Monday, October 30, 2017

God's Human Drama

Below is a presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ that is set within the Bible's grand story. It is called God's Human Drama. The drawing is sketched out when each section is explained. This presentation is designed to be "simplex," simple for people to understand but expandable when further explanation is necessary.

Bill, what comes to your mind when you turn on the news these days? …  Have you ever noticed how new programs begin with the worst in humans and end with the best? Why do you think people are wonderful and awful at the same time? … The Christian world-view in the Bible gives an answer. Can I show you on a piece of paper something called God’s Human Drama? It takes about twenty minutes to draw and explain. Do you think I can sketch the whole story of the Bible on a single sheet of paper? … Well, let me give it a try.

Sigmund Freud described humans as ego-centric (self-centered) creatures, something that the Bible said for centuries. This self-orientation has caused humans to betray one another and the Creator God. Our self-centeredness manifests in our actions that separate us from each other and God. In other words, things become “about us” rather than about loving others and loving God. The result is that our world is fractured by human betrayal. Have you ever been betrayed by someone? Felt abandoned? Disappointed in what others did or said? Me too! … Pretty awful feeling, huh?

In the Bible’s grand story, this betrayal and separation led to death too; brother killing brother. In addition to murder came things like: jealousy, greed, bullying, oppression, racism, terrorism, and abuse. Pretty awful, huh? … But when it comes down to it, we’re all self-centered, even the most generous of us. This self-centered way of living causes separation between us and God—the death of a relationship.

Of course, this was not the way God intended things to be. Originally God designed us and all creation as good and pure—as wonderful. There was no pain, no death, no betrayal, no poverty, no corruption. Sounds like a great world, right? … This was a world of life and blessing! We were created in God’s image to reflect his pure and loving nature. In fact, this story began with humans living in harmony with God in his beautifully created world. Everything was wonderful until humans betrayed God and one another. At that moment human sin, evil, disharmony, and brokenness entered the story. But God did not give up on us. What did he do? He launched a plan to restore human beings. He didn’t leave us in our awful condition.

In this world of human rebels, God chose a man named Abraham to become a father of many people. God promised Abraham that through him and his offspring (Abraham's clan) all the peoples of the world would be blessed. What a promise! God followed through on this promise but sadly Abraham and his clan did not. They kept betraying God and other human beings and ended up living as slaves in Egypt.

One of Abraham's descendants was Moses, a type of redeemer who rescued Abraham’s clan out of slavery under the oppressor named Pharaoh of Egypt. Did you ever see the movie The Prince of Egypt?...  Another descendant of Abraham was David who became a king of Abraham’s clan. God promised to King David that one of his descendants would reign on a throne and that his kingdom would last forever. Of course, Abraham, Moses, and David were all flawed and like other wonderful-awful humans, they betrayed God too. Even David’s kingdom fell apart. Nevertheless, they all pointed to Someone greater in this story. The plot thickens!

If fact, the main person in God’s human story is God himself! As a solution to humanity’s dilemma, God became human. God intervened! The answer to human betrayal and human brokenness was God himself who entered human history. This is the Christmas story and the event that marks how we calculate the years! The ultimate solution to the problem of human betrayal was God taking on human flesh. This may be the most radical claim of any religion! God was born as a human into Abraham’s clan and came to bless all the peoples of the earth. He came as Redeemer to release us from slavery to our awful, sinful condition. He was bigger and better than Moses! When God became human, he came as a descendant of David, the promised Messiah-King whose name was Jesus of Nazareth. Let me ask you: What do you think would happen if God became human and lived on earth? …

Jesus came announcing the kingdom of God. As the promised Redeemer and King, he came with the mission to restore humans and creation to the way we were designed to be at the beginning. Jesus performed miracles, something that God-in-human-flesh can do! Uniquely, this kingdom of God (unlike the Roman Emperor’s) was not based on political power but upon Jesus’ death upon a Roman cross, and his resurrection, being raised from the dead. This is the Easter story. This may be difficult to comprehend but the Bible says that Jesus’ death and resurrection were necessary to rescue and restore human beings and his creation. Jesus, the King-Messiah, died for our crimes (sins) that we committed against God. He died so that our betrayal would die with him. He rose from the dead to beat death and its power over us.

