Saturday, 11 October 2014

Engagement in the Public Square


As a former Modern Studies teacher I was fascinated by the conduct of the Referendum campaign in my own West Highland locality.  I was particularly impressed by the latter stages of the campaign which drew in many citizens who had never engaged with politics before.

The political campaigning in both scale and quality was unlike anything ever witnessed in local or general elections.   Both sides of the debate took their message to the streets and the public square, engaging the town’s citizens with their side of the argument.

For me the final weeks of the campaign were exhilarating. There was a palpable sense of excitement in the community: people seemed to be enjoying the ‘cut and thrust’ of the debates and discussions which were being conducted in a civilised spirit of maturity and good humour.  The ‘YES’ campaign in particular brought the elements of colour, creativity, culture, enthusiasm and a sense of great excitement to the wider community as it made excellent use of the town’s public square, streets, buildings and  vehicles to engage the town’s citizens with their message.

In the end, 62% of the voters in my locality voted ‘YES’ on September 18.

As the dust settles on the Referendum, political commentators and analysts from around the world have been unanimous in their praise for the levels of engagement by ordinary citizens and the civilised manner that the campaign was conducted at grass roots level.

As a born again believer, I was hugely engaged with the Referendum campaign. However,  the messages of the ‘YES’ and ‘Better Together’ pale into insignificance compared to the greatest message in history ……the Gospel of Christ.

Christians have a clear mandate from Jesus Christ himself to take His message of salvation to their own community. The Bible describes this responsibility as ‘The Great Commission, and it is the responsibility of every born again believer to be actively engaged in this enterprise….there are to be no bystanders and no excuses!!

So why is it that the church in 21st century Scotland, is failing to carry out the Great Commission effectively? Perhaps Christians could learn from the Referendum. Both sides of the campaign experienced success because they engaged with ordinary citizens, face-to-face in the streets, on the doorstep, in the public square, and through social media. The key here is ENGAGEMENT. You can’t make disciples by talking to yourself !

This is not a new message…It’s how the church began    

In ‘The Story of Christianity, vol. 1, Justo Gonzales writes, “the enormous numerical growth of the church in its first centuries leads us to the question of what methods it used to achieve such growth. The answer may surprise some modern Christians, for the ancient church knew nothing of ‘evangelistic services’ or ‘revivals’……………….. evangelism did not take place in church services, but rather, as Celsus said, in kitchens, shops, and markets. A few famous teachers, such as Justin and Origen, held debates in their schools, and thus won some converts among the intelligentsia. But the fact remains that most converts were made by anonymous Christians whose witness led others to their faith. The most dramatic form taken by such witness was obviously that of suffering unto death, and it is for this reason that the word “martyr,” which originally meant “witness,” took on the meaning that it has for us.”

Perhaps it’s time for our evangelical churches to honestly commit themselves to evangelism; plan for the perpetual evangelisation of their communities; train their members in how to share their faith, and for evangelical leaders to move out of their privileged comfort zones ‘step up to the plate’, and begin to motivate, organise and lead their members out into the public square.   
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