Promoting Christ-centred Biblical Ministry

Index of Articles
reprinted from the September 2001 edition of Essentials  
  Essentials Article Number 3 - September 2001 - Stephen Abbott  
  Evangelism through the Binoculars of Biblical Integrity  
  The Bible, God's written Word, presumes that all authentic believers will, within the context of the community of faith, mature in theological understanding (Ephesians 4:11-16) and interpret the whole of life through the lenses of Scripture (Deuteronomy 6:1-9). Like a pair of binoculars the Bible has two lenses, the Old and New Testaments, and when brought into sharp focus they provide a united single image of God and human existence which has complete integrity. Of course at the heart of what it means to be an evangelical is to handle the sixty-six books of the Scriptures with absolute integrity. Stephen Abbott works part time as the EFAC Vic Training Officer and part time as lecturer at Ridley College
  The word integrity finds its origins in the Latin word integer, which means untouched, to keep whole or to keep the unity of. Therefore to treat the Bible with integrity means both an acknowledgement of the two Testaments' overall unity of authorship and purpose, as well as a commitment to unravel its truth with objectivity, as untouched as is humanly possible by subjective opinion. Such a view will mean taking with utmost seriousness the Bible's own understanding of itself and of its teaching on all issues relating to life, not least its instructions concerning evangelism and the mission of the church. Biblical Integrity is the essential second theological lens through which Christians must look when developing new methods of evangelism and church growth technology as well as assessing existing ones, especially in the present so called 'postmodern' climate.  

