Exhorting to Frustration

I want to do auto mechanics.  I yearn to be able to pop the hood and know what I’m looking at. I want to get under the car on a mechanic’s creeper and say, “Hand me that ¾ inch wrench,” and really know where to use it.  Do you think all the exhortation in the world is going to enable me to become an auto mechanic?


So why do we think we can exhort people to “do” evangelism?  We’re exhorting them right out of their vocation and right into frustration, pain, and hopelessness.  I broke a sparkplug off in a 1973 Nova; that was a fun trip to the auto mechanics rivaled only by the time I couldn’t change the battery (the battery for crying out loud) in my 1995 van and had to have it towed!  I would be better served financially and emotionally if someone exhorted me to remain in my vocation.  St. Paul does.


Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:17 -24:  17Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. 18Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. 19Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. 20Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him. 21Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. 22For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord’s freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ’s slave. 23You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. 24Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to.”


We know better than St. Paul in Epiphany.  Epiphany is evangelism season in the Church.  Time to make fishers of men.  Time to exhort people to fulfill the commission that is not so great if you think it requires you to evangelize, preach, teach, and baptize everyone you meet.  This Epiphany ritual seems to me to be more of a persecuting of the people of God than Antiochus IV Epiphanes ever did as the following story illustrates.


Like most vicars, I was given the task of cold-calling on all who visited our congregation. Being newly married, I brought my wife along.  On the way up to ring the first doorbell, she says to me, “I should tell you that the last time I tried to make an evangelism call I threw up on the front porch of the house we were visiting.”  There are lots of people like this.  How do such people hear exhortations to evangelize? The same way I hear exhortations to mechanize.


Our Confessions don’t do this.  They learned from St. Anthony, the namesake of this blog. Apology XXVII: 38 has this story: “It is written that when Anthony asked God to show him what progress he was making in this kind of life, a certain shoemaker in the city of Alexandria was indicated to him in a dream to whom he should be compared. The next day Anthony came into the city, and went to the shoemaker in order to ascertain his exercises and gifts, and, having conversed with the man, heard nothing except that early in the morning he prayed in a few words for the entire state, and then attended to his trade. Here Anthony learned that justification is not to be ascribed to the kind of life which he had entered.”


Epiphany is the season where we are to shine the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ on our people.  Shining the Light on them, they reflect it even as a road sign doesn’t generate its own light but reflects the light from car headlights.  Exhorting them to shine is like exhorting me to fix my car lights.  I have tried that too.  I ended up with less light, and we do too. 

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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