The Outreach Myth and Modern “Evangelism”

by William Michael
January 21, 2012

Note 1.  Some have refused to read the opening lines of his article and accuse me of calling sporting a waste of time.  That’s completely false.  I say plainly in the opening lines that I believe that one particular stream of sporting is a waste of time.  To learn more about my philosophy of sports, see any of the CLAA Sporting  posts here on the CLAANews site.
Note 2.  If you enjoy this article, I recommend that you continue to read the article that followed:  “What Jonah Teaches Us“.

Tim Tebow is the obvious hero of millions of American Christians, but does his work have anything to do with Christ's mission on earth? What are the fans cheering for?

While I do believe that sports and athletic competition do have a useful role in the development of Christian boys, I’m not a fan of professional sports.  In fact, I think that professional sports ruins sports.  Sports were invented to enable men to train for military action during times of peace.  In other words, sports are a sort of sign that point to some more important event.  The throwing of the javelin in the ancient Olympic games pointed to the kill-or-be-killed combat that might be faced one day on the battlefield.  The man who can throw the greatest distance, with the greatest velocity and the greatest accuracy had a skill that might save his life, or the life of a friend.  The nation with the greatest archers would show off their supremacy at the Olympic games and let all the world know that if you mess with them, you better prepare for their archers.  The sports pointed to something more important.

Today, Olympic sports border on the ridiculous.  Curling?  Ping pong?  Synchronized swimming? Speed walking?  What in the world is the value of such “sports”?  We live in a generation in which sports exist for their own sake and so long as someone will pay to watch the game’s on!

Now, I don’t particularly blame the players.  They’re getting paid to do what they did as 15 year olds.  That sure beats loading UPS trucks at midnight or sitting in a cubicle all day.  Their blame comes later.

What is morally troublesome to me is the pay-to-watch spectator culture that exists.   We have millions of people taking their excess money and spending it to watch other men and women play games.  That, to me is a problem.  Obviously, it is not God’s will that men and women who have been able to earn more more than they need to live should spend it on sports watching.  No one would argue that this morally good for anyone.

Now, I’m no dummy.  I understand that pagans have nothing better to do than try and find something new to amuse themselves with.  St. Paul explained that if there is no resurrection (which the pagans believe), the we ought to simply eat, drink and make merry, for tomorrow we die.  That was the creed of the ancient Epicureans who were, like most modern Americans, naturalists.    It is reasonable for them to blow every last penny, for there is not greater purpose in life than to (a) avoid pain and (b) enjoy pleasure.  I was a 15 year old pagan boy once and know very well how that mind works.

However, my issue is with the Christians.  How does the Christian, with eternal treasure to gain through fasting, prayer and almsgiving find money to blow on watching professional athletes play games?  Oh yes, they are able to support the professional Christian athletes who are playing on the field.  The Christian athletes seem to have a ministry there and the watching Christians are simply supporting that ministry.  The Christian athletes make a living playing these games and explain that it is not in vain because, after all, they give to the poor.

Huh?

Are you trying to tell me that the justification for the pro Christian athlete is that he gives to the poor?  May I think about this out loud a little bit?  I like working with numbers.

Let’s say that 25,000 people will attend a football game and pay $50 for a ticket.  Now that means that the crowd will donate $1.25 million dollars that day to the hosting football team.  Let’s say that a team does this 8 times each year and makes $10 million in revenue from the fans.  We’ll assume they all eat before they get to the game and don’t buy any $5 hot dogs to keep themselves from starving to death while they’re watching the athletes play.  Now, of that $10 million, let’s say that $100,000 goes to the star Christian athlete.  Of that $100,000 he generously donates 10% to church and charity.  That would be $10,000.  Let’s be really positive and say that there are 10 such players on this team, so $100,000 ends up in the hands of various churches and charities.

Now, I’m not questioning whether those churches and charities would be happy as pie to receive their portions of that $100,000.  However, I am questioning whether this is a well-conceived effort to “go into all the world and make disciples, teaching them to obey all thath [Christ] has commanded”.    Let’s encourage 200,000 people to pay a total of $10 million so that churches and charities can receive $100,000.

I don’t mean to be a party pooper, but if supporting Christian ministry in the world was the goal, we could have asked each fan to donate 50 CENTS without going to game and do the same amount of good.  The reality is that nearly all of that money went to things un-Christian.  Therefore, I’m not buying the Christian-athlete-gives-to-the-poor rationale of Christian participation in professional sports.

