Sounds a little goofy, does it? And since it does, you can’t wait for the explanation! So I’ll explain.
We (the Cartwright family) were stationed in Berlin, Germany from 1984 – 1987. It so happens that one of the most famous streets in the world is in the center of the city – the Kurfürstendamm. The street takes its name from the former Kurfürsten (prince-electors) of Brandenburg. This very broad, long boulevard can be considered the Champs-Élysées of Berlin — full of shops, houses, hotels and restaurants.
On one side of the Ku’Damm, there was a small Mövenpick ice cream stand, covered by a bright awning that stretched over the sidewalk and extended all the way to the ground on the street side, making a small tunnel. If you sat on the other side of the street you could watch people enter on one side of the tunnel and exit at the other end. What seemed surprising at first was watching nearly every single person entering emerge from the other end eating an ice cream cone! If however you crossed the street the delicious warm scent of waffle cones being made would fill the air and assault your senses, and it was immediately clear why so many who disappeared under the awning reappeared with delicious ice cream cones! The smell was irresistible!
What does that have to do with evangelism? I’d like to share that with you also.
It seems to me that the picture I described of the Mövenpick ice cream stand describes much if not most of today’s approach to Christian evangelism. We seem to think that if you present something so irresistible and tempting to the non-believers who enter the church doors, they will exit as believers, or at least most of them will, if not during the first visit, at some point later on as they keep coming back for another delicious ‘ice cream cone’. But is that what evangelism should look like –our little ice cream stand?
There is a passage of scripture that gives me pause and makes me think about that question:
“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” – 2 Corinthians 2:14-16
Those three verses tell me that evangelism is not like the ice cream stand that emits an irresistible aroma to everyone who gets close. While we would all agree that we believers living out our faith and spreading the message of the gospel carry the aroma of Christ, our passage tells us that the aroma of Christ is only welcomed by those who are ‘being saved’, or those whose hearts have been already been opened to hear our message. To the rest, those who are perishing, the gospel is offensive, smelling of death.
The message of the gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing, the Apostle Paul Paul informs us (See 1 Cor 1:18). Unless God has initiated a “Lydia” event (He opened her heart to hear the gospel [see Acts 16]), the gospel ‘stinks’ to those exposed to it, and rather than enter the awning over the ice scream stand, they will cross the street as if there was an open sewer ahead instead of fresh delicious waffle cones being made.
So what does that mean in terms of evangelism? The majority view in today’s evangelical climate seems to be engineering the ‘smell of freshly made waffle cones’ to lure the lost into the church. Offer Starbucks, theater seats with cup holders, music that sounds like their favorite band, light shows and smoke now and again. Some have even brought the circus onto the ‘stage’. Is that how Christ built the early church, and if not, how was did he build his church?
For the answer, you only need to read the book of Acts, not just the story of Lydia in Chapter 16. There was the preaching of a simple, pure gospel message, preceded by the divine opening of human hearts. 2,000 years later nothing has really changed except for the ‘toys’ we have to play with. Therefore, our evangelism, at its core, should be as simple and pure as that of Paul and the Apostles.
As we go about our normal day to day lives we need to be praying that God open hearts to hear and receive the message, and we must be willing to share the simple message that we have a terrible problem with sin, and Christ died for our sin. To those with God opened hearts, the aroma of Christ will be the delight of their senses, and they will end up at the Cross!
Think about it.