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Philosophy of Ministry - Part V - Evangelism in the Church

Evangelism in the Church

In recent years Christians have become increasingly energized to bring the message of salvation to the world. Modern Christian leaders have distilled the message of the gospel into a succinct package that can be comprehended by anyone, though not apprehended by everyone. In many ways, it seems that there has been a Christian re-awakening over the past 10 or 15 years as droves of people are coming to Christ all across America and the world. This is an exciting time to a part of God’s work in the world.

Because of this high-level emphasis on evangelism, some churches have begun to re-orientate themselves to be better positioned in the endeavor of evangelism. Common adaptations include becoming seeker-sensitive, seeker-driven, or even ethos/emotionally driven such as the emergent church movement. These churches enthusiastically scrutinize themselves from the perspective of the non-churched/un-churched and make specific changes to the worship service so to avoid confusing, boring, or insulting these people. Often, with good motive, some churches are directing large portions of their resources to evangelistic outreach events efforts of evangelism take place in outreach events such as golf-ministries, softball leagues, concerts, etc.

These churches have the best intentions and truly believe that evangelism is the purpose of the church. To have a greater impact on the world, often their message is “Your life has pain, misery and confusion—come to Jesus and you’ll find peace, joy, and significance.” That message, however comforting, is not the gospel message of scripture. While none of these churches would ever admit to “watering down the gospel” the result is that they have exchanged the true problem (i.e. man’s rebellion against God) with another problem that seems more palatable in the ears of the hearers (e.g. life apart from Christ has less meaning). Not only has the problem changed in today’s gospel messages, but the solution has also changed. The solution to man’s problem is no longer “repent of your sin and commit your life to the Lord” instead it is “say this ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ and your problem (e.g. meaningless, sadness, loneliness) will go away.” The ultimate focus has shifted away from the truth that God’s wrath is directed towards humanity and yet He will reconcile us back to Him when we call upon Him in faith. Rather than this focus, many churches is now aspire to help men and woman have better lives morally, ethically, etc. Essentially, Christianity has become a modern means for one to “self-actualize”—that is, that their adherents will be better people, more loving, better homes, happier, more peaceful, etc. While the gospel does often improve the lives of people—and certainly my own life, mind, habits have become far “better” and more enjoyable now that I’m born-again—yet these dynamics are not the gospel’s ultimate purpose. Do we have to preach the ultimate purpose of the gospel? Yes! God’s ultimate purposes should be our ultimate purposes!

The Bible tells us that all men have sinned against God (Romans 3:23). Certainly, every Christian will agree with this and the Bible lists of many sins that man has committed (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21). Sinners are enemies of God (Romans 5:10) who live independently from Him (Psalm 14:3). Yet the message of scripture is that while we were sinners and enemies, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8-10). Christ took our sins upon Him (Isaiah 53:6) and gave us His righteousness (1 Corinthians 5:21). God was no longer angry with us (1 John 2:2). Therefore the world must recognize their sins (1 John 1:8), confess them (1 John 1:9), repent of them (Acts 2:38), call out to God (Romans 10:13) and be reconciled to Him (Romans 5:10). This is the gospel that the world needs to hear.

How will people hear and understand this gospel? Should we make it easier for them to become a child of God? The answer lies in the doctrine of regeneration, how one becomes “born again.” Each person is born into this world spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1) and in their natural state they cannot understand the things of God (1 Corinthians 2:14). A dead person cannot be convinced they need life. Therefore God steps into their life and makes them alive (i.e. regenerates them) (1 Peter 1:3) and they become born again (John 3:6). The person responds in faith to the hearing of the Word of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13). This is seen in the scriptures in the account of how God opened Lydia’s heart to might respond to the things spoken by Paul (Acts 16:14) and also when God gave the believers in Achaia the ability to believe (Acts 18:27). Unless God gives a person the ability to believe in Him and His Word, they cannot make themselves believe or be convinced to believe.

