Ministry of Evangelism
Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:15,16)
I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. (2 Tim. 4:1,2)
Evangelism is a scary term for some today. Perhaps this is why so many become nervous about evangelism due to misunderstandings of what it entails. Some assume that evangelism involves confrontation and conflict. Unfortunately, this assumption maybe more often true due to experience. A Christian decides it is ready to talk to his or her friend. So, the Christian brings up the subject and before long, the discussion turns ugly and everyone concludes in the end that it is true what the axiom says, "There are two subjects that one should never discuss in public—religion and politics!"
Bob Danklefson of the We Care Campaigns, a personal evangelist, told a story one time that showed how scary evangelism could be. There was a congregation that was having a city-wide campaign. Many people were being converted and it was an exciting time for everyone involved. One young man that was converted like many of the others wanted to be involved in the campaign right after his conversion. The convert and campaign workers were riding down the highway having a discussion on how they might get him involved. The campaigners decided to teach the young man the opening question: "If you died today, would you know without a doubt that you would go to heaven?" While going down the rode, they spotted a man who needed a ride and the campaigners said it was a good a time as ever to start, said, "You pop the question and we will do the rest." After that the team of campaigners reviewed with the new convert what the opening question was. "Remember," the campaigners said, "The question goes like this—‘If you were to die today, would you know without a doubt that you would go to heaven?’" Everyone in the car rehearsed with the new convert on what to say. They picked up the man & introduced everybody in the car. Then, at moment when it seemed right to pop the campaign question, the campaign workers gave the new convert prompting looks to go ahead. The young man got so nervous & forgot the question! He knew he had to say something. So, the new convert whirled around in his seat, looking at the rider with an intense look he blurted out, "ARE YOU READY TO DIE?!" The rider turned white as a sheet and started screaming to let him out. And before it could be explained what was happening, the rider baled out of the car, even before they could get it stopped and he ran for his life! To the chagrin of the campaigners, the man they picked up could not be found after that. Even though they had good intentions, it didn’t turn out like it was planned.
Yes, sometimes evangelism can be scary!
There are reasons why trying to share the Christian message (or a form of it) sometimes can get ugly!
It is a no wonder why evangelism is a scary topic. There are so many ways for evangelism to go wrong. And despite all the confusion for today, it is not all that different from the time of the first century. Much confusion happened during the first 70 years of Christianity and several incidents could be found in the Bible. While he was still alive, Jesus stated that false prophets were going out to spread falsehood about him and his purposes (Matt. 7:15-20). Paul warned the Galatians of those coming to them with other gospels and let the ones who bare such messages to be condemned [almost insinuating, "you let them be condemned but you don’t be condemned with them by believing their lies"].
The Root of Confusion
Much of the confusion is over 3 overall aspects of evangelism: (1) WHAT to present; (2) WHY do it; and (3) HOW to do it. So, if one could become clear on the message to be presented, the message will provide guidance in the methods to be used, the manner in which the message is to be presented and the motive for "evangelism." What is has been forgotten, because of myriads of messages and methods used today, is that true Biblical evangelism done in the first century was simple and more natural by comparison to today’s efforts. It is all the innovations added over the years that have complicated evangelism. It is time to discover once again the pure, simple message of salvation of God as preached by the Apostles in the first century and find the methods that was so successful in the first century. Finding the original message and the methods used long ago assumes that these are universal concepts that are not bound to time or culture. If it is impossible to discover a universal message that appeals to every age and culture, then it becomes necessary to ask if Christianity was meant to be a universal faith itself! Considering since Jesus commanded the disciples to "Go unto all the world" (Mark 16:16-18) and "Make disciples of all nations" (Matt. 28:19), the answer is clear that; (1) there was a standard message at the core of the universal Christian faith; and (2) God intended it to be carried out through out all cultures and ages.
What is the message of salvation anyway?
So, far the word "evangelism" has been used a number of times throughout the comments in this section. The English word "evangelism" comes from the same word in the common Greek used in the first century that the words "good news," "glad tidings," and "Gospel" originate. So, "evangelism" is simply the act of presenting, proclaiming, pronouncing a message that is to be celebrated or received with gladness.
What is the gospel anyway? This word is thrown around these days but is it a word that is understood? One way to find out how an English word is used in the American society is by looking in an English dictionary. Though it is assumed that dictionaries are standards for the English language, the English dictionary is actually an exhaustive and practical study on HOW English words are used in American society through the various means communication existent in the society.
Upon looking up the English word "gospel," one can find how the word is used today. It appears the word "gospel" is used in a wide variety of ways, which reveals the kind of confusion there is today on the subject. One definition for the word "gospel" states that it is "the first four books of the New Testament." Another common definition declares "the gospel" as "the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Apostles." While another definition presents "the gospel" as "anything that is to be taken as absolutely true—i.e. ‘That is gospel truth.’" So, "the gospel" could stand for anything from the life of Christ to some concept so general as an idea that is to be received as a standard by agreement or consensus. And who decides what will be the standard? One’s affiliation? A board of scholars? Individual believers? No wonder there is confusion.
