Second Quarter 2012 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
"Corporate Evangelism and Witnessing"
For the week of May 19, 2012
Corporate Evangelism and Witnessing
One of my favorite Ellen White quotations is the very first paragraph of Acts of the Apostles. In almost-poetic words she writes:
"The church is God's appointed agency for the salvation of men. It was organized for service, and its mission is to carry the gospel to the world. From the beginning it has been God's plan that through His church shall be reflected to the world His fullness and His sufficiency. The members of the church, those whom He has called out of darkness into His marvelous light, are to show forth His glory. The church is the repository of the riches of the grace of Christ; and through the church will eventually be made manifest, even to 'the principalities and powers in heavenly places,' the final and full display of the love of God." (p. 9).
There is so much in this paragraph that we could—and no doubt will—spend eternity unpacking it. But the first two words give us enough to ponder for the present discussion, because, in them we see the grand object upon which God has set His love, hopes, and even faith.
Those two words are "the church." This is the "appointed agency" for the salvation of men. Ellen White doesn't say God has appointed individual believers, though it includes us; she doesn't say He has appointed independent ministries, though they have their place. It is the corporate body, the church, working together by faith, that God will use once and for all to "show forth His glory" and reconcile sinners to His loving heart.
In order for the corporate body to fulfill its corporate mission, however, I see in scripture three realities with which we need to come face-to-face. Unless our hearts are touched by these three realities we will be powerless to accomplish what God longs to accomplish through us on a corporate level. There may be individual victories and isolated triumphs, but nothing on the universal scale that God desires to accomplish, which will ultimately bring the great controversy to a climactic close.
Reality 1. The corporate nature of God
Many are able to recognize that the simplest explanation of God's character ("God is love," 1 John 4:8) is also the greatest indicator of His corporate nature. In order for God to be love, there always had to be an "other" to love. Love cannot exist in singularity. Thus, God's very nature is corporate.
We see the corporate nature of God in the life and death of Christ as well. In going to the cross, Christ "taste[d] death for everyone" (Heb 2:9). He did not point fingers at others, blaming them. He took upon Himself the entirety of humanity, assuming full responsibility and guilt for all.
This has very practical implications for our own evangelism. Instead of pointing fingers at others – either at our fellow church members or at those for whom we labor – we identify with them and share their blame. Evangelism is not "us vs. them," but "we" – as in "we are in this together." It is not "my evangelism vs. your evangelism" but "us." It is inclusive, not exclusive.
Ellen White's words are ever appropriate and practical: "As we see souls out of Christ, we are to put ourselves in their place, and in their behalf feel repentance before God, resting not until we bring them to repentance" (SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 960).
Reality 2. The faith of God and the faith of Jesus
One of the most startling realizations in Scripture is to discover that God has faith in us. He believes in us. He has confidence in us. In lost humanity, Christ saw the pearl of great price. "Christ would never have given His life for the human race," Ellen White writes, "if He had not faith in the souls for whom He died" (Lift Him Up, p. 221).
This is sobering. Yet when we accept the vision that God has of us; when we embrace the confidence He has placed in us; we are able to live that same faith and show confidence in others.
God's last-day people are characterized as those who "keep . . . the faith of Jesus" (Rev 14:12). This means that – motivated by God's agape-faith in us –instead of being suspicious, critical, or negative about our fellow laborers, we confidently work beside them. We believe in their abilities, in their value, in their place in ministry, and we ever work to help them reach their potential in Christ.
It also adds power to our evangelism. "If we wish to do good to souls," Ellen White poignantly offers, "our success with these souls will be in proportion to their belief in our belief and appreciation of them" (Gospel Herald, May 1, 1898).
Reality 3. Our corporate history
The book of Nehemiah records an interesting event: "Then those of Israelite lineage separated themselves from all foreigners; and they stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers" (Nehemiah 9:2). This is a classic example of corporate repentance. God's people acknowledged the missteps of their forefathers and repented in a corporate way.
Corporate repentance is not simply a technicality so that God can wipe clean the books in heaven. Corporate repentance is very concrete and grounded in reality. In the Hebrew language, the word translated for "repent" is shuv, which literally means to "turn around." It denotes that a person is going in the wrong direction and until he or she repents, any nice things done are of little value.
What our corporate history teaches is clear. Ellen White declared long ago that the message given to us in Minneapolis was the one "God commanded to be given to the world" (1888 Materials, p. 1336). It was a message that was to "lighten the whole earth with [God's] glory." Yet, sadly, that light was "resisted, and by the action of our own brethren has been in a great degree kept away from the world" (Ibid., p. 1575, emphasis added).
We could "win" a million people to our numbers, but until we re-examine the road map, until we return to the fork in the road, the fork where we began heading in the wrong direction, we will not work to a finish. We must acknowl-edge our past, and by God's grace, embrace the direction He wanted to lead us at the time of our detour. Until then, our evangelism will be everything but corporate. It will, instead, be characterized by disjointed pockets of workers and efforts done here-and-there, but will not be cohesive and will not reach the whole world.
I think of a poignant example from the life of William Wilberforce, that giant of the Christian faith who was the catalyst for the abolition of slavery in England (and, indirectly, America). In a stirring speech given to Parliament in 1789, Wilberforce introduced his desire to abolish the slave trade. Instead of pointing fingers, he proclaimed this:
"I mean not to accuse anyone, but to take the shame upon myself, in common indeed with the whole Parliament of Great Britain, for having suffered this horrid trade to be carried on under their authority. We are all guilty – we ought all to plead guilty, and not to exculpate ourselves by throwing the blame on others." (quoted in Eric Metaxas, Amazing Grace, p. 133).
It would be 18 years until the slave trade was abolished, and 44 years until slavery was completely abolished, which, by the way, was the same year Wilberforce died.
Let us, with greater fervency than ever before, recognize these three corporate realities so that the pain God's heart feels over Satan's slavery of men can finally be extinguished.