As the previous article explained, there is no Bible text that directly commands the ‘ordinary’ believers to engage in evangelism by preaching or formally proclaiming the gospel. The question then is: if we cannot find Bible texts that directly support it, could we not justify such evangelism as a logical result of what we read in Scripture? That is, could we not infer from Scripture that all believers should evangelise?
There are those who seek to do this. They recognise that if the whole evangelisation movement is a building without clear Scriptural foundation, then we need to try and establish reformed principles on which to build this structure. That is evident from the recent Evangelism Congress which published a report listing such ‘principles’.
Now it’s true that we can glean Scriptural principles without necessarily finding a particular text that clearly spells out: this is what you must do. Think, for example, of infant baptism, or the way we operate as bond of churches, or the way we organise mission, etc. You don’t find a specific text that you can pin it onto. Yet all these things are linked back to Scriptural guidance. For example, if someone denies infant baptism by claiming that there is no clear text that infant baptism is instituted by God, then we can all point to the covenant, to what Scripture says about children being members of the covenant, and that as such they must be baptised. And so we could go on.
But that’s not the case with evangelism. Nowhere in Scripture do we find a calling and obligation for the church members to be engaged in this. No matter how you try, you cannot justify it based on a command of the Lord, or of the apostles, or on what Scripture says about the relationship between church and world. So what happens is that the proponents of evangelism say: the time we live in necessitates it. And that leads to two responses.
On the one hand there are those who, recognising that there are no clear Scriptural texts to support such evangelism, do not try to appeal to Scripture texts but will slip the word ‘evangelism’ in alongside mission. They will say: It’s the church’s task to engage in mission and evangelism. Now no one denies the church’s task to engage in mission; that’s clear enough in Scripture. But the word evangelism is introduced alongside it, as if it’s on the same level, without any attempt to provide Scriptural justification.
On the other hand, there are those who use the words or deeds of Christ, or of prophets, or apostles and say: look, evangelism is more or less on the same level. They point to what these specially appointed figures in Scripture did and endeavour to use these examples to infer that evangelism is a calling from God and Christ. Like the first, it begins with the premise that evangelism is a calling but unlike the first it gives the superficial impression of being more closely linked to Scripture than the first.
This second response is reflected in the public report of the Evangelism Congress. Readers of the Report may assume that this official document has worked through the Scriptural grounds accumulated over a long period of time, and that its references to Scripture will serve to remove any doubts one may have.
But how disappointed we are when we look at the texts. As examples of evangelism there are references to the Old Testament words of Moses and Joshua, the judges and prophets, “who continually called the unfaithful people back to the service of the Lord their God”. Can these men, called by God in a special way, be examples of evangelisation? No, their labour amid God’s covenant people could be called reformation but never evangelism.
The same applies to their appeal to John the Baptist’s words: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is nearby”. Can we say that we have a calling to evangelise based on John’s preaching? We recall that he was an extraordinary figure appointed to call the people of Israel to repentance during a unique period in the history of God’s kingdom. He had a special calling with regards to the coming Christ amid the Jewish people. Both his unique appointment as herald of the Christ and the particular time in which he was called to preach can surely not be used to justify evangelism by ordinary church members?
As for the references to the preaching of Christ as basis for our evangelism, we must say that His work stands completely outside of the issue of evangelism. His preaching, like that of the disciples and the seventy who were sent out by Him, was directed at the lost sheep of the house of Israel. It was a totally different situation, wherein He called these men to a specific task and personally gave them direct instructions. The apostles too received specific instructions. The Saviour sent them into the world, to the nations, and that work continues through the mission work entrusted to the congregation. It’s drawing a long bow to use these specific instructions to the apostles as a basis for evangelism.
The Evangelism Congress’s Report also appeals to the Lord’s letters to the seven churches in Asia-Minor. We read there, for example, how one of the letters calls church members to repent because they had left their first love. But first, we must say that this is a letter from Christ. Moreover, it is addressed to a church. The seven letters of which we read in Revelation 2 & 3 promote reformation in the churches, not evangelism as we understand it. Here again, you ask yourself how an appeal to these letters can be used as a basis for evangelism.
We have a task to reform our churches continually, to submit to God’s Word in all we do. Ongoing reformation, it’s called. But this is quite different from the evangelisation as the Report seeks to justify it.
Undoubtedly there are other examples from Scripture to which appeals are made, but the above examples from the Evangelism Report are probably the main ones used to establish ‘principles’ to justify evangelism. We must conclude that such references to Scripture do not justify evangelism. Indeed, we conclude that evangelism as it’s being promoted is something invented by people. Consequently we cannot expect it to bear fruit because Scripture not only gives no information about the ‘how’ and ‘whereto’ of evangelism, but also to the ‘if’ of evangelism; for it does not even tell us that we need to engage in evangelism.
(to be continued)
Reference: Ds K J Kapteyn of Zwolle, Evangelisatie der Gereformeerden en Gereformeerde Evangelisatie (II)