It was through these acts of his death and resurrection that humans can be restored, beat death too, and have hope and life again in harmony with God.

But the story does not end here. Jesus said that fullness of his kingdom will bring judgment and perfect justice in the world. This will be a day when everything is set right, a day that will end betrayal, ego-centeredness, oppression, racism, and injustice. Do you long for perfect justice in the world?What is the justice that you hope for?... Do you think everyone should be judged based on what they deserve?

Of course, death and separation from God is still a real option. Let me draw a stick man here with the question: What about you? Bill, where do you stand in this story? Where do you see yourself? The question that Jesus presented to people was whether they would enter the kingdom of God or not. He never forced anyone to enter. When he presented the choice to people, some chose to enter his kingdom and others chose not to enter. To enter brings a reconciled relationship with God (forgiveness) and participation in his mission to restore humans and creation. And he empowers us to do so! To enter means following Jesus as a way of life now with the hope of the fullness of the kingdom of God, experiencing the promises of God’s blessings of hope and life now and forever! Of course, not entering means ongoing separation and death. We either choose to enter or continue on the current path.

Bill, what would your life look like five years from now if you choose to enter the kingdom of God? What would your life look like five years from now if you don’t? A person enters the kingdom of God by turning from our ego-centered ways and turning to God, believing he became human in Jesus Christ who died on the cross and was raised from the dead.

Is there any reason why you would not want to enter the kingdom of God? God offers you a choice. Would you like to enter the kingdom of God?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Christians and Booze: “Life in the spirits” Part Two

While a Christian is free to drink alcoholic beverages, an option is abstinence, refraining from drinking alcoholic beverages altogether. This may be a long-term or short-term practice. There are several good reasons to abstain from alcohol. The first is to consider the thoughts and feelings of others. In the early church, drunkenness was associated with pagan religion. When people became Christians and converted from paganism, they needed to break from this lifestyle, particularly, from debauchery—excessive indulgence in sensual pleasures. However, there were other Christians, probably Jewish Christians, who did not have this background, and would exercise their liberty to drink wine in front of converts from paganism. What resulted was that the Gentile converts were deeply offended and grieved. So, in Romans 14:13 Paul says:

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way. (NIV)

Later in this passage, he gives specific principles about drinking wine.

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall. Romans 14:19-21

While a Christian may have the liberty, maturity and self-discipline, he or she may choose not to exercise this liberty for the sake of another brother or sister who cannot handle it. Besides other Christians, Paul asks us to consider even the thoughts of not-yet-Christians.

 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. 1 Cor. 10:31-33 (NIV)

Of course, this does not mean that we should neglect teaching new brothers and sisters about their freedom in Christ. There will always be not-yet-Christians coming within view of the church and new converts coming into the community of the church. Therefore, the mature and knowledgeable believers should lead them toward maturity, “admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present them fully mature in Christ," (Colossians 1:28).  This includes a biblical perspective of Christian liberty, discernment, and life in the Spirit.

As an argument for teetotalling, I have been asked: “But what about the alcoholic that comes into the church?  If Christians are drinking booze, won’t this cause him to stumble … to relapse?”  This is a fair question and one that we should consider, especially when ministering to a variety of people.  Christians do need to be aware of various conditions of people, their needs, vices, and struggles, and act with discernment and discretion.


The Pastoral Epistles state that elders in the church are not to be drunkards, and in the same way deacons are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine,” or as the ESV states: “not addicted to much wine,” (1 Tim. 3:8). The issue may not be drunkenness but alcoholism—an addiction or mental and physical condition from the excessive and/or regular use of alcohol, even in social settings. Alcoholism may be more covert than drunkenness, showing up in various ways.  (See the NCADD Self-Test).

