THE SECOND ‘E’ OF “S.E.E.” – EVANGELIZATION
In my November and December Ruminations, I invited your attention to a vision I S.E.E. (Stewardship, Environment, Evangelization) for Emmanuel Parish. Building on my November and December ruminations as foundational or a priori for a consideration of the second ”E” of S.E.E., I invite you this month, and during Christmastide, the season of encarnation, to a reflection on “evangelization.”
I begin with the word itself in an attempt to retrieve or restore it to its original meaning. First, I am suggesting the term “evangelization” rather than evangelism to avoid the fate of all too many “isms”; an ism being a doctrine, system or theory removed from the activity, practice or reality to which it refers. Evangelization connotes a process, a practice, an action, a movement giving rise to and reflecting doctrine. Which brings us to the root of the term itself, “evangel” or “evangelist” from the Greek (evanggelion) a proclaimer of the “good news” or “Gospel.” Words such as “evangelical” are formed from the noun, evangel derived from angel – a messenger of God, hence the term, evangelist, usually one ordained or called by God to share, preach and proclaim the “Good News” of God encarnate in creation and the “new Adam,” Jesus the Christ.
Historically, the terms evangelical, evangelism and evangelist took on a particular meaning associated with intra-Protestant controversies in the sixteenth century Continental and English Reformations – Lutherans being called “evangelical” and Calvinists termed, “reformed.” In England, a movement in the eighteenth century formed under the leadership of John and Charles Wesley was called “methodist” or “evangelical” characterized by an emphasis on atoning sanctification and expressed by religious “enthusiasm.” Such an emphasis has resulted in evangelical Anglicans being called “low church” versus “high church” Anglicans who emphasize sacrament as well as the proclaimed word. In the Episcopal Church in the United States the term is also associated with the “Great Awakening” of the mid-eighteenth century with its emphasis on personal religion, religious emotion, personal conversion, the authority of the Bible (sola scripture), the preaching of the word and the study of the Gospel to include a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Other denominational expressions of the Evangelical tradition or movement can be seen in revivals, “televangelists” and often subscribing to a literal interpretation of scripture. Sinclair Lewis’s Elmer Gantry and the movie of the same name give a popular, albeit caricature of evangelists in the United States as a part of the “Second Great Awakening.”
Can the word, and more importantly, the ministry of the evangel, be restored or retrieved as central to stewardship? In a word, yes. Stated simply, we are called to be stewards of creation to include being stewards of humanity, people, all people. In short, as followers of Jesus the Christ, we all share the vocation of being evangelists by sharing in deed and word the love of God encarnate in Jesus Christ with others.
Such a calling makes many Episcopalians nervous – “Me, an evangelist? I joined the Episcopal Church to distance myself from sawdust, tent revivals, emotional religious outbursts and ‘hard sell” techniques for personal conversion.”
An unfortunate association in that in evangelism, evangelicals are often associated with such limited and distorted understandings; incorrect, but all too often popular characterizations.
“Evangelization” is our response to God’s love revealed to us in Jesus the living word and in Jesus the living presence in the sacraments of creation – living water in Baptism, – living spirit in bread and wine – the basic elements that sustain hum(us)manity – water and food.
Said differently, being stewards as evangelists means that we are called to care for, by loving (agape), all of humanity, expressed most succinctly in our mission statement – “to love God and God’s creation with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves.” Said still differently, evangelization is the stewarding of “our neighbor” (all persons) by caring for others. Evangelization as an agape reality and process is not a “hard-sell” of the Gospel but how we care for others as stewards of the living word encarnate in the ministry and example of Jesus, the teacher, prophet, healer – in short Jesus, the Evangelist. Jesus, the messenger of God as enfleshed God announcing a new reality for all of creation to include humanity – the Kingdom God; a new world order of peace, justice, caring, sharing and love – agape. The words of the evangelist are important but our actions speak even louder than our words.
A final question and thought. Over the past few years I have been touched and moved by the many people in our parish who have witnessed to their love of Jesus, this Church and members of our parish family as a part of our Every Member Canvass. Can we boldly take that witness in action and Word to the larger community of Orcas as Stewards of Humanity? The thought: “The way from God to a human heart is through a human heart.”