Evangelism and evangelists are peculiar to the New Testament. They belong to God's great plan for calling out the elect who are His heavenly people. Israel had her prophets who were patriots and reformers, but no one of their number undertook a ministry comparable to the New Testament evangelist. At the same time, there was no gospel message whatsoever sent from God to the Gentiles (cf. Eph. 2:12).
1. Definition. Evangelism is the act of presenting to the unsaved the evangel or good news of the gospel of God's saving grace through Christ Jesus. It may be a dealing with individuals or with groups and congregations. In any case, the one ideal prevails. Probably the most arresting fact related to this ministry is that it has been committed to every individual who may be saved. The Apostle writes that "God ... hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation ... and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God" (2 Cor. 5:18-20). This commission rests on all believers alike. In agreement with this universal commission is the revelation presented by Ephesians 4:12. Following upon enumeration of the ministry or leadership gifts—apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers—the truth has been asserted that the responsibility of the pastor and teacher is to perfect the saints in their own work of the ministry, along with edifying of the Body of Christ. Thus is restated the thought that to every believer has been committed the evangelizing ministry. Each believer is, upon being saved, constituted a witness to the unsaved; but all believers are in need of such instruction, counsel, and direction as a God-appointed and well-trained pastor and teacher may impart. It is presupposed that the pastor and teacher has himself been fully trained for this leadership service. Courses which anticipate such a ministry are wanting in theological seminaries generally and therefore graduates who assume pastorates are not promoting evangelism through the God-intended agency of the whole company of believers. By so much the New Testament ideal of evangelism is failing. Instruction, nevertheless, should include discipline in the plan of salvation, the terms of the gospel, the use of the Scriptures, and the manner and method of effective work. Here Christians may well study to show themselves "approved unto God," workmen that need "not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15). It can thus be demonstrated that personal evangelism on the part of all who are saved is the New Testament plan of evangelism.
This New Testament purpose in which it is anticipated that each believer shall, after due instruction, have the high privilege of leading souls to Christ happens to be closely related to the believer's spiritual life; and since no effective service for God can ever be rendered apart from a right adjustment of the life to the holy will of God, extended instruction respecting a spiritual life must be incorporated as a part of the teaching undertaken in the training of believers. Soul-winning work, like all Christian service, depends upon the imparted power and direction of the Holy Spirit. The very desire for the salvation of the lost is not a human trait but the manifestation of divine love working through the believer. It is the love of God shed abroad in the heart out from the Holy Spirit, whom every believer has received. The believer must be guided in respect to those unto whom he speaks and directed in the manner of his approach to the unsaved.
Especial care must be exercised by preachers who are called upon to preach the gospel to groups and congregations. The gospel must be presented in its purity and no requirement laid upon the unsaved respecting works they might perform. Public methods often imply that there is saving value in something the unsaved are asked to do. God not only calls out His elect people through gospel preaching, but He ever cares for those whom He saves. If evangelizing methods do not contradict these great truths, there will be less unhappy results.
Two widely different programs for soul-winning have been pursued in the last century, namely, those adjusted to Arminian beliefs and those agreeable to Calvinistic views. The Arminian practices, being aggressive and conspicuous, may be unfortunately deemed more faithful and zealous in character. It should be recognized, however, that there are extremes both in the direction of zeal and of overcaution. The issue here being considered relates to practices followed by sincere and earnest men who deplore every extreme method. The Arminian theology forms the basis for one method of evangelism; so likewise the Calvinistic theology forms the basis for another. Arminian theologians declare that although men are born in depravity an enabling ability is given to them at birth whereby they may cooperate in their salvation if they will. This notion, unsupported by Scripture, lends encouragement to the evangelist to press people for decisions and assumes that all individuals could accept Christ if they but will to do so. It follows that, if pressed hard enough, any unregenerate person might be saved. That most mass evangelism has conformed to some degree to this Arminian theory is evident. Over against this, Calvinistic theologians contend on the authority of the Scriptures that all men are born depraved and that they remain so, being incapable of accepting Christ apart from the enlightening, drawing, calling work of the Holy Spirit. The following Scriptures, among many, sustain this conception:
"No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. ... And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father" (John 6:44, 65); "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. 2:14); "But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them" (2 Cor. 4:3-4); "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:8).
Language cannot be more explicit; and in truth were it not for the enlightening work of the Spirit by which He convicts of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment (John 16:7-11), no unregenerate person would ever turn to Christ for salvation. The point at issue is that, when the Spirit undertakes His work of bringing men to Christ, there will be little need of persuasive methods. The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God on the lips of a devoted servant of God or on a printed page, and men hearing the truth and believing are saved. From that time forth all who are saved occupy the Christian's position and have a definite responsibility to witness, not to the end they may thereby be saved but because they are saved.
2. Evangelists. Of three times in which the word evangelist occurs within the New Testament, its place in Ephesians 4:11 is the most significant. The use of the term in this passage is with reference to the pioneer missionary who takes the message of salvation to regions beyond, where it has never gone. The revivalist laboring among churches and evangelized fields which are more or less spiritually dormant has no recognition as such in the Bible, though there is no Scripture against that type of ministry. A peculiar unreality must be seen in any spasmodic reviving when it is certain that the church thus stimulated will, for want of right direction and discipline thereafter, return at once to its unspiritual state. The evangelist's message by its very nature should be addressed to the unsaved and restricted to the theme of salvation. Should themes related to Christian living be introduced, the attention of the unsaved is at once removed from the one and only issue which concerns them to another and wholly irrelevant proposition, namely, whether they will adopt some manner of life which they, by reason of being unsaved, are utterly disqualified to consider. No minister needs more to possess the full knowledge of God's truth than does the evangelist or the one who attempts to preach the gospel of saving grace.
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