Sharing Christian Faith

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sharing christian faithSharing Christian Faith

Episode 15

Practical Ways for Sharing One’s Faith

Sharing Christian faith isn’t always easy. There are a number of ways to do evangelization. One could participate in a program for preparing individuals to practice evangelization such as Christ-Life or Alpha. It is also possible to go through a training program in order to do “street evangelization” or one-on-one personal evangelization. Even some of the current ministries of healing focus on doing evangelization.

How does sharing your Christian faith work in your life?

However, this presentation is concerned with doing evangelization using the method of personal faith sharing in small groups, which can also be applied to personal relationship based evangelization. Therefore, we need to know what specific content of our personal witness and the method that we use when we are sharing.

For example, several years ago two piolets were flying a commercial plane from somewhere on the east coast to the Minneapolis airport. They flew 150 miles past the airport and were immediately fired. How did this happen? The newspaper reported after the inquiry, that they were joking with one another and messing with their personal computers. They missed the vector, a signal that comes from the airport of destination to the airplane that guides the plane to the right airport. When we do evangelization or faith-sharing in small groups we need to know what approach we use, and what content we should share in order to make this opportunity effective and fruitful for the recipient(s) for whom one is giving their personal witness.

From the viewpoint of sharing one’s faith in a small group, it important to understand that if we are going to share our personal faith we need to personally experience what we believe, live it, and understand what we are about to share. It is also important to be attentive to where the others in the group are coming from. Our first consideration is to try and make sure that we have a balanced understanding of the model of Church within which we will approach the sharing of the Good News of the Gospel. In reflecting on this matter in my own life I did a little study of the models of the Church, a book written by Cardinal Avery Dulles, a well know Jesuit theologian who died several years ago.

I specifically consulted a summary of these models of the Church written by Chris Castaldo in regard to the expanded edition written in  2002. This section of the recording may be a little heavy, so listening to this part several times may be a good idea. Since we are currently moving in the Church from the position of seeing evangelization to be giving a good example only to doing various forms of faith sharing and personally witnessing to the Resurrection of Jesus, we need to consider the various models of viewing the Church, some are more conducive to personal evangelization and faith sharing than others.

The first model, Church as Institution, defines the Church primarily in terms of its visible structures, especially the rights and powers of its officers. It is called a hierarchical form of Church government and emphasizes its nature as a visible and palpable community. As instruments of God’s sacraments, the priesthood opens and shuts the valves of divine grace, and is rooted in the apostolic life passed down by Christ’s disciples. The strength of the institutional model is in its public, visible manifestations of solidarity. It presents a tangible communion of faith. The weakness of this model is that it may become rigid, doctrinaire, and conformist. Cardinal Dulles explains that this model must not be primarily because of its nature; structures are subordinate to persons and life.

The church as Mystical Communion: According to this model, the church consists of faithful men and women who are bound together by their participation in God’s Spirit through the living glorified Christ. The nature of this unity is not institutional but “Spirit-filled”, communal, and personal. The goal of this model is a spiritual or supernatural one. The church aims to lead its members into communion with the divine. It is a communion of persons, primarily interior but also expressed by external bonds of creed, worship, and ecclesiastical fellowship. The bond of unity, in this model, consists of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, through the external bonds are also important.

The Church as Sacrament: This model brings the others closer together, retaining structure while also promoting dynamic spiritual life. Accordingly, the church as a sacrament is a sign and transmitter of God’s grace to the world. As an embodiment of the grace that it signifies, the Church exists as the presence of God to the nations. Another important element of this model highlights and affirms that the sacraments are communal realities and not individual transactions. Nobody baptizes, absolves, or anoints himself. It is unthinkable for the Eucharist to be celebrated in solitude. The reality of grace corresponds to human nature and is relational. A man comes into the world as a member of a family, a race, a people. He comes to maturity through an encounter with others. Sacraments, therefore have a relational nature. They take place in the mutual interaction that invites the people to achieve a spiritual breakthrough that they could not achieve in isolation. A sacrament, therefore, is a socially constituted or communal symbol of the presence of grace coming to fulfillment. This is the strength of this model. The weakness is that it has little warranty in Scripture and in the early tradition of the Church, and could lead to a sterile practice and almost an isolated and narcissistic form of contemplation by a few.

