Elliot Clark, Evangelism as Exiles
I really appreciated Elliot Clark’s book Evangelism as Exiles. Here are some of the things that stood out to me:
“Picture an evangelist. For many of us, our minds immediately scroll to the image of someone like Billy Graham—a man, maybe dressed in a suit and tie, speaking to a large audience and leading many to Christ. As such, we tend to envision evangelism as an activity—more commonly a large event—that requires some measure of power and influence. In communicating the gospel, one must have a voice, a platform, and ideally a willing audience. It’s also why, to this day, we think the most effective spokespeople for Christianity are celebrities, high-profile athletes, or other people of significance. If they speak for Jesus, the masses will listen. But this isn’t how it has always been. Not throughout history and certainly not in much of the world today” (Clark, Evangelism as Exiles).
Elliot Clark gives six essential qualities of a Christian exile on mission:
“With the help of God’s Spirit, such believers will be simultaneously (1) hope-filled yet (2) fearful. They will be (3) humble and respectful, yet speak the gospel with (4) authority. They will live (5) a holy life, separate from the world, yet be incredibly (6) welcoming and loving in it. While these three pairs of characteristics appear at first glance to be contradictory, they are in fact complementary and necessary for our evangelism as exiles” (Clark, Evangelism as Exiles).
“From the perspective of 1 Peter, the antidote to a silencing shame is the hope of glory, the hope that earthly isolation and humiliation are only temporary. God, who made the world and everything in it, will one day include us in his kingdom and exalt us with the King, giving us both honor and also a home. We desperately need this future hope if we want the courage to do evangelism as exiles” (Clark, Evangelism as Exiles).
Here is a long string of quotes I found instructive:
“over the last decades, in our efforts at evangelism and church growth in the West, the characteristic most glaringly absent has been this: the fear of God… “Knowing the fear of the Lord, ” [Paul] explained, “we persuade others” (2 Cor. 5:11)… The consistent testimony of the New Testament is that if we have the appropriate fear for them and of God, we’ll preach the gospel. We’ll speak out and not be ashamed… our problem in evangelism is fearing others too much” (Clark, Evangelism as Exiles).
“In a world teeming with reasons to be terrified, the only rightful recipient of our fear, according to Peter, is God… Fear of him, along with a fear of coming judgment, is a compelling motivation to open our mouths with the gospel. But we do not open our mouths with hate-filled bigotry, with arrogant condescension, or with brimstone on our breath. According to Peter, we fear God and honor everyone else” (Clark, Evangelism as Exiles).
“According to Peter, we’re to honor everyone. Take a moment and turn that thought over in your mind. You’re called to show honor to every single person. Not just the people who deserve it. Not just those who earn our respect. Not just the ones who treat us agreeably. Not just the politicians we vote for or the immigrants who are legal. Not just the customers who pay their bills or the employees who do their work. Not just the neighborly neighbors. Not just kind pagans or honest Muslims. Not just the helpful wife or the good father” (Clark, Evangelism as Exiles).
Our Missionary God and Our Mission
God incarnated Himself. Became poor, despised. God is the ultimate missionary. He Himself who is the good news, brought good news.
If we are going to be “missional,” i.e. intentionally evangelistic, we must focus on and learn from God the Great Missionary. God’s love is unrelenting and displayed through a vast array of means. It is tangible. It cares. It comes to us. It gives. God’s love is present, active, premeditated.
God’s mission is not disconnected from who He is but expressive of who He is. God’s character, in Christ, literally bled out. God’s missionary heart is not forced but fundamental. God is a God who calls, reaches, and loves the unloving; and He always has been.
We cannot expect our hearts to overflow with missional love unless we meditate on God’s love that we see expressed through the Scriptures. For the good news of Christ to overflow out of our hearts it must daily be in our hearts as good news. We don’t want the gospel and a life of love to be forced, we want it to be so natural that it pours out. We don’t just need our actions to change, we need our character to change. We need to be different. We need to care in ways that we don’t care. We want to intentionally share, not mainly because we have to but because we want to.
We must regularly challenge ourselves by the active nature of mission. God did something. He was not passive. He came. He had a plan (since before the foundation of the world) and He executed it. It cost Him but He carried it out. He opened wide His arms and welcomed in the unloving and hateful world as He hung stretched out on the tree.
We too must be active. We too must enter the world in tangible and intentional ways. We must have a plan and execute it; even if it costs us.
We are ambassadors for Christ, God makes His appeal through us. God speaks through us! So we must implore people on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20).
The Church is a Place for Outcasts
The church is a gathering of the redeemed. We are made holy. We were not innately holy. The church is a place where those who know they are sick come to the Great Physician (cf. Lk. 5:31). The church is a monopoly of outcasts. It is filled with struggling ex-thieves, ex-drunkards, ex-adulterers, and ex-revilers (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-11).
The church is (or should be!) a welcoming place for all because we have all been welcomed at Jesus’ own expense. Colossians radically says that in the church “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11). Who am I, who are you, to say or act any differently?!
True that it may be, the fact that the church is a place for outcasts is not easy. It brings with it, as you can imagine and know, a whole host of problems. So, what can sustain us through the difficulties? Where do we see the type of compassion we need to welcome the outcasts—the people that are not like us and do not think and smell like us—into the church?
What example do we have of compassion? What biblical model can we think of? None other than Jesus Himself! Jesus had abundant riches in heaven yet He left heaven for us and became poor that through His poverty we might become rich (2 Cor. 8:9). In Philippians, we are told to look not only to our own interests, but also the interests of others (2:4). Why should we do this? Because Jesus, who is God, humbled Himself and took the form of a servant to die for us (vv. 6-8). Our attitude should be the same as Christ Jesus’ (v. 5).
