The final thing we must consider regarding biblical evangelism is that in the New Testament the apostles and the early church taught and practised that baptism was part of the actual conversion process. Throughout the New Testament evangelism consisted simply of the declaration to unbelievers that they should repent of their sins, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be baptised. That, and that alone, is the biblical gospel. And if you read the Acts of the Apostles you will find that, entirely consistent with that assertion, converts were baptised immediately upon profession of faith in the Lord.
Fundamentally, for two thousand years, the Christian Church has gotten baptism completely wrong, and two errors have dominated regarding it since the emergence of the false teachings of the Early Church Fathers. The first error is when baptism occurs when it shouldn’t (infant baptism), and secondly, when it doesn’t occur when it should; that is, when it is delayed after conversion for the purpose of any kind of baptismal preparation.
We must be clear that, if we go by scripture as opposed to unbiblical Christian tradition, baptism has nothing whatsoever to do with such things as whether your parents are existing church members and themselves baptised, or with joining a church, or with the ministrations of priests or church pastors, or with special church ‘services’ to inaugurate new converts into the Christian life. Absolutely not! None of those things have anything whatsoever to do with baptism! In the New Testament, whether someone was saved publicly in a crowd, or privately with hardly anyone else present, converts were baptised immediately upon profession of their repentance and faith and Jesus. No special meetings were required, and there was certainly no need for church leaders to be present for the purpose of presiding over proceedings and performing the baptism. Biblically, baptism was simply understood to be part of the conversion process. If you were with someone who had just believed in Jesus and gotten saved, then you baptised them as soon as possible – pure and simple!
I’m not suggesting that if someone believes on the Lord but doesn’t get baptised as part of that process they aren’t saved. Of course not! But I am saying that for two thousand years, as with evangelism in general – and many other things pertaining to our discipleship and church life – the Christian Church has followed the false teachings of mere men as opposed obeying the teaching of the New Testament. Or, to put it another way, whether it be evangelism, baptism, church life, or a myriad other things, the Christian Church continues, virtually monolithically, to go against the teaching of scripture.
So let me summarise what we have seen in our consideration of biblical evangelism:
- Nowhere does scripture command that all believers are to engage in proactive evangelism.
- Nowhere does the New Testament instruct us to pray for the salvation of unbelievers.
- There is not one example in the entire New Testament of an evangelistic declaration that includes the proclamation of God’s love to unbelievers.
- The gospel message is the communication of the fact that God’s wrath abides on unbelievers, and that they are commanded to repent, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be baptised. By so doing they will receive forgiveness of their sins, the free gift of salvation and eternal life.
- The New Testament teaches that baptism is part of the conversion process and that converts should therefore be baptised immediately upon repentance and profession of faith in the Lord. There is no biblical requirement for the presence of church leaders, neither for special church ‘meetings’ during which baptisms are performed. Whether the evangelism had taken place in a public or private setting, the early church baptised converts immediately simply upon their profession of faith.
I do appreciate how unnerving and mind-blowing all this is, but hey, don’t blame me for the fact that the Christian Church is in so much serious error and continues to go against the Bible so much. As an Ephesian 4 pastor-teacher I am mandated by the Lord to teach what scripture says and to refute error, and I must therefore expose the unbiblical and man-originated doctrines and traditions that most other Christian leaders teach, and to which most Christians resultantly adhere. But let me end with this: If you disagree with what I have said and want to counter it in any way, then I think that’s great! Indeed, I positively welcome it! Please feel absolutely free to challenge what I have said and to correct me all you will! (Indeed, feel absolutely free to challenge anything I have ever taught anywhere!) But here’s the deal! You must do so from the text of scripture itself and not on any other basis. You are free to fire all the unscriptural theology, personal opinions and so-called ‘prophetic’ declarations at me you want, but be warned that I will only take notice of arguments and reasonings that are formulated from the text of scripture itself. I have no desire to upset or offend anyone, but when it comes to issues of doctrine, ethics and practise, I only accept as authoritative the teaching of scripture itself.
One of the problems that results from Christians believing things that aren’t found in the pages of scripture, yet whilst assuming that what they believe is scriptural, is that when they meet folk who are actually biblical in their thinking they assume that they are the ones who aren’t being biblical. Let me give you an example!
Although most churches are set up and function pretty much the complete opposite to what we see in the New Testament, Christians in such unbiblical churches nevertheless assume that their unbiblical churches are biblical and as scripture teaches. Therefore, when they meet a believer who is part of a church that is actually set up, and which does actually function like the New Testament churches, they correctly realise that it’s the opposite of their experience of what a church ought to be like, but completely incorrectly assume it to be in error and therefore don’t recognise it as even being a church. Indeed, I have faced this argument on more than one occasion from church leaders who have sought to discredit me in some way. Because I am part of a church which is set up like the churches in the New Testament we are therefore completely different to the churches my detractors are part of. Therefore, because these leaders of unbiblical churches don’t recognise us as even being a church, they accuse me of being churchless. Not being part of a church is then presented as the evidence that I have gone rogue and am spiritually deviant, and that I should not, therefore, be listened to.
But of course the fact remains that I am, and always have been, part of a church, just as are those who claim that I am not. But of course it’s just that I’m not part of a church as far as those who think un-biblically about church are concerned! Because they don’t realise that they aren’t thinking biblically about the subject, they are therefore convinced that anyone who is part of a biblically set up church isn’t actually part of a church! Whatever we are part of, these folk claim, it isn’t a church! Can you see the problem?
So in similar vein there may well be those among my readers who now think I don’t believe in evangelism, just as there are Christians in ‘them thar hills’ who don’t believe I am part of a church. So let me make quite clear, notwithstanding what I have said about evangelism and praying for unbelievers, that I do most certainly believe in evangelism, but in evangelism as biblically understood! Nothing could be further from the truth than any suggestion that I don’t believe in, or that I in any way downplay, evangelism!
Indeed, for those who are called to proactively evangelