The “Silver Bullet” of Evangelism

by Father John Parker

In a single sentence, it could be said that evangelization is everyone’s business, since it is every baptized Christian’s vocation to bear witness to what he or she has seen and heard, to speak of all the good that God has done in his or her life, to share the “Good News” of the Gospel in word and deed with everyone who will listen.

Many well-intentioned people are looking for the “silver bullet” of evangelism.  But there is no silver bullet for evangelization.  No program will fix it.  No bequest will buy us success.  And, as His Grace, Bishop David of Alaska recently wrote, Saint Herman and his fellow missionaries had nothing but the Gospel—and look at what amazing success they had.  The were able to convert non-Christians, village by village, across the vast expanse of Alaska, by word and deed, with precious few material resources.

What is needed for our continued evangelistic laboring, following in their footsteps?  What is the root of evangelism?  While there is no “silver bullet,” there are indeed identifiable characteristics or attitudes of both churches and individuals that indicate the way of evangelism.  For starters, here are five.

  1. A complete acceptance and belief in the Good News of Jesus Christ as we have received it.
  2. A broken and contrite heart.
  3. A new and right spirit.
  4. A profound attitude of gratitude to God.
  5. A genuine love of one’s neighbor.

We have to renew our understanding of what we believe and why we believe it.  As Archimandrite Gerasim noted in a homily at the 18th All-American Council, what we need is “an unapologetic apologetic.”  That is, we need to be confident and unashamed of our Orthodox Christian Faith.  Further, we need to know what we are facing, just as the early Christians did.  Today, one enemy of Christianity is cleverly called “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism [MTD].”

Here are the five points regarding MTD that, FYI, were derived from interviews with roughly 3000 teenagers.

  1. A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

I once heard Father Stephen Freeman summarize this view saying, “God has come to make bad men better.”  But (as he points out clearly) this is not Orthodox Christianity.  The human problem is not a lack of goodness or an abundance of badness.  The human dilemma is death.  God has not come to make bad men better.  He has come to raise dead men to new life.

Today, one enemy of the human person is related to what our society means by “orientation.”  There is a lot of talk about orientation in the news today.  Orientation can mean “facing a certain way.”  But what it actually means is “east.”  And “Orient” is a name we ascribe to our Lord Jesus Christ.  The biblical imagery of Jesus being our “Sunrise” or “Sun” or “Anatoly” or “Vostok” is picked up in our Orthodox Hymnography.  Here are two examples.

  • In the Nativity troparion we sing, “Thy Nativity, O Christ our God, has shone to the world the Light of wisdom!  For by it, those who worshipped the stars, were taught by a Star to adore Thee, the Sun of Righteousness, and to know Thee, the Orient from on High. O Lord, glory to Thee!”
  • And in the hymn sung at weddings and ordinations we hear, “Rejoice O Isaiah! A Virgin is with Child, and shall bear a Son Emmanuel, both God and Man: and Orient is His Name, whom magnifying, we call the Virgin blessed.

So, “orientation” means “to face Jesus Christ!”

Much of what our culture calls “orientation” is actually what we would call in the Church “disorientation”—the dizzying death blows of living life facing west, with our backs to Jesus, according to the ways of the world.  The three letter word for this is “sin.”  At baptism, the healing of disorientation begins by facing the direction of that sin—west—the way of the devil, the way of the desert, the way of the world, renouncing it three times, and even spitting upon it, and the devil!

The Christian life then begins by “re-orientation”—“facing east again”—actually in the liturgical celebration and spiritually in our return to face Jesus Christ once again.  Facing Jesus Christ, we can answer His invitation to draw near to him, however unworthy we may remain, even after renouncing our dizziness.

True orientation is facing Jesus Christ, on His terms with His gifts of grace.  It is the beginning of New Life.  This is the gift of illumination that each of us has been given, the road to which we are each called to share with everyone who will listen.

Orthodox Christians have been given the gift of heaven on earth.  The Lord God Himself, Jesus Christ, has entrusted the vineyard of North America to each of us, city by city.  Around us, people are dying in the streets—and in churches!  They are killing one another.  Our Supreme Court normalized the killing of children in the womb four decades ago.  You have likely seen the videos in recent weeks of the trafficking of the body parts of aborted babies.  The US Supreme Court recently normalized forms of disorientation.  Additionally, pornography is absolutely destroying men—and boys (not to mention the ‘performing’ women and men it enslaves).  The average first exposure to pornography among males is 12 years old.  Christians are not exempt.  These are all recipes for death.  Add to these realities that our neighbors are lonely and largely unknown to us.  Many elderly in retirement homes are neglected or abandoned.  And prisons are full.

But at the Liturgy we regularly sing, “We have seen the true light, we have received the heavenly spirit, we have found the true faith worshipping the undivided Trinity, Who has saved us!”  Do we believe this, or merely sing it?  If we don’t believe it, it is disingenuous to sing it, and to call ourselves Orthodox Christians.  If we do believe it, then we have an obligation of love and a debt of gratitude to pay by sharing the true light and the heavenly spirit with everyone who will listen.  Remember my five pillars of evangelism:

  1. A complete acceptance and belief in the Good News of Jesus Christ as we have received it.
  2. A broken and contrite heart.
  3. A new and right spirit.
  4. A profound attitude of gratitude to God.
  5. A genuine love of one’s neighbor.

If we believe this, we will cease to bicker as tight-fisted selfish people and begin to be open handed and generous.  As His Eminence, Archbishop Mark of Philadelphia said in his profound opening words at the 18th All-American Council, we will start asking questions like, “How may I serve?  How may I give? How shall we use God’s abundant resources? How can I make room for our neighbors in the church? To what is God calling us?”  And to these I would add, “Do I really see myself as the first of sinners?  How has God worked in my life?  How is he saving me?  Healing me?  Changing me?”  And the final question is, “To where shall we go to share the love of God and His salvation?”

Evangelization is saying “I love you because God first loves us.  Let us find his healing and forgiveness together.”  This is very Good News.

Priest John E. Parker III is the Chair of the OCA Department of Evangelization and Rector of Holy Ascension Church, Mount Pleasant-Charleston, SC.