Over the years, the word evangelization has taken on many different connotations, some of them negative. For some, evangelization evokes images of overly persistent individuals ringing doorbells or preaching on busy downtown street corners. “Does this mean that we have to start visiting people in their homes to get them to convert to Orthodoxy?” is a question many Orthodox Christians reluctantly raise.
Many feel that Orthodox Christians should not evangelize, since others should not be pressured into converting. However, it is a mistake to equate evangelizing with proselytizing. Evangelization is much broader than proselytism; it offers, instead, an effective and productive means for fulfilling Jesus Christ’s command to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).
What Is Evangelization?
The practice of evangelization has always been at the very heart of the Church’s life and experience. To evangelize means to proclaim the Good News of the risen Jesus Christ and to announce that the Good News of salvation and eternal life in God’s Kingdom is truly with us – here and now – in the life of the world. It is the act of proclaiming the Truth, affirming that entering into companionship with God through His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, is not only possible, but is the very purpose of human life.
“This is eternal life, “Jesus prayed in the midst of His disciples, “that they know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ who Thou hast sent” (John 17:3).
Evangelization seeks to bring the strength of the Gospel message into the hearts of all and to renew humankind. It is not a monologue, nor is it limited to the proper transmission of certain religious facts. It does not seek to manipulate, emotionally or otherwise. Evangelization is this surreal interior transformation, this renewal of all through baptism and through a life lived in accordance with the Gospel, that evangelization aims to bring about. Thus, we evangelize when we convert or transform the consciences, activities, lives, and concrete circumstances of people throughout the world to Jesus Christ.
Where Should We Begin?
The church community. While we are called to evangelize others, we begin by being evangelized ourselves. We are in constant need of being evangelized, of asking ourselves whether the Gospel is effectively proclaimed in our lives and in our parishes.
Evangelization seeks to bring the strength of the Gospel message into the hearts of all…
Are we responding to God’s presence with the acceptance that expresses itself through conversion? If either element is missing – proclamation or conversion – we are not evangelizing ourselves and thus we cannot evangelize others.
So, in order to evangelize, we must continue to preach what Jesus first proclaimed 2000 years ago: “The Kingdom of God is at hand! Reform your lives and believe in the Gospel!” (Mark 1:15)
Christ is in Our Midst
The Kingdom of God remains a key experience in evangelization. Although its fulfillment is still to come, the Kingdom has already begun here on earth wherever the power of evil, which manifests itself in so many ways, is overcome. It is present wherever people do what the Father asks of them. “None of those who cry out, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of God, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). “The Kingdom of God is a matter of justice, peace, and the joy that is given by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).
Conversion means a change of heart, a complete transformation of one’s life, and a turning towards God that results from the proclamation of the Gospel. Conversion presents an ongoing challenge that expresses itself in commitment to a new way of life and, ultimately, to discipleship.
You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own People, called to declare the wonderful deeds of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
1 Peter 2:9-10
Through Baptism we have been called to proclaim the “wonderful deeds” which reveal God’s plan of salvation. Yet it is only when we have personally accepted the Good News and have experienced its power that we are capable of sharing it with others. Those of us who hope to evangelize others need continual conversion by and to the Gospel.
In the days ahead, reflect on ways you might share your faith with the following:
The Active. Those already belonging to the Church are in constant need of self-evangelization
- to ensure their ongoing spiritual growth;
- to renew their commitment to Jesus Christ while perfecting their conviction in the Faith; and
- to strengthen themselves to continue the work of Jesus Christ and His Church.
The Inactive. There are many nominal Christians who participate minimally in the life of the Faith community. They need
- to be reached with the Good News;
- to be invited to take a closer look at the Faith; and
- to be reincorporated into the Church’s life of prayer and fellowship.
***In many instances, inactive Christians are the most receptive to renewing their spiritual ties.
The Unchurched. Evangelization efforts cannot be limited to active and inactive Church members. It is a fact that most people maintain no religious affiliation whatsoever – the unchurched. Curiously, many unchurched persons claim to believe in God and consider themselves to be “essentially religious.” The unchurched, regardless of their former affiliations, must be evangelized as well.