. You’ve heard of evangelistic crusades. Each of those has strengths and weaknesses – if we present the gospel as witnesses, I trust the Holy Spirit to advocate and convince the jury.
Friendship evangelism encourages believers to befriend non-believers, to live life among them, to build trust with them, and to display the love of Christ in all the little ways we get to love those non-believers. With a trusting and genuine friendship, it is (theoretically) much easier to win a hearing for the good news of Jesus.
The risk is people don't feel like a friendship is authentic if you've befriended them to convert them. Believers of course retort that witnessing is the best way to love someone who doesn't know Jesus, if we truly believe. I'm just thinking from the perspective of the non-believer. Feels... manipulative.
Street-corner evangelism – while I’ve no knowledge of its effectiveness – is the bold witness of Christ standing on a busy street corner announcing truths of the gospel. Honestly, I usually avoid these people when I see them... they likely assume I'm an opponent, if they catch my facial expressions.
Power evangelism focuses on the healing and miraculous power of God that is available to believers. If people are miraculously healed by the prayer of faith, it is likely they’ll be far more open to know about the One who healed them. This is wonderful, possible, and very rare.
After more than 11 years in pastoral ministry in which I’ve communicated the gospel in myriad ways in Sunday services (and seen a few people give their lives to Christ as a result, praise God), one of the lessons I’ve learned the hard way is the miniscule impact of human boldness, skillful gospel presentations, moving songs, even bold and confident prayers for sick or wounded non-believers.
In general, evangelism is terrifying because it is a big expenditure of courage and energy which puts relationships and reputations at risk. That’s not a bad thing; it’s what Jesus often did and still does, and it is certainly involved in the idea I'm proposing here. He claims all our relationships and he takes ownership of our reputation. But, like the seven sons of Sceva, it’s possible that we often launch out on our own, as if the gospel is dependent on us.
What If. . .
But what if the way we proclaimed the gospel to non believers was not through a moving presentation from a speaker, but rather through our dependence on grace displayed for them to see?
Specifically, what if non-believers saw the gospel on display by observing confession and forgiveness between believers? I’m picturing this happening in a small gathering in a living room, rather than the potentially manufactured atmosphere of a church service. I’m picturing a handful of believers who are publicly dependent on the grace of Jesus coming together and inviting a couple non-believers.
And I’m picturing them describe their week, but rather than trumpeting their successes, they are transparent about their failures. And rather than hearing this transparency and immediately offering advice and solutions for how to work out of the issues, what if the first thing non-believers saw us do was proclaim, in classical language, “assurance of pardon” over one another?
The reasons I believe this would be effective:
1) God consistently and powerfully responds to our humility, confession, repentance, and dependence on him (James 4). This has been my experience through my whole faith journey.
2) I think the non-believing world is fed-up with self-righteous Christians who emphasize their own goodness and the world’s badness. Whether they know it or not, they are fed up with something that is nowhere close to authentic Christianity.
3) The process of confession and forgiveness is among the purest applications of the Gospel in believers’ lives – from this, non-believers would see people being transformed the way Jesus transforms us: through mercy, forgiveness, and free grace. We might actually talk about the cross and not morality (which comes much later).
4) Jesus says in John that the world will know we are his disciples by our love for one another, and there is no authentically Christian love that does not begin with forgiveness.
Challenges with Confession as Evangelism
Of course, this isn’t a quick fix, nor is it a perfect plan. It comes with challenges. Consider these:
1) If this were the norm, would non-believers begin to see Christians as perpetually guilt-ridden people, and therefore make such an association with Christianity? [Quick answer: Yes, IF the assurance of pardon is not emphasized, celebrated, and deeply received by the confessant.]
2) Would there be a temptation to manufacture sins to confess? [Yes.]
3) In the evangelical world, we are far out of practice regarding assurance of pardon, so this will be awkward at first. “You are forgiven in Jesus’ Name” is something many of us don’t believe we have the right to say. We only say “you are forgiven” when someone has wronged us and therefore we are the one person who can grant forgiveness. [Consider the implications of Ps. 51, or Matthew 16 and 18 – all sins are against God, and Jesus gives his followers the authority to act as priests.]
4) This one is personal. Remember, I'm a pastor. What if I sit in a room with people who know me as their pastor, and I begin to confess the real sin in my life? We have such expectations of our leaders that there is hardly room for confession, because then leaders would be "disqualified from ministry." There is a tension here, and there is a needed discernment... for a later post.
Here’s Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:11-21, saying all this far better than I could ever dream:
11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences. 12 We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart. 13 For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. 15 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.
16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Hmmmm.... turns out I'm not the first one to think of this. Surely many believers have seen this in action through the years. If you're one of them, can you share?
What do you think of this idea?