You can listen to the audio lesson here.
You can also find the “Working Definition of Evangelism” here.
PART VI – Tying It All Together
Lesson Thirteen: Corporate Evangelism
“23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near,” (Heb. 10:23-25; NASB)
Pragmatic Gnosticism. Most books you will read on the art and importance of evangelism will center on what is commonly called personal evangelism. They are in essence how-to manuals that are often filled with bits of special knowledge (gnosis) accumulated through trial and error. One approach to evangelism is only more valid than any other if it is demonstrably valid (pragmatism). In weighing the truthfulness of ideas about evangelism, many Christians have come to agree with the father of modern Pragmatism when he wrote: “Truth happens to an idea,” (William James, Pragmatism, pg. 92).
As a result, those who sell books and get speaking engagements on the matter of evangelism are those who have developed methods and seen them “work.” They are seen both as having a special knowledge about the subject that only they can offer, and as having seen their means justified by their results. This brand of Pragmatic Gnosticism is detrimental to our understanding of evangelism. Just as detrimental, if not more, is any notion that evangelism is primarily meant to be a personal endeavor.
It’s in the realm of personal evangelism that the results of this gnostic, pragmatic Christianity is said to prove its worth. If you follow Joe Schmoe’s approach to evangelism, you will surely see an upsurge in people who “pray the sinner’s prayer” and “invite Jesus into their hearts.” You might even see a greater number of annual baptisms and an increase in church membership.
Individuals or kingdom citizens? We must remember, though, that our goal in evangelism is not to get people through the door or even into the baptismal waters. Our goal in evangelism is to fulfill the whole of the Great Commission: to make disciples, baptize them into covenant membership with a local church, and teach them to observe all that Christ commanded. Our goal in evangelism is to make kingdom citizens, not individuals. Sadly, many of us have come to think like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who wrote: “I am waiting to be shown this prodigy in order to know whether he is man or citizen, or how he manages to be both at the same time” (Rousseau, Emile, pg. 6).
In the kingdom of God, we find our identities chiefly in our kingdom citizenship. Our worship is primarily corporate, and evangelism is calling others into our corporate worship of our sovereign King. We must, then, recognize that our evangelism is also primarily corporate. In our personal interactions with the lost, we must be always ready to give a defense for the hope that lies within us (1Pt. 3:15). We must also be overflowing with love for God and zeal for His kingdom to the point that we cannot but speak of it to the lost in our lives (Tit. 2:14).
Corporate commitment to teaching and preaching. However, we cannot of our own accord expect to give our lost loved ones everything they need for the conversion of their souls. The gospel is deeper and wider than anything we can hope to present in short snippets on our own. Furthermore, no individual Christian is anywhere commanded to teach any one disciple to observe all that Christ commanded outside the context of the regular, corporate assembly of the saints. The primary context for teaching the observance of Christ’s statutes and preaching God’s word is among His people on His Day.
“23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near,” (Heb. 10:23-25; NASB; cf. John 20:1, 19; Acts 20:7; 1Cor. 16:2; Rev. 1:10).
It is as the church comes together as the church that evangelism becomes possible. When we think about evangelism, today, we think of it primarily in terms of making individual converts. In ages past, though, evangelism encompassed the whole of the corporate life of the church. For the Reformers and the Puritans, evangelism meant church planting—evangelism meant missions. These are areas where we really need to broaden our thinking about evangelism.
Corporate recognition of the gifted. It is the church corporate who recognizes godly men who are gifted for the task of preaching and teaching. Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me,” (John 10:27; NASB). In this age in which direct, divine revelation has ceased, God directs His church through the indwelling of His Spirit and the leading of humble, yet vigilant, church leaders (Eph. 4:11-13; Acts 20:28-31). It is through the common suffrage of this Spirit-indwelt, elder-led body that God raises up godly men for the ministry.
“The way appointed by Christ for the calling of any person, fitted and gifted by the Holy Spirit, unto the office of bishop or elder in a church, is, that he be chosen thereunto by the common suffrage of the church itself; and solemnly set apart by fasting and prayer, with imposition of hands of the eldership of the church, if there be any before constituted therein,” (The Baptist Confession, 26.9).
