“Why do we need to do evangelism if you believe everyone is saved?”
A question from one of my young adults after a conversation about what “Episcopal evangelism” was all about. A great question. For many people sharing the Good News of God in Christ (what evangelism is after all) is predicated on the belief that unless you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior you will end up in hell. But my parishioners know very well that I don’t believe that at all. In fact, I don’t believe in hell. At least not hell as a physical location in space/time created by God as eternal punishment for those who reject Jesus as their savior. I don’t believe in hell as a place of everlasting punishment for sins either – what would be the justice of infinite punishment for finite sins! I have always believed more in the Scriptural references to God as the one who is full of mercy and loving-kindness who forgives transgressions and loves everyone. I have always believed more in the story of creation that says God created all things and called it very good. The only “judgment story” in all of Scripture which ever worries me shows people judged completely on how they took care of the less fortunate and not at all about what they believed or professed. My theology is pretty clear – God loves everyone, invites everyone into love, and never ever gives up on anyone. If there is a hell it is only one which humans create and put themselves in and which does not last, for I do not believe God would put someone in, or leave someone in hell.
So back to the question, why evangelism of all are “saved.”? Which raises the question of what “saved” means anyway. Again, there are different understandings out there, but my understanding is that salvation is about health and wholeness. Salvation is about becoming the person God created us to be in the first place. Salvation is about coming to know deeply within our soul that we are loved completely by God and will always be loved, to know that God never ever gives up on us, to know that nothing we do will ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. And from this knowledge of love, we are invited into healing and wholeness, and then to offer that love, healing and wholeness to the world.
Do you, or people you know, question your own self-worth? Do you, or people you know, ever doubt that you are loved? Do you see a world where people act out of fear and anger and hatred? If so, then the “why evangelism” question can be answered – because the way of Jesus is a different way. The way of Jesus is a way of love and compassion and forgiveness and mercy and justice and loving-kindness, and the world desperately needs this way. This is the life we invite others into, this is the reason for sharing the good news of Jesus, not because it gives us a free pass to heaven, but because it invites us into a way of life that makes a difference here and now.
Those of us who follow Jesus don’t get it right most of the time. We struggle ourselves with always living into God’s love and sharing that love with the world. We know that our history is not pretty. But we also believe that this way is worth following, even if imperfectly. And from that belief, we can simply tell our own stories of why following Jesus makes a difference.
Why evangelism? Because following Jesus is following love, and sharing that love with the world.