Is New Testament Evangelism Doomed by the Modern Church? – Earl Gieseke

Earl Gieseke

After being in the church of our Lord for about 58 years, I am convinced that, in most congregations with which I am in contact with in one way or another, that Personal Evangelism is basically nonexistent. Thus, since I believe in a “thus saith the Lord” for what we teach and practice, does the New Testament teach that each congregation—yea, even each member is to be personally involved in evangelism?

Christianity is not really so much a “we” or “they” or “us” religion; but it is really an “I” religion. Hear Jesus: “And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) See the emphasis in personal responsibility in following Him! Members do not actually bear “collective sins,” but sin is an individual burden. Sins are not forgiven collectively, but individually. While whole churches may fail in personal evangelism (and there is no other kind), it is due to the failure of individuals. Expecting to pay someone else to perform our duties has resulted in all kinds of sins. Turning our personal responsibilities over to someone else has resulted in a “religion by proxy.”

The missionary society, choirs, a multiple ministry (including youth ministers to entertain children) are all the results of individuals abdicating their personal responsibility. Members have given over the responsibility of determining the work and worship according to sound doctrine to elders, as well as to men in business meetings. As a consequence, many things have found their places into our “services,” and some things are no longer done that was a part of worship according to the pattern found in the doctrine of Christ.

Since I believe and teach that the Bible has the answer to every question and the solution to every problem, where is New Testament evangelism decreed, defined and Demonstrated? Let us now examine these questions.

Evangelism Decreed: Surely even a student of the Scriptures who is a novice can show proof passages for evangelism being decreed by the Captain of our (their) salvation (Heb. 2:10) as He gave the Marching Orders for the soldiers of the Cross. By the way, these marching orders have never been rescinded by the One who gave them! According to secular history, the ones who received the marching orders, plus Paul, as well as many others who followed them faithfully, followed them unto death. But, see the rewards of such living and dying (Rev. 2:10; 14:13).

The Greek word used by the writer of Hebrews for captain, is, archegos; a chief leader:–author, captain, prince. The word is used only of Christ. It is translated, Prince (2); captain and author See Acts 3:15; 5:31; Heb. 2:10; 12:2). [Other versions translate, archegos as, originator, founder, pioneer, and Prince Leader.] The decree was given by the Lord as instructions for the apostles, and for ones who would become faithful followers of the instructions in the kingdom/church until the end of time. The marching orders are found in Mat. 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16 and Luke 24:45-47.

Notice that the orders as decreed are words of action; but, the modern church has largely made them ways of inaction. The apostolic church, fortunately, did not have a building to hinder them. After some 58 years as a member of the blood bought institution known as the kingdom of God, I have come to the conclusion that one of the greatest hindrances to the spread of the good news is the church building. It is so sad that we have made the army of Christ, a “barrack’s bound militia,” and mostly useless group as far as following the divine decree. What wise and thoughtful person can deny this as we observe a saved (past tense, in some cases) people with a house-bound-brand of religion? Listen to this question from the Commander and Chief of His army: “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” The declared decree involved going, but the modern church is afflicted with a spiritual sitting disease! It does not stipulate just how far one must go in order to carry out the grand plan; but, eventually, some must go unto the ends of the earth. Must you read the decree afresh to read, go? Some were expected to go unto all the world, and some did (Col. 1:23, 21-29).

Consider the Giver of the decree before it is dismissed as just for preachers. First, all power (authority) is His. Second, those who love Him will keep His commandments (John 14:15). Not all can go to other nations, and most do not need to, because the “fields are white unto harvest” where you and I live! One need not get a passport and vaccinations to convert lost souls. Much money is used, and very unwisely, because some members believe that we must spend our money abroad to fulfill what we have come to call, The Great Commission. People are sent to foreign fields who cannot speak the language, nor do they understand the customs. Why? Because it is a conscience soother. I am not against supporting men abroad IF they can be more effective there than here. One congregation where I was preaching gave the son of a former preacher there who had died, $2500.00 to go to a foreign field who could not speak the language nor did he know their customs. It was really a one year vacation at the expense of using the money where it may have done a lot of good—at home where he did know the language and customs. But, it sounds more “romantic” to speak of “doing mission work in Italy,” than in doing personal evangelism in Kentucky (or your state). Jesus did not say that a soul who speaks a different language than English has more value than a soul at home! Just stop and consider how money would be used more effectively IF it was used to do personal evangelism where one knows the language.

Evangelism Defined: Perhaps no one has more clearly defines true New Testament evangelism as well as Luke as he recorded the words of the apostle Paul: “And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have showed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house,” (Acts 20:20). Nearly every congregation practices some form of the former (public preaching and Bible classes); but, in most cases, only the preacher is expected to practice the second part. So, does the reader wonder why churches of Christ have fallen from one of the fastest growing and best giving per member religious group in the USA in just a few decades to now be out of the top fifty (According to figures I have seen)?

I attended briefly (left due to things being done not found in the New Testament pattern) a congregation near my home. When one was announced who had just been baptized due to a study with the preacher (who else?), I asked the preacher how many besides himself were doing personal studies? This was a congregation with three elders, several deacons, and with approximately 200 in attendance. His answer was, “No One.”

