There is a world of men and women of which the Bible tells us three things: First, they are lost (Luke 19:10; 2 Corinthians 4:3), the children of the devil (John 8:44; 1 John 3:10), and if they die without Christ, they will spend eternity in Hell (John 3:18; Revelation 20:12-15; 21:8 ). Second, God loves the world of men so much that He sent His Son into the world (John 3:16) to seek and to save the lost (Matthew 18:11); to bear witness to the truth (John 18:37); and to give His life as a ransom for sin (Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45; John 10:15-17; 1 Timothy 2:6; 1 John 3:16). Third, God has commanded His people in the New Testament age to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18–20; Mark16:15; Luke 24:46–49; John 20:21-23; Acts 1:8 ). To summarize: people are lost, God loves them, Jesus died for them, and God has sent His people to evangelize them. Fred Moritz said, “New Testament Christianity exhibits a biblical spirit in the work of evangelism. Christians should love the lost, and they should preach, witness, and work with the conviction that hell is real and that people without Christ face its eternal punishment.”
The way that God has ordained for disciples to be made is through evangelism—and there is no other way. In order to properly practice evangelism, study must be made of all that the Bible teaches concerning it. This paper will take A Biblical Perspective on Evangelism by examining first, the authority for evangelism, then surveying the theology of evangelism, and finally detail-ing a philosophy of evangelism.
The major assumption of this paper is that the Bible provides both the message (the gospel) and the method (preaching) of evangelism. The only vehicle by which the gospel is to be proclaimed to the lost is by the Word of God in words the lost one understands (limited linguistic contextualization).
Definition of Evangelism
All men worship. Evangelism is a call to men to worship the only proper and true object of worship—God, through His Son, Jesus Christ. “Worship is primarily the offering of our total selves to God—our intellects, our feelings, our attitudes, and our possessions . . . There is no possibility of the church’s being Christian without worship.” The Bible is clear that “the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24) So the primary purpose of a church is to worship God in a spiritual way and in accordance with truth. Evangelism is God’s people’s part in reconciling the lost to God so they can worship Him too. (God’s part is in drawing, convicting, imparting faith, and regenerating the one who believes.)
The root word for evangelism is the word “gospel” which means simply “good news”. As it is used in the New Testament, the good news is that of Jesus Christ. Paul tells us what the gospel is in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, that is, the death of Jesus Christ for our sins, his burial, and his resurrec-tion. The term “evangelist” (Acts 21:8; Eph. 4:11; 2 Tim. 4:5) means “one that preaches or proc-laims this good news of Jesus Christ to the lost”. So, evangelism is that activity that preaches (proclaims, tells) the good news of Jesus Christ to the lost. It is the lost person’s responsibility to hear and believe. God has done everything possible to save the lost and he has instructed believ-ers to “preach the gospel to every creature”. Additionally, the preaching of the gospel must be done with words. We are informed in 2 Corinthians 5:19 that God has “committed unto us the word of reconciliation”. Words are important and new words mean new ideas. There are several new words that are commonly used in discussing evangelism. To those words we now turn.
Church Growth or Evangelism
One of the more popular new terms is “church growth”. It sounds good, but it is not a biblical term. All Christian doctrine (and the practice that results) must be clearly taught in Scripture. If a teaching is not found in Scripture, it is not Christian. That is not to say that it is wrong or evil; it is just simply not a Christian doctrine or practice. For example, neurosurgery is not taught in the Bible and is not sinful, but it is also not considered a Christian doctrine or practice. Similarly, one cannot invent a practice and then search the Scriptures to find out if it violates a command or precept. This would allow virtually anything to be called a Christian doctrine or practice. For a doctrine or practice to be Christian, it must be plainly taught in the Word of God. Therefore, any new term (which signals a new doctrine or practice) is immediately suspect.
Instead of church growth, the Bible talks about euaggelion (gospel), the good news of Jesus Christ. Jesus did not say, “Go ye into all the world and grow churches”, he said, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel.” (Mark 16:15) The need for this new term is a signaling of a movement away from the biblical doctrine of evangelism.
Unchurched or Lost
Another popular word is being used in reference to those whom the Bible calls “lost”. The word is “unchurched” and is defined by the Barna Group as, “an adult (18 or older) who has not attended a Christian church service within the past six months, not including a holiday service (such as Easter or Christmas) or a special event at a church (such as a wedding or funeral).” This term is not biblical. If you fill a building with lost people and preach the gospel to them, do you have a church? No, you have a building filled with lost people. A church is something quite different. We are not to call people to church, but to Christ, the only Savior. Again, the reason for this new word is a result of drifting from the biblical terms. When a church’s practice drifts so far from God’s Word that it needs new words to define what it is doing, it has already drifted too far.