 Alcoholics generally need an intervention and regular support toward a life of sobriety and serenity.  As an associate pastor, I attended an AA support group hosted by our church for two years. I learned a lot from the leader, Jim, who did not advocate avoiding the world of booze as much as navigating successfully through it. Alcoholics that attended found support in the group (and other groups) which was greater than the temptation they faced.  At times sponsors gave members the assignment to enter and exit a liquor store without buying anything. Thus, for me the argument that Christians should not serve or drink alcoholic beverages because an alcoholic might be present, does not understand an addict’s road to recovery or life within a world of booze.  On the other hand, if an alcoholic needs to attend an AA meeting just to counter the pressure from Christians to drink, the Christians should exercise greater discretion and sensitivity, not doing something that will cause a brother to fall.

A second reason for abstinence is religious devotion or spiritual focus. In Leviticus 10:9, the priests of Israel were commanded not "to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the Tent of Meeting, or you will die." The Lord had called them to holiness, and their judgment in priestly functions could not be clouded. Abstinence was also the practice of those taking a Nazirite vow. Nazirite from the word nazir means "consecrated one."

The LORD said to Moses, "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'If a man or woman wants to make a special vow, a vow of separation to the LORD as a Nazirite, he must abstain from wine and other fermented drink and must not drink vinegar made from wine or from other fermented drink. He must not drink grape juice or eat grapes or raisins. As long as he is a Nazirite, he must not eat anything that comes from the grapevine, not even the seeds or skins. Numbers 6:1-4 (NIV)

When an Israeli wanted to set himself apart unto God and devote his whole life to the Lord, he took a Nazirite vow. This was the highest level of consecration and included abstinence from wine and other fermented beverages, as well as anything that comes from the grapevine including grapes, raisins, grape seeds and grape juice! Samuel and Samson were Nazirites for life (1 Samuel 1:14-15; Judges 13:4,7).  John the Baptist also had taken a Nazirite vow (Luke 1:15; 7:33). A Nazirite vow could last for 30, 60 or 90 days- or even a lifetime.

 Similarly, a Christian today may voluntarily choose a vow of abstinence from alcoholic beverages as an act of devotion to God (Acts 18:18; 21:23). This may be for a predetermined period of time, similar to a fast from food. Obviously, a Christian who makes this choice for abstinence will not sin by drunkenness, and not become an alcoholic.

Other reasons for abstaining from alcohol include: ministry to alcoholics, recovery from alcoholism, personal distaste for alcoholic beverages, health reasons recommended by a physician or pharmacist, athletic training-school code of conduct, role model to students and young athletes, avoiding a double standard for parents and children, matters of conscience when raised in the home of an alcoholic, and activity in organizations such as MADD and SADD. It is a matter of conscience, discretion, experience and conviction.

The Scriptures teach that a Christian is to be controlled by the Holy Spirit, not the spirit(s) of alcohol (Eph. 5:18; Acts 2:4, 13). While Christians have freedom to drink alcoholic beverages in moderation (wine, like food is clean), abstinence is preferred in many cases. Each Christian must decide before God what he or she should do, and then live by his or her conscience. Paul concludes his thoughts on eating and drinking by saying,

So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin. Romans 14:22-23 (NIV)

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Christians and Booze: “Life in the spirits”

There are a lot of Christians drinking booze these days. Even among younger evangelicals (as evangelicalism has undergone degrees of deconstruction) there is increased acceptance of “life in the spirits.” That which was taboo one or two generations ago in evangelical churches is increasingly acceptable today, and perhaps encouraged.  While evangelicals are still hosting “Celebrate Recovery” they are also sponsoring “Pub Theology” where “the format is simple: beer, conversation, and God.”  Yet, others raise concerns.

Last week I read Nathan Rouse’s blog titled: A Caution for Every Christian That Drinks Alcohol.  The question continues: should Christians drink alcoholic beverages? Some still say, "Christians ought not to drink." Others reply, "It's not wrong. Jesus drank wine." Others say, "You shouldn't drink if it offends a weaker brother." Others claim: "I have liberty to drink, if I choose to do so wisely." The discussion goes from one end of the table (or bar) to the other.

I have to admit that my thinking has shifted.  While I was formed as a Christ-follower in conservative, evangelical settings where teetotaling was encouraged (and prided), my experiences among godly Christians in Europe challenged me to study what the Bible teaches on the subject.  I learned that like several topics, various proponents present one side of the topic rather than wrestle with the tension in scripture that allows for freedom but also sounds warning and concern for others. My fear is that as the pendulum swings toward “life in the spirits,” the evangelical church will encounter new challenges.

