Category Archives: Evangelism

Patrick’s method of evangelizing the Irish reblogged from David Mathis

Remember Saint Patrick

March 17, 2014

Remember Saint Patrick

Saint Paddy’s Day is for the pagans.

You might say it that way, and then carefully wash your Christian hands of all the carousing and empty revelry that makes all things Irish into an excuse for a godless spring party. But you might say the same thing, and mean it not as a call to circle the wagons, but to charge the hill.

Deep beneath much of what the day has become is the inspiring mission of Patrick pioneering the gospel among an unreached people, despite the frowning face of the church establishment. Saint Patrick’s Day, in its truest meaning, is not about avoiding the lost, but bringing them good news. It turns out Saint Paddy’s Day really is for the pagans.

The Gospel to the Irish

The March 17 feast day (first declared in the early 17th century) remembers Patrick as the one who led the fifth-century Christian mission to Ireland. Unlike Britain, the Emerald Isle lay beyond the bounds of the Roman Empire. The Irish were considered uncivilized barbarians, and many thought their illiteracy and volatile emotions put them outside the reach of the gospel.

But Patrick knew better. In a strange and beautiful providence, he had spent six years among them as a captive, learned their language, and developed a heart for them. Like Joseph sold into slavery to one day save Egypt and his brothers, God sent Patrick into slavery to ready Ireland for a coming salvation.

The Surprising Turn

Patrick was born in the late fourth century — many speculate around 385 — in what is now northeast England. He was born among the Celtic “Britons,” to a Romanized family of Christians. His father was a deacon, and his grandfather a priest. But his parents’ faith didn’t find a place in his heart in his rearing. In his youth, according to George Hunter, “he lived toward the wild side” (The Celtic Way of Evangelism, 13).

But God soon arrested him with severe mercy. Kidnapped at age sixteen by Irish raiders, he was taken back to the island, where he served as a slave for six years under a tribal chief, who was also a druid. While in bondage in Ireland, God unshackled his mind and opened his eyes to the gospel of his childhood.

“God sent Patrick into slavery to ready Ireland for a coming salvation.”

And so, as a captive, “he came to understand the Irish Celtic people, and their language and culture, with a kind of intuitive profundity that is usually possible only, as in Patrick’s case, from the ‘underside’” (14). When he eventually escaped from slavery in his early twenties, he was a changed man, now a Christian from the heart. He studied for vocational ministry, and led a parish in Britain for nearly twenty years.

Reclaiming Retirement

That could have been the end of the story. But at age 48 — “already past a man’s life expectancy in the fifth century” (15) — Patrick had a dream, which proved to be his own Macedonian Call (Acts 16:9). An Irish accent pled, “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.”

Having known the language and the customs from his captivity, and having long strategized about how the gospel might come to the Irish, he now answered the call to return to the place of his pain with the message of joy. The slave returned to his captors with good news of true freedom.

Back in Saint Patrick’s Day

But this would be no ordinary mission. The Irish Celtics were “barbarians.” They may have had a few Christians among them, but as a people, they were unreached, with no thriving church or gospel movement.

“Patrick, the former slave, returned to his Irish captors with good news of true freedom.”

Patrick would take a different and controversial approach to the prevailing missionary efforts of the fifth-century church. Instead of essentially Romanizing the people, by seeking to “civilize” them with respect to Roman customs, he wanted to see the gospel penetrate to the bottom of the Irish culture and produce an indigenous movement. He didn’t mean to colonize them, but truly evangelize them.

Understanding the People

Hunter tells the story in the first chapter of his book on Celtic evangelism.

The fact that Patrick understood the people and their language, their issues, and their ways, serves as the most strategically significant single insight that was to drive the wider expansion of Celtic Christianity, and stands as perhaps our greatest single learning from this movement. There is no shortcut to understanding the people. When you understand the people, you will often know what to say and do, and how. When the people know that the Christians understand them, they infer that maybe the High God understands them too. (19–20)

Patrick knew the Irish well enough to engage them as they were, and build authentic gospel bridges into their society. He wanted to see the gospel grow in Irish soil, rather than pave it over with a Roman road.

Ministering with a Team

Essential to Patrick’s strategy was that he not fly solo. Just as Jesus sent out his disciples together (Luke 10:1), and Paul and Barnabas went out together (Acts 13:3), so Patrick assembled a close-knit team that would tackle the work together, in the same location, speaking the gospel and making disciples, before moving on together to the next tribe. It was, what Hunter calls, a “group approach to apostolic ministry.”

