Social Action and Evangelism

What is the relationship of godliness to evangelism?

Mention the words ‘social action’ and ‘evangelism’ and you’re likely to generate a discussion. Usually the discussion generates a whole load of heat and not a whole load of light. And so it was with huge appreciation that I read Tony Payne’s efforts to provide illumination! [Social Involvement and Evangelism: How They Relate, Tim Chester and Tony Payne, Briefing #317, February 2005]

He argues that ‘social action’ is really a subset of Christian living. And so to understand the relationship between social action and evangelism he simply replaces the word ‘social action’ with ‘godliness’. Do that and the following six assertions follow.

1. Godliness isn’t the same thing as evangelism

We should be godly and we should be evangelistic. But they’re not the same thing. They are related but different. And therefore we can distinguish between them. In the same way we can distinguish between social action and evangelism.

2. Godliness isn’t a competitor to evangelism

We’d never say ‘I can’t do godliness today because I’m too busy doing evangelism’. It’s not either or. It’s both and. We pursue godliness and evangelistic opportunities. And as we pursue evangelistic opportunities we don’t neglect the activity of godliness. In the same way we mustn’t pit social action against evangelism and put either of them at the bottom of the agenda.

3. Godliness isn’t an optional extra in evangelism

Godliness is not something that we can choose to ditch. It commends our evangelism and reinforces it because godliness is what the gospel produces in us. In the same way social action will adorn and commend the gospel.

4. Godliness isn’t a tactic to lead to evangelism

Godliness may open up some opportunities for evangelism. But that’s not why we do it. We do both because we’re supposed to Godliness is not a means to an end. It’s the end. It may attract people to the gospel, or it may not. People may love us for our godliness or they may hate us. In the same way social action isn’t a tactic to get a foot in the door.

5. Godliness isn’t earning the right for evangelism

We don’t do godliness because without it we don’t have the right to evangelise. We don’t need permission to preach the gospel. In the same way social action is not the permission we need to enter a community with the gospel.

6. Godliness isn’t the silver bullet for evangelism

Godliness isn’t the key that unlocks people’s minds and makes them receptive to the gospel. It may influence them, or it may not. It may influence them for good, or it may not. People need their eyes opened so that they can see the truth. Godliness doesn’t do that. God does.

When you put it like that, it’s helpful. Isn’t it?

In the same way social action isn’t the magic ingredient to help people suddenly understand the gospel.

4 thoughts on “Social Action and Evangelism

  1. Phil C January 12, 2010 / 5:39 pm

    We’re studying 1 Thessalonians in Knowing God groups this term. I think the first study (on 1:1-10) is quite relevant to this!

    The Thessalonians heard the gospel, and their lives were transformed – which in turn had an impact on how people reacted to the gospel.

  2. Tom Stanbury January 13, 2010 / 6:15 pm

    I have found Philippians 2 v12-13 helpful when thinking through this subject. As in need to be purposeful in both evangelism and godliness which is working out my salvation. And we all know the section before these verses is for our attitude to be that of Christs.

    In my experience sometimes godliness can be individualistic rather than collective. So becomes about ‘my progress’ which obviously is selfish ambition and vain conceit.
    So as with evangelism we do godliness together.

    Also I have incorrectly thought godliness is what I have avoided in respect of sin.
    EG. confession in church, my thoughts usually to turn to sins committed rather than good works omitted.

    I’ll be honest I don’t like the word godliness. It is quite an ugly sounding word. When the reality isn’t ugly.

  3. Lauri January 14, 2010 / 10:50 am

    I have a question Perks. Is evangelism a part of godliness?

    What do you think of the vocabulary of witness?

    What do you make of the mission statement of a local church that would look like this:

    The “local church is to look like Jesus, it must do what He did. Namely, it must declare the good news of the Kingdom of God—Christ’s healing of the entire cosmos—in both word and deed (Luke 4:18-21; 4:43; 7:18-23; 9:1-2; 10:1-9; Acts 1:1; 2:22)”

    Taken from here: http://www.chalmers.org/about/vision_mission.php

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