So what are we to think regarding Christians and booze?


As we examine this question of Christians and booze, we begin with the teaching of Scripture that drunkenness is forbidden. What does it mean to be drunk? Drunkenness is having one's faculties impaired by an excess of alcohol. In this state, a person has diminished control over his or her physical, mental and moral powers. While there are degrees of drunkenness from "a little tipsy" to "plastered," each person has a limit (higher or lower than state laws) when he or she yields control to alcohol, and degrees of judgment are lost.
In the Old Testament, drunkenness is associated with immorality. Noah become drunk and in his nakedness acted shamefully (Gen. 9:21). Lot became drunk and his daughter committed incest with him (Gen. 19:30-36). Nabal became drunk and at a critical time God took his life (1 Sam. 25:36-37). Elah became drunk and he was murdered by Zimri (1 Kings 16:9-10). Ben-hadad and all of his allied kings became drunk, and all were slaughtered except Ben-hadad (1 Kings 20:16-21). Belshazzar became drunk and lost his kingdom (Dan. 5). Furthermore, the Old Testament warns against the effects of alcoholic liquor, drunkenness and alcoholism.
Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise. Proverbs 20:1 (NIV)
Listen, my son, and be wise, and keep your heart on the right path. Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags. Proverbs 23:19-21 (NIV)

Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? Those who linger over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine. Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly! In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper. Your eyes will see strange sights and your mind imagine confusing things. You will be like one sleeping on the high seas, lying on top of the rigging. "They hit me" you will say, "but I'm not hurt! They beat me, but I don't feel it! When will I wake up so I can find another drink?" Proverbs 23:29-35 (NIV)

Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine. They have harps and lyres at their banquets, tambourines and flutes and wine, but they have no regard for the deeds of the LORD, no respect for the work of his hands. Therefore my people will go into exile for lack of understanding; their men of rank will die of hunger and their masses will be parched with thirst. Therefore the grave enlarges its appetite and opens its mouth without limit; into it will descend their nobles and masses with all their brawlers and revelers. Isa 5:11-14 (NIV)

And these also stagger from wine and reel from beer: Priests and prophets stagger from beer and are befuddled with wine; they reel from beer, they stagger when seeing visions, they stumble when rendering decisions. All the tables are covered with vomit and there is not a spot without filth. Isaiah 28:7-8 (NIV)

Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbors, pouring it from the wineskin till they are drunk, so that he can gaze on their naked bodies. Hab 2:15 (NIV)

Clearly, God forbids drunkenness. At no point are Christ-followers to yield control of their faculties to excess alcohol. If they do, it is sin.

Likewise, the New Testament warns against drunkenness.

Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rom 13:13 (NIV)

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. "Everything is permissible for me "— but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me"— but I will not be mastered by anything. 1 Cor. 6:9-12 (NIV)

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as l did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.  Gal 5:19-21 (NIV)

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Eph. 5:18 (NIV)

So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8 (NIV)

For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do— living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. 1 Pet 4:3 (NIV)

For the Christian, drunkenness is a pattern that belongs to the former life. It is associated with a pagan lifestyle and the immorality that accompanies it. In contrast, the Christian is to be Spirit-filled, sober, alert and self-controlled (Gal. 5:16; Eph. 6:18; 1 Pet. 1:13; 4:7; 5:8).

Therefore, the two options for Christians to practice in regards to booze are 1) moderation and 2) abstinence.



Moderation means restraint, keeping within reasonable or proper limits. If one chooses to drink alcoholic beverages, he or she must avoid drinking to excess, namely to intoxication. The dilemma in this matter lies with degrees of sobriety and drunkenness, and knowing when someone has diminished control over his or her physical, mental and moral faculties. Obviously, the effects of alcohol can become apparent rather suddenly in some people.

The content of alcohol in any beverage must be considered. According to the Alcohol Council Information Center, beer has 4-7% alcohol, wine has 9-11% alcohol, brandy has 15-20% alcohol, and hard liquor (80-100 proof) has 40-50% alcohol.

