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The word “evangelism” is one of those we use in ministry lingo that is nowhere found in scripture. In that respect, it shares the same distinction as “sovereignty” and “Trinity”—words that scripture never uses. Yet no one can deny that God is sovereign (does what he wills with his creation) and, as the ONE true God, exists eternally in THREE distinct Persons—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Likewise while the scripture does not use the noun “evangelism” or the verb “evangelize,” the singular “evangelist” is used twice (Acts 21:8; 2 Timothy 4:5) and the plural “evangelists” once (Ephesians 4:11). It's reasonable to assume that an evangelist would engage in evangelism and seek to evangelize the lost.
This doctrinal article looks at evangelism from the perspective of a coin with two sides. The one side we'll call the 'mechanics' side. The other concerns the 'dynamics' side. We might liken evangelism to a traveler who plans to fly from New York to Los Angeles. The first order of business is trip preparation—securing tickets, packing, arranging for transportation to the airport, boarding the plane. The second order of business concerns the pilot turning up the engines, taxiing to the runway, rolling down the runway under full power and eventually reaching cruising altitude. In summary, the first order of business is getting on board with everything needed for the trip. The second is trusting the power and aerodynamic lift of the jet aircraft to take you to your destination.
The Mechanic Side of Evangelism
The Greek for “evangelist” is εὐαγγελιστής (εὐ=good + αγγελιστής=messenger). An evangelist is one who brings a message of good tidings, a herald of the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. It shares the same root with “gospel,” which has 101 NT usages. The Greek is εὐαγγέλιον, a message of good news. The messenger and messsage are inseparable. The messenger is defined by his message. Jesus commanded his disciples prior to his ascension to “preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). Paul said he was not ashamed of the gospel because it was the power of God unto salvation to every one who believes it (Romans 1:16). So again, we must emphasize that an evangelist (a messenger of good news) in possession of the gospel (the message of good news) would of necessity engage himself in efforts to evangelize the lost in the enterprise of evangelism. The gospel is the good news that God in Christ did something about our sins, making it possible, through faith in him. to experience forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Central to the gospel is the preaching of the cross! For a full presentation of the gospel message, see The Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The first observation we must make is that evangelism is a subset of the Great Commission and not the Commission itself. The overriding imperative of Matthew 28:18-20 is: “TEACH all nations.” The verb is μαθητεύω (mathēteuō), “to instruct one in following the teachings and precepts of another, to make disciples.” In reality, a church can do a good job of evangelizing the lost but fail miserably in helping babes in Christ grow into spiritual maturity as genuine followers of Jesus. Contrariwise, a church can do a good job of teaching truth to the saved but become ingrown and stagnant for failure to evangelize the lost and win them to Christ. There are few things as sad as a church that's theologically correct but powerless in evangelism. God's design and desire for a local church is the proper balance between winning the lost and growing the saved.
In Matthew 28:18-20, there are three participles that modify the command to “teach” all nations. They are: (1) going, (2) baptizing, and (3) teaching. The participle “teaching” is διδάσκω (didaskō), “to hold discourse with others in order to instruct them, deliver didactic discourses.” Before teaching takes place, there is the matter of baptizing, a public answer by the believer to his faith in Christ (1 Peter 3:21). Preceding the baptizing of believers is the going of the church to unbelievers with the message of the good news of the gospel. So evangelism is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. The church CANNOT make disciples of the saved without first evangelizing the lost! It's why Paul asked this series of rhetoricals in Romans 10:14: “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?”
The evangelist is one of God's gifts to his church as are apostles, prophets, pastors-teachers. “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, EVANGELISTS; and some, pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 4:11). Evangelists are those whom God has equipped with a unique ability to communicate the gospel. They are gifted in expressing and illustrating its glorious truths with clarity and simplicity. They can tell the story of Jesus in a compelling manner and persuade sinners to trust the Lord Jesus to the saving of their souls. Philip, a deacon in the Jerusalem church, was an evangelist (Acts 21:8). The story of Acts 8 and the Ethiopian eunuch is a perfect example. Philip “preached Jesus” unto a man who was struggling to understand the truth of Isaiah 53 (Acts 8:32-39). He needed an evangelistic guide. His providential encounter with an evangelist resulted in saving faith, believer's baptism and great joy.