Second, most Christian athletes say that they can use the fame they gain through sports to “bring the Gospel” to people who otherwise wouldn’t  hear it.  By the time that is out of their mouths, they’re usually on to an example of Jesus eating with tax collectors and welcoming prostitutes into his inner circle.  The problem with this comparison is that Jesus’s life proves that the Christian athlete’s argument doesn’t even make any sense.  Did Jesus successfully reach the sinners and outcasts in his society?  Yes, indeed.  Did Jesus become a part of the sinners’ system of entertainments and luxury to do so?  No.  Jesus was befriended by tax collectors and prostitutes but it was not by providing them with their entertainment.   He wasn’t working as a hired dancer at  the prostitutes’ parties or serving drinks at the tax collectors’ banquets.  He wasn’t making a living by serving their unholy appetites and making pious gestures at various points along the way.   He wasn’t making a living by the applause and reward of satisfied sinners and donating a chunk to the temple.   He was living a heavenly life, completely devoted to prayer, teaching and works of mercy.  Jesus’ example proves that the whole “reach them for Christ” argument has no foundation whatever.

Want proof?  Let’s actually look at the means by which he won the sinners.

First, let’s take a look at the tax collector Matthew’s (a.k.a. Levi)  conversion:

“Jesus saw a publican named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom, and he said to him: “Follow me.” And leaving all things, he rose up and followed him.  And Levi made him a great feast in his own house; and there was a great company of publicans, and of others, that were at table with them. But the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying to his disciples: Why do you eat and drink with publicans and sinners?  And Jesus answering, said to them: They that are whole, need not the physician: but they that are sick.  I came not to call the just, but sinners to penance.”

Now, did Jesus go to the publicans’ feast to “reach the sinners”?  No.  He called Matthew to become His disciple and Matthew did.  Then, Matthew brought his sinful friends to Jesus.  Jesus did not enter into any sinful environment or make friends with sinners who had no intention of converting.  He called them to penance.

Second, let’s take a look at the other tax collector we meet in the Gospel, Zaccheus.  Do we find Our Lord hanging out with sinners? Not at all.  What does Scripture actually tell us about Our Lord’s methods with these tax collectors?  Let’s see how much Our Lord’s ministry resembles that of the modern “evangelists”:

“Jesus walked through Jericho.  And behold, there was a man named Zacheus, who was the chief of the publicans, and he was rich.   And he sought to see Jesus who he was, and he could not for the crowd, because he was low of stature.  And running before, he climbed up into a sycamore tree, that he might see him; for he was to pass that way.  And when Jesus was come to the place, looking up, he saw him, and said to him:  “Zacheus, make haste and come down; for this day I must abide in thy house.”  And he made haste and came down; and received him with joy.  And when all saw it, they murmured, saying, that he was gone to be a guest with a man that was a sinner.  But Zacheus standing, said to the Lord: “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have wronged any man of any thing, I restore him fourfold.”  Jesus said to him: This day is salvation come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham.  For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Now, did Our Lord enter into the home or entertainments of a sinful man?  No.  This tax collector was already converted.  He was coming to see Jesus in Jesus’ normal ministry.  He climbed a tree to see Our Lord and he had already been converted and done the penance that Our Lord demanded of His followers.  Into that man’s house Our Lord went, without any of this ridiculous monkey business we see today among Christians.

Third, let’s look to the prostitutes.   Actually, there are no stories of prostitutes in the Gospels.  There is one story of an unnamed woman who is simply referred to as “a sinner”.  Anyway, how did Our Lord “reach here”?  Let’s actually read the narrative:

“And one of the Pharisees desired him to eat with Jesus.  And he went into the house of the Pharisee and sat down to meat.  And behold a woman that was in the city, a sinner, when she knew that he sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment.  And standing behind at his feet she began to wash his feet with tears and wiped them with the hairs of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.  Turning to the woman, he said unto Simon: “Do you see this woman? I entered into your house: you gave me no water for my feet. But she with tears has washed my feet; and with her hairs has wiped them.  You gave me no kiss. But she, since she came in, has not ceased to kiss my feet.  My head with oil you did not anoint. But she with ointment has anointed my feet.   Wherefore, I say to you:  Many sins are forgiven her, because she has loved much. But to whom less is forgiven, he loves less.”   And he said to her:  “Your sins are forgiven you.  Your faith has made you safe. Go in peace.”

