Evangelism

Last newsletter I said I would further elaborate on what Orthodox evangelism looks like. I am using the four sentence instructions that I received as my outline: “Keep the feasts and the fasts. Be faithful at the Liturgy. Live as a Christian. Pray.”

“Keep the feasts and the fasts.”

As Orthodox Christians we believe that our salvation is a group effort. We are “baptized by one Spirit into one body.” It has been said that we go to heaven together, but one goes to hell alone. Keeping the feasts and the fasts is not a lonely practice. It is never undertaken alone. It is part of how we are knit together as a “new nation” in Christ. It is how we punctuate our lives with the rhythm of the Body of Christ. The fasts and the feasts instruct us to live liturgically. They instruct us that there is something bigger here than ourselves. They have been developed over millennia so they speak of a Kingdom more durable than our national heritage or destiny. Yet we participate to commemorate our common salvation history, present fellowship and future glory, with things as personal as menu choices and even sleep patterns, when you consider Nativity and Pascha.

How is this evangelistic? If we don’t have anything to which to invite people, what’s the use of extending the invitation? The Gospel is not a disembodied intellectual exercise. It was entrusted to the church to live out in the Great Commission. In this rootless society of unpredictable careers, future shock and broken families, people are longing for a community of healing, permanence and stability. Keeping the feasts and the fasts together keeps the church strong.

“Be faithful at the Liturgy.”

The Liturgy is how we are renewed and healed. To be faithful there provides grace and health to our souls that goes beyond ourselves. It is core to a life of peace and joy. A life that exudes peace and joy will attract others.

From a practical view: How should we expect other people to join us if we are not here? part of evangelism is inviting people to church. First time visitors feel much more comfortable if they are not the first ones to arrive. Perhaps the least threatening of our services is Vespers. It is the easiest to invite people to as it doesn’t seem as weighty as a Sunday morning commitment. (Vespers is liturgically considered to be part of Liturgy as it is preparatory to it.) It there are only two or three people standing in the nave other than the choir, visitors dont’ sense a welcome. Sometimes just showing up is evangelistic.

 “Live as a Christian.”

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) The people whom I have willingly chosen to follow, I did so because they seemed to be about something real. The people who “evangelized” me had a peace, a joy, a purpose, a steadfastness about them, or they were involved in helping people in tangible and loving ways. To truly and seriously live as a Christian will ultimately be attractive to others. Many of the martyrs were killed because the authorities were envious of the influence they had on people without coercion. Witnesses to martyrdom would confess Christ, because they wanted the assurance and faith that the martyrs had.

 “Pray.”

Whenever I tell my own story, the recurring theme is a series of devoted and faithful people who were praying for me daily. I think it is fair to say I would most likely not be a Christian today if it weren’t for the prayers of Lois and Les Ericson. They were neighbors across the street from the time I was born until I was six. They connected with our family and Lois especially connected with me. She has prayed for me daily since before I was born. She took me to vacation church school when I was four, five and six. There, and in her peaceful house was where I learned I could trust in Jesus.

I mentioned Jacob Kulp in the last newsletter, who prayed for me daily when I started in prison ministry and was faithful for nearly twenty years until he passed away. But before I met Jake, I met Father Boniface and Joyce, when we sold real estate together for the same agency. Father Boniface began to pray for me. That was about 14 years before I ever visited St. Philip’s. This illustrates another important lesson for evangelism. It is not short term, exciting growth in crowds at church that we are looking for. Evangelism is laying the groundwork for eternity. Let us be about this good work.

Passing the Torch

Showy Evening Primrose
When you see these, praise God, and think of Jake.

A dear friend passed away last month. He is 98 years old. He prayed for us daily for more than twenty-five of those years. His name is Jacob Kulp. Even though he was still a Mennonite when he died, his life and testimony and prayers are a sizable part of why our family is Orthodox today.

Jake was so faithful in his prayers that when he missed a day, I could feel the difference. One day, back in 1987 or 1988, I was having just an irritating, off-kilter day. (At the time, I was Mennonite Chaplain for Philadelphia Prisons.) Nothing was going right and it seemed that there were spiritual forces that were just bringing everything down. As I pondered this, I thought of Jake. It struck me that there must be something wrong with Jake. I called his home and found out that he had been taken to the hospital. I went right over to visit him. As I entered his room, before I could say a word, he said, “Brother Cranford, can you forgive me? I was too sick to pray for you today.”

I was humbled and amazed by this, and replied, “Jake, there is nothing to forgive. I could feel the difference. It’s my turn to pray for you.” This happened when Jake was a young man in his eighties.

It was around that same time that I helped Jake to wire a new house with electricity. In the middle of the work one day, he began to weep. He then raised his hands to heaven and looked up and said: “How long, O Lord, how long will you tarry your coming?” He then confessed to me how he thought it would be easier to live the Christian life as he got older, but that he found that it seemed the temptations were that much stronger the closer he got to the goal. This was very sobering to me, in my thirties, coming from a godly, prayerful man, in his eighties.

How did Jacob Kulp help me along the way to Orthodoxy? At Finland Mennonite Church, Jake was one of a generation of folks whom we had the privilege of getting to know. They still wore plain clothes. They sang four part harmony without instruments, sometimes in German. They were serious about their faith in Christ and dealt honestly and kindly with all they met. There were six couples who had been married over 50 years in this little church of 140 people.