Paul instructed Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist” as pastor of the Ephesian church (2 Timothy 4:5). It isn't clear whether Timothy WAS an evangelist or just admonished by the apostle to engage in evangelistic activity in his role as pastor. I can testify as a former pastor that nothing prepares the heart of a pastor to preach the Word on Sunday like telling the story of Jesus to sinners on Monday through Saturday, especially when one or more of those sinners trusts the Saviour. The fact that a child of God is NOT gifted as an evangelist does not excuse him from telling the gospel story. Every church needs at least one evangelist, or a pastor doing the work of an evangelist, to keep the evangelistic fires burning. One of the tell-tale signs of a church in spiritual decline is a conspicuous lack of evangelistic activity and new converts.
The scripture makes clear that God expects his church to spread the good news in Christ. To the church at Corinth, Paul wrote: “Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame” (1 Corinthians 15:34). The word “shame” is ἐντροπή (entrope), a word that denotes confusion. Vine's Expository Dictionary says: “a turning in upon oneself, producing a recoil from what is unseemly or vile.” Our English word “entropy” comes from this root. Entropy is the state of a mechanical system in decline so it is no longer capable to performing useful work. With entrophy, the orderly becomes disorderly. The useful work of a local church is making disciples, including the foundational work of evangelism. When a church fails in the enterprise of evangelism and renders its surrounding community ignorant of the knowledge of God's grace in Christ, it literally turns in upon itself, and becomes less useful in kingdom work. It is shameful for a local church to fail in evangelism.
While not every child of God is an evangelist in terms of giftedness, every believer has the obligation to prepare himself to preach the gospel. That preparation is part of a believer's spiritual armour, as seen in Ephesians 6:15: “And your feet shod with the PREPARATION of the gospel of peace.” Preparation usually involves training coupled with mentoring. The shodding of feet (spiritual shoes) speaks of the believer's walk through everyday life, the firm footing required to do so. Members of the Lord's local churches—ALL of them—should prepare themselves to tell the good news of Jesus as part of waging spiritual warfare. Pastors bear the responsibility to equip them to do so. Oftentimes, in his providence, God will bring a prepared believer in contact with someone searching for the truth. When these divine appointments take place, the preparation of the gospel of peace can result in salvation, as was the case with Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch.
Peter wrote: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be READY always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15). The words “preparation” and “ready” come from the same Greek root, and emphasize the obligation of ALL God's people to spread the gospel when God opens a door. A church that is not prepared and ready to spread the gospel runs the risk of falling into an entropic state. The number of 'ingrown' churches in America is too many to count. In fact, they are more likely to be the rule rather than the exception.
Thus far we've touched briefly upon the mechanics of evangelism: its meaning, its message, its place in the broader context of church ministry, its role as a spiritual gift and the mandate that rests upon all of God's people for preparedness and readiness to articulate it. That's the first side of the coin, the steps one must take in order to prepare himself to evangelize. We now turn our attention to the other side of the coin, perhaps the most important aspect of evangelism—the dynamics.
The Dynamic Side of Evangelism
We can sum up the dynamic side of evangelism with two words: power and boldness. Prior to his ascension to the Father's right hand, Jesus assured his disciples, saying: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” The word “power” is δύναμις (dunamis), from which we get the English “dynamite.” It signifies “power, might, ability or strength.” This power: (1) is derived from the Spirit of God as he comes upon and indwells the believer, and (2) makes that believer a witness for Jesus as an expression of his power.
Throughout the book of Acts, we find the apostles and other believers operating in the same power, the same divine enablement. The apostles with “great power” gave witness of the resurrection (Acts 4:33). Stephen was a man “full of faith and power” (6:8). The Holy Ghost “anointed Jesus of Nazareth” with the same “power” (10:38). Effective evangelism CANNOT take place without the same Spirit power that operated in the apostles, in Stephen and in Jesus of Nazareth! For a local church to engage in true evangelism, the δύναμις of God is absolutely indispensible! A church possessing the mechanics of evangelism without experiencing the dynamics is destined to become a Laodicean church—proper in their own eyes but powerless in the sight of God!