Thus, salvation is solely up to the will of God. No amount of cajoling or persuasion will raise a dead person to life. Many passages show that God chooses whom He will save: 1st Thessalonians 4:4 “knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you”; Romans 8:29 “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined…”; Ephesians 1:4 “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world…”

Not only is the predestination up to God, but so is the drawing up to God. John 6:29 says, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him who He has sent.” A few verse later Jesus says “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” Someone might say that God draws all people. But this is not the case because only a few verses earlier Jesus says, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” Thus all who are drawn by God come to God—none are lost. God causes the increase (1 Corinthians 3:7). Since the choice of salvation is up to God, the goal of evangelism shifts from going into the world to persuade people to be saved and instead the goal becomes going into the world calling God’s elect back to their Savior with the anticipation that those who are chosen will hear and receive the word of God.

How does one know if they are chosen or if they are truly born-again? The answer to this question is long and challenging and beyond the scope of this paper. However, we can know that we are not saved just on the merits of saying the “Sinner’s Prayer”.  There is no magic formula that Christians can utter which will obligate God to save them. Certainly the new life does begin with a prayer of faith to God (Romans 10:9) and new believers can be encouraged to prayer as a repentant sinner begging God for forgiveness and asking Him to reconcile them based upon the death and resurrection of Christ. But saying a sinner’s prayer does not buy us a ticket into heaven. Understanding this important point, I still will lead people in a prayer that could sound like the “Sinner’s Prayer” because it does cover the key elements of the Gospel and when it is truly said with faith, it will be the introduction of the believer into their new relationship with the Lord.

But is everyone who was prompted to say a prayer, then saved? 1 Corinthians 15:2 indicates that there is some “belief” that is vain, i.e. without result. The best answer to knowing if a believer is saved is to have them diligently read 1st John and compare their life against scripture. The purpose of 1st John is found in 5:13 which says, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” Many people incorrectly use this verse as a blanket promise to people to encourage them that indeed they do have eternal life. But the verse in context is really saying that if a person reads all the factors that “these things” refers to, and satisfies the criterion given, then the person can safely know that they have eternal life. Assurance of salvation based upon 1 John 5:13 without the rest of 1 John is false assurance and because this is dealing with the eternal state of someone’s soul, false assurance is very, very dangerous.

Here are some basic proofs of regeneration included in 1st John: honesty about sins (1:8); keeping God’s commandments (2:3); loving one’s brothers (2:10); hatred of the ways of the world (2:15); practicing righteousness (2:29-3:10); caring for the needy (3:15-18); confessing Jesus (4:3-6); love towards others (4:7-16);  love towards God (5:2-3); and belief in Jesus (5:11). We must understand how the scriptures seek to provide assurance. We cannot make ourselves regenerated by these actions—a murderer cannot give money to the United Way so as to be forgiven for murder. Yet, these fruits are indications of salvation as given in the scripture. They do not make a person regenerated; rather they indicate a person’s status before God—the stem from fellowship with Him. These indicators are the “these things” from 5:13 that John wants his readers to read and meditate upon so they might know that they have eternal life.

Because salvation is in the mind and hand of God, the believer’s primary task in this world is not to evangelize the lost but rather to make disciples (Matthew 28:19) and bring glory to God (1 Corinthians 10:31; 1 Peter 4:11; Colossians 1:10, Ephesians 4:1). What!? Please hear me out—making disciples involves teaching people about God, exhorting them towards holiness, comforting them, and guiding them in the ways of godliness. The faithful Christian will often focus this message onto those who don’t know God. Evangelism is a form of discipleship whereby we declare the truths of scripture to the world. Glorifying God involves living a life worthy of Him (Philippians 1:27); speaking words which glorify Him (Colossians 3:17); doing deeds which glorify Him (Colossians 3:17); having hearts that glorify Him (Ephesians 5:19; and having minds that glorify Him (Colossians 3:2-4). As detailed in the section about the purpose of the church, the church service is to focus on worshiping God and making disciples who glorify Him. When this is done, truly the elect unbeliever will walk into the church, sense the glory and greatness of God, see the vast difference between his own condition and those of the church, and he will fall down and worship God (1 Corinthians 14:25). But note this: the vehicle for effective church evangelism is worship of God in spirit and truth, not transforming ourselves to look like the world.