Corporate education of the gifted. Consider for a moment the churches that supported Paul on his missionary journeys. They not only enabled him to journey to Ephesus and plant a church. They also enabled him to start up a school of ministry from which church planters like Epaphras were sent out to neighboring cities like Colossae, Hierapolis, and Laodicea to plant even more churches. We can conclude from this noble effort of the first Christians that it is proper for local churches to associate with other likeminded churches to support seminaries and schools of ministry. The result of such schools is the inevitable planting of churches and the furtherance of the kingdom into farther parts of the earth.
One such seminary is being established over the next few years in Fort Worth, Texas, one of just a few Reformed Baptist hubs in the United States. The Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies (IRBS) is a joint effort of the Association of Reformed Baptist Churches of America (ARBCA) to ensure the education of the next generation of Reformed Baptist pastors. As our church seeks membership in our state and national association, and as the Lord grants success to our evangelistic efforts, we can expect that such noble institutions will eventually benefit from our contributions.
Corporate commitment to church planting and foreign missions. Evangelism means the recognition and education of the gifted, but it also means the sending of the gifted. Evangelism means sending, because evangelism and missions are so intrinsically intertwined. This sending begins locally and works its way outward. Minimally, it means that a church will support fully its local ministry. After that level of local support is achieved, then other local churches can be planted. From there, and through the joint efforts of church associations, support for foreign missions should be a desire.
Support for foreign missions means two things. First, it means the planting of churches. We must recall that every aspect of the Great Commission assumes the local church. If the lost in foreign contexts are to be reached, the corporate church must recognize, educate, and send gifted men. If they are to be baptized into covenant membership with a local church, a local church must be established in that foreign context. Finally, if they are to be taught to observe all that Christ commanded, they must have a local congregation with which to assemble under the ordinary means of grace.
The second thing support for foreign missions means is translation. If new disciples in foreign lands are to be taught to observe all that Christ commanded, they must be able first to hear all that Christ commanded in their own native tongue. This teaching is where charismatics get 1 Corinthians 14 so wrong. Paul’s concern in 1 Corinthians 14 was primarily on the lost. In the mission field, it was necessary for Paul to be able to speak in multiple tongues, so that people of many different languages might understand the word of God. In a local church context, though, the use of many languages would only confuse the preached word. This was the understanding of the Particular Baptists when, heavily citing 1 Corinthians 14, they confessed:
“The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentic; so as in all controversies of religion, the church is finally to appeal to them. But because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God, who have a right unto, and interest in the Scriptures, and are commanded in the fear of God to read and search them, therefore they are to be translated into the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come, that the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship him in an acceptable manner, and through patience and comfort of the Scriptures may have hope,” (The Baptist Confession, 1.8).
They understood the gift of tongues not as some erratic, unlearned gifting that bore a close relation to direct revelation and, thus, must have ceased with the apostolic era. They understood the gift of tongues in 1 Corinthians 14 to be the local expression of the gift of translation from one tongue to another for the edification of the saints and the furtherance of the gospel. Such non-revelatory gifts are still in practice today through translation committees, schools of textual criticism, live translation at multi-lingual local churches, and the mission field. It is not in the least charismatic, therefore, to say that the gift of tongues (translation) never ceased. In fact, this gift must likewise be recognized and honed for the furtherance of the kingdom through the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
Personal implications. What does this mean for you as the ordinary person in the pew? It has a few different implications. It means that evangelism suddenly means a lot more than trying to figure out how to “break the ice” on a religious discussion while sitting next to a stranger at a ball game. It means a lot more, but it also simplifies matters. Rather than feeling all the weight of trying to figure out the perfect way to break out of your shell and start up conversations with total strangers, you are free to focus on how you can personally help the corporate church to fulfill the Great Commission.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- In submission to God’s word, how might I prayerfully help to recognize the gifted among our body?
- How does my giving, outreach, and hospitality toward visitors help our local church to be fully sustained, plant churches, support seminaries, and support foreign missions?
- How can I better support my elders in teaching new disciples to observe all that Christ commanded?
- How can I be praying for the fulfillment of the Great Commission through the efforts of our local church?
- How might you support your local church’s efforts to fulfill the Great Commission through prayer, regular attendance, hospitality, the discipleship of new believers, and fidelity to the teaching you have received?