The insinuation is that if one presents any concept appearing "Christian", then, it is expected that the chosen audience would respond in faith and reliance upon the "Christian faith." Also, the subjective suggestion to, "share ones faith" further deepens the confusion on what is to be presented. If each individual "believer" is to decide on his or her own what to present to others in an effort to persuade them to follow Jesus, isn’t that inviting more confusion than is advisable? Is there no standard of faith?
To question if there is a "standard of faith" is to oppose the modern effort of pluralism—"agree with everyone and accept anything that appears agreeable just to get along." The definitions present in modern English dictionaries today are possible attempts to include everything considered "Christian" so as to avoid leaving anyone out or avoid speaking against aberrant faiths in the name of pluralistic tolerance in the modern "enlightened age." So, the concept of "the gospel" becomes so subjective and general that no one knows what to present in the name of "evangelism." A return to God’s scriptures is the only recourse to find the true message called "the gospel."
What if one uses the definition, "the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles," would this definition work toward an understandable and usable message with which to reach the lost? One way to check its validity is to inject the definition into those passages of scripture that use the term "gospel" in them. So, what would Romans 1:16, 2 Thessalonians 1:8 and Mark 16:16-18 sound like if one uses the definition of gospel as being "the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles?" Let’s see.
What conclusions come from these statements?
Does this message work? Does this message demonstrate the justice and mercy of God through the gracious actions of God toward humanities’ sinfulness problem? Does it provide what is needed to address the fallibility of humanity? Or does it turn the knife a couple of turns more in judgment and lead one to more fear of more judgment? How is this "good news?
If this is not "gospel" then what is? It is interesting that the Bible itself teaches what "the gospel" really is. Knowing the true message can also lead to the methods for presenting it along with the manner and motives accompanied by the ministry of evangelism. The passage that opens the meaning of the true message that is the power of salvation for everyone who believes and should be presented to all the earth is summed up in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4.
What is curious about this passage is that it was addressed to Christians. Paul instructed that he wanted to present "the gospel" so the Corinthian Christians will know that they had not believed in vain. Paul, then, mentioned the message that was to be the core of the Christian faith. This core message was what became the central truth from which all other Christian truths hung. The fact that Paul passed this message along to the Corinthian Christians "as of first importance" indicates that what he was about to say was the central believe or facts of the Christian faith. It was a creedal statement that Paul himself received and it deserved to be passed on to others.
HERE IS THE MESSAGE AS PAUL THE APOSTLE DEFINED "THE GOSPEL." The facts he proclaimed in this passage shows up in other messages in the scriptures. Those facts are the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. A study of the New Testament across the board will reveal that these facts were repeatedly referred to. The gospel that was the power of salvation that Paul was confident to proclaim was built on the fact that Jesus Christ died for the sins of humanity, was buried and then was raised to a new life that was to become the same hope for all who would believe in Him. Later on in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul stated that the resurrection of Jesus is central to the hope of a resurrection of believers. The death, burial and resurrection is what Jesus did so that those who will believe in Him will have eternal life.
WHY DID JESUS DIE? Paul provided a concise statement to Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:15--"This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief." It was for the sins of humanity that Jesus came to save that which was lost. So, the message that must be proclaimed must present not only what Jesus did but also why Jesus came. The true message shows how Jesus is qualified for the task of saving the whole world.
THE TRUE MESSAGE EXPLAINS RIGHT FROM WRONG. In order for "the gospel" to be good news there must be bad news. The bad news is that all have sinned and will die if there is no change of direction in human hearts and behavior. To persuade others that they need Jesus, there must be a good reason to change life styles, therefore, the message must reflect the reason for the change. The true gospel does exactly that. How will those in the world know what sin is unless it is shown to them what sin is. What will judge human hearts to convict them of wrong doing? The letter to the Romans sheds light on the subject
Paul wrote in Romans 3 how all are guilty before God and that guilt is proven through the Law—"Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Ro. 3: 19-20). Further explanation found in Galatians 3, Paul described the role of the Law as being "put in charge to lead us to Christ" after proving guilty (Gal. 3: 19-24). Paul even told Timothy in 1 Timothy 1 how the law is for sinners and that it was a part of the gospel (1 Tim. 1:8-11).
When challenged by Christians to change, many times those of the world will recoil and accuse Christians of judging them. Often they utilize the often misquoted passage, "Do not judge, lest you be judged" (Matt. 7:1). Though it may seem strange that the worldly will resort to quoting scripture, the devil did it and Christians shouldn’t be surprised if non-Christians do the same. When the world accuses Christians of judging them, Christians who use the Law of God convicting them can take comfort that it is God who is judging, not Christians. By using the Law, a Christian provides the opportunity of the worldly to be led to Christ.
For a fuller treatment on what the gospel is, email for information on securing a copy of "Defining the Gospel that saves."
©2001 Thomas L. Reed II
|| Objectives | Definition | Definition Indepth | Biblical literacy Ethic | Study of Steps | Why an Ethic | How to study | Skills Needed | Steps to Study | Process of Studying | Motivation | Resources & Links | Synthetic Evangelism|