We saw the church ignoring these people and their wisdom. They were listening, instead, to the college and seminary educated church growth experts. They dumbed down Sunday School. They introduced instruments into the services, and began to opt for a “worship band” repeating gospel choruses in place of theology laden hymns.

We occasionally heard these older folks, gently, and, oh so meekly, complain about some of the innovations. Then came the discussions over divorce and remarriage; then ordination of women; acceptance of homosexuality; ordination of homosexuals; blessing of homosexual unions. At the same time, friends of mine in three different Mennonite colleges were getting flack for encouraging prayer and Bible reading in the dorms. And the seminaries were moving on to reconsider the inspiration of Scripture and the deity of Jesus Christ.

These simple, godly, older folks just held onto their faith and prayed. One by one, couple by couple, they moved into church old folks homes where they could still sing the old hymns and hear the Scriptures preached. They are out of sight of the local congregations, so the churches can innovate as they please. One by one, they are passing away.

I still haven’t answered the question.

The first time I walked into a service at St. Philip Antiochian Orthodox Church, the icons had an interesting message for me. At that point, it was just the iconostasis, the 24 medallion icons and the Platytera in the church, along with a few portable icons on the walls. I was immediately reminded of Jake and our other, older friends in the Mennonite church. The message I got was this:  This church belongs to Jesus Christ, to the Virgin Mary, to St. John the Baptist, to St. Philip, to St. Nicholas, to St. Cyprian, to St. Thekla, etc. And we dare not do anything here to make them uncomfortable in their church! I have never seen that stated in defense or theology of the icons, but it was reassuring to me.

There were a number of comments at Jake’s viewing and funeral that asked the questions: Who is taking his place? Who will take up his ministry of prayer? Who will delight in wonder and praise to God at the blossoming of an evening primrose?

As the older generation passes away, responsibilities are passed down. Am I prepared to be a wise old man or just an old fool? What legacy am I preparing to leave behind? What treasure am I sending on ahead? What kind of guidance and example am I giving for others to follow? Am I living in such a way as to finish the course to obtain the prize before the cloud of witnesses beckoning me on?

Answers & Questions

The right answer for the wrong question still does nothing for the the question and has questionable benefit to the asker. Many times I will start a Bible study with the statement that there is such a thing as a stupid question. After all, the Bible says so: “But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, for they do gender strife.”

In our post-modern, americanized mono-culture, we are conditioned to question everything except the appropriateness of our questions; and to tolerate everything except intolerance. There has been a pernicious promulgation of this skeptical immorality through TV, movies, so-called ‘news’, public and private education to the point that it has become the “bedrock” (quicksand, though it is) of the thinking processes even of people who define themselves as serious Christians.

In an effort to make Christianity more accessible to the “un-churched” there has been a progressive stripping away of everything that is considered non-essential in church services. Everything has been questioned. Almost everything has been discarded or reworked to the point of being unrecognizable to any Christian of a generation ago. A couple of years ago, I noted that the only constant element of various church services was announcements. The two things that have not been questioned (in true, spirit-of-the-times fashion) are the validity & appropriateness of the questions and the results of the process.

The results of the process should have been obvious to any serious thinker and were to many older folks whose protests were pushed aside by the younger generations of market savvy, professionally trained clergy and laity. I have a question: Once you secularize the church service to the point that it is non-threatening and even comfortable and entertaining to the un-churched, how can you tell if they have been churched? What I have seen is that instead of ‘churching the un-churched’; this process has finished the job of secularizing and effectively un-churching whole churches.

The process started with the wrong questions being asked and the right questions being ignored. Instead of asking how we can make services more palatable and less threatening to the lost; we should ask how can we make our worship more palatable to God and more threatening to the demons. Instead of asking what is the bare minimum required for a person or group to be saved or Christian; we should ask how can we enter into and call others to the fullness of the faith and fellowship with God.

Instead of asking how we can change the service to get our non-Christian neighbors to come to church; we should ask how can we change our lives so that our non-Christian neighbors will want to come to Christ. Instead of asking how we can make church relevant for today; we should ask how does today measure up to the eternal Church. Instead of asking how we can bring the church down to the level of post-Christian America; we should ask how can we enter into the heavenlies with the Holy Apostle Paul and all the Saints.

Maybe you ask: Why is a group that ministers to homeless people writing about this in their newsletter? I don’t think that’s a stupid question, so I’ll try to make the connection for you.

When we started The King’s Jubilee in February of 1989, a fundamental goal was to somehow find or rebuild the Church. We took our lead from Ephesians 4. We were confident that if we did, and equipped others to do, good works in Jesus’ Name that we would grow up into Him and be united with His Body, the Church. That is what has happened. We have found the home for the spiritually homeless: the Holy Orthodox Christian Church.

When we first approached Orthodoxy, we asked some stupid questions ourselves. I call them stupid because they were conditioned by our culture of rationalist efficiency rather than by faith. We asked, “Do we really need to have incense and Icons?”

Thankfully, no one answered. It is not a question of need. That points the way to minimalism and secularism. Incense and Icons are part of the answer to: How can we enter fully into the worship of the Triune God with all of the Saints?

Another stupid question that I have heard Christians ask is: Why do services need to be so long? Jesus answers: “What? Could you not watch with Me for one hour?” (Matt.26:40) The question again is not of what is the minimum to escape Hell, but how can we more fully enter into glory! If we don’t enjoy worship, we should really be asking ourselves whether or not we want to go to Heaven.