When alcoholic beverages are commended in Scripture, they refer to low level alcoholic content such as wine or beer. In Exodus 29 and Leviticus 23, the people were told to bring drink offerings of wine to the temple for God. According to 1 Chronicles 29:19 it is likely that a supply of wine was kept in the Temple for the drink offerings. Judges 9:13 mentions a special wine that cheers and makes one happy. In Proverbs 31:6-7 it says when somebody gets old and sick and about to die, to give them beer or wine as a sedative to ease the pain.  In Isaiah 24:9 the drinking of wine was accompanied with singing good songs. In Isaiah 55:1-2, wine is equated with salvation; the phrase "come, by wine," is an invitation to salvation. In Mark 2:22, Jesus illustrates his teaching on the new age of his coming with wine and wineskins. In John 2:1-10, Jesus performs his first miracle, changing water into wine at the wedding at Cana. It was considered by the master of the banquet to be "the choice wine" and "the best." In John 13, the Lord Jesus drinks wine, and ordains the Lord's Supper. In Luke 10:34, when the Good Samaritan found a man on the side of the road, he poured wine on his wounds.

The psalmist viewed wine as a provision from God, and expressed its benefit when taken in moderation:

He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate— bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart. Psalm 104:14-15 (NIV)

Moreover, the freedom for Christians to drink alcoholic beverages in moderation, even for leaders, is observed in the Pastoral Epistles. They must not be "given to drunkenness", "indulging in much wine " or "addicted to much wine." What is condemned is not drinking wine, but drunkenness and alcoholism.

Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife% temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 1 Tim 3:2-3 (NIV)

Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. 1 Tim 3:8 (NIV)

Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses. 1 Tim 5:23 (NIV)

Since an overseer is entrusted with God's work, he must be blameless— not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Titus 1:7 (NIV)

Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good Titus 2:3 (NIV)

In the case of Timothy, mentioned above, wine was used for medicinal purposes (1 Tim. 5:23). It promoted healing when taken in moderation. Timothy's practice of total abstinence, in Paul's opinion, was not necessary, and having a harmful effect on his health. He suggests a little wine as a remedy against dyspeptic complaints, as a tonic, and as counteracting the effects of impure water.

Modern studies continue to show the benefits of drinking a glass of red wine at dinner. Alcohol can decrease the tendency of blood to clot causing heart attacks and raise good cholesterol levels. Yet, the American Heart Association's Nutrition Committee cautions against this as the most proven way to improve heart health and suggests practices of eating healthfully, exercising regularly and maintain a healthy weight.

An historic application of moderation within the church stems from Paul's rebuke to the church at Corinth for abuse of the agape feast, the Lord's Supper. When you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk Don't you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not! 1 Cor. 11:20-22 (NIV)

The food and wine were divided inequitably. Some were eating more than others, and some were drinking more, even to the point of drunkenness. What is condemned in not drinking wine but drinking to drunkenness. An application of this text by the historic church has been to serve wine as the cup in minimal quantity or moderation in order to avoid what occurred at Corinth, namely, drunkenness. 

If a Christian chooses to drink alcoholic beverages, it is wise only to drink those that contain low alcoholic content such as wine or beer. It is also important to predetermine the limit such as one serving with dinner, or at a wedding, anniversary dinner, holiday or special celebration. Regardless of whether a Christian chooses to drink alcoholic beverages or not, he/she must define and hold to a predetermined limit. A good rule of thumb is to be conservative rather than push the limit to the degree of drunkenness and thereby sin.

Clearly, the Bible commends drinking alcoholic beverages in moderation and for medicinal purposes.  One can conclude that among other gifts, alcohol is a gift from God.  While alcoholic beverages are manufactured by humans—part of human culture (cultura), alcohol is also found in nature (natura). Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that at least a few creatures in the wilds of the Malaysian rainforest like to drink the naturally occurring alcohol in fermenting fruit. As a part of God’s creation, alcohol is good.

In the book Saturate, Jeff Vanderstelt speaks of taking something good from God and making it a god.  He says, “We do this with sex, friendships, food, alcohol, work, and even children and spouses.”  While alcohol may be good, it can quickly become a god; it can easily become “a master.”  After the Apostle Paul warned the Corinthians that “neither the sexually immoral … nor drunkards … will inherit the kingdom of God,” he said, “I will not be mastered by anything,” (1 Cor. 6:9-12). It is easy to take something good—even a gift of God—and misuse or abuse it. When it masters us, it becomes a god.  When is becomes twisted or misused, it can become ruinous and destructive.


