A Whole Church Endeavor (Defining Evangelism)

You can listen to the audio lesson here.

You can also find the “Working Definition of Evangelism” here.

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DEFINING EVANGELISM

PART II – THE MESSENGERS AND THE RECIPIENTS

Lesson Four: A Whole Church Endeavor

“so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world,’” (Philippians 2:15; NASB).

 

An endeavor. Making disciples from every nation is not something that happens by osmosis. It takes work on the part of the church. It’s something we pursue as a church, not merely something we hope will happen. It is an endeavor that starts with our view of Christ.

If we do not already have a high view of Christ in our everyday lives, we will not seek to bring His gospel to the world. We must, then, work to sanctify Christ—set Him apart as precious and holy—in every aspect of our lives. Only then will we as a church truly desire to commit ourselves to the work of evangelism in our community.

“but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence,” (1 Peter 3:15; NASB).

As the Apostle Peter wrote, one of the effects of sanctifying Christ in our hearts will be that we will be always ready to make a defense to everyone who asks us to give an account for our hope. Another effect will be that our defense will be with gentleness and reverence. We will recognize that it is not our message, but the message of God Himself.

As such, we will not seek our own ends in the methods and message we use, but we will seek His ends. We will be careful with how we handle the gospel of Christ, because it is not our gospel. It is rather like a car we have borrowed or a home we’re watching for a friend. As we handle it in the world, we will handle it with great care and great reverence, because it is not our own.

Another motivating factor that will drive us to our rightful duty of evangelism is the recognition that the world is a dark place. As we look around this world, even in our own nation, we see such deep darkness and misery. We see the depths of depravity, and how man’s heart is only, continually turned against God.

Seeing this great problem in our world should not drive us merely to social justice or political solutions. The problem of pain and of evil should drive us to shine our lights even greater in this dark and fallen world. It should not cause us so much to see solutions in activism or the promotion of this political candidate or another. Rather, it should cause us to recall the pure light of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the fact that we have been called to reflect that light.

14Do all things without grumbling or disputing; 15so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, 16holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain,” (Philippians 2:14-16; NASB).

We have been shown great mercy in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have been granted the very word of life! As we hold forth that great word of life in this world, we hold forth a light that pierces the darkness and, where the light shines, no darkness can remain.

We know that “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more,” (Luke 12:48; NASB). We who have been granted much light are expected to shed much light into the darkness of our fallen world. Consider then how dreadful a thing it is that many churches that enjoy a high theology of God and sit under such a wealth of biblical preaching would be called “the frozen chosen.”

Our endeavors to make disciples then are not for the sake of achieving a closer relationship and more accurate view of God. Instead, they should spring from having received such a pure light. The Calvinist rightly decries the non-Calvinist who thinks he is earning anything from God for all the work he does. However, because the Calvinist recognizes Christ has already earned everything he needs from God, it should find all the more joy in his labors for Christ!

A whole-church endeavor. There has long been much debate over who is responsible to accomplish the work of evangelism in the life of the church. The short answer with which most can agree is that it is the endeavor of the whole church. Some might say that every member has a responsibility to do evangelism in much the same way as everyone else. Others might say that, with the support of the whole church, the officers and a few other chosen men are to shoulder the bulk of the responsibility of evangelism.

While both of these views would agree that evangelism is the endeavor of the whole church, I would disagree with both of these extremes. The Bible nowhere offers one cookie-cutter approach to evangelism or, much less, commands that everyone follow such a cookie-cutter approach. Nor does the Bible anywhere restrict the work of evangelism to a select group of ordained or recognized men within the church.

What we see instead is that every member within the church of Christ is called to be about the spread of the kingdom of Christ. For some this will mean a much more overt, visible teaching labor than for others. Some are called to go into the highways and byways and preach the gospel of Christ. These are the men that Paul means when he says that some must be sent.

“And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written:

‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace,

Who bring glad tidings of good things!’” (Romans 10:15; NKJV).

There is great wisdom in churches coming together under the direction of the elders to recognize godly men who are suited for the work of pulpit preaching, street preaching, teaching from house to house, teaching Sunday Schools, etc. As the preaching, teaching, and evangelism ministry of church elders allow, other godly men will arise who demonstrate the willingness, qualification, and ability to join and support them in their efforts. The Baptist Confession makes specific mention of such men.

“Although it be incumbent on the bishops or pastors of the churches, to be instant in preaching the word, by way of office, yet the work of preaching the word is not so peculiarly confined to them but that others also gifted and fitted by the Holy Spirit for it, and approved and called by the church, may and ought to perform it,” (The Baptist Confession, 26.11).

Were the work of evangelism to be so narrowly defined as to only include that public teaching and preaching marked by the above definitions, we might be inclined to agree with those who say that all men must be recognized by the church in order to do evangelism. However, the work of evangelism is much more thorough than just the public ministries of teaching and preaching. Under this definition, workplace conversations, family worship, a mother catechizing her children, and discussions in the marketplace would all be considered something other than evangelism.

Used in its most general sense, evangelism is simply gospel preaching. That is what is meant in the biblical use of the term. When Paul told the church in Rome that he wished to “preach the gospel” to them (Romans 1:15), he used one word for “preach the gospel”: εὐαγγελίζω. He did not mean in the sense of making converts, but rather in sense of continuing the work of discipleship among them.

Christian discipleship is rooted in the gospel. In that sense, all who endeavor to aid in the work of discipleship are aiding also in the work of evangelism. For Christians who are hearing the gospel for the thousandth time, the work of the gospel on their hearts is be the power of God unto their sanctification, drawing them afresh to the bosom of Christ. For those who have yet to draw near to Christ in true discipleship, the gospel will hopefully be the power of God unto their regeneration, justification, and adoption into the family of God.

For this reason, sermons, Sunday School lessons, workplace conversations, family worship, daily instruction of children, etc., ought always to be done with a view toward supporting the gospel of Jesus Christ. They will not always overtly hit on the exact same elements of the gospel of Christ, but they must be conducted in such a way that they do no injustice to the true gospel of God. The whole life of the Christian, then, will be seen as a life lived in support of evangelism.

This evangelistic life should impact every aspect of how we view church. When pastors come to the pulpit, they should be mindful that the people need to be hearing the preached gospel and learning how to convey that same gospel. The people also, as active listeners, should come ready to learn how to take they gospel they are receiving and convey it to the lost and dying world in which they sojourn. For this reason, Christ gave pastors and teachers to the church: “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ,” (Ephesians 4:12; NASB).

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