The Church as Herald: The herald model related to the proclamation. The herald model differs from the others in that it makes the ‘word’ primary and the ‘sacrament’ secondary. It sees the Church as gathered and formed by the word of God. The mission of the Church is to proclaim that which it has heard, believed, and been commissioned to proclaim. This model looks upon the Church as a herald—one who received an official message from the commission to pass it on. The heart of this model of Church is the activity of calling its members to renewal and reform. The strength of this model is its emphasis on the message of the gospel and the pursuit of the Great Commission (evangelization). Its weakness is that it can often be devoid of incarnational service (mercy work). This can result in appearing merely as ideas without tangible reality. This is especially obvious when it focuses too exclusively on the witness to the neglect of action. It may become too reluctant to give human effort to establish a better human society in this life.

The Church as Servant: The servant model asserts that the Church should consider itself a part of the total human family, sharing the same concerns as the rest of men. Following in the footsteps of Jesus our Lord, the Suffering Servant. The Church announces the coming of the Kingdom not only in word, through preaching, and proclamation, but more particularly in work, in her ministry of reconciliation, of binding up wounds, suffering service, or healing. The Lord was the man for others, and so must the Church be the community for others. The weakness of the servant model is that it can get so caught up in “this world activity” that is would compromise the biblical deposit of faith which Christians are called to guard. I recall a Sister who was preparing about 20 young enthusiastic college girls for a mission trip. After a great deal of training, she said to them, now we must look at the Christian motivation behind all this, and they said, “what do we need to do that for”?

Integrating the models: Each model offers insights and positive contributions to our understanding of the Church. When the most genuinely biblical qualities are preserved from each model and integrated together, we realize a more balanced vision of the Church. Each of them (the five models) brings out certain and important qualities. The institutional model makes it clear that the Church must be a structured community and it must remain the kind of community Christ founded. Such a community would have to include a pastoral office equipped with authority to preside over the worship of the community as such to prescribe the limits of tolerable dissent, and to represent the community in an official way. The mystical community model is evident that the Church must be united to God by grace and that in the strength of that grace its members must be lovingly united to one another. The sacramental model brings home the idea that the Church in its most visible aspects—especially in its community prayer and worship—be a sign of the continuing vitality of the grace of Christ and for the hope of the redemption that he promises. The proclaiming model points out the necessity for the Church to continue to herald the Gospel and to move men to put their faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. The servant model points up the urgency of making the Church contribute to the transformation of the secular life of man, and of impregnating human society as a whole with the values of the Kingdom of God. The sacramental model is the most comprehensive because of its ease in integrating the best elements in the other four models. The goal here is to experience a balancing integration of all five models in order that various groups, big and small, become communities of disciples of Jesus inspired with a missionary spirit.

Here is a little test:  A number of years ago I participated in an evangelization training program. After three days of class and group discussions, the members of the program were divided up into units of two. We were sent to a local mall and moved in different directions. It was directed by the leaders that we should respectfully approach individuals and attempt to share our personal faith with them; hoping that we learned some things that they taught us in our sessions. I have to admit that I was feeling a bit nervous and hesitant. I was with an older woman who had an outgoing personality. We both entered the section of the mall where there were seats for people to sit around. On one bench there was an older man sitting by himself. In a moment the well-intentioned woman went over to him and sat down beside him. She introduced herself and then launched into a series of questions about his faith. These questions were aimed at his specific denomination and his attendance and participation at church. I could sense that he was a little non-pulsed, after a few moments he turned to her and said, “ Lady, I don’t know you, and you don’t know me, let’s just leave it at that! What model of church was my colleague coming from in her good intention to share her faith?

May We Pray!

Father, we experience a tremendous blessing from you in giving us the gift of you Son, Jesus. In your Word, Father you led your Son Jesus to found the Community of Believers call the Church. This gift to us is a great means for Salvation. It is in ecclesial communities in which we find great love of you and your Son. For those of us praying on the above reflection may we deeply appreciate the abundant graces which you bring about by the work of the Holy Spirit in all our Christian communities, where you are glorified and the name of your Son Jesus is know as our Lord and Savior. Amen.