  1. The Bible's Authority and Sufficiency  
  In the very familiar 2 Timothy 3:15-17 these two issues are squarely addressed, "the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." This explains the Bible's source and design.  
  Firstly, with regard to its source we note that "all Scripture is God-breathed." (v 16). Its origin was the mind of God and it was communicated from God's mouth by God's breath (Spirit). No reference is made to the human writer's contribution to the inspiration process; the only concern is to state the bottom line, the Scriptures are the Word of God, for God spoke it. The Bible carries therefore the authority of God, an authority to which we must humbly submit.  
  Secondly, these words unfold the design or purpose of the Scriptures which encompass introducing people to "salvation through faith in Christ Jesus" (v 15) and maturing them "for every good work" in Christ (vv 16-17). This maturing of believers is unpacked in terms of both 'creed and conduct'. The Word informs our minds about God ("teaching and rebuking") and informs our behaviour and morality ("correcting and training"). We see then the total sufficiency of the Bible to provide everything necessary for people to be all that God intended them to be—saved and mature people of God.  
  Handling the Bible with integrity will of necessity mean that the central salvation purpose of God's self-revelation will set the believer's and the church's agenda. Immediately it ought to be clear that any evangelism ministry which fails to adequately address the issue of discipleship is not handling the Bible with integrity as it ignores a foundational purpose of God to see saved people mature.  
  2. The Message of the Gospel Must Not Be Compromised  
  In our present climate compromise is seen by many people as a great virtue. All over the international scene we hear discussions about reconciliation. Resolving conflict at the international, national and family level will inevitably involve the language of compromise. Compromise has become a subset of the postmodern, multicultural society's supreme virtue of tolerance. Those who make a claim for absolute truth on any issue, let alone such personal matters as faith and the soul, are going to meet with stiff opposition. Yet Christians and churches must not be swayed by the prevailing tolerant, compromising, truth-is-what-is-truth-for-you culture.  
  The Church is the Bearer of God's Truth  
Indeed it is of the very essence of our calling to be, "the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth." (1 Timothy 3:15). This picture of a temple building with solid columns and foundations is not to be misunderstood as a depository of God's truth in a sort of dry static intellectual sense. No this truth is that which concerns the "living God" and as the context makes plain, is truth which is dynamically reflected in the living testimony of its adherents, "Paul selected a robust figure to express the task of the church in the world. He was not thinking of propping up a building about to collapse but of a vigorous, triumphant church commending the gospel to the world by the united commitment of its members .… Paul's intention, …, was not to exalt the institutional church but to call its members to active, united witness. 'Each local Church has it in its power to support and strengthen the truth by its witness to the faith and by the lives of its members."1  
  Yet the church today is riddled with compromise when it comes to the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are all too familiar with the gospels of 'name it and claim' wealth, health and success, of social action, of political liberation, of universal salvation, of self-affirmation and positive thinking and so on. It is so easy for the biblically illiterate (sinners and saints) to swallow error when it is presented in a winsome, intelligent way especially when it is done so in the name of Jesus by so called Christian leaders including tragically not a few Anglican Bishops.  
  Today we are very familiar with the 'blood-bin' rule in body contact sports. The concern with HIV and other disorders has led to a great vigilance in removing players immediately they are cut and bleeding on the field. It is an uncompromising rule diligently applied for the safety of the other players. The Christian community needs to be no less diligent and uncompromising in applying the 'error bin' rule so that the gospel can remain uncontaminated by human heresy and compromise. The Scriptures themselves are intolerant of error.  
  Paul Spoke Graphically Against Tampering with the Gospel  
  How serious is it to compromise the message? Listen to the strong language of Paul,  
  • I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ. I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. (Galatians 1:6-12).[my emphasis].
  Notice how the apostle indicates that to accept a different gospel is to actually desert the God of grace (v 6). Paul reinforces what we have already noted above that the gospel is not a manufactured message but one "received … by revelation", which is therefore to be communicated without modification (vv 11-12). Those who have the audacity and arrogance to tamper with it are left in no doubt as to their standing with God, "eternally condemned" (9). Later in the letter in even less delicate terms, Paul writes, "As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!" (5:12). With such cutting remarks (excuse the pun), he stresses both the crucial importance of holding steadfastly to the truth of the gospel of Christ Jesus and the dangers of doing otherwise.  
  The Gospel & Repentance  
  Yet even if we get the message of Christ right we can still compromise the truth by failing to explain the correct biblical response to the gospel. The gospelling of Jesus and the apostles was accompanied with strong clear calls for repentance and faith (Mark 1:14-15; Acts 2:38, 17:30), something not always observed today. Drummond having noted this weakness in contemporary evangelism comments on its serious implications, "Minimising repentance not only presents a truncated gospel, it may well lead people astray into false hopes of being Kingdom citizens when they really are not. How tragic it will be for some who thought they were truly converted only to hear the Lord say on that final day. 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire' (Matt. 25:41). Their blood may be on the hands of those who did not call them to true, biblical repentance."2  
  Let us ensure that we preach the full gospel of Christ. May every sharing of Christ encompass the call for people to both trust in Jesus as the one who died on the cross for their sins and to turn and travel with him from now on as their Risen Lord. It is vitally important to remember that the challenge of evangelism is not to get decisions for Jesus, but as we have already noted earlier to establish fully devoted disciples of the Lord.  
  The Dangers of Contextualization  
  In our attempts to be aligned with Paul, in being "all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some." (1 Corinthians 9:22), we run the very real risk of compromising the gospel. We need to recognise that in the Bible contextualisation – the explaining of the gospel in terms understandable within a particular culture – takes place at the level of the shaping of illustrations and language, not theological substance. Dumbrell helpfully comments, "Contextualisation must, …, have its limits. The emerging churches may have borrowed the forms of their receptor cultures (1 Cor 9:19-23) but they refused in the NT period to compromise the content of the message .… We must not give way to the temptation to give primacy to the current cultural context. We must begin not with the culture, but with the gospel, which is not limited to or determined by any culture .… Contextualisation is to occur at the level of form, not content. We must distinguish between the forms and their theological core. For biblical truth must remain inviolate in cross-cultural communication."3  
  Dumbrell draws our attention to an essential dimension of all cross-cultural communication of the gospel, the starting point. God's truth stands over and above culture because of what it is, the very living and active Word of God. It interprets and transforms culture. The lesson is hopefully clear that the challenge of proclaiming the gospel is to be undertaken carefully employing the 'Biblical Integrity' lens.  