So what role does evangelism hold in the church? Certainly the church is to be the salt and light to the world (Matthew 5:13-16). Certainly the church is to tell the world the message of Christ. All are given the mandate to evangelize and some will be specially gifted with a passion and consuming drive to evangelize (2 Timothy 4:5; Ephesians 4:11). Certainly, the gospel should be explained in every church service where there might be unbelievers present. Certainly evangelism is one of the primary purposes of the church (Matthew 28:20-21). Yet evangelism must be kept in balance with the rest of God’s purposes for His people (Worship, Instruction, Fellowship, Evangelism, and Service).

How do we comply with the scriptural teaching about how to evangelize? God uses His word to save people (1 Peter 1:23). Therefore, God’s people go into the world as God’s ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:20) proclaiming the word of God. The Christian’s evangelistic method is simply to spread the word of God much like a seed. Then the Holy Spirit unites the word of God to faith (Hebrews 4:2) and makes that person spiritually alive (James 1:18), much like pouring water upon a seed brings a seed to life. There will be some converts like Lydia (Acts 16:14) who hear the Word and immediately the Lord opens the eyes of their heart to believe (Ephesians 1:18). There will be others who need some shepherding as they begin their new life with God such as the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8). And there will be some who are like Nicodemus, who first need to hear the truth (as in John 3:1-21), followed by a period of time where they process what they have heard (as evidenced by Nicodemus’ half-hearted defense of Christ in John 7:50-51), followed by a final commitment to Christ (as evidenced in John 19:38-39 when Nicodemus places his own life and reputation on the line by helping bury Christ). Thus the church is to go to the God’s elect and call them to be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20). The church must be firm, clear, patient, and following the will and ways of Christ.

Some churches, with a sincere evangelistic zeal, seek to turn their Sunday morning worship service into an evangelistic crusade. However, this runs up against two possible risks. The first is that “evangelistic crusade” churches must, by necessity, avoid certain doctrines and thus ignore the whole counsel of what God calls the church to be. As a verse-by-verse expositor progresses through passages of scripture—the vast majority of those passages are only truly meaningful, as they were intended to mean, for born-again believers. God calls the church to love (Matthew 22:37), worship Him (John 4:23-24), live holy lives (Philippians 1:27), preach the word (1 Thessalonians 4:2), serve the needs of those in distress (James 1:27), and teach sound doctrine (Titus 2:1). All of these actions, to be performed rightly, require knowledge of Him (Hosea 6:6; 1 Chronicles 28:9). When the church incorrectly focuses on evangelism to the point of minimizing these things, then that church runs the risk of becoming imbalanced according to God’s design—or worse, re-explaining God’s truths intended for His people, and changing the meaning and point so that they might somehow be “relevant” for the world.

Another serious risk for churches that overly focus upon evangelism is that they might provide false assurance to people about their salvation. This false assurance often comes from the prevailing incorrect notion that as long as a person has at some point said the “Sinner’s Prayer” then they are truly saved. The Bible, however, indicates that since there is a vain form of belief (1 Corinthians 15:2, c.f. Acts 8:9-24) people should make sure that they are to make certain of God’s calling of them (2 Peter 2:10, 2 Corinthians 13:5, Hebrews 4:1). The Bible also indicates that many will stand before the Lord and He will say that He did not know them (Matthew 7:22). The Lord Himself said that the gates to hell are wide (Matthew 7:13). Because of these serious warnings, why would any church be quick to dangerously assure a person that they are saved when indeed if they are unsure and feeling guilty? Perhaps the person’s heart may be under true conviction from God! Can a Christian know he or she is saved? Yes! But these are not the days to give people false hope based upon man-made rituals concocted to guarantee one’s salvation.

Russ Brewer

Russ Brewer

Rescued from the domain of darkness, transferred to the kingdom of the Son. Undershepherd of Grace. Husband of Corinne. Father of three. Chew-toy to Zeke...

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