What is Biblical Evangelism?
By Rick Peterson
Christians are rightly concerned about reaching the world for Christ. The burden for lost souls is something that weighs on the hearts and minds of all true Christians, for after all, what is stake is the eternal destiny of untold millions. Consequently, Christians have responded by developing a myriad of mission programs for their churches addressing local and foreign outreach. Missionaries return home from foreign lands to speak of their work and to raise funds. Some Christian groups (as well as many cults) still go door-to-door to “witness for Jesus.” Billy Graham Crusades and others like efforts largely defined Christian evangelism in the twentieth-century. The effectiveness of all such efforts is debatable, and many pastors and elders today are left to consider just how it is their churches can do evangelism. The proper response is to bring these concerns to prayer and the Scriptures, and not to the latest fad or “Christian” marketing guru.
The Role of Prayer
Just prior to his ascension, the risen Lord Jesus told his small band of remaining followers to return to Jerusalem and wait in the city, “until ye be endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). These disciples were to understand that the power to fulfill their mission was to come from outside of themselves, and not from their own fleshly designs and efforts. There could be no legitimate movement or mission apart from them being clothed with power from on high. It was only after they had received this power that they would be, said Jesus, “witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 1:8). So the small band of disciples returned to Jerusalem to pray and tarry upon the Lord. During this time they prayed for guidance in replacing Judas, and they chose Matthias by lot and “he was numbered with the eleven apostles” (Acts 2: 23-26).
When the day of Pentecost had fully come, this same group was gathered in one accord and the promised power came upon them, and “they were filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4). The Christian church was born as result of these disciples obeying the Lord’s command and returning to Jerusalem to tarry and pray. After being filled with the power of the Spirit, Peter preached his famous sermon calling for repentance, faith, and baptism, accompanied by the convicting ministry of the Spirit. As a result, about three thousand souls were baptized, and the Christian church was founded. There is no record of the apostles attempting to make something happen in their own power; there were no mission or outreach committees formed; there were no traveling evangelists brought in; nor did the apostles go door-to-door taking surveys as to what the local populace would like in a church. There were no marketing or slick sales techniques employed. There was only simple obedience to the command of the Lord to return to Jerusalem, and there they engaged in waiting and prayer.
Later, after healing a lame man, Peter preached the second sermon which resulted in another five thousand men being saved. This time there was also persecution by the religious authorities. Spirit empowered preaching always accomplishes God’s purposes, and also brings about the opposition of the religious spirit of this world. So what did Peter, John, and the others do? Did they call a meeting to consider ways to avoid offending the religious leaders? Did they develop an easier, softer message to win the religious leaders support? Acts 4:24 tells us what they did in response to this opposition: “And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord” and prayed and made their appeal to God (Acts 4:23-30). Their response was to pray. What happened next? “And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness” (4:31).
The mission of the church expanded to the Gentiles in concert with Peter’s prayer time (Acts 10:9-48). Later, when Peter was arrested, a group of believers devoted time to intercessory prayer and were astonished beyond belief when Peter arrived to their home free (Acts 12:12-17). Paul’s first missionary journey came about in concert with a time of prayer and fasting (Acts 13:1-5). Then the Jerusalem council was formed to discuss how to respond to the controversy of receiving Gentiles into the still largely Jewish Christian church. The church had expanded so rapidly that such issues had not previously been considered, and it all began in concert with the obedience of prayer. Time and time again, prayer was the fuel that kept the church moving and growing, not business models and marketing. And this commitment to prayer never ceased to be the means by which the church continued to meet her mission. As Paul closed his letter to the Ephesians, he concluded his instruction on how to contend well in spiritual warfare, he wrote:
Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; and for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak (Ephesians 6:18-20 emphasis mine).
Paul was not a super-hero, he was a man; a man with his own set of human frailties, and he knew he desperately needed prayer in order to speak the gospel boldly. Many others had chosen to corrupt the word of God in order to make it more appealing, but Paul did not cave into such pressure. Some others even went so far as to preach another Jesus ….
The Biblical Standard
Today the modern church has lost confidence in the Holy Spirit and the preached word. Some, like Andy Stanley, have dismissed even using the Bible in sermons. One might wonder what kind of sermons Andy preaches without the Bible, that is, until one realizes his Bible-less sermons are the natural end result of a long progression away from biblical preaching in the church. For decades now, most churches have rejected sound expository preaching in favor of sermon-ettes designed to appeal to the felt needs of the crowd and provide humor and inspiration usually couched in a slick, professionally marketed topical sermon series. If the Bible is used at all, it is treated more like a reference manual to find topics, rather than taken as the revelation of the whole counsel of God to a lost world.
© Rick Peterson. 2017.