Is it every Christian’s task to evangelise? Many people believe it is and it is certainly a recurring message that we hear and read. And if you resist the concept of evangelism, you are straightaway accused of not caring about the salvation of others. Does God require each of us to preach the gospel? Can we care about the salvation of sinners without evangelising? And if we don’t take someone by the shoulder and tell them about Christ, does it mean we are ashamed of Him, of being a Christian?
One thing needs to be clear first: the definition of evangelism. Wherever Scripture uses the word evangelism, it always refers to the official preaching of God’s Word, never to our conversations with unbelievers. It seems that in our day, evangelism is a word used for any form of sharing the gospel or even inviting people to church, while Scripture reserves this word for the preaching of His word.
The fact is that we are not to see it as part of the office of every believer to preach the gospel. Instead, ministers and missionaries are called to this task by God, while everyone else must support them and bring glory to the gospel through their actions.
Throughout the Bible, we see how God chooses men and charges them to bring His Word.
In the Old Testament, God brought His Word through the prophets. God anointed them as a sign that He has given them the task of preaching His Word (I Kings 19:16, Isa. 61:1, Ezek. 16:9). Their words would not be their own but would have divine authority. Hence the repetition of phrases like “thus says the LORD” and “the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah”.
Likewise, in the New Testament, office-bearers were appointed by God. In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus charges the apostles with the preaching of His Word and the administration of the sacraments:
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
Paul, too, was chosen by God for His task and ordained with the laying on of hands (Acts 9:15-17).
An apostle was an extraordinary office, one that was specific to the time of the early church. But ministers, elders, and deacons were also appointed by God. A few verses to illustrate:
And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? (1 Cor. 28-30).
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers (Eph. 4:11).
Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28).
Clearly, God appoints office-bearers. In the New Testament church, as well as Old Testament Israel, we see a structure where only a few men are ordained to preach God’s Word. This also matches what James says: “let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment” (James 3:1).
Since the office of minister or missionary is appointed by God, it is not something to be seized, but should be seen as a gift. Paul says (about priests, but it applies to all offices), “and no man takes this honour to himself, but he who is called by God, just as Aaron was” (Hebrews 5:4, see also FRCA Church Order, art. 3).
So why does God work through special offices? Won’t the church function just as well if everyone uses their gifts?
Everyone is indeed required to use their talents in the body of Christ, but this does not make the special offices superfluous. An office-bearer needs God’s authority to do certain things. For example, elders need God-given authority to exercise church discipline, and a minister needs God-given authority to administer the sacraments and preach God’s Word. Moreover, ministers are under the supervision of consistory to ensure that what they are preaching is God’s Word.
So we see that the preaching of God’s Word is the task of those who have been called by God, and not of every Christian.
But what has this got to do with modern evangelism? It’s not preaching when you initiate a conversation with an unbeliever. Is it?
The point is that no one other than ministers and missionaries is tasked to deliberately go into the world to bring others to faith. The apostle Paul says in Romans 10:14-15:
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? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?
God intends that He calls ministers; they preach the Word to the people who hear and then believe. The means by which someone receives faith is by coming to church (missionaries also establish churches) where he will hear the official preaching and be strengthened by the sacraments (I Cor 1:20, 1 Pet 1:23, 25, Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 65, 83). The Canons of Dort (Chapter 1, art. 3) says:
So that men may be brought to faith, God mercifully sends heralds of the most joyful message to whom He will and when He wills. By their ministry men are called to repentance and to faith in Christ crucified.
All of God’s elect will be saved, and the means by which He does this is the preaching of His word through His servants.
This is not to say that believers should never share the gospel with their unbelieving neighbour. Of course not! If the opportunity arises, one must always unashamedly “be ready to give a defence to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15). But I question the message that we must all deliberately go into the world to evangelise if we have not been called by God to do so.
If you don’t evangelise, it doesn’t mean you don’t care about the salvation of others. It also does not mean you are ashamed of the gospel or of being a Christian.
Nowhere in the Bible do we find a command for every Christian to go into the world to evangelise. Nor do we find examples where Christians, other than appointed office-bearers, were evangelising (i.e. preaching the gospel). Instead, we must live a godly life and so bring glory to the name of Christ (Tit 2:4-5). Jesus says, “let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16, see also Phil. 2:15, Eph 5:8-9). Being a light to the world involves, in the first instance, living a godly life. Peter writes:
Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear (1 Pet 3:1-2).
Good works are a powerful tool to win unbelievers for Christ. Even 1 Peter 3:15, where it tells us to give a reason for the hope that is in us, relies on our good works. First, the unbelievers see our good works, they see how we will continue to serve God amidst persecution. They then ask us for the reason why we will endure persecution for our religion. Then we give a reason: we believe in Jesus Christ who died for our sins. By our good works, we show ourselves to have a salvific mindset and to be unashamed of the gospel of Christ.
We must also support the mission work. We are part of the body of Christ, but the whole body is not the mouth. If you are financially able, give liberally for the work of such evangelism. If you find mission opportunities, report it to the consistory. Pray for the mission work.
Finally, ‘ordinary’ Christians may and must initiate conversations with unbelievers when situations arise. These opportunities are limited for several reasons, however. The most important reason, as discussed, is that we do not have the mandate to go into the world to convert unbelievers. The situations have to arise naturally. In the second place, we are not to socialise with the world, so an opportunity to speak to someone about Christ is limited in this way as well (Gen. 3:15, Ps. 1, Prov. 30:20, 1 Cor. 15:33). And then, of course, the person must be willing to listen, or else we would be throwing pearls before the swine (Matt. 7:6). Such a conversation with an unbeliever should not be a substitute for the preaching, but the main aim must be to invite the person to church where he can receive the official preaching by God’s servants. This task, of making use of opportunities to invite unbelievers to church, must be stressed, but when it is done in the wrong mindset (that it is a calling of every Christian to deliberately go into the world to evangelise), it becomes unhealthy. Not only does it pharisaically impose a burden that is not required by God, but it also distracts a person from his true calling in the church (as elder, deacon, housewife, mother, breadwinner, etc).
In conclusion, do not see it as every Christian’s task to evangelise. At the same time, if an opportunity arises and the person is willing to know more, you must be ready to share the good news with them. Invite them to church. Apart from that, bring glory to Jesus Christ through your conduct. Show your support for the mission work. May we all endeavour to bring glory to the name of God in whatever function we have in the body of Christ.
God, in His wisdom, has chosen to proclaim the gospel through His servants. If you have an aspiration and the necessary gifts to become a missionary, prepare yourself through personal Bible study, by living a godly life, and by further studies (languages, church history, etc.). Apart from that, you can only wait for a call from God through His congregation.
“The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into His harvest” (Luke 10:2).
This article was published in Contender, the FRCA Youth Magazine, February 2021, and is published on Defence of the Truth with Br Johannes Retief’s permission.