Some Thoughts on the Direction of Evangelism

by Derek Gentle


Evangelism is the main work of the whole church until Christ returns. However, our unchanging message must be presented in changing times. Here are some of the realities we are going to have to deal with:

Evangelism is going to have be more content oriented.
There was a period when there was a general knowledge of the Biblical teachings concerning the nature of God, the condition of man, the peril of sin, the self-sacrifice of Christ on the cross, His atonement for our sins, the love of God toward sinners, the offer of salvation, repentance, faith, etc.. When one went to discuss salvation with a person, the response was often, "Yes, I know I need to do that." Now, in America, people do not know the basic facts of the Gospel. We have to start somewhere along the lines of, "God is a personal being, not an impersonal force, like in Star Wars."

Yet, I keep reading evangelistic materials which seem to assume facts not in evidence (in the minds of many of the lost who will read them). "Just pray this prayer" stuff. Well, the Gospel is simple, but it is not absurdly simplistic. One cannot believe what one does not understand. One cannot understand what he has never heard. And one cannot be saved without believing on Jesus or without understanding the cross.

Evangelism is going to be more Time Consuming
Since evangelism is going to require communicating the contents of the Gospel, it will take more time with those who have no background in its basics. The Bible speaks of the process of sowing, watering, and reaping. While there are those who have come to Christ the first time they heard or were even exposed to the Gospel, most folks take more time.

Evangelism training is going to have to focus on learning how to communicate the gospel clearly across cultural and religious boundaries
By religious boundaries I mean to include learning to communicate with people from the secular religions of atheism, agnosticism, and self-idolatry. We cannot simply assume they know what we mean. We cannot bank on people having the same background as ourselves and then talking to them in terms only we understand. More and more, I see Christian witnesses buffaloed because they don't know what to say to someone who doesn't come from their evangelical sub- culture background.

Evangelism is going to have to Model Integrity and Patience
One of my favorite quotes on this matter comes from Jim Petersen,
"Our job is to help a person understand the Scriptures. The burden of proof is not on us, but on them. The responsibility to convince lies with the Holy Spirit, not with me. I am responsible to be faithful to that person by maintaining his exposure to the word of God until a final decision is made, for or against." (Evangelism as a Lifestyle, 1980, Navpress - now published as a combined volume called "Living Proof")

If this is our concept, we will not be tempted toward manipulation, oversimplification, emotionalism, or being so numbers conscious that we forget to count changed lives instead of just bodies in a certain part of a building.

"For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain. But even after we had suffered before and were spitefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we were bold in our God to speak to you the gospel of God in much conflict. For our exhortation did not come from error or uncleanness, nor was it in deceit. But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts. For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak for covetousness God is witness. So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us"
1st Thessalonians 2:1-5, 8

Evangelism is going to require confidence in the cause -- and courage
Yes, Evangelism is Christian. Lately, evangelism, especially by Southern Baptists, has been hammered by the media. Part of the problem is that Southern Baptists are being represented as the only ones who believe Jesus to be essential for Salvation. Take this sentence from a story,"Converting a Child: Jewish Boy Caught in Southern Baptists' Evangelizing Efforts," on the ABC web site:

"The Roman Catholic Church, the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church all strongly discourage conversion of Jews to Christianity and encourage interfaith dialogue."

In recent years, many of the mainstream denominations have rejected historic Christian teachings. Let it be said that while some have rejected their own teachings, Southern Baptists have not.

This is not simply a "Southern Baptist issue." In this matter, Southern Baptists are not saying anything outside the scope of historic Christianity; they are in perfect consistency with the historic creeds and confessions of all every denomination in Christiandom.

For example, in the United Methodist's Twenty-five articles, under article IX, "Of the Justification of Man," we read that, "We are accounted righteous before God only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, by faith, and not for our own works or deservings."

Or take this passage from the Westminster Shorter Catechism:
Question 33
What is justification?
Answer 33
Justification is an act of God's free grace, wherein He pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone. "

The Larger and Shorter Catechisms, which, with the Westminster Confession of Faith, are the standard catechisms of the Presbyterian churches throughout the countries of the former British Empire and the U.S., were compiled by the Assembly of Divines at Westminster (1645-52).

The Episcopalians confess this:
The New Covenant
Question 38:
What is the New Covenant?
Answer :
The New Covenant is the new relationship with God given by Jesus Christ, the Messiah, to the apostles; and, through them, to all who believe in him.

( The Episcopal Catechism )

Many think of Roman Catholics as being the opposite of Baptists. In terms of Jesus Christ being essential for salvation consider this portion from the Roman Catholic Catechism (be sure and take note of the last sentence):

Our participation in Christ's sacrifice
618 The cross is the unique sacrifice of Christ, the "one mediator between God and men".[452] But because in his incarnate divine person he has in some way united himself to every man, "the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery" is offered to all men.[453] He calls his disciples to "take up [their] cross and follow [him]",[454] for "Christ also suffered for [us], leaving [us] an example so that [we] should follow in his steps."[455] In fact Jesus desires to associate with his redeeming sacrifice those who were to be its first beneficiaries.[456] This is achieved supremely in the case of his mother, who was associated more intimately than any other person in the mystery of his redemptive suffering.[457] Apart from the cross there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven.[458]

This is a matter of defining the core doctrine of historic Christianity. This is the message for which we should all stand graciously and firmly. As the New Testament affirms:

"Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" - John 14:6

"Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." - Acts 4:12