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Why we don’t evangelize and why we must

If there is a time to be silent, there is also a time to speak (Eccl. 3:7). If the gospel is the Good News entrusted to us, we heap upon ourselves guilt if we neglect to pass it on. In his book Our Guilty Silence, Dr. John Stott lists four major causes for our silence. He said, “Either:

  • we have no compelling incentive even to try to speak,
  • or we do not know what to say,
  • or we are not convinced that it is our job,
  • or we do not believe we shall do any good, because we have forgotten the source of power.”

And we can add a few causes of our own. Some have identified evangelism as an outgrowth of American activism – they think of it as just a bag of clever tricks and techniques to gain church members.

Other are caught up in the tension between evangelism and preserving the purity of the church. They struggle with the question: What comes first, preserving the truth of the gospel and restoring the church through a Reformation or evangelism and missions?

But the Bible does not allow us to emphasize the purity of doctrine at the expense of evangelism. Of course, we must stress purity of doctrine and contend for the faith once for all entrusted to the saints (Jude 3). But a church which keeps her doors closed out of fear that the world may enter is not faithful to the Gospel. A church which does not evangelize can be compared to a crew of a lifeboat anxious to save the souls of her own members. She certainly does not resemble a rescue brigade out to reach our fellow men, who are perishing without the Savior. When we live the Gospel, the tension between maintaining purity of doctrine and outreach into the community and world will not exist. We will spend our time and energy on both.

So in this article I will point to six reasons why we must be active in congregational outreach.

1 – The Glory of God

First, we must evangelize because we are zealous for the glory of God. As Reformed Christians we must always have the glory of God as our motive for action. That’s why Reformed Christians have been instrumental in establishing Christian schools, a Christian labor movement, a Christian businessmen’s organization, and we are involved in Christian politics and in a host of other Christian activities. And rightly so. These very activities attracted me to the Reformed faith.

But we must not only strive to win all things for Christ, but also all people for Christ. The ultimate goal of all things is the glorification of God. “For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.” (Rom. 11:36). Our Savior Himself regarded the salvation of man as a means to bring glory to God. In His high priestly prayer He prayed, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” (John 17:4). Therefore, through evangelism we bring glory to God’s name.

2 – Obedience to God

Second, we evangelize because our Lord commanded it. Evangelism is not an option, but a sacred duty and a high calling. We evangelize because we are commanded to as part of the all-inclusive task of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). Our Lord’s assignment is to proclaim the Gospel, bring new converts into the church, lead them to the sacrament of baptism and disciple them.

Evangelism, then, is the work of the church in obedience to her Lord to make known the Gospel to those who are estranged from it or who have never heard it before and to call them to repentance, faith and conversion.

3 – Love for God

Thirdly, love for God should motivate us to do evangelism. R.B. Kuiper called it, “The motive for evangelism, embracing and excelling all other worthy motives.” If the love for God does not compel us, what will?

Yet in much current literature on evangelism this love motive is rarely mentioned. The emphasis is more on the felt needs of the non-Christians and on outreach techniques rather than on the force that should drive us to proclaim the Gospel – the love for God. “God is love” (1 John 4: 8,16). He has shown His love to us by sending His only Son into the world for our salvation (John 3:16). When we know why we are Christians and what we are saved from, we want others to share the same privilege. We cannot even begin to love people, if we have no love for God. John says, “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). The greatest command is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37). As God has freely loved us, so we love Him.

R.B. Kuiper comments:

“Love for God and His Christ guarantees on the part of the believer loving, hence genuine and devoted, in distinction from external and legalistic, obedience to the divine command to evangelize the nations. And this love for God will keep us going even in the face of disappointment, lack of immediate results and discouragements.”

I too, am convinced that we must focus on God’s love. We love God for His own sake. And when we love Him we will be affected by His love. The love for God will enable and encourage us to witness boldly for Christ.

4 – Love for our fellow man

Fourthly, we evangelize because we love our fellowman. Yes, we must love God for His own sake, yet love for God must find its expression in our love for our neighbor. Jesus said that the first and greatest command is to love God. And He added, “the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39). And I know no greater expression of love for God and our neighbor than to bring the Gospel to him and in this way bring glory to God.

