Evangelism: What it is and isn’t

Not long ago I spoke at a church about Good News Clubs® and how the congregation could get involved. Before I spoke, there was an announcement made about a prayer walk through the neighborhood. The people were encouraged to walk and pray, and even engage the neighbors as ask if they wanted them to pray for them. The pastor was giving the announcement, and quickly interjected: “I’m not saying you have to do evangelism.”

I don’t believe the pastor, a godly woman who is well respected in the community, is against evangelism. But the disclaimer probably has more to do with assuaging the fears of people who don’t want to do what they think is evangelism: being argumentative, confrontational, judgmental and rude. I think we are all well acquainted with the media images of men with megaphones and sandwich signs that make gratuitous use of the word, “Hell.” But is this the Biblical model of evangelism? Is there a Biblical model of evangelism?

The only explicit example of an evangelist is a man named Philip who appears in Acts chapters 6, 8, and 21. I  am not going to quote it at length because the point of this series is to get you to read it in the Bible for yourself. But we first read of Philip’s evangelistic activity in Acts 8:5, when he is part of the believers in Jesus who was scattered by the persecutions in Jerusalem.

Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ.
And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did.
For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed.
So there was much joy in that city.  Acts 8:5-8 ESV

Philip was proclaiming Christ to the Samaritans, a group that was shunned by the Jews, and he was also doing miraculous signs and even exorcisms. And there was joy because of this! The Gospel was exactly what its dictionary definition calls it: good news.

Philip was not the only person who was expected to do this. After all, Jesus had commanded all His disciples to go into all the world and preach the Gospel. But Philip is the only person in the New Testament who is identified as an evangelist. (In fact, way more people are identified as prophets in the New Testament, but that is another blog post.) Still, there are other examples of people proclaiming the good news about Jesus. The Book of Acts give examples in the ministries of both Peter and Paul.

On the Day of Pentecost, less than 2 months after Jesus had been crucified and resurrected, Peter preached to the people of Jerusalem. This message came on the heels of a miraculous sign, as the Holy Spirit was poured out on 120 disciples who then spoke in tongues that were understood by all the religious pilgrims who had come from around the known world. This message explained what had happened to Jesus and why, according to the Old Testament prophets, and included an invitation to believe and be baptized. It also had baked into it, “this Jesus whom you crucified.” These were the very crowds that had yelled “Crucify him!” when Pontius Pilate asked the crowd what to do with Jesus.

I draw this out because the Gospel, in its purest form, is an invitation, not an accusation. You find this charge against the Jews of Jesus’ time in other places, like Acts 4 and 7, but this is not done in Samaria, where Philip was preaching to outsiders, or at the home in Cornelius in Acts 10, when Peter is preaching to non-Jews. Likewise, Paul’s outreach to the Gentiles in his ministry is not accompanied with threats of Hell and damnation. His evangelistic work, like that of Philip and Peter, is accompanied by signs and wonders.

But, what about Paul’s writing to the Corinthians, the Galatians, or the Romans, where he is quite explicit about sin and its punishment? It is important to note that these were messages to those who already believed, but were clearly not forsaking their sin. After all, Pal explicitly states, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you.'” 1 Corinthians 5:12-13.

Yes, it is someone’s job to deal with sin among God’s people. But that is not the work of evangelism. Paul told Timothy to do the work of an evangelist, but it takes a prayerful reading of the scriptures to find out what that is. I believe Paul explains this when he says we are called to be God’s ambassadors:

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;
that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

By paying the price for the world’s sin with the blood of Christ, God had cleared the books, that is, reconciled them. That reconciliation belongs to all who believe. That is why we implore people to be reconciled to God. It is NOT AUTOMATIC. Salvation is by grace (the reconciliation by God’s gift), through faith. (Ephesians 2:10).

So, what are the elements of the Gospel that we preach? They can be found in a restating of John 3:16. God loves us so much that He gave His son to take our punishment, and now we trust in Him for our eternal life. Is it that simple? Yes. So why is this so hard to do? It is partly because of the ramifications of what we are asking people to believe. And that will be the subject of the next post.

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