From Rev Andrew Smith
Presbytery Minister - Congregation Futures
Given our various experiences and opinions about mission and evangelism, I’m using this article space over a few weeks to draw on (what I hope will be for you) helpful insights into evangelism by Rev’d Dr Matthew Anstey of the Anglican Church in Adelaide. These insights are taken from a sermon by Matthew based on the text of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8:26-40.
Last week I highlighted the point that this text shows evangelism that respects the integrity of the eunuch. Some people have experienced evangelism that they might even describe as violent. This could be violence in terms of manipulating a person, having motivations that are not in the best interests of the person, or even worse. There are many points in the account of Philip and the eunuch that show this whole evangelism encounter as being conducted on the terms of the eunuch, for example: it is at the eunuch’s invitation that Philip gets into the chariot; it’s in response to questions by the eunuch; it is baptism at the request of the eunuch. By being on the terms of the eunuch, it is evangelism that respects his integrity.
It is also evangelism that is soaked in trust. Philip trusts the angel of the Lord and the Spirit enough to get up and go to some random wilderness road, and then to go over to this chariot and join it. The Spirit trusts Philip to listen to and wait upon the Spirit and the eunuch. The eunuch trusts Philip enough to invite him into the chariot and to ask him questions. There is no anxiety in the story. Matthew comments: “It is mission premised on the massive priorness of God’s love and grace toward us”. It shows a trust in God to create the opportunities that might be as brief as this shared journey for a while in the wilderness.
The trust and absence of anxiety is seen again in the story when in verse 36 the eunuch says: “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptised?” The only one to prevent his baptism is Philip. The eunuch trusts Philip with this calling and urging to be baptised, and Philip trust the authenticity of the eunuch’s request.
The trust here is made all the more obvious when we take into account the missing verse 37. There is no verse 37 in the earliest and most reliable manuscripts. Later ancient authorities add all or most of verse 37: “And Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may’. And he replied, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God’”. This later addition may be the result of the later church being anxious about when baptism might be properly administered, and exerting some control and conditions for being baptised – some formulation of the right ideas that must be in the mind of a baptism candidate. Without verse 37 we are left in wonder at the trust between the eunuch, Philip and the Spirit that this baptism happens.
In our thoughts about mission and evangelism we can be anxious about the who, the where and the how as we consider who is unchurched, de-churched or not yet churched. Yet in this story, Philip knew nothing at all about the eunuch. Rather, he is pictured as being attentive and responsive to God’s Spirit leading him to join the eunuch on his journey, being ready to witness to Jesus and to be a midwife to newborn baptisimal faith.
May we be attentive and responsive to God’s Spirit, using the practices at our fingertips for listening to discern the Spirit’s leading.
May we be trusting and trustworthy in our evangelism.