Strategy or Ministry
Another word that is often used when discussing evangelism is “strategy”. The biblical word, however, is ministry. Strategy has been substituted for ministry as a result of a focus on market-ing which creates a reliance on scientific data and trend analysis. The idea is to create a strategy for reaching the lost in a certain area.
The only problem with this is that God has already created a strategy for reaching the lost—the ministry of the gospel. The apostle Paul said, “But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:24)
church or Church
One of the more troubling trends is the very negative way that “the church” is written about. Many contemporary authors describe “the church” in very negative terms and blame “the church” for many perceived problems. Some authors even insist that “the church” must change if it is going to survive.
There are several problems with this way of using the term “the church”. First, the Bible uses the word church in two different ways. In The Doctrine and Administration of the Church, Paul R. Jackson writes: “The local church is the major emphasis of the New Testament. The Greek word ekklesia, translated church, is applied to local churches some ninety times, and to the Church which is His Body, about twenty times.” So if the modern writers are complaining of a particular local church (which they are not), they should write to that church. If they are talking about the Church, the Body of Christ, they need to study the Word of God and they will find that God speaks in very high terms about the Body and Bride of Christ. In either case, the modern use of the term “the church” in negative ways is not biblical and therefore, wrong.
Reach or Preach
Much is being written about “reaching” the unchurched or the culture. This reaching is sup-posed to be synonymous with evangelization. So why not use the biblical word “preaching”? Again, a change in terminology signals a change in theology and practice. The reason for the change may be found in the sad fact that for many preaching has taken a lesser place in theology and practice.
In the Lausanne Covenant, in the section entitled, Christian Social Responsibility, it is clear that the authors believe that social action is not evangelism. However, much of what follows just as clearly equates the two. For example they say, “we express penitence both for our neglect and for having sometimes regarded evangelism and social concern as mutually exclusive.” They also “affirm that evangelism and sociopolitical involvement are both part of our Christian duty.” Which is it? Are the two not the same or is it a sin to regard them as separate? It cannot be both. This is an unjustifiable contradiction.
The writer has taken much time and space to refocus attention on the glory of God, instead of the invention of man. All of the above examination and criticism of terms has the purpose of focusing attention on God and His Word. There can be no “strategy to reach the unchurched” (to use church growth terminology) outside of strict obedience to the Scriptures. It is to these Scriptures that we now turn. First a theology of evangelism will be examined and then a philosophy of evangelism will be brought out of that foundation.
Theology of Evangelism
Most properly stated, to the Church (universal) was given the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19–20, Mark16:15, Luke 24:47, Acts 1:8 ). Evangelism is the individual Church member’s obedience to the Great Commission (2 Corinthians 5:18-20) and missions is the responsibility of the local church in carrying out this command of our Lord to go and make disciples of all nations.
Missiology is a branch of systematic theology that examines all that the Bible says on the sub-ject of sending preachers for the purpose of making disciples. Missiology is a sub-doctrine of Ecclesiology, the doctrine of the Church.
In God’s plan and program of the ages (Ephesians 2:7; 3:5, 21; Colossians 1:26), he has estab-lished institutions and called people to do his will and proclaim his message. In the previous dis-pensation, God ordained the nation of Israel be his people and He called certain people as proph-ets to deliver his Word to his people and, sometimes, warn the nations of his judgment. In the current dispensation, “the dispensation of the fullness of times” (Ephesians 1:10), God has es-tablished the Church as an institution of edification and evangelism and called every member to be his witnesses (Acts 1:8 ) and ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). The examination of the doctrine of Missiology falls naturally into the following categories: (1) definition of missions, (2) preparation for missions, (3) commission to the Church, and (4) proclamation of local churches.
Definition of Missions
The word missions is derived from the Latin missio meaning “the act of sending”. It is equiva-lent to the Greek word apostolos from which is the English word apostle, meaning “messenger”. The first missionaries were the apostles who were sent by the Lord Jesus to “go and make dis-ciples”. It must be remembered that missions is simply the organized activity of evangelism.
