What Is Evangelism?

(This is from the last section in the book I am writing on Baptist theology and practice.)

One of the major purposes we are left on this planet after being raised from spiritual death is to Evangeltake the gospel to every nation, tongue, and tribe; being evangelists and ambassadors of reconciliation. We need to clarify what evangelism is and will begin by identifying a couple of popular practices that are not biblical evangelism. First is the notion that inviting lost people to church is evangelism. This reflects the false notion that evangelism is for the “professionals” and it also lets those who are ashamed of or disinterested in Christ Jesus off the hook of being familiar with His message. 1 Corinthians 14:23-25 shows that unbelievers are welcome but not the focus or even normal attendees in the regular worship of the local church. Ephesians 4 teaches that the local church is to be equipped so the sheep will not be tossed about by the wiles of men. Contrary to the idea of inviting lost people to church, YHWH tells us, So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. (Hebrews 13:12-13). By this, God means we are to go therefore and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19); making disciples of those that have answered the call. About that, more later.

Secondly, many church leaders put emphasis on the personal testimony of those witnessing, rather than making sure they can communicate the gospel. Some even acknowledging that the reason for doing so is because no one can argue with your personal testimony, as it is subjective, whereas the gospel is objective and demands a response. They might argue about the content and the demand of the gospel, but not about what God did for you. This is post-modern thinking and goes directly against the biblical instruction we have as ambassadors of our Lord and Savior (2 Corinthians 5:16-21).

The essential element in all evangelism is proclaiming the biblical gospel (this was covered in some detail in Chapter 8). By doing so, we take the pressure of our performance and insure we don’t contribute to false converts, and we also get confidence in the Word and Spirit of God as we see them do the work that only they can do. Being familiar with the Scriptures will embolden us as we see YHWH has gone before us preparing the soil for the seeds we sow, insuring a good return for His kingdom; see Mark 4:1-9 and:

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven

and do not return there but water the earth,

making it bring forth and sprout,

giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;

it shall not return to me empty,

but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,

and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

(Isaiah 55:10 & 11)

It is His Word, sent out as He intended, that will not return void, not the 3 minute summary of our personal testimony or a twisted version that He has not commissioned.

As we go about faithfully proclaiming our Lord’s message, we would do well to bear in mind that there are two calls involved in evangelism: we give a general call to every creature (Mark 16:15) and God gives an effective call to His elect (John 6:44). Our call is universal, general, and outward, as we do not know who He has chosen to save. His call is specific, effectual, and internal, as He alone knows those chosen before time to be His adopted children (Ephesians 1:3-10) and He will give ears to hear to His elect. We see this graphically portrayed in Scripture in several places, including the scene wherein Paul and Barnabas had been preaching Pisidia and gained the attention of many people.

The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying,

“‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles,

that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region. But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. But they shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 13:44-52)

The message preached is found in verses 16 – 41. Gentiles and Jews heard the same general call, bringing them the good news that what God had promised to the Fathers He had fulfilled by raising Jesus from the dead. The seed fell on some rocky and thorny soil, but it fell on some good soil that had been prepared in advance by the good husbandman (John 15:1). As we see in the well-known road to Emmaus scene, it is YHWH Who keeps them from seeing or understanding until the right time (Luke 24:15 & 16; 30 & 31).

Jesus gave this general call in Matthew 11:28 and John 7:37, as people without respect to their persons were called to come to Him and find rest, to come to Him and satisfy their thirst. This is also the context of Peter’s sermon recorded in Acts 2, as men from myriad countries and religious beliefs (verses 9-11) were called to repent and be baptized (as a sign of their belief). The problem with this call is the same problem the Jews had with their Law: neither one can save or enable the hearer to be saved. People can claim to obey the law (Luke 18:18-23) and they can ignore or refute the words of men (Luke 14:15-24).

The general and effectual calls are likewise revealed to us explicitly in Acts 16, wherein we see Paul, Timothy, and Silas making a journey which finds them in Philippi where they stayed for a while. And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us. (verses 13 – 15) A good number of women who were somewhat aware of God had gathered at the river and all had heard Paul’s gospel message as the general call went out without restriction. At least this one had her heart opened by YHWH so that she heard the effectual call and was obedient to follow in believer’s baptism.

There are some who think the Law ought to be a part of the gospel, as people need to be convicted of their sin before they can see the need of grace. The law provokes us and reveals sin in us, but cannot grant eternal life. John Bunyan is thought to have written this little poem, showing us with memorable lines the difference between the Law and the Gospel:

Run, John, Run! The Law commands;

But gives me neither feet nor hands.

Far grander news the gospel brings;

It bids me fly and GIVES ME WINGS!

