BROWNWOOD—Evangelism and ethics both grow out of a vibrant relationship with the God who is love, speakers told participants at the inaugural Currie-Strickland Distinguished Lectures in Christian Ethics at Howard Payne University.
People cannot fully come to know God apart from the Bible, but they cannot really know the Bible apart from God, said David Sapp, pastor of Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church in Atlanta, Ga.
“If God breathed it, how can we possibly understand it apart from knowing him?” Sapp asked.
Proper understanding of Scripture and application of its teachings in daily life require disciples to seek the mind of God, he said. Sapp suggested three themes that help Christians interpret Scripture—love, covenant and conquest of fear.
Love is the key
“Love is key to understanding the mind and heart of God,” he said.
But determining the most loving thing to do in the midst of any circumstance proves difficult, he acknowledged. Consequently, many Christians retreat to a rule-based ethic and treat the Bible as a “moral and ethical encyclopedia” from which they pluck isolated verses—usually ones that reinforce their own opinions and prejudices, he added.
God demonstrated his love through covenant relationships, and covenant serves as an interpretive key for reading Scripture, Sapp noted.
“Without commitment, there is no covenant,” he said. “Covenant commitment is an obligation not just of contract but of relationship.”
Covenant finds its expression in community, Sapp noted. In the Old Testament, God established covenant with Israel as a people, not strictly with individuals. While the New Covenant has more individual expression, he observed, it still offers invitation to enter into a larger community as part of the kingdom of God.
“Sin is social and not just personal,” he said.
The defeat of fear
Much sin grows out of fear, and “defeat of fear is part of the agenda of God,” Sapp said. “Much of our sin has its genesis in fear. Fear is fertile soil for evil.”
Both ethics and evangelism express God’s love, said Richard Jackson, director of the Jackson Center for Evangelism and Encouragement and pastor emeritus of North Phoenix Baptist Church in Phoenix, Ariz.
“Evangelism is born in the heart of a God of love,” Jackson said. From the earliest passage in Genesis and throughout the Bible, Scriptures testify to God’s loving pursuit of spiritually lost men and women.
“Jesus Christ didn’t come to heal the sick, or he would have healed them all. He didn’t come to feed the hungry, or he would have fed them all,” Jackson said. “He came to seek and save the lost. He healed the sick and fed the hungry because of who he is.”
Likewise, Christians today evangelize because Christ gave them that assignment, he said. Christians meet needs and seek justice because of who they are.
“Because Jesus lives in me, I will reach out to help those who are hurting,” he said.
Evangelism and ethics
Evangelism and ethics—“winning people to Jesus and wanting people to act like it”—bring Baptists together, noted Jimmy Allen, former denominational executive and recent coordinator of the New Baptist Covenant celebration in Atlanta.
Allen recalled his experiences as pastor of First Baptist Church in San Antonio, leading a church with a historic commitment to missions and evangelism to recognize ethical challenges and injustices in their own community.
At the downtown San Antonio church, Allen noted, people already possessed the necessary desire. They just needed to be challenged.
“A church will follow the vision of its pastor if the pastor has a passion for it,” he said.
But in some churches, he added, members must be shaken from their complacency and challenged to look beyond the four walls of the church building to see community needs.
“The moribund church never looks outside its windows except to see if the grass is mowed,” he said.
Gary and Molli Elliston of Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas established the Currie-Strickland lectures in honor of David Currie, executive director of Texas Baptists Committed, and in memory of Phil Strickland, longtime director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas’ Christian Life Commission.