The pervasive nature of δύναμις in Christian living is very clear. The gospel is the “power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16). The preaching of the cross is “the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). The Lord Jesus Christ is the “power of God” (2:4). The kingdom of God is “in power” (4:20). The “power of Christ” rested upon Paul in his infirmities (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul desired for the Ephesian church to know the “exceeding greatness of his power” (Ephesians 1:19). Paul desired to know the “power of his [Christ's] resurrection” (Philippians 3:10). The spirit that God has given his people is one of “power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). Jesus holds his creation together “by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3). These references represent a sampling of biblical testimony regarding the undispensibility of δύναμις (divine power) in carrying out the Great Commission work of the church, and conducting the evangelism that is integral to it.
The second word is “boldness.” Boldness goes hand-in-hand with power. In scripture, you cannot find one without the other. “Boldness” is the Greek παρρησία (parrēsia), which signifies “freedom and unreservedness in speaking, all out-spokenness.” Its first usage in Acts: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus” (4:13). The religious leaders observed in these unlearned and ignorant men a way of speaking inconsistent with their backgrounds. The word “unlearned” is ἀγράμματος (agrammatos), literally “without the grammatical skills normally associated with formal education.” The word “ignorant” is ἰδιώτης (idiōtēs), “an illiterate, an ignoramous.” Our English word “idiot” comes from this root. Their speech lacked both articulation and sophistication. Yet there was no timidity, no stammering, no reluctance. In the minds of the Jews, there could be only ONE explanation for the apostles' outspokenness and boldness—they had actually been IN THE PRESENCE of Jesus, whom they preached as resurrected from the dead!
We must remember these men had recently seen the Jews in complicity with the Romans crucify their Lord. The city of Jerusalem was a hostile environment for Jesus' disciples. Every time they taught in the Temple who took to the streets, their lives were in jeopardy. The boldness they exhibited in 4:13 was due directly to the power of the Spirit (4:8). After commanding Peter and John “not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus” (4:18) and further threatening them (4:21), they “went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them” (4:23). At that point, a prayer meeting broke out as they praised the Lord and petitioned him for help in the face of a hostile enemy. In 4:29, they made this request: “And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word.” To say God was delighted in what he heard is an understatement: “And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with [controlled by, empowered by] the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness” (4:31). They requested boldness. The Lord through his Spirit provided boldness, freedom of speech. It's no more complicated than that.
In this context of apostolic prayer, we must cite Hebrews 10:19: “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus.” One of the profound truths in scripture is the ability of the NT believer to enter the Holiest place—the very presence of God! The blood of Jesus secures for us the boldness to go where Moses could not go and never went. Moses experienced the presence of God. But he could only go as far as the Holy Place. Aaron alone, as High Priest, could enter the Holiest, but only once a year. Now, if Moses was able to enjoy the presence of God in the Holy Place and depart the Tabernacle with divine radiance emanating from his countenance, how much more should that glory be reflected on the faces of NT believers, who have lingered in the presence of God within the Holiest? This is a privilege afforded NT believers that neither Moses nor any other OT believer ever enjoyed.
There is a direct relationship between the boldness a believer exercises in entering the Holiest and the boldness he or she exhibits in evangelism. Show me a believer who is bold in their witness, and I'll show you a man or woman who frequents the Holiest place with boldness as well. Contrariwise, show me a believer with no boldness, no power in evangelism, and I'll show you a believer who is a virtual stranger to the Holiest. The secret to evangelizing the sinner is spending time with the Saviour! As we saw with the apostles in Acts, their boldness to enter the Holiest in private resulted in boldness to speak the word of the gospel in public. It is difficult to operate effectively in the realm of evangelism without entering regularly into the presence of God.
Evangelism is a coin with two sides: the mechanics and dynamics. They provide for a sort of checklist for a believer to take inventory of his or her spiritual life in terms of evangelism. The checklist would consist of four questions with “Yes” and “No” checkboxes. They would be: (1) Do I understand the basics of the gospel? (2) Am I prepared to articulate them? (3) If so, is my preparedness backed up by readiness? (4) Have I been with Jesus? Most believers, if they've been saved for any length of time, can probably check “Yes” for questions #1 through #3. But it's question #4 where most believers fail. It's the dynamics of evangelism that make the mechanics work!