Belonging, Believing and the Word

Posted on March 20, 2013 by


TullyCastleAs most of you know, St. Patrick’s Day was this past Sunday, and many of you celebrated by wearing green or getting a Notre Dame fighting Irishman tattoo on your calf like I did- just kidding.  My only impression of St. Patrick was something about driving the snakes out of Ireland, which is a strange thing to be remembered for!

Several years ago I had the great joy of reading two books that featured St. Patrick and the impact he had on Ireland and Western Civilization, although neither one mentioned him in the title.  As a person of Irish descent, I was thrilled to know more about this great saint; as a Christian leader who desires to see the Gospel impact the world I was challenged to see how he went about it so effectively!

With your kind indulgence I would like to share one thought from each book as an encouragement to you as you seek to impact the world for Jesus Christ.

In the first book, The Celtic Way of Evangelism, by George Hunter, we see some great biographical background on St. Patrick and his missionary call to take the Gospel to the very barbarians who kidnapped him into slavery in Ireland as a young man in the 5th Century.  We also see how he went about evangelizing the country by establishing worshiping communities that focused on welcoming strangers and travelers into their community and assimilating them into the community’s life and worship.  This is different than the contrasting Roman view of evangelism that we have adopted in the West, which Hunter characterizes as these 3 steps:

  1. Presentation
  2. Ask for a Decision
  3. Invite into Fellowship

In St. Patrick’s country the order looked like this:

  1. Fellowship
  2. Minister to them and engage in Conversation
  3. Invitation to Belief and Commitment

I am at YL’s Rockbridge Alum Springs today, joining with fellow staff in planning for our summer assignments at YL camps this summer.  It occurs to me that what we do in Young Life (and especially at camp) more closely resembles the Celtic way!  Hunter says that they invited people to BELONG before they invited them to BELIEVE.

The question for us as leaders who want to share the Gospel with lost people is: Are we creating a welcoming community of people who help meet the needs of people long before we proclaim the Gospel to them?  Kids come to know Christ well at camp because they see the Gospel long before they ever hear it!

In his book, How the Irish Saved Civilization, Thomas Cahill notes that these worshiping communities had and amazing commitment to God’s Word.  Scribes spent their lives not only making beautiful copies of God’s word, the also illustrated it with some of the most beautiful art you’ve ever seen!

Barb and I had the privilege of being in Dublin several years ago and saw the Book of Kells on display at Trinity University.  Each day visitors would line up to see one page of Scripture and the artwork accompanying it.  If you google The Book of Kells, you can see some of this amazing artwork. But these monks and scribes not only copied the Scriptures, they also copied many of the great works of the Greco Roman world-  works of philosophy, history and poetry.  And when the Germanic and Nordic hordes destroyed the great libraries of Europe, these copies of the works of Cicero, Aristotle and others were the only ones left.

This commitment to Scripture and other great literature is challenging to me as well and it begs the question, Is my commitment to Scripture as strong as these great saints?  The world is only changed when believers take the Word of God seriously and proclaim it to a lost world.

Visitors to Ireland often remark about the great hospitality of the Irish people.  They owe a debt of gratitude to St. Patrick for the welcoming and worshiping communities he founded 15 centuries ago. We who are desirous to be used of God to impact His creation owe a similar debt to St. Patrick for his love of God’s Word and desire to share it with strangers and fellow travelers.