There it is.  Our Lord’s ministry to the prostitutes consisted of accepting a dinner invitation from a religious leader in Israel.   Uh, where’s the outreach ministry?  Jesus didn’t do anything but sit down for dinner, during his normal course of activity.  The sinner came to him.  She came, having learned his doctrine elsewhere, and demonstrated the love she had for Him.   Once again, Our Lord maintains his normal, holy life and ministry and the sinners leave their sins and come to Him.

Therefore, where is the support for all of this nonsense today?  Where is the outreach ministry we’re all told Jesus taught us and modeled for us?  Where is Jesus entertaining the sinners in the sinners’ own environment?  Never.  Nowhere.  All I ask is, “Where is this example that all of the modern Christians refer to?”

Yes, if we allow people to make things up and paint a picture of Our Lord that is not to be found anywhere in the holy Gospels, we will, like them, think and act very differently.  However, if we test the things people try to teach us and pressure to believe by actually reading the Scriptures, we will be safe from the foolishness of this compromising, world-pleasing sin called “outreach”.

Our Lord taught us very clearly that salvation is the work of the Holy Spirit, drawing men to repentance.  It is those repentant men that Our Lord draws near to, never those who are content in their sin.  He never enters the Colosseum, goes to a sinful party, spends time with immoral company or suffers any worldly amusements.  He is holy as His Father is heaven is holy and his food and drink, as He says, is to do the will of His father.   He has nothing to do with this “Jesus” preached by Americans Christians today as an excuse to indulge the flesh and befriend the world.  There is no such “Jesus” except in the minds of modern men.  Unfortunately, Christians do not test what they hear but drink it in easily because it is pleasing to men and women who enjoy what the world has to offer and who don’t find the true way of Christ pleasing in the least.  They like the sinners, don’t want to live as Christ lived or minister to the world as Christ did.

Christ’s ministry was one of obedient example.  Christ showed the men around Him what God’s will looked like.  He did not try to lure them into a fake religion to boast in the number of “converts”.  He did not run after them, trying to win their approval and gain an audience with them.  He prayed for them.  He taught publicly.  He performed the works of mercy.  He relied on God’s supernatural help and not His own scheming.   Yet, to that normal course of holy living, sinners left their sins, their friends, their houses, their habits and became holy.  He said to them, “Follow Me.” and they did.

Furthermore, when He sent His own chosen Apostles to go into the world and preach the Gospel, he never, EVER, taught them to engage in anything other than preaching.   Here is the ministry He taught them:

“Into whatsoever city or town you shall enter, inquire who in it is worthy, and there abide till you go thence.  And when you come into the house, salute it, saying: “Peace be to this house.”  And if that house be worthy, your peace shall come upon it; but if it be not worthy, your peace shall return to you. And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words: going forth out of that house or city shake off the dust from your feet. Amen I say to you, it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.”

No boardwalk clown ministries.  No pro sports outreaches.  No Hollywood acting for Christ.  No monkey business.  No baloney.  Christ taught us to live holy lives in obedience to God’s commandments and to teach others that they must obey Christ’s commandments.    He taught us to be generous fathers, humble mothers, respectful children, honest workers, merciful neighbors and true friends.  That, after all, is what God wants men to be and to do.  We are not called to become the world’s entertainers, but to live as the salt and light of the earth, “among whom we shine as lights in the darkness”–in our normal states of life.  We will find, as Christ found, that when we humble do what we are supposed to do, men will come to us and follow us.  They may be few, but they will be true–and we will be holy.

***
William C. Michael, Director
Classical Liberal Arts Academy

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2 Comments on “The Outreach Myth and Modern “Evangelism””

  1. wmclaa
    January 22, 2012 at 12:09 pm #

    Today’s Mass readings from Jonah, unsurprisingly prove what I explained here. Jonah is sent by God, as a prophet, to preach to a pagan city. Does he go there and start an Assyrian sports ministry? Does he train to become an Assyrian entertainer? No. He is sent to tell the pagan city that God is going to punish them if they do not repent.

    Unsurprisingly, Jonah, like most men, don’t want to do this! It’s just like Moses being sent to tell Pharaoh or us knowing we need to speak to our enemies. Who would want to go and stare an enemy in the face and tell him that God is going to punish him? No one. Nevertheless, that’s part of our mission. For all the talk of forgiveness and love, the message of Jesus and the Apostles was summarized in Scripture as a message of repentance, which means turning from sin.