Sunday, May 31, 2015


            The church's character is an integral part of its message as it proclaims and exemplifies the good news.  The gospel of love, forgiveness, holiness and peace is seen by others to be credible when it is shared by believers who serve the needy, forgive sinners, stand for justice and make peace in the world.  The message and messenger are interrelated, with the full impact of the gospel being felt by words and deeds, and in many cases more by deeds than words, for our lives are letters "known and read by everybody," (2 Cor 3:2). Credibility wanes when others perceive incongruities between the message of the church and its behavior, between what it proclaims and what it does.  The result is a credibility gap—the distance between credibility and incredibility, being believable or unbelievable.[1]  This gap negatively affects the church's witness to the good news, as the church loses respect among unbelievers, failing to move them from their unbelief.

      The Apostle Peter said, "Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us," (1 Pet. 2:12).  The evangelistic impact of the church is dependent upon its corporate testimony, proving itself as a credible witness to the world.


            A faithful presence is first established by the church as it lives as people of integrity--maintaining morals, adhering to values and keeping promises.  Integrity is a pattern of sound choices, honest dealings and right actions, regardless of the outcome or consequences.  It is a factor of communication included in Aristotle's concept of ethos or ethical character.[2]  It is not an image but the substance of sincerity, honesty and morality.

            Integrity is an important characteristic of the church because the gospel is truth.  It is only reasonable that the church's character and conduct not contradict its message but confirm it.  The high ethical quality of the gospel requires a similar quality in those who communicate it, since they are sent as representatives of the King of Kings, as "Christ's ambassadors," (2 Cor. 5:20).

            The church is called out from among the world to live uniquely in the world as God's people, "as children of light," (Eph. 5:8).  The church is "a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God," (1 Pet. 2:9).  It is called out along with its leaders to live beyond reproach, to reflect God's holy character, and to personify his absolute truth.  Integrity will hardly be found, if it is not found among the people of God.[3]

            When the church's actions do not substantiate the gospel but violate its message, a mixed signal is sent to others.  The message is confusing because people hear one thing and see something different.  Indiscretions such as financial fraud, moral failure and deceit erode the church's credibility.

            The world holds the church to a standard, expecting it to practice what it preaches.  Christians are viewed as hypocrites when there is a discrepancy between their message and their actions.  Consequently, the church's ministry suffers and its credibility is lost.  It forfeits its faithful presence and opens itself up to negative criticism.

            Therefore, it is imperative that the church make every effort to live by its high standard as the people of God, knowing that God "has saved us and called us to a holy life," (2 Tim. 1:9).  When believers fail to live up to their calling, they must have the honesty to admit it, the humility to confess it, and the willingness to make things right.


            A faithful presence is established by the church as it is authentic.  Authenticity is the quality of being genuine, transparent, natural and real, without pretense.  It presents no imitation, erects no facade and wears no mask.  It allows others to see the church actually and precisely as it is.

            Although the church is called to holiness, it will not be perfect on this side of glory.  Thus, it should not give the impression that it is flawless or sinless.  Rather, the church should reveal itself as the redeemed community, comprised of sinner-saints, people who are not perfect, just forgiven.  Christians should acknowledge their sins, mistakes and weaknesses, confessing that they are equally sinful, needy and dependent upon the grace of God.  The church's attitude should be as "one beggar showing another beggar where to find bread."[4]

            A judgmental spirit by Christians toward those outside the church causes the credibility gap to widen.  Unbelievers may feel condemned, not because of their unbelief or guilt, but because of a pseudo guilt placed upon them by "holier than thou" Christians.  Such a legalistic attitude intimidates rather than invites unbelievers to come to faith in Jesus Christ.  However, the church must remember that its role is not to pass judgment on unbelievers, for "God will judge those outside," (1 Cor. 7:13).