We have no detailed record of Patrick’s ministry teams and strategies, but according to Hunter, “from a handful of ancient sources, we can piece together [an] outline of a typical approach, which undoubtedly varied from one time and setting to another.”

“Patrick wanted to see the gospel grow in Irish soil, rather than pave it over with a Roman road.”

Patrick’s teams would have about a dozen members. They would approach a tribe’s leadership and seek conversion, or at least their clearance, and set up camp nearby. The team “would meet the people, engage them in conversation and in ministry, and look for people who appeared receptive” (21). In due course, “One band member or another would probably join with each responsive person to reach out to relatives and friends” (22).

They would minister weeks and months among them, eventually pursuing baptisms and the founding of a church. They would leave behind a team member or two to provide leadership for the fledgling church and move, with a convert or two, to the next tribe. With such an approach, the church which grew up among the people would be “astonishingly indigenous” (22).

Priority Time with Pagans

While Patrick’s pioneering approach is increasingly celebrated today — and is a model, in some respects, of the kind of mission needed in our increasingly post-Christian society — most of his contemporaries weren’t impressed. “The British leaders were offended and angered that Patrick was spending priority time with ‘pagans,’ ‘sinners,’ and ‘barbarians’” (24).

But Patrick knew such an approach had good precedent. The one who saved him while a nominal Christian and an Irish captive was once called a “friend of tax collectors and sinners,” and said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). The stakes were high, but he knew it was worth the risk.

Something Worth Remembering

Instead of acquiescing to the religious establishment, Patrick took the gospel to the uncouth, and ventured all for the unreached Irish. Instead of coasting toward a cushy retirement, he gave nearly three decades to the nation-transforming evangelization of Ireland. Patrick truly was for the pagans.

According to tradition, Patrick died March 17. Many think the year was 461, but we don’t know for certain. While today’s trite celebrations may leave much to be forgotten, for those who love Jesus and the advance of his gospel, Patrick has left us some remarkable things to remember. And to learn from.

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“Patrick took the gospel to the uncouth, and ventured all for the unreached Irish.”

It’s time for the liberal “Christian” church to give it up

My life in the church has been rather odd. Yet, I’m not terribly unusual for my generation. To wit, as a baby I was “dedicated” in the American Baptist church (go figure a church that calls itself “baptist”, but is kind of fussy about a group that sees baptism as really only kind of an initiation thing). I was married by a Congregational pastor (kind of interesting also, why is a Christian clergyman marrying someone who isn’t a baptized Christian?) I was, finally, baptized by a United Methodist minister and four years ago ordained by a Lutheran minister. I was not churched as a child and it was only a “there are no atheists in a foxhole experience”, that God used to lead me to be baptized in my mid-twenties.

I tell you this so that you will see that I’ve been there, done that and have a few t-shirts. Notice that the churches I’ve come from, have been or morphed into Christian churches very much on the fringe/far end of the liberal Christian churches. I really got a stomach full in the United Methodist Church. Toward the end of my stay in the UMC, I had an experience that really illustrated what that church was about. It was at the New England Annual Conference, and well ya, you can imagine, liberal New England. There were various persons being recognized for achievement for the past year.

One woman had started a clinic on Cape Cod (yea, tres chic in both senses), to of course treat the trendy/chic diseases of the time. (Yea, I know I feel stupid even characterizing it that way, but to liberals there’s chic and then just mundane). Well (I was going to say praise the Lord), but there wasn’t any of that going on, It was effusive applause simply all about the woman and her efforts and how oh so trendy. Next was a man (middle aged, white, yea already a few strikes against him) and also evangelical. He was recognized for planting a church in New Hampshire and when he spoke he praised the Lord and was very effusive in how Christ was being lifted up by the church he planted. His reception was, at best, luke warm. Clearly he did not fit the profile that found approval in the flat-line, uhmm, I mean main-line, church of 20th to 21st century America.

I knew many orthodox, evangelical Christians in the UMC. Their feeling, for the most part, was that they stayed in the UMC in order to be a faithful remnant, a faithful witness to Christ in a church that was heterodox and even heretical.

Now that I’m in a Church that is orthodox, Christ centered, Scripture centered church, I look back on those who are still in liberal churches and while I pray that the reasons they stay are the right ones, I do question the motivation. Do you stay in a church because that’s where family is/has been, where you’ve ministered for years? Or do you say no, I’m not going to support this by my presence anymore and pick up and leave. Maybe it’s time for the faithful remnant to stop supporting these churches with their presence, their time, talent and treasure. Let’s be frank, faithful Christians are maintaining, if not enabling churches that are Christian in name alone. As I witnessed, they make no pretense to honor Christ, or they so seriously distort Scripture that the reality is simply not recognizable.

