“Just as the whole economy of salvation has its center in Christ, so too all missionary activity is directed to the proclamation of his mystery.” (JPII - Redemptoris Missio, 44)
In its simplest form evangelization is sharing your faith with another person either explicitly in speech or implicitly in how we live out our faith. Another simple definition of evangelization comes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It says evangelization is, “The proclamation of Christ and his Gospel by word and the testimony of life, in fulfillment of Christ’s command.” (CCC, 905). While simple to understand at face-value, once we begin to unpack the definition we will find that there is more to it than what appears on the surface.
However, before we get into the different aspects of evangelization it is important to remember that in many ways we can make evangelization too complex. With this complexity comes inaction all too often. Jesus kept it very simple. He called his followers to heed his words and to follow his example. This example included evangelizing others and calling them to radical conversion which leads to following Jesus by word and deed.
This formula of evangelistic discipleship and helping others do the same is evangelization in its simplest form – WITNESS + PROCLAMATION = EVANGELIZATION. Yet, the Church’s understanding of evangelization also maintains a complex dimension. If we are to fully grasp these complexities and implement them, we must be firmly grounded in the simplicity of the Gospel first and foremost.
Many years ago I had an exchange with a very well-educated Reformed Protestant. We had a long history of exchanging apologetic arguments back-and-forth without either of us giving much, if any, ground. During one of our discussions he asked me how I understood the Gospel and he challenged me to tell him what it was. After a deep breath and a shrug of my shoulders, I started to impart to him a theological treatise that would bore St. Thomas Aquinas. After I was done with my presentation of pride and wind I waited for his gratitude to come spilling out in order to stroke my ego one more time. That isn’t quite what happened.
He asked why I thought the gospel was so complex. He then asked how I would be able to proclaim the good news to “all the nations” with such a long-winded and confusing presentation on the need for Jesus, which all of us have. He also questioned how I would be able to bring a simple uneducated person who may live a very modest life to faith in Jesus if it took several college degrees to understand what I was saying.
At the time, his challenge didn’t do much to change my mind, because I was too proud to see God working through my “adversary.” Over time, though, I was found that he was correct to challenge me. I was presenting the need for Jesus in a much too complex manner. There is a great need to present to the gospel message in a simple fashion. While the depths of Christianity and the understanding of Christ and his Gospel can be infinitely deep, we must not plumb those depths at the beginning of our evangelical efforts or we risk leaving many people behind who are not able to understand all of what we are saying. There can be a failure to understand that the gospel is a message of God becoming man, he lived in time and space, and he died and rose from the dead in order to draw us to his Father. As St. Paul tells Timothy, “This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” (1 Tim 1:15)
May we not fail to keep this simple message of faith at the front of our minds. The great commission is a call to all of us to heed the call to evangelize:
“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matt 28:18-20)