            The authentic Christian life is a relationship with God, knowing him personally, not a religion, attempting to reach him by following a moral code or sacred ritual.  Jesus Christ came to impart life—abundant life as a result of knowing him.  He said, "Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent," (John 17:3).  It is God's desire that his people enjoy this life, celebrate it, and have genuine fun.  The church demonstrates the authentic Christian life when it lives abundantly, enjoying a life that is full and meaningful.

            The church should also acknowledge the hope that it has in the midst of temptation, problems, trials, pain, tragedy, sorrow and death.  This is not merely a temporal hope to cope with the stress of this world, but an eternal hope that transcends this world to the next, "the hope of eternal life," (Titus 3:7).  This hope produces an optimism about the future regardless of present circumstances.  The gospel is a message of hope, and that is good news, capturing the attention of those who are outside of faith in Jesus Christ.


            A faithful presence is established by the church as it proves itself reliable.  Reliability is being faithful, dependable and trustworthy.  Reliability is basic to all relationships, observed in the character of God and the promises of the Bible.  It is a magnetic quality which attracts people since nearly everyone responds to reliable friends.

            Many people today struggle with reliability, wavering in their commitments, moving out of relationships rather than working at them.  This affects marriages, family ties, friendships and working relationships.  Yet, if the church is to be a faithful witness in the world, Christians must establish meaningful relationships with others, founded upon trust, respect and concern for them.

            Reliability is important because the gospel is primarily spread not between strangers but between persons who know and trust each other, between believable Christians and family and friends.[5]  When a high level of trust has been established, people are more open and receptive to the gospel since they are hearing the words of someone they care for and believe in.

            Reliability, of course, requires availability, a commitment on the part of Christians to be there for others when they need someone.  It may be when they are in a crisis, a trial, when they are hurting, need help or some tangible form of assistance.  Such availability by the church opens doors to enter their lives and provides a means to share the gospel with them.

            As the church is reliable, it develops a positive reputation, known for its willingness and availability to help.  It may be the ministry of a Christian who provides child care for a friend during a doctor's appointment, prepares a meal for a family after the death of a relative, takes an elderly widow to a mechanic when her car is being repaired, or mows a neighbor's lawn when he is hospitalized.

            Such good works, however, are not limited to individuals.  The church can corporately minister to the needs of people, providing social services such as food pantries, marriage and family counseling, literacy and educational programs, medical assistance, crisis counseling, flood relief, and shelters for the abused and homeless.[6]  These ministries show that the church cares for people.  In response, people's respect for the church grows, viewing the church as a trusted friend.  Indeed, good works compliment the good news.

Charity by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

            A faithful presence is established by the church as it demonstrates agape love.  Charity is love in action, giving unconditionally and sacrificially to meet the needs of others.  It is not an emotion but behavior; it is not love felt but love applied.  The Apostle John described it by saying, "let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth," (1 John 3:18).  It is conduct characteristic of affection.[7] 

            "Love comes from God," (1 John 4:7).  It has been revealed in his nature, demonstrated in the sacrificial death of his Son, and imparted to his people by the Holy Spirit.  This divine love enables the church to love him, and to love others.[8]  As the church receives and experiences this supernatural love, it in turn may impart it to unbelievers.  In doing so, they see the reality of a loving God, and will be drawn to him through his people, for there is nothing more attractive than love.

            God's love is unconditional, unswerving and unrelenting, giving but expecting nothing in return.  It does not depend upon the lovability of the object, but wholly upon the character of the one who loves.  The Apostle Paul described love, saying:

Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails, (1 Cor. 13:4-8).

            This love requires that the church give of itself to God and, therefore, to the care and welfare of others.  It ministers like God who "loves the alien, giving him food and clothing," (Deut. 10:18).  It is a love that feeds the hungry, gives drink to the thirsty, invites in the stranger, clothes the needy, looks after the sick, and visits the prisoner.  It gives unselfishly of its time, energy and resources, denying material goods and pleasures for the sake of others.  Divine love is charity that moves beyond giving gifts to making sacrifices.