Our Savior has said something similar, in Paul’s Roman epistle: For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:3 & 4)

The gospel is the good news of what Jesus has done to save sinners; refer to the Biblical Gospel in chapter 8. Our focus must be on that message, not 4 spiritual laws or any other nifty scheme man may have invented to make witnessing easy. We are not called to a life of ease; we are called to obedience. We are ambassadors of His message of reconciliation, not a one-off message of our own making. While the Law may rightly be used to show a self-righteous religious man his sin; it is not part of the gospel that every spiritually dead person must hear. Seeing the holiness of God in Christ, even in part, will do more to crush self-righteousness (as in the opening scene in Isaiah 6) than all the heavy yoke of the Law can bring to bear for the one who is being called to new life by the Spirit of the living God.

Much of the activity in a local church under the flag of evangelism takes place in what are called revivals. This is a logical progression under the previously mentioned idea that evangelism is bringing lost people to church. It appears that there is a belief that a specially called meeting with an out-of-town preacher will create an environment for sinners to be saved. I cannot commend revival meetings because I do not find them revealed or recommended in Scripture; I do not find them practiced by the early church; they presume man can schedule the work of the Holy Spirit; they rely on someone other than the shepherd of the local flock to feed them; and they influence many to chase numbers rather than spiritual growth. A century ago, a brother sounded a warning to the church regarding this practice:

The modem “revival,” the work of the “revivalist” who comes under the title of an evangelist, but works as a religious promoter in the organized church, is unexpected in Scripture, except as the word “revival” is used to denote a forward movement in the spiritual life of the church, without including the idea of attempting to regain some spiritual position once held, but now lost. The use of the word usually means, however, a getting up after having fallen down, or a waking after sleeping, or a coming to strength after a period of weakness; while, on the other hand, the Scripture pre-supposes a continual erect, wakeful and aggressive position for service on the part of every Christian (Eph. vi. 10-17). Thus, it may be seen, a “revival” is abnormal rather than normal. It may have a function when needed, but in no way should become a habit, much less a sanctioned method of work. Having regained vitality, believers are not warranted in habitually returning to an anaemic state. … The fact that a “revival” is planned for is a confession on the part of a church of a condition which would render the normal movements of the Spirit in salvation impossible. The call for the evangelist, under those conditions, also reveals the fact that the expectation of the church, to a great extent, is toward the man that is invited, rather than toward the Holy Spirit and His appointed ministry through the church itself. (True Evangelism, Lewis Sperry Chafer, epub, position 38.6 & 40.4, emphasis mine)

Evangelism, like all kingdom work, must be in accordance with the instructions and principles clearly given to us by our God. As discussed in chapters 5 and 6, regarding the nature and use of Scripture, when we use what man has developed to further kingdom work rather than what God has given us, we are betraying a greater trust in man than we have in our Creator. And this should never be the case for people of the Book! God is a jealous God and He will not give His glory to another. There is safety in our standing on and under the Word of God; it is His authority and revelation to us. History aligns with Scripture in bearing this out, as this short extract from an early debate between the reformers and Rome reveals:

Charles Eck had been sent by Rome to Germany to refute what Luther, Melanchthon and others had written in the Augsburg Confession; a document intended to declare essential doctrines and not to be the handmaid or rival to the Word of God. The Duke of Bavaria was the judge. After listening to the reaction to the confession, he asked Rome’s defenders, “can you refute by sound reasons the Confession made by the elector and his allies?” – “With the writings of the apostles and prophets – no!” replied Eck; “but with those of the Fathers and of the councils – yes!” (J.H. Merle D’Aubigne, History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century, Volume IV, page 187, Sprinkle Publications, 2003) As was pointed out in chapter 7 regarding the use of confessions, this peek into history reveals the absurdity of using man’s documents to defend Christian disputes. If we cannot, by sound reason, defend our beliefs and practices by the writings of the apostles and prophets, we have no business expounded them as Christian doctrine or practice.

When man claims to accomplish by the flesh what only God can do, we steal glory from God and He will not allow that to continue. It is His work to raise sinners to life, as He breathed life into Adam, as He gave life to 4-days dead Lazarus by calling him forth. Let us abandon the false hope that we can defer to pastor-man or that we can cause God to respond to our schedule and schemes. His kingdom, His Word, His temple; He is building the New Jerusalem with spiritual stones that He gathers from every nation, tribe, and tongue. We can work with Him or against Him. ‘Tis a far better thing for professing Christians to work with God than in opposition to Him. May it be so with us, as we herald His glorious name throughout the world.

4 thoughts on “What Is Evangelism?

Tell us what you think:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s