If we believe that our non-Christian neighbor is eternally lost unless he hears the gospel and responds to it, how can we remain silent? There is a heaven to be gained and a hell to be shunned. Hell has not frozen over. “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). This is as true today as it was back in the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve’s fall into sin. Jesus spoke of eternal punishment for the wicked, but for the righteous, eternal life (Matt. 25:46). Those who are not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life will be cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15). Shouldn’t we ask, when we are honest with ourselves, “Don’t we suffer from the sin of omission?”

God does not want anyone to perish (2 Pet. 3:9). He finds the salvation of one sinner so important that the angels in heaven rejoice every time a sinner repents of his sin and trusts Jesus as His Savior and Lord (Luke 15:10). But how can sinners put their trust in Him if they have never heard of Him? How can they hear unless someone preaches the Gospel to them? God will save many of the lost in the world, but He will do it only through men and women willing to go into the world with the Gospel (Rom.10). How can we, who subscribe to the truth that all who believe in Jesus Christ will be saved and all others are bound for hell, neglect to persuade them to turn from the road of destruction upon which they are walking? If we still believe in the reality of hell, evangelism will be indeed seen as a sacred duty. And we will say then with the apostle Paul, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor. 5:20).

The late Rev. J. Overduin, a well-known Dutch author, pastor and evangelist, told the story of an atheist who had come to Christ and had become filled with love for Him. The converted atheist said that one thing he could not understand was that he had been living in a neighborhood where church people lived, but not a single one had ever told him the Gospel. I wonder how often this story can be repeated in our own neighborhoods.

5 – Love for the Church                               

Fifthly, we evangelize because we love the church and long for her expansion in the world. By and large, today’s church gets bad press. But the church is still the bride and the body of Christ (Eph. 5:22ff; 1 Cor. 12). In His great commission, our Lord commanded His church not only to make disciples of all nations, but also to baptize them (Matt. 28:19). Evangelism, therefore, is not completed until the convert has joined the church. Professor Lindeboom aptly said:

“Evangelism is not only a sign of health of the church, it also keeps her healthy. It is for every church a question of life and death. Through evangelism the church is concerned about her own well being.”

6 – Advance of the Kingdom of God

Sixthly, we evangelize to advance the Kingdom of God. The Gospel which Jesus preached is described as “the Gospel of the Kingdom” (Matt. 4:23). Our Lord also said that He will not return until the Gospel of the Kingdom has been preached in all the world for a witness to all nations (Matt. 24:14). Our Lord taught us to pray, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is heaven.” Lord’s Day 48 confesses that this petition means:

“Rule us by your Word and Spirit in such a way that more and more we submit to you. Keep your church strong, and add to it. Destroy the devil’s work; destroy every force which revolts against you and every conspiracy against your Word. Do this until your Kingdom is so complete and perfect that in it you are all in all.”

The Gospel of the Kingdom focuses on the whole person: the hungry, the naked, the afflicted, the mourning, the despairing, the exploited. Our world must be confronted with the claims of Christ. All who receive Him should honor Him as Lord. He is Lord of lords and King of kings (Rev. 17:14). The aim of evangelism, therefore, is to bring the world to the recognition of Christ’s Kingship. As a hymn writer put it:

“Let every kindred, every tribe, on this terrestrial ball,
To Him all majesty ascribe, and crown Him Lord of all.”

Conclusion

Since evangelism is imperative, I focused on the motives for reaching the lost for Christ. When we are rightly motivated, evangelism will be spontaneous. No packaged programs, no gimmicks, no marketing techniques will succeed in making permanent waves for evangelism. Only when the church is excited about the Gospel and Biblically motivated, will we see spontaneous evangelism.

And this Biblical approach requires patience, understanding and empathy. As we reach the lost for Christ in obedience to the Great Commission, driven by our love for God and for our fellow man, we should remember what our primary calling is – not that we should be necessarily successful but faithful.