The concept of missions originates in the plan of God to build his church (Matthew 16:18), by calling out of the world a people for his name (Acts 15:14). God is the One who is “building” and “calling”. God is sovereign over all things and this includes salvation. David Doran believes “the biblical evidence reveals that all the events of life are under God’s sovereign control” and he offers ample Scriptural evidence. God loves the world of men (John 3:16) so much that he sent his Son into it to seek and to save (Luke 19:10) all those who call upon him (Romans 10:13) in faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). God gave his Son and Jesus gave his life in order to redeem men from the curse of sin. This does not mean, however, that he does all the work and his people are to do nothing. The people that God has called out of the world and placed into the Church, the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13, 27; Ephesians 4:12) have been given been given a mission. That mission, popularly called the Great Commission, is outlined in Matthew 28:19–20, Mark16:15, Luke 24:47, and Acts 1:8 and is summarized as “making disciples”.
Preparation for Missions
The Old Testament laid the foundation for missions in the promise of a seed, a Savior, the Messiah, who would destroy the Devil and his works. The key Old Testament passages are: Ge-nesis 3:15, which promises a seed of the woman who will crush the serpent’s head. It should be noted that it was the seed of the woman and not of the man. This foreshadowed the virgin birth in a most remarkable way. Genesis 12:2-3, in which God promises Abram that all the families of the earth would be blessed in him, were blessed by the coming of the son of Abraham (Mat-thew 1:1). 2 Samuel 7:16, which establishes David’s kingdom forever, was fulfilled in Christ, the son of David (Matthew 1:1).
According to Chafer in his Systematic Theology, for Israel “there was no missionary undertak-ing and no gospel proclaimed . . . However, immediately upon her formation, the Church is con-stituted a foreign missionary society.” All of the Old Testament was a preparation of the world for the Lamb of God that would take away the sin of the world (John 1:29). From the opening chapters to the last verses of the Old Testament, the coming One was foretold and foreshadowed. Then, in the fullness of time, God sent his Son (Galatians 4:4) to fulfill the prophecies and train the first missionaries, the apostles.
Commission to the Church
The New Testament brings the promises of God together in the person of Christ. Jesus crushed the serpent’s head through his death for sin and resurrection. Through him all who believe are “accepted in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:6). Our Lord Jesus is the King who will reign on the throne of David forever.
There are four Great Commission texts, they are: Matthew 28:19–20, Mark16:15, Luke 24:47, and Acts 1:8. Each one builds on the previous, adding information. Doran says, “Matthew 28:19–20 does not present to us a definitive process for making disciples . . . The other commis-sion texts make this explicit: “preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15), “that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations” (Luke 24:47), “you shall be My wit-nesses” (Acts 1:8, cf. Luke 24:48), and “you will testify also” (John 15:27).”
Proclamation of Local Churches
The Great Commission (Matthew 28:19–20, Mark16:15, Luke 24:47, Acts 1:8 ) was given by our Lord to the disciples and through them to all who believe in Christ through their word (John 17:20). Properly understood, the Great Commission was given to all who believe, that is, the Church (universal). Local churches seeking to obey our Lord’s command to make disciples of all nations have typically done so through missions.
The question that arises at this point is: How are disciples made? David Doran, in the Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal notes that, “from the perspective of Acts, the Great Commission’s ful-fillment was through the proclamation of the Word.” It is by the preaching of the cross of Chr-ist that disciples are made. The apostle Paul could not have been clearer when he said, “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:1-2). It is only through the foolishness of preaching the Word of God that God has determined to save those who believe (1 Corinthians 1:18-21).
The Old Testament prepared the world for the Savior and, when he came, he trained men to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. The Great Commission was given to the Church and lo-cal churches obey by sending God-called and prepared people to preach the gospel so that people will hear the good news and believe and be saved. Disciples are made in one God-ordained way—the preaching of the Word of God. When believers are obedient to God and evangelize where they are, God will call and equip some to carry his Word to others who need to hear and thus will be fulfilled the Great Commission of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Philosophy of Evangelism
This philosophy of evangelism will begin with an explanation of the preparation process of the individual witness. Then the limitations of evangelism will be discussed. Finally, a proposed moth for personal evangelism will be offered.
Personal consecration is the first step in going to the lost with the gospel of grace. Most impor-tantly, the witness must be consecrated to the Lord. In Romans 12:1-12, the apostle Paul gives instruction on this most important matter. Additionally, in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, he says, “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” In his instructions to Timothy, Paul says, “Nev-ertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to ho-nour, and some to dishonour. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.” (2 Timothy 2:19-21) So, personal consecration begins with the witness’s determination to be conse-crated to the Lord.
