Dr Charles V. Taylor is a well known Australian linguist, Bible teacher, author, and Christian magazine contributor. His doctoral studies researched the Nkore-Kiga language of Uganda in Africa where he served as a missionary.
we can sort out a basic set of beliefs
Evangelism these days isn’t always simple and straightforward. Sometimes we mix with people of different traditions and in so doing it is possible to compromise the simplicity of the Gospel. No one should be against co-operation between different fellowships, but that isn’t the point. We must guard against a sort of ‘Jesus plus’ approach to evangelism.
Different fellowships may place emphasis on different aspects of what they perceive as truth. If that particular emphasis dominates evangelism, or even if it is just an optional extra, it not only makes for a bending of the Gospel message, but a disunity among evangelists. For this reason we should try to find a kind of nuclear Gospel; a message all can, indeed must, agree as basic.
What then are the essentials of the Christian faith? There was a time when most Christians would recite their creeds weekly. Pentecostals and many others, such as Baptists, tend to play down creeds as too binding. Yet the church has always defended its basics from the very start. The New Testament epistles spend a fair amount of time defending the faith.
I believe we can sort out a basic set of beliefs which should be regarded as binding on those who seek the proclaim the faith to a disbelieving world.
Some of us have encountered situations where a non-Christian is told, ‘Jesus loves you’ but where the reply gives the impression, ‘Anyway I’m a lovable person, so what?’ This is possible because no indication was given of any need, and no awareness of need was present. Before it can be accepted, the Gospel needs both repentance and faith.
Not only can we add to the Gospel message. We can also subtract from it by concentrating only on the love of God or of Jesus, according to the approach used. This is another reason why we should have a minimum Gospel message. We don’t want ‘Jesus plus’, but neither do we want ‘Jesus minus’.
Jesus makes no sense in terms of salvation unless he is known for who he is. As a fellow human being he can do nothing for humanity unless he is greater than any human. He has to be the God-man. So we need to begin with God himself, his nature and power. So what is the absolute minimum?
We can begin with the biblical declaration that
(1) God exists. Two psalms declare that the fool says, ‘There’s no God’. Yes, we need a superpower. But then, he isn’t a mere outsider.
(2) He created us for himself. And,
(3) he has rights as the Ruler of earth and its Judge. In religious jargon, he is Lord. That indeed was the challenge to Christians in a hostile world where Caesar was lord.
What does this have to do with Jesus Christ? Well, Jesus made claims, so either he was lying or deluded, or else he was really God in human form. This is where belief enters and where Jesus’ life and death become meaningful or else irrelevant. The evangelist’s job is to show that those claims have urgent meaning for helpless people and truly,
(4) we do have needs.
(5) Jesus was incarnated supernaturally, and
(6) his coming was foretold in writing, the most permanent way of keeping records during most of history.
(7) He lived a sinless life, but yet,
(8) he willingly died a criminal’s death. That doesn’t make sense unless he died for someone else. So, if he was God in human form, as he claimed, he could then die for more than one person.
The record says he died for everyone. So, everyone who
(9) sees their own disobedience, independence or superior attitude to God’s person and instructions, and who
(10) believes Jesus took the punishment appropriate to that deficiency, is forgiven and free.
Finally, God not only rules this planet but lives in eternity, where
(11) he has prepared a place fore those willing to have his as their Lord. For those who reject God and his Son sent specially to save them, following the one who brought disobedience into human (and angel) lives,
(12) a place of eternal punishment is reserved.
The Holy Spirit is God’s Spirit, and
(13) he is personal,
(14) he convicts of sin, and
(16) he brings faith.
Pentecostals and charismatics agree that the Holy Spirit’s work in those evangelised includes but is also distinct from evangelism. Signs and wonders, for instance, help confirm the Spirit’s work and the truth of God’s word. Evangelism without the Spirit’s power is fruitless.
All these beliefs, including the unattractive ones, are found in creeds and statements of faith in major orthodox fellowships. They’re not set out here as material for evangelism, but as tools or equipment for evangelists. In sum they are:
* One God – creator, redeemer, and life-giver, three in one.
* One way to God – Jesus, who died, the just for the unjust.
* One way to escape from hell to heaven – repentance and faith.
* One way to know truth – through God’s Spirit revealing God’s word.
All Christians are called to be witnesses, though not all are called or gifted to be evangelists. It is a real privilege for us all to share in God’s harvesting work in our world.
© Renewal Journal 10: Evangelism, 1997, 2nd edition 2011.
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