Within my tenure in the Lord’s church, the churches of Christ were actually one of the fastest growing and the best in giving per member. Do you wonder why we grew so rapidly? Many congregations were actually practicing NT evangelism. Some of us called it, 20-20 evangelism, based on Acts 20:20. Home Bible studies (Called cottage meetings back then) were being conducted across the nation. People were going to foreign fields, it is true, but large numbers who could not go across the oceans, went across the streets and across the cities locally to study with people.

What happened? The gospel did not lose its power, but the pulpit lost its power. Messages that had challenged people became pabulum (bland) for pew packers who wanted only a “dab” of religion. Preaching that had once resulted in repentance has become a no-guilt gospel, of which Paul wrote, “Is not another, but some pervert the gospel of Christ.” (Gal. 1:6-9).

A preacher may preach for years and never preach any error; but, it is not just what is taught that is important and creates ignorance an indifference in a congregation, but what is not taught as well.

Evangelism Demonstrated: One need go no further than the inspired history of the church in order to find a collective effort by individuals to see New Testament evangelism demonstrated. This too is from the pen of Luke: “Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word” (Acts 8:4).

Now before the ones who suffer from spiritual anorexia declare, “Ah ha!, only men can preach, and thus women and the untrained men are exempt from this, because Luke wrote that they preached.” Sorry to “burst your excuse bubble,” but the Greek word here is not the one we get preach, as in 2 Timothy 4:2, which is from the Greek word, kerusso – to herald (as a public crier), especially, divine truth (the gospel):–preach (-er), proclaim, publish. (Strong’s Greek dictionary.) In this passage the word, preach is from the Greek word, euaggelizo – to announce good news (evangelize) especially, the gospel:–declare, bring (declare, show) glad (good) tidings, preach (the gospel) (Strong’s Greek Dictionary).

Albert Barnes, though not a member of the church of Christ, is a well known scholar, wrote a good comment on this verse, and I insert part of it here:

Preaching the word – Greek: “evangelizing,” or announcing the good news of the message of mercy, or the Word of God. This is not the usual word which is rendered preach, but it means simply announcing the good news of salvation. There is no evidence, nor is there any probability, that all these persons were “ordained” to preach. They were manifestly common Christians who were scattered by the persecution; and the meaning is, that they communicated to their fellow-men in conversation wherever they met them, and probably in the synagogues, where all Jews had a right to speak, the glad tidings that the Messiah had come. It is not said that they set themselves up for public teachers, or that they administered baptism, or that they founded churches, but they proclaimed everywhere the news that a Saviour had come. Their hearts were full of it.

Since churches of Christ advocate—though many have abdicated—that we follow the examples of the New Testament church, why then, the disconnect between our profession regarding personal evangelism and our carrying out the example of our first century brethren, as well as many in the 20th century? It is basically due to one of two reasons, or both: and it is to our often mentioned, “two evil I’s” of ignorance and indifference! These are the real reason the majority do not even contemplate doing personal evangelism. Do you suppose some might actually be ashamed for their neighbors/coworkers to find out that they were zealous in their religion.

Why is it that only the “hired hands” (and not all of them are really active except in words) do any personal evangelism? Because it takes more than simply attending when convenient. As well as talking (which is cheap and easy) there must be walking! As well as praying, there must be production!

So how do the majority of members of churches of Christ compare with the religious neighbors who are condemned by some (though not as many as it once was) to hell because they use instrumental music and fail to baptize for the remission of sins? For the most part, the failure is manifest and miserable. If someone who is trying to proselyte to their religion knocks on your door, what are the chances that it will be a member of the church of Christ? It is sad indeed, but the question is almost laughable. You know the answer! The chances are slim and none that one who is attempting to convert someone to their religion who knocks on your door is a member of the church of Christ.

Concerning doctrine, Paul penned:

These things command and teach (1 Tim. 4:11).

And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also (2 Tim. 2:2).

But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them (2 Tim. 3:14).

Doing this would make Timothy a good minister of Jesus Christ; however, not doing this would have caused souls to be lost. It is still true today that one may not teach any error, but refuse to teach the whole counsel of God, and the result being souls being lost. Men and women may be lost due to the absence of truth in the messages of the preacher/teacher!

Several years back a preacher living in Louisiana at the time was scheduled to go to Texas to hold a gospel meeting in a big congregation. Before he left, he received a letter from the elders of that big congregation. In it the preacher was told: “Don’t come over here and preach on divorce and remarriage, because we may have as many as fifty couples in unscriptural marriages.” I wonder if he did as he was told by the elders, or as he is commanded by the doctrine of Christ (2 Tim. 4:2)?

Do you wonder why a congregation with elders and a preacher (maybe more than one preacher) could accumulate fifty couples who would be in unscriptural marriages? It was because the men were elders in name only, and they may have had a preacher who loved his job more than he loved truth and souls.

Dear reader, remember that one must always preach the gospel! So wrote Paul to Corinth:

Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain” (1 Cor. 15:1-2).

Peter wrote that as long as he was alive he would remind brethren again of things he had already taught them (2 Pet. 1:12-16).

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