I want to tell you a story.
One of my most thrilling moments as a missionary was the first time I shared the gospel in another language. If you know anything about the rigors of learning a really hard language, plus the brutality of doing it full-time, and the anguish of being unable to articulate the gospel clearly (the very thing you left everything to go do), then you’re with me when I say it was sweet. I opened up my mouth and stumbled through the story of redemption stretching from creation to Christ, a method we had been trained to use called C2C. Sweeter still, was when the man I shared with not only responded that he believed, but asked, “Can I share this story with everyone I know?”
Track ahead one year in that man’s life and the promising start came crashing down. After striving for months to establish a local church with him and a few other new believers, we were giving up hope that it would ever work. They were all about Christ. But the church? Ah, take it or leave it.
For some time I had been wounded by their disobedience. What audacity to snub their noses at the bride of Christ! Only recently did it hit me. It was probably my fault. Here’s why, along with a proposed solution.
We are categorizing fanatics. Evangelism, that’s one thing. Discipleship, that’s a whole other thing. We understand evangelism as the stuff that happens on the front-end, leading someone to faith in Christ. Discipleship, then, is learning to do stuff. After all, you can’t call people to obey Christ’s commands without the transforming power to do so (John 15:5), or else you perpetuate religion’s view of humanity: “created sick, commanded to be sound” (Songfacts). But it’s not always helpful to draw hard lines between the two. Evangelism, says Alan Hirsch, “gets done along the way as you do discipleship.” Jesus’ invitations were not just to believe, but to follow (Mark 3:14, Luke 9:57-62, Matthew 19:21). My invitation to the man with whom I shared the story operated out of the assumption that once he got it, got Christ, he would follow through with all his commands. What happened, however, was that he didn’t quite know what he was getting into.
Every scene of my relationship with the man took place one-on-one: on a bus, in a cafe, at my home. We normally wouldn’t think anything of this—except that I was living in an extremely communal culture. He was being forced to make a decision that his people would never make alone. Worse than that, I was making normal a biblical abnormality: individual discipleship. Throughout the New Testament we are confronted with uncomfortable examples of entire groups coming to faith in Christ together. Three thousand on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), Cornelius and “all who heard the message” (Acts 10), the Philippians jailer “and all his family” (Acts 16). The context of even our most beloved examples of individual conversion are riddled with communal involvement: the churches of Damascus, Jerusalem, and Antioch in Saul’s discipleship, and the entourage of the Ethiopian eunuch at his baptism. Though there is a time and place for individual investment, I had invited the man to a private relationship with God without the communion of the saints.
Not only had I left the church out through my actions, I had made perhaps an even worse flop with my words. As mentioned, I had shared a well-oiled, expertly-contextualized version of the creation to Christ story. And at the end I called for repentance and faith in Christ alone for salvation. I had even given the implication for trusting Christ: obeying all his commands, namely, making more disciples. But I made no mention of the family of God. It’s not that an opportunity for discipleship was missed. I had neglected a key segment of the good news, as Dr. Gregg Allison had recently reminded me: “The church is an ingredient of the gospel.” In it we are not merely reconciled to God, but to one another (Ephesians 2:14-22). Thus the gospel includes what Allison calls a “covenantal ecclesiology,” the understanding that following Christ means a covenantal relationship with God and his church from the very beginning. Instead, I had preached what Michael Horton calls a “contractual ecclesiology,” making the church “not only dispensable but perhaps also a hindrance to personal growth” (170-171). No wonder the man with whom I shared the gospel was always ready to have coffee with me—and ready to bounce when the rest of the church showed up!
So, proposed personal revision? C2C as Creation to Church.