by Matthew Erickson
There are certain pairs of things that just seem to go together. You know some of them: peanut butter and jelly, salt and pepper, cookies and milk. I’m sure you could name some of your own. In fact, many of these actually seem better together than simply on their own.
Jesus talks about something like this in His earthly ministry. When Jesus was asked what the Greatest Commandment of the Law was, He responded:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. (Matt. 22:37-40)
This is the Greatest Commandment. It is an important summary teaching from Jesus, guiding who we are and the way we live with God and others. In this we are called to demonstrate love for God and others as followers of Jesus.
Later, at the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus speaks another important summary teaching to His disciples. Before returning to the glory of the Father, Jesus says:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matt. 28:18-20)
We often call this statement the Great Commission. It summarizes the outward actions of the Church in relation to others. Specifically, we are to proclaim the love of God in Jesus Christ to all peoples that they might also become followers of Jesus.
Jesus Exemplifies the Two Are Better Together
Proclamation and demonstration were inseparably joined together in Jesus. It was this amazing combination that drew crowds of people to Jesus. In Matthew 4:25, we read that “large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.”
Jews and Gentiles, urban and rural folk, the religious and irreligious were drawn to Jesus. Why? Because Jesus brought together proclamation and demonstration: “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people” (4:23, emphasis mine).
Jesus not only “taught as one who had authority” (7:29) but also, when he healed a man who was paralyzed, inspired praise to God “who had given such authority to man” (9:8). Jesus exemplified the unstoppable witness that two things are better together. Proclamation and demonstration are powerful when combined.
Our Tendency toward Imbalance
One of the greatest challenges we face as Christians related to the topic of evangelism is to move toward an imbalance in proclamation and demonstration. We are tempted to believe that this equal emphasis is only possible for Jesus.
In Matthew’s Gospel, we encounter one of Jesus’ greatest periods of proclamation (Matt. 5-7) and demonstration (Matt. 8-9). Yet it is important to note what happens after this period. In the very last section of Matthew 9 we find Jesus’ well-known statement: “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest fields” (v. 37-38).
The very next words, which begin Matthew 10, are: “Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.” You see, Jesus is sending them out to do the very thing He was doing: the holistic ministry of the kingdom, bringing proclamation and demonstration together for God’s greater glory.
If we want to be Jesus’ people, then we have to live at the intersection of the Great Commandment and the Great Commission, bringing proclamation and demonstration together.
But many times we get it wrong. Our own bent tendencies and the evil one’s attempts steer us toward a lopsided Christian witness, which emphasizes proclamation without demonstration, or demonstration without proclamation. While God can work through this lopsided Christian witness, it is not as effective as it could be. It’s like trying to ride a bike with one pedal – it’s unnecessarily slow work to get anywhere.
More than that, when our witness is out of balance, we diminish both our credibility and power. Christian witness focused only on proclamation of the word loses credibility in a world longing to see our faith demonstrated in love. Likewise, Christian witness consisting only of demonstration of love loses power in a world hungry to hear transforming words of truth.
Because Jesus brought together a dual emphasis on the Great Commandment and the Great Commission, we are called into that sort of life with God, as well.
What Happens When We Get It Right
When we get it right – when we bring together proclamation and demonstration – our Christian witness will be attractive and dangerous.
In his book, The Rise of Christianity, sociologist Rodney Stark charts how early Christians’ responses to two widespread epidemics, in the mid-second century and the mid-third century, played a significant role in the spread of Christianity.
Not only did Christians care for one another, leading to greater survival rates for believers, Christians also cared for non-Christians while the pagan elites fled cities. Stark credits this balanced witness in word and deed within the early Church as one of the key factors that turned public opinion of Christianity from a reject religion of the margins to an accepted religion in the Roman Empire. When the Church’s witness involves both proclamation and demonstration, the good news is clearly seen as both attractive and transformative.
So, if we want powerful and credible evangelism, then we need to bring together the two aspects of witness found in the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. Looking to Jesus and relying upon the power of the Holy Spirit, we need to move away from lopsided Christianity. We need to bring together word and deed – proclamation and demonstration – so that good news of the kingdom might really move forth into our world. Some things are just better together.