Rector's Reflections - 7 May

Rector’s Reflections  

Tuesday 7th May 2024

Philip the Deacon Gives a Masterclass in Evangelism

Last week, I started a new series of reflections on the subject of evangelism.  I think many of us feel that we ought to do more to share the gospel with our friends and neighbours, but we are not quite sure how best to do this.  So it is helpful to get some advice from an experienced and effective evangelist. I have chosen one such evangelist, a leader of the early church called Philip. Philip held the office of Deacon, and so I am calling him Philip the Deacon, in order to distinguish him from another early Christian who shared the same name, Philip the Apostle.

We have seen that Philip the Deacon might well begin by reminding us of God’s plan:  God wants us to be witnesses to Jesus, not only in our own neighbourhood, but “to the ends of the earth”. So our task is to witness to Jesus – to sow the seed of the good news.  We can try to sow the seeds of the gospel in any place and at any time, but it makes sense to look around us for fertile soil in which to sow the seeds.  Are there people around us who are interested in the Bible?  Are there people  who are asking questions about the purpose and meaning of life?  Are there people who attend church on a very occasional basis, who might be open to exploring the Christian faith further?

Once we have located some fertile ground, a good next step is to start a conversation – not just any conversation, but a conversation which has the potential to allow the gospel to be shared and to be heard.

We might expect that we have done our bit once we have initiated a conversation about the gospel. But Philip would say that there is a next stage.  Someone who is interested in finding out more about the Christian faith needs to be embedded within a church congregation.  Why is this?  It’s for lots of reasons. To start with, a church congregation provides support and encouragement for the new believer. It also protects the new believer from being overly dependent on the evangelist who has brought them to this stage. And church congregations are resilient : they can continue for hundreds of years, whereas individual evangelists come and go.  Finally, church congregations celebrate the diversity of the Christian community. Once a new believer has become a member of a congregation, they soon realise that Christians can hold different opinions on different issues, and that we all live out our faith in different ways, depending on the particular circumstances of our lives. There is no one way to be a Christian.

The key thing is that the new believer is embedded within a supportive church congregation. Such a church congregation might be part of our own denomination -or it might not be. I don’t think it matters. Evangelism is about helping people to engage with the good news of the Jesus Christ. It’s not about filling the pews in our own particular church, or adding to the numbers of our particular denomination.

How might a congregation embed a new believer?  There are many ways to welcome a new believer into the church community.  Some churches might choose to offer a formal service, such as baptism, as a way of welcoming someone into the community of faith.   You may remember that this happened in the case of the Ethiopian eunuch:  “As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized? “ He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. “ (Acts of the Apostles, chapter 8).  

Looking back over my own life, my embedding into the life of the church began when I was still a baby, when my parents brought me for baptism.  I think the next significant stage was when I was confirmed, aged about 12.   The process of embedding has continued ever since.  I praise God that I have never been left on my own as a Christian: I have always been part of a church community, so I have always had other Christians around me, who have both supported me and challenged me. As Christians, we need each other – and so we need to welcome new believers into a community of faith.


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