In conclusion, consider the apostle Paul’s word of encouragement to the church in Corinth, which was troubled, yet engaged in evangelism:

“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow” (1 Cor. 3:6).

A version of this article first appeared in the February 2001 issue under the title “Our guilty silence.” Rev. Johan Tangelder (1936-2009) wrote for Reformed Perspective for 13 years and many of his articles have been collected at ReformedReflections.ca.


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It's necessary: use words!

I hadn’t expected to meet a witch on the bus, what with their alternative form of transportation. Yet there she was, not a wart to be seen, sitting across the aisle. She had started the ride buried in a book, but her head came up when my friend and I discussed a particular point of theology in a slightly louder than normal fashion. This friend was on his way to becoming a minister, and theological topics always had the effect of cranking up his volume. I suspected that this was a conscious decision, rather than just an outburst of enthusiasm, since he always talked about how Christians had to be more of a light to the world. And he was a light: a roaring, exploding bonfire of light that could not be ignored by anyone within earshot. Whether we were sitting in a steam room, or hanging out at a coffee house, or sitting on the bus, he provoked obviously unchristian people into talking with us. This time around it was the witch. A few minutes into the ride she interrupted us to ask us what religion we followed. My friend was happy to explain, and then asked her what church she went to. “Oh, I don’t go to a church,” she said, “I worship my personal goddess at home.” The way she explained it, witches (or Wiccans) sounded a lot like New Agers. They did try and cast the occasional spell, but only love spells, and the central tenet of their religion was a respect for all of nature. It was just mumbo jumbo, nothing shocking or new for us, until she started talking about her personal goddess. After listing all sorts of benefits that came from having a goddess on call, she admitted it was nothing but a fabrication. That admission left both me and my conversationally-endowed buddy at a loss for words; we just couldn’t understand how someone could knowingly choose a delusion over a real, caring, and powerful God. So we asked. They don't understand The question surprised her. “You guys have to understand,” she blurted, “You pray and that makes you feel better, right? So what’s the difference between what you do and what I do?” The basic fact she didn’t understand, the thing no one had told her before, was that we Christians serve the one real God. This woman had never heard that before. Her Wiccan experience with religion was an openly delusional one, so she, quite logically, assumed that all other religions were similarly based. I found her ignorance surprising, but since then I’ve found it isn’t unusual. In fact, I had a similar sort of encounter less than a month later. This time my friend and I were making our semi-regular pilgrimage to a display sponsored by our university’s pro-choice club. I always went to pick up as many free brochures as possible, which, once I was out of sight, I would gleefully destroy. It was a small thing – a very small thing – but I thought it was at least as good an approach as the one my friend tried time and time again. He always debated with the pro-choicers. But what was usually a waste of breath turned out a differently that day. After a heated five-minute exchange one of the young ladies at the table asked for clarification, “Do you mean you really, honestly think it’s a baby?” “Of course,” my friend replied, “Why else would we even care?” Well, that just didn’t fit with what she had been told, “I thought you religious types were just using this issue to try to control women.” Her friend nodded in agreement. They didn’t understand – they were utterly ignorant. Conclusion I’ve always wanted to believe that evangelism was as simple as living a good Christian life. I wanted to believe I didn’t actually have to talk about God as long as people could see His presence in my life. Actions are louder than words, right? The problem is, in this post-Christian age people don’t have the background – they don’t know the basics of Christianity – to understand our actions. A Christian who doesn’t work on Sunday is just a guy who gets the day off. No sex before marriage becomes the rational act of someone who’s scared of sexually transmitted diseases. Action against abortion is understood as a power grab against women, and even prayer can be explained away as nothing more than a type of meditation or some psychological self-talk exercise. Actions only speak louder than words when the reasons for the actions are understood. And the world doesn’t have a clue anymore. So, as John MacArthur once put it, we need to “Preach the Gospel and always use words.” The world doesn’t understand so we all have to start talking and explaining. If you already are, you may have to start talking a little louder. And if you’re uncomfortable with cranking up the volume maybe you can just hang out with a conversationally-endowed buddy who isn’t. A version of this article first appear in the January 1999 issue under the title "Dumb, but not deaf"...


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