I submit that if all the orthodox Christians still in liberal churches would just pick up and leave, these old/liberal/irrelevant churches would implode into their thoroughly rotted structures. I have to ask, would that really be bad? No! It’s way past time to eliminate the tiny little groups who have been supported by orthodox Christians who continue to distort, if not outright lie about the message of Christ. How many have they led to destruction because of their spiritual poison must be immense and as orthodox Christian we really need to ask ourselves if we should be enabling ministries that endanger the spiritual health of millions. Again, No!

Who is God leading you to witness to?

I find it fascinating that people don’t want to share their faith in Jesus because they feel that they might be “forcing” people to change their beliefs. They have no problem telling you how much better their baseball team is (we of course know it’s the Red Sox), why their make of car is better, why Boston/York/St Louis is better than anywhere else, etc, etc.

But when it comes to a truly life changing decision, a decision that effects a person for eternity, well… ya…. It doesn’t matter, just so long as you sincerely believe, yada, yada. Ya what a cop out. There is only one way “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Me.” [Jesus] (John 14:6). Say what you will, there is a God, He is the origin of all creation, He does sustain our lives, world, universe and He has revealed Himself in the Bible. You are probably a very nice person and done wonderful things, but sin still separates you from God. Believe what you want, but that’s the way it is. God has given us a way to come to Him, to be His adopted child. His revelation, the Bible and His Son Jesus who died as the payment of the penalty that we incur in our sin. Any other way, which are either all devised by man, or by Satan have you jumping through all the hoops and then maybe, just maybe, you might have some kind of eternal existence. I’m here to tell you, if that eternity isn’t in Jesus, it’s not going to be pleasant. We can do it God’s way, which is loving, caring, compassionate and what is best for your life now and for eternity.

What prompted this, which I should be doing on a regular basis anyway, is an article  in Leadership Journal (yup the new issue’s out!!). An interview by Daniel Darling with Nabeel Qureshi. Nabeel is a Christian, he was a devout Muslim who was led to Christ by a serious, devout and knowledgeable Christian he refers to as David.

“When I met my friend David, everything changed. He was able to defend his faith and as someone who was strong in his beliefs, I felt a bond with him and we became friends.” Qureshi was a very serious Muslim who based his faith on devoutly pursuing his faith. Learning, reasoning, and especially talking to Christians who really didn’t know what they were talking about and it seems, to me, that they really didn’t care. Now I don’t expect everyone to be an expert Christian evangelist/apologist. I really don’t. Having said that, they could be a lot more serious in their faith. Taking time on Sundays to attend Bible study, worship, listening to Christian radio, doing some extra reading. Not asking for a lot of heavy lifting, but taking a genuine interest in your faith, ya versus taking it for granted.

Now again, I know we are not always going to know everything we need to know, always what to say. I think I’m pretty experienced in this and I can’t say I’m always right on and right by the numbers. Having said that, is that a reason for just avoiding the fact that the Holy Spirit has put someone in front of you that He intends for you to witness to that person? Matthew 10:19 Jesus promises that we will be given the words we need when we are witnessing to others about Jesus. I’ve had that experience, it doesn’t come as a bolt of lightning, but you can often feel that the Holy Spirit is guiding you. Cut to the chase, we are called to be faithful, not always to be somehow “successful” in our terms, but to faithfully follow His leading. “The historical evidence he [David] provided for Jesus’ death and resurrection, as well as Jesus’ claim to be God, made all the difference. When I contrasted the evidence for Christianity against the evidence for Islam, I knew that intellectually there was no comparison.”

I think that Nabeel’s advice about reaching a Muslim for Christ is really on the nose and frankly can be our ordinary way to reach all others: “I think the Lord gave us the perfect instruction for evangelism in Matt 22: 37-39, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind … and love your neighbor as yourself.’ When you love the Muslims around you by treating them like family and helping those who need help, they will come to know you more and perhaps even wonder what makes you so loving.” How do too many people “love the Lord”? “how come me God?” “Gimme more God.” “I want, I want…” Maybe loving the Lord could be, going to worship, witnessing to others, serving His church, quit making excuses. “How come I’m the only one…”- you say? When you’re really not doing a whole lot.