    Jonah runs away. He doesn’t think God’s message and methods will “reach” the Ninevehites. Well, he’s wrong. The pagan city repents and turns to God.

    That’s the point. We don’t trust God that the message and methods He taught us are, in fact, what will most perfectly serve our neighbors. The same methods God used to save Israel also saved Nineveh. They will also save New York and Los Angeles and Dallas and Chicago and Charlotte and Bangladesh and Hong Kong and all the rest. Why? It’s the Creator speaking to His creatures in a voice they will hear. It is a deep mystery and one that should fascinate and encourage us–not embarrass us.

    Our Lord directs our attention back to Jonah as His own preaching and life fails to convert His audience. He doesn’t start scheming or changing things. There’s no “Plan B”. He has shown them and told them what God wished and they were not impressed, so He warned them:

    “The men of Niniveh shall rise in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it; because they did penance at the preaching of Jonas; and behold more than Jonas here.”

    The same is true today. We are to live holy lives–praying, worshipping, studying, working, doing the works of mercy, raising children, helping our neighbors with their lives, promoting the common good on the ground, and holding all men to keep God’s ways. If they will not follow God, it is their own fault and they will be punished for it. After all, there’s more reason to believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in 2011 than there was in Jonah’s day. The Ninevehites repentes, modern men don’t. That’s not the message’s fault–so long as the message we’re preaching is actually God’s message. The unbelief of modern men is a sign of the wickedness of the audience. We are to preach to them and then, pray for their repentance, while offering our own sacrifices to God on the behalf of those around us that He may be patient with them and not bring them to judgment before they turn to Him.

    The role of the preacher is taught in the book of Ezekiel:

    “When I say to the wicked: “O wicked man, thou shalt surely die!”: if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked man from his way: that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but I will require his blood at thy hand. But if thou tell the wicked man, that he may be converted from his ways, and he be not converted from his way: he shall die in his iniquity: but thou hast delivered thy soul.”

    The reason why we ought to evangelize is for the salvation of our own soul! The modern sugary, “Jesus loves you and if you believe that He died for your sins, you will be saved.” message is not what Jesus or the Apostles or the early Christians ever preached. Don’t believe me? Find it in the Gospels or in the Book of Acts. They, like all God’s true prophets and preachers, preached exactly what Ezekiel taught. So should we.

    When a father is correcting his children and teaches them to live as God wills, he is evangelizing the world. When a housewife warns a bad neighborhood boy and tells him to stop being bad for God’s sake, she is evangelizing the world. When the chaplain visits a criminal in prison and warns him of the need to do penance, he is evangelizing the world. When a school teacher pulls a student aside and warns him of the need to work honestly, he or she is evangelizing the world. The problem in our society is that these natural and timeless channels of evangelization are not receiving the attention and care they have in better days, leaving behind and unchecked society of fools. That foolishness does not justify the circus Christianity that is being built to “reach” it. We simply need to be more faithful, you know, telling people to stop lying, stop sleeping around, etc.. rather than leaving them to a travelling clown to entertain them for God’s sake.

    We need to be more courageous and constant in living the Christian life among all the sinners we send to the football stadium or boardwalk for someone to help. My kids and my students and my relatives and my neighbors won’t need any circus ministry to “reach” them. It’s my job and I’d better do it.

    -WM

  2. Mrs. R.
    February 25, 2012 at 8:07 pm #

    In my very humble opinion, as far as roll models go in the football “arena” Tim Tebow is it. Never before have I witnessed a player who prompted so many atheists and christians alike, to pick up a bible and thumb through it looking for the word of God.
    Yes, in our household we do not watch tv at all. But we do strive to be current and are semi-active in politics as well as worldwide current events. In our browsing (occasionally “taking the pulse” of liberal/atheist sites) we came across Mr. Tebow and I must say from reading their opinions I smiled. I smiled because people who might have never picked up the good book made a point to do so, simply because the man placed a bible passage “in the black” under his eyes.
    I find this knowledge comforting. I’m comforted with the hope that this simple reading of a passage from the good book does not stop there. I’m hoping a hunger for God’s word fills these empty and lost souls. A hunger that makes them realize that God is SOMEONE who loves and cares for them. Someone who they cannot live without.

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