Consecration to the task of evangelism is also a necessity. Exodus 28:3 tells us how Aaron was consecrated to his task. Hebrews 7:28 relates that Jesus was and is consecrated for ever to be our High Priest. The disciples, in Acts 1:8 were to be consecrated (set apart) for the work of being witnesses, or evangelism. Christians today must also be consecrated to the task of evangelism (see e.g., 1 Corinthians 12:13 and 1 Peter 2:9-12).
Consecration to the individual is seen in the fact that Jesus was moved with compassion for the multitudes (Matthew 9:36), Paul was dedicated to bring the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 20:18-21), and we are instructed to go to those who need the hope of Jesus Christ (James 1:27).
The next step of preparation, after the witness is personally consecrated to the Lord, to the task, and to those to whom they are going is prayer and intercession. The prerequisites for prayer are: patience (James 5:7-11), purity (1 Peter 3:5-12), and faith (James 5:15). For whom should we pray? The afflicted (James 5:13), the sick (James 5:14), those who are suffering (Hebrews 13:3), pastors (Hebrews 13:7), and other Christian workers (Hebrews 13:18; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2). We must also pray that the Word would be effective in saving souls (Ephesians 6:18-19; Colossians 4:2-4), and that God’s will would be accomplished in the salvation of souls (2 Peter 3:9b; 1 Timothy 2:4). How Should We Pray? Effectually (i.e., with purpose) (James 5:16a), fervently (i.e., with energy, Greek, energeo) (James 5:16b), earnestly (James 5:17), and importunately (do not stop praying) (Luke 11:1-13; 18:1-8).
By “limitations” is meant that evangelism is not just any activity. It is a very specific, or limited activity. The following is proposed for a working definition of personal evangelism: “The Spirit-led, person-to-person communication of the Gospel by one or more Christians in such a way or ways that the individual recipient has a valid opportunity to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Sa-vior and become a responsible member of the church.” Examination of this definition will now be made.
First, any evangelism must be Spirit-led, not man-led. Acts 1:8 says, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” Any evangelism that the disciples would do, must take place after the Holy Spirit empowered them for it. In John 16:7-11 Jesus tells the disciples that it is the Holy Spirit that will do the work of convicting men of sin. In 1 Corinthians 3:3-7, Paul reminds the Corinthians that although men had done the evangelistic work among them, it was God who saved them.
Second, evangelism should be done person-to-person. God could save people without using people, but he chose to use people to reach people. For example, God used Philip to lead the Ethiopian eunuch to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.(Acts 8:26-40).
Communication is the means by which transmission of the good news takes place between people. This must be speech that is understood by the hearer (Mark 16:15) so that disciples are made (Matthew 28:19). What is communicated? The gospel—only. Romans 1:16 says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” Only the gospel has the power to save souls, not acts of kindness, not social or political activity, only the gospel of Jesus Christ. Some have a problem with the simplicity of God’s method of preaching the gospel only. However, Paul an-swers this criticism by saying that “the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). In other words, it may seem foolish, but Christians understand that the gospel is the power of God.
It should be needless to point out that non-Christians do not evangelize. God has given the re-sponsibility of evangelism to Christians. Also, evangelism must be an individual effort to invite individual souls to faith in the Savior. This leads to a most important point. This individual effort must be within the bounds of a valid opportunity. The witness must exercise the wisdom of God in order to recognize valid opportunities. Too many have been turned away from a saving know-ledge of Christ by overzealous, immature, and even carnal preachers.
Recognizing a valid opportunity is the first part of approaching and individual, the second part is ensuring that the gospel is understood. Generalized truth leads only to an intellectual assent. Realized truth leads to belief in the facts of the gospel. But personalized truth allows the individ-ual to accept Lord Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
Evangelism does not end with the new believer accepting Christ. In order to make disciples (in obedience to the Great Commission), the new Christian must be made a responsible member of a local church. This includes baptism and instruction in all that the Lord commands (Matthew 28:19-21; Acts 2:37-41)
This is God’s method of personal evangelism. The preaching of the cross of Christ to people so they will understand and accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and service him out of a local body of believers.
Evangelism must be theocentric, not anthropocentric. New terms that are brought into the dis-cussion on evangelism signal a departure from the Scriptures. New terms are not needed, neither are new methods. Absolute faith in God and obedience to His Word will produce the salvation of souls.