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 Sixteen: Counterfeit Evangelism
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves,’” (Matthew 23:15; NASB).
In 2008, I was deployed to Kuwait with the U.S. Army Reserve in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. As a medic with an ambulance company, I ran missions between camps transporting patients who needed different levels of care. In between missions, though, I made sure to be involved with a group of men who were committed to living for Christ in that desert context. One such man, a dear friend to this day, once issued a challenge to me. I had been studying a tremendous amount about apologetics. How to answer Mormons, how to answer Jehovah’s Witnesses, how to answer Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, etc. My friend noticed that I spoke more about the errors of other religions than I did about the truth of Christianity. He challenged me to set aside my study of apologetics for a while and just study historic, Christian theology. In so doing, I found that my theology became my apologetic.
The better choice is always to focus on the genuine article than to focus on the counterfeits. Jehovah’s Witnesses meet four times a week to be indoctrinated in the teachings of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. In most cases, the average Jehovah’s Witness can twist the above average Christian into theological pretzels, because of the theological ignorance of most professing Christians. Throughout the word of God, knowledge of God is put forth as a high priority for the saints. When we speak of sharing our faith or defending the faith, then, we must be very familiar with the content of that faith. We must know the genuine article far better than we know the counterfeits.
The same is true for evangelism. We have spent fifteen lessons discussing the genuine article regarding evangelism, and that is by design. It is imperative, if we are to be about the fulfillment of the Great Commission, that we know what the Bible teaches on the matter. Like a bank teller who makes a thorough study of genuine $100 bills in order to be able to spot any counterfeit, the church must make a thorough inquiry into the word of God in order to be able to distinguish between biblical evangelism and its counterfeits. Having defined the genuine article over the span of the last fifteen lessons, let us now take one lesson to consider some counterfeits.
Every-member evangelism. Many churches’ membership covenants tend to include a line or two about their expectations that all members commit themselves to personal evangelism. Such an expectation, in and of itself, is not necessarily bad. All Christians are expected to be ready to give a defense for the hope that lies within them (1Pt. 3:15). However, that defense will look different depending on the nature and circumstances of each individual encounter and the abilities of the Christian in question.
Every Christian is not called to pass out gospel tracts on the corner, knock on doors, speak only of Christ to their lost coworkers, and open-air preach in the local town square. In fact, most of those endeavors ought to be done by, or supervised by, individuals who have been recognized and sent by the church to do those tasks (Rom. 10:14-15). Why must these men be recognized and sent? As we have already established, evangelism is first-and-foremost about fulfilling the Great Commission, and the Great Commission is a local church endeavor. As disciples are made, they must be engrafted into a local church where they will be baptized and taught to observe the Lord’s commands. As such, evangelism done properly will reflect on the church, Christ’s bride. The reputation of the bride of Christ is at stake every time the gospel is preached.
Rogue evangelism. The second counterfeit is like the first. In fact, it might be said that the second is fueled by the first. There are many groups within the United States that have broken away from local churches and are attempting to do the work of the church, in the name of the church, detached from any regularly assembling, rightly constituted body of believers whatsoever.
These people often began by attending churches that strongly encouraged every-member evangelism and had lively street preaching ministries. They had a go at open-air preaching, and it gave them a sense of empowerment. Before long, though, they began to grow divisive. The church was not as radical in their approach to abortion as they were. Perhaps, they stirred up division within the body and tried to get the pastor fired over something petty, eventually leading to their expulsion from the church. Regardless, there are countless men in urban centers throughout the United States who preach in town squares, outside “apostate” churches, outside movie theaters, abortion clinics, and wherever else they may find opportunity who are in no way submitted to any local church.
We must be purposeful at this time to point out the fact that not all open-air preachers are rogue evangelists. Nor is all open-air preaching the work of churches that are forcing an unbiblical notion of every-member evangelism. What can be traced, however, by merely speaking with many rogue evangelists, is the fact that the majority of them cut their teeth on open-air preaching with churches that did not have a biblical understanding of evangelism.
Mere conversion. In C.S. Lewis’ radio talks, which later became the book Mere Christianity, Lewis described Christianity as a great building in which there were many rooms and a great hall. In order to get into the rooms, one must first enter into the great hall. Lewis’ mere Christianity was to be taken to represent that hall, and he saw it as his purpose to get people into that hall. He wrote, “If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted.” He further went on to explain, though, that the rooms (denominations) are where one finds the furnishings of Christianity.
Hopefully, we have gone one step further even than Lewis. In the previous lessons, we have hopefully made it clear that the goal of evangelism should never be to merely get people into the great hall of Christianity or even one of the rooms of a particular denomination. The goal of the Great Commission is to engraft new disciples into the life of one local church where they will be baptized and taught to observe all that Christ commanded. Mere conversion is not an option.
When churches or individual Christians set out to make mere converts, knowingly or unknowingly, they are setting out at the same time to make spiritual orphans. Imagine you run into a man on the street who tells you that the reason you are malnourished, frail, and on the brink of death is because you are starving. The man gives you bread, but then neglects to tell you where you might find more bread. This man has committed a kind act but, by failure to provide more vital information, he has only kept you from dying for perhaps one more day. Our job is not merely to point people to Christ, then, but to point them also to the local market where they might weekly assemble to draw from the storehouse of His grace.