            A letter written to the Roman Emperor Hadrian (AD 117-138) describes this sacrificial love by the church:

The Christians know and trust their God. They placate those who oppress them and make their enemies their friends.  They do good to their enemies.  Their wives are absolutely pure and their daughters are modest.  Their men abstain from unlawful marriages, and all other impurity. If any of them have bondwomen or children, they persuade them to become Christians for the love they have toward them; and when they become so, they call them "brother" without distinction.  They love one another. They rescue the orphan from him who does him violence.  He who has gives ungrudgingly to him that has not.  If they see a stranger, they take him into their dwellings and rejoice over him as over a real brother; for they do not call each other brother after the flesh, but after the Spirit of God.  If any among them is poor and needy, and they do not have food to spare, they fast two or three days that they may supply him with necessary food.  But, the deeds which they do, they do not proclaim to the ears of the multitude, but they take care that no man shall perceive them.  Thus they labor to become righteous.  Truly, this is a new people and there is something divine in them.[9]

            This love that Christians have for others and for each other distinguishes them in the world as followers of Jesus Christ.[10]  Jesus said, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another," (John 13:35).  The mutual love that believers possess is a testimony of the reconciling power of the gospel and of the living presence of the risen Christ.

            Love is one of the most powerful forces in the world.[11]  It is not only a witness to unbelievers as they observe the love of Christ in the church, but it is also a means to minister to people, to enter their lives, and to demonstrate God's love tangibly.  It is a force to change resistant attitudes toward Jesus Christ, his gospel, and his church.  People respond to love.

            Finally, a credible presence is established by the church as it lives in unity.  Unity is living in harmony with one another, in solidarity with the people of God.  It is neither uniformity where all conform, nor unanimity, where all agree.  Unity is to be "one in spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel," (Phil. 1:27).  It is not organizational but spiritual oneness with brothers and sisters in Christ who are vastly diverse.

            The church's credibility as a witness to the gospel is dependent upon its unity as a body of believers.[12]  Jesus prayed for this unity when he asked, "May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me," (John 17:23).  The church's oneness is an apologetic to persuade unbelievers that Jesus is the Son of God since such harmony among human beings is nothing short of a miracle.

            Unity is a choice that has a costly alternative—disunity.  Feuds, politicking, gossip, bickering, back-stabbing and power plays destroy the unity and credibility of the church.  This is the reason why Christians must choose to dwell together in unity, sacrificing personal agendas and social allegiances for the will of God and the mind of Christ.  Since unity is not automatic, believers must "make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace," (Eph. 4:3).

            The church should strive for unity even though it lives with the struggles, tensions and imperfections of sinner-saints.  Despite all its flaws and failures, the church is God's agency to spread the good news, capturing the attention of unbelievers because of its unity—a unity that comes from the presence of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Although the church is not all that it could be, and its fellowship is far from perfect, it remains "the pillar and foundation of the truth," (1 Tim. 3:15).

            The faithful presence of the church in the world is integral to the task of making disciples of all nations.  The church is perceived as a credible witness when it is characterized by integrity, authenticity, reliability, charity and unity, predisposing people to hear the gospel as good news.  The church is called to be the redeemed community that reflects and reveals the Redeemer.

     [1]Charles Van Engen, The Growth of the True Church (Amsterdam: Rodopi Press, 1981), 70
     [2]Aristotle separated ethos into intelligence, character and good will.  Otis M. Walter, Speaking to Inform and Persuade (New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing, 1982), 111-112.
     [3]Jim Peterson, Living Proof (Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress, 1989), 108.
     [4]D. T. Niles, That They May Have Life (New York, NY: Harper and Brothers, 1951), 96.
     [5]Arn and Arn, The Master's Plan for Making Disciples, 50.
     [6]Michael Green, Evangelism through the Local Church (Nashville,: Nelson Publishers, 1992), 268.
     [7]Harvie M. Conn, Evangelism: Doing Justice and Preaching Grace (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1982), 42.
     [8]Bright, 48.
     [9]Quoted from James Hinkle and Tim Woodroof, Among Friends: You Can Help Make Your Church a Warmer Place (Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress, 1989), 61-62.
     [10]Van Engen, The Growth of the True Church, 168.
     [11]Howard G. Hendricks, Say It with Love (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1972), 15-16.
     [12]Van Engen, God's Missionary People, 67-68.