We know from the Gospels that Jesus had compassion on people.[i] He was even criticized by the religious leaders of the day because of the type of people that He reached out to and helped (cf. Matt. 9:9-13; 11:19; 21:31-32; Mk. 2:15-17; Lk. 3:12-14; 5:29-32; 7:36-50; 15; 19:1-10 for example). He ate with tax collectors even though they would cheat and steal from people (Matthew, who wrote the Gospel of Matthew, was previously a tax collector [Matt. 9:9-13]!). He talked to Gentiles who were basically unacceptable foreigners to many people. Jesus ministered to prostitutes and the friends that were closest to Him were not the religious elite but humble smelly fishermen. If we are to minister compassionately, we must imitate Jesus.
He reached out and literally touched lepers (Matt. 8:2-4; Mark 1:40-44; Lk. 5:12-16). Lepers were people with a severe skin disease. They had to call out “unclean, unclean” when they saw people (cf. Lev. 13:45-46), and Jesus touched them! When Jesus walked up to, let alone talked to and touched, the leper, His followers, to say nothing of the religious leaders, would have been shocked, scandalized.[ii] Yet, what is Jesus’ response? Did He turn away? Did He tell the leper to stay back? No. Jesus was filled with compassion (Mark 1:41).[iii] He cared for the outcast. He loved the unlovely even when it was the unpopular thing. Loathsome leprosy is not beyond Jesus’ loving touch.
Think of the biggest outcasts in today’s society—whether to you its addicts, illegal immigrants, poor people, unattractive people, those who have AIDS, so-called “white trash,” or whoever you think of—they are not outcasts to Jesus. He loves them. He reaches for them. No one is past His reach. No one is too sick for Him.
The most significant lesson from the cleansing of the leper story is that even outsiders can experience God’s healing grace. The church is called by this example to reach out to those on the fringes of society. Leprosy in its time was seen as reflecting the presence of sin, so reaching out to sinners is pictured here… Jesus came to save people from sin, any sin, no matter how serious. So the ministry of compassion he reveals here should be matched by the church’s efforts with those that most of society have given up on.[iv]
It is the very essence of Christianity to touch the untouchable, to love the unlovable, to forgive the unforgivable. Jesus did and so must we.
So, are you reaching? If we define lepers as those who are isolated, unwanted, the outcasts of society then who are the “lepers” who live around you today? Who are the “lepers” in your sphere of influence?
As we seek to minister compassionately, we must remember the gospel. We must understand that “none is righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10 and see following), and this includes you, me, and the addict. All have sinned and are declared righteous by God’s grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:23). In fact, the Bible says we were all once vile sinners, a.k.a. addicts, but we have been washed, made holy, and declared righteous in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-11).
The ground is level at the foot of the cross. We may not have the same addiction, i.e. sin problem, but we all have the sin problem. No, all sin does not look the same and does not have the same consequences (cf. 1 Cor. 6:18; Prov. 5:7-14) but it is all sin against a holy God. May we realize that we ourselves are sinners, even “the chief of sinners,” and say with Paul, “by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10). May we not be like the prideful Pharisee that puts himself over others (Lk. 18:11 cf. 13-14).
The loving and reaching grace of our humble and exalted Lord should create new Kingdom communities that transform. Even now the Lord is recreating (of course, there is an “already/not yet” aspect to it).[v]
It is my prayer that we, as the church, would be more and more laid low by the profound reaching grace of God. God pulled us out of the slew of our sin. He pulled us out of death. We were helpless, lifeless. He saved us. May we understand and be humbled by Jesus’ saving work on our behalf and may we reach out as He did; in selfless humble love. We are not better or more righteous than others. We are saved. Saved by grace. We are outcasts that have been gathered for the wedding feast. We have even been given wedding garments. On our own, all of us, would be cast out on our own. Yet, through Christ we are all welcomed.
When we understand this, when the humbling grace of God courses through the veins of the church, it has a healthy symbiotic effect. It creates welcoming and upbuilding communities.
[i] Eric L. Johnson has similarly pointed out that “scriptural teaching leads us to infer that God is especially committed to those who have psychological damage and desirous of improving their well-being (Mt 9:11-13; 11:19; 18:6; Lk 6:20; 1 Cor 1:26-28; 2 Cor 4:7; Jas 2:5)” (Foundations of Soul Care, 473).
[ii] “Jesus’ gesture made clear that he was not concerned with others’ taboos and dramatically demonstrated that God’s love extends to even the most outcast of society” (Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew in The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (Nashville: Boardman Press, 1992), 139).
[iii] B.B. Warfield points out that compassion is the attribute that is most often used to describe Jesus in the Gospels (The Person and Work of Christ [Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1950], 96-97).
[iv] Darrell L. Bock, Luke in The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996), 165.
[v] “Shame… fosters an avoidance of self-examination and the assumption of responsibility, fear of others and of ‘being exposed,’ defensiveness and aggressive anger; it keeps people from reaching out to others… The revelation of God’s grace and mercy, his love for sinners and the broken and hurting, can therefore be profoundly encouraging and hope-giving. Direct experiences of God’s grace in the gospel can lead to reconfiguration of one’s self-representations, and one’s view of others and the world, and can facilitate a growing honesty and openness with God, oneself, and others, and so can help Christians become more willing to take risks with others” (Eric L. Johnson, “How God is Good for the Soul” in SBJT 7/4 [Winter 2003]: 33). He goes on, “People who are especially burdened by their guilt and shame can become especially transformed by God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness. In fact, the greater the sense of shame, the greater can be the eventual sense of gratitude and affection to God” (Luke 7:47)” (Ibid.).