Emotionalism. Many in our age have romanticized what Christ accomplished, and what He hopes to accomplish, for sinners the world over. They have come to believe in the notion that man not only has the freedom to choose God, but that such freedom is a necessary part of the gospel itself. These men and women argue that only if Christ died for each individual human being ever to have existed can the offer of the gospel be sincere. When speaking with Reformed Christians, they might ask, “Are you able to tell a lost person, ‘Christ died for you’?” adding, “If not, how can you do evangelism?”
One very glaring question looms at the back of such a line of inquiry. Where in the New Testament do we find the apostles telling an individual, “Christ died for you,” or even commanding the church to do so? Furthermore, if Christ died for each individual human soul that ever existed, what about those who died in their sins long before He was ever born? What about those since His death and resurrection who have never had an opportunity to hear the gospel message? The Bible is clear at once that Christ laid down His life for His sheep, and that the gospel is to be preached to everyone. The fact remains that Christians will never in this life know who the yet-unconverted elect are, so we are called to preach to all without exception.
What this line of reasoning amounts to is pure emotionalism. God must love all without exception in precisely the same way, or He is not truly loving. In order to understand God’s love a little better, let us consider one of the biblical pictures given us in Scripture of His love.
“25Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30because we are members of his body. 31‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ 32This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church,” (Ephesians 5:25-32; ESV).
Men are called to love their wives as Christ loved the church. They are also called to love their neighbors and, yes, even their enemies. Are men called to take every neighbor into their homes, become one flesh with them, and provide for all of their physical and spiritual needs, even bathing them with the washing of the water of the word “‘til death do they part”? No. There is a unique love a man is called to have for his wife. We do not berate a man or think him a monster if his love for his wife is different than his love for other women. We rather praise him for it. Yet, when Christ is said to have a special love for His bride, emotions get heightened, and He is accused of being a monster.
Conversion to Calvinism. As biblical as it is to speak of Christ’s love in this way, bringing people to a clearer understanding of the doctrines of grace is not the gospel. We are not called to go and make Calvinists of all the nations. We are called to make disciples of Christ. A solid local church that truly understands the doctrines of grace will teach them, and the goal of evangelism is to make new disciples and get them into such a solid church. However, arguing with other Christians about the doctrines of grace is not the same as evangelism.
Neither is arguing with people about myriad other doctrines. One doctrine that is very important to Reformed Baptists is the doctrine of Christian liberty. Now, Christian liberty covers a wide array of subjects, but the main two that often come to mind are drinking and smoking. A few years ago, I was a member of a church that majored in street evangelism in downtown Fort Worth, TX. We would go to Sundance Square every Saturday and share the gospel with people as they walked by. A few blocks away were the Kingdom Baptists. These people would stand out in front of the movie theater holding signs and tell people as they walked out that they were going to hell for watching movies. Their message was all law and no gospel.
One day, as a couple of our young men were leaving Sundance Square and heading back to their cars, they were confronted by these Kingdome Baptists. I noticed them talking at a distance and was naturally curious as to the nature of their discussion. The next day at church, I asked one of the young men what was said. He said that they were debating with these Kingdom Baptists about whether or not drinking was a sin.
In hindsight, there was nothing necessarily wrong with discussing this topic with these men. They clearly needed to understand that their legalistic gospel was no gospel at all. However, I did take time to explain to my young friend that this debate they had with the Kingdom Baptists was not evangelism. With new disciples, discussions of Christian liberty can be quite important. When seeking to sow the gospel of Jesus Christ into a hardened legalist, it is often best to focus on the grace and mercy of Christ.
Method-ism. In this series of lessons, I have not sought to put forth a particular method of evangelism. It is my goal neither to teach a particular method nor to cast a negative light on a particular method. What I have found over the years is that almost all of the methods have pros and cons, and it is good to take the best of all of them and leave the rest behind.
My earliest exposure to evangelism was in doing Wednesday outreach ministry with my local church when I was in middle school. I did not fully understand why, but my local church wanted a group of us to go door-to-door and just let people know that we were there to meet their spiritual needs. Then, in late middle school and early high school, I started going with my local church on “mission trips” across the United States. These mission trips usually consisted primarily of work projects, running sports day camps for local children, and sharing what Christ had done in our lives when the opportunity arose. As a side note, I did all of these while professing to be a Christian, but being far from Christ.
In the Summer of 2006, I came under conviction from the gospel, experienced true godly sorrow over my sin for the first time, turned from my sin, and believed in Christ alone for my salvation. This church majored in clothing and food drive ministry, so I soon found myself sharing the gospel with, and praying for, many of the homeless and impoverished in Fort Worth while helping with these various ministries.
Not long after that, I was exposed to the Way of the Master approach to evangelism. In 2009, I joined a local church that majored in the Way of the Master approach and, for the next five years, was involved in street preaching and evangelism ministry. I still have a heart for a properly-ordered approach to street ministry, but I have since come to be skeptical of most of what passes for street evangelism today.
Diversify. I am now convinced that all of these methods have their proper place in the making of disciples as long as the goal is always to make disciples and not merely converts. I would encourage people to have a firm grasp of their personal testimonies and how to share them in support of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Read up on Evangelism Explosion, the Romans Road, and Way of the Master. Look into what godly, local church-led, gospel-centered abortion ministry looks like. Do all of this, and you will have come a little way toward helping your local church to fulfill the Great Commission.