Missions vs Evangelism

By Reverend Victor Teo

A long, long time ago, there was a king, Ben-Haded (2 Kings 6:24) who laid siege against the city of Samaria. Because of the siege, there was a severe famine within the forti ed city. The city was desperate for food and water. There was starvation and despair. In fact, the people were so desperate that they became cannibals, going after each other’s children.

Beyond this city, there were four lepers who were quarantined outside. They were the outcasts, shunned by the community. There was no way the people would let them in to scavenge for food. They would surely die. Then the four decided to surrender to the enemy’s camp, hoping that the enemy will provide them with food.

When they arrived at the enemy’s camp, the four were shocked by what they saw.

The enemy’s camp was empty. There was no one to surrender to. The enemy had fled because God had sent thunder that sounded like chariots and horses of a great army.

So suddenly, the four lepers were alone and they found plenty of food, water, clothes and fine gold and silver. They had struck lottery! But as they were enjoying the spoils, they said to each other,

“What we’re doing is not right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves. If we wait until daylight, punishment will overtake us. Let’s go at once and report this to the royal palace.”

They realised that they had a duty and an obligation to tell the rest of people in the city that the siege was over. If they continued enjoying themselves and not telling others, the thousands inside the city walls will starve to death. And so, they chose to run back and report the good news, back to a skeptical city (2 Kings 7:12).

This is a very captivating picture of evangelism. As Niles puts it well, “Evangelism is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread” (D.T Niles).

We are all sinners. The result of sin is death. We are separated from God (Isaiah 59:2) and eternally condemned (Romans 6:23). But Jesus Christ came to pay for the penalty of our sin. And we who have entered into His love and are saved from eternal death have a duty to share the message of God’s salvation to a dying world.

Evangelism is about Christians who are saved, telling others where to find salvation. In fact, the literal translation of the word evangelism is “good news”.

When you look at the Bible, all of Scripture is really about God reaching down to touch and save humanity through Christ. So in evangelism, we continue to be bearers of that light to the world.

I had my very own lesson on evangelism in Secondary 2. After a class on “How to use the Four Spiritual Laws”, we were told to pair up and head to the streets to share Christ.

My partner was more daring as he beckoned me to approach a group of youths (or rather, ‘Ah Bengs’), who were smoking outside the then-Yishun 10 cinema. I was shaking inside as I plucked up courage to ask the opening question, “Can I have a few minutes of your time?” Then I proceeded to run through the entire booklet. Thinking back, they were probably amused that we approached them. As Paul writes, “How can they believe in the one whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Romans 10:14).

But today, it seems that they have swung too far to simply just deeds and actions. I believe that even as we try to evangelise through our lifestyles and behaviour, we have to intentionally share the gospel. Being intentional about sharing and proclamation of the gospel is still necessary in evangelism.

Otherwise, we will so easily be overtaken in our quest to do good, to change the social structures of society, to feed the hungry, clean up the slums, educate the illiterate, and eliminate poverty… Yes, there is definitely a place for Christian compassion and deeds, but that cannot take over the place of proclamation.

So in short, evangelism is sharing the good news of Jesus Christ through both our words (proclamation) and actions (good deeds).

What then is Missions?

Missions is all that we have talked about on evangelism, but carried out in a different culture. The missionary is evangelising to the people in the new culture that he or she has stepped into. So this usually involves learning a language, immersing in a new culture, learning how best to soften the ground to prepare for the seed of the gospel to be sown. It also includes the setting up of schools, medical missions or the direct planting of churches.

But at the heart of missions is still evangelism. It is still about pointing people to Jesus Christ, the saviour of the world.

The driving force of missions is two-fold. First, it is an act of obedience to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20): to go and make disciples of all nations… to reach them, bring the gospel to them, baptise them, disciple them and grow them in the Lord.

Second, it is our participation in hastening the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Matthew 24:14: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” We can, as a church, hasten the coming of the Lord as we place world evangelisation as our priority.

Ralph Turnbull says, “A church that is looking for the Second Advent is a church that will obey the command of its Lord. A church that really looks beyond the city of man to the eternal city of God will be busy to bring this to pass.”

Because we know and believe in a kingdom not of this world, we participate with gladness in the mission of Christ in reconciling people, including those from different cultures, to God.

Emil Brunner says, “The church exists for mission as re exists for burning.” My prayer and hope is that the re in our hearts becomes the fuel as we seek to evangelise the lost for Christ. May the Lord help us. Amen.

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