  The following may be a little simplistic but it holds true nonetheless. We could say that each believer is to operate like a down pipe which is designed to take the rain water from the roof to the drain or water tank below. It is not supposed to add anything to or take anything from the water. The shape, length and colour of the down pipe could be as varied as the architectural needs of a particular building necessitate. The essential function is to transport the rainwater to where it needs to be so that it does not cause any damage and will be most effective. So Christians are to transport the pure life giving water of the gospel of Jesus Christ, without additives or subtractions, to where it needs to be received by spiritually lost and rebellious people. Certainly they can adapt the form of their message to suit both their own specific gifts and temperament, and the particular audience and circumstance they find themselves in. But what they strive above all else to do is to avoid compromising the integrity of the gospel.  
  We would do well to embrace the attitude Paul's apostolic band embraced towards the gospel ministry, "Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God." (2 Corinthians 4:1-2). These words provide both a strong summary of the uncompromising commitment they had to preach the pure gospel and also their great conscientiousness to ensure they did not compromise the morality of the gospel by either their methods, motives or manner of life.  
  3. The Morality of the Gospel Must Not Be Compromised  
  The importance of addressing the issues of methodology and motivation in proclaiming the gospel can hardly be overstated. Sadly much contemporary evangelism has been corrupted by embracing, without careful theological discernment, the pragmatic technology of secular marketing, "Sociologically, modern evangelism is deeply infected by secularism. Decisions are generally made on a technical and pragmatic basis. There is a heavy emphasis on organisation over community. Much attention and money is given to public relations, advertising, and commercial enterprises like tapes, records, and books. Evangelists offer friendship and love for sale through the radio and television, and educational credentials are used as passwords into the lives of the gullible. The whole operation depends on a personality than on serious preaching. Ministry is reduced to messages and miracles transmitted through airwaves on the latest technology from Japan. In all, modern evangelism has become a kind of entrepreneurial industry organised, funded, and run like a modern corporation."4 In this context it is absolutely essential that the local church and individual Christians restore some credibility by ensuring the methods and motives of gospelling are clearly and uncompromisingly aligned with the morality of the gospel.  
  Methods and Evangelism  
  Paul and his apostolic team were at pains to remind the Christian churches, of the integrity of their methods when they had preached among them, "we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception" (2 Corinthians 4:2) and again "nor are we trying to trick you." (1 Thessalonians 2:3). Certainly Paul was willing to bend over backwards to create a conducive atmosphere and positive relationships for evangelising non Christians (1 Corinthians 9:19-22), yet he never compromised the message (9:20) or the morality (9:21) of the gospel in the process.  
  Why is that the church has found itself compromised, embracing evangelism techniques, strategies and models that have more in common with the secular business world than the ethics of the kingdom of God? Could it be that we have shifted the point at which we centre our thinking about mission?
  Evangelism which has biblical integrity is that which makes the method subservient to the message. "However, it may still be possible to get the message and method aligned with scripture but have the inner motive out of alignment, so we do well to also give our attention to our motives for preaching Christ.  
  Motives and Evangelism  
  I suggest that there are probably only two basic motivations or orientations of the heart which produce our reasons for gospelling. We are either self or God-oriented. The following New Testament passage highlights these two motives for gospelling, "For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed — God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else." (1 Thessalonians 2:3-6). [my emphasis].  
  If our orientation and concern is to advance our cause then we may preach the gospel of Christ for the applause of the crowds (1 Corinthians 10:33, 1 Thessalonians 2:6). In winning their favour, a second motive, that of financial gain, may also be fulfilled (2 Corinthians 2:17, 1 Thessalonians 2:5). All motives which spring from a desire for personal gratification, be it popularity or profits, are described as "impure" (1 Thessalonians 2:3) and obviously are not approved of by God. Paul's celebration that the gospel is preached even from "selfish ambition" (Philippians 1:17), is not a commendation of such motivations but a delight that God can work his powerful purposes even from misplaced motives.  
  In Christ Jesus we observe the perfect alignment of message, motive, method and messenger: 'Biblical Integrity' personified. There is no credibility gap between what Jesus taught, why he taught it, how he taught it and who he was. Messenger and message together in perfect harmony: "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14). It is important that a word or two be said concerning the messenger of the gospel and the crucial dynamic of his or her life as the bearers of the Word in terms of its moral consistency.  
  The Messenger and Evangelism  
  There is a good deal of wisdom in the statement, The medium is the message - our actions, though largely silent, have a tendency to speak louder and clearer than our words. It is interesting to note how Peter, who at one point compromised the gospel by his behaviour (Galatians 2:11-21), could later write about the power of an uncompromisingly gospel shaped life: "Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us." (1 Peter 2:12).  
  The best counter to the faltering of Church leaders and the bad witness of fellow believers are Christians whose actions and speech are in harmony with the tune of the gospel. The biblical integrity of the gospel is advanced by the messenger's moral integrity. All Christians need to remember that they are 'sermons in shoes', because people observe their lives and draw conclusions about the nature and relevance of Jesus and his gospel from what they see. We must not forget that while the medium may not be the whole message, it plays very significant role.  
  A Final reflection  
  Today there are a myriad of popular Christian books running hot from the presses, which declare a strong commitment to the authority and inspiration of Scripture, but fail to handle the Bible with any care and seriousness. The Word becomes a springboard of proof texts for justifying any approach which appears to be effective in obtaining decisions for Christ and growing the church.  
  Evangelism viewed through the binoculars of Biblical Integrity will not allow us to become weak on gospel truth in the service of relevance and attractiveness. For as Harry Wendt so articulately put it, "Jesus' kingdom is not built by theatre, but by theology. It is not built by methods but by a message. It is not built by a program but by a Person. It is not built by therapists and practitioners, but by teachers and preachers … of the Word! It is not built by those whose prime concern is "professional status," but by those whose prime concern is to proclaim Jesus with a burning passion. It is not built by people in swivel chairs in high places engrossed in board-room techniques, but by ordinary people in everyday places enraptured by the biblical text." 5  

Thomas D. Lea & Hayne P. Griffin, 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1992), 123.

Lewis A. Drummond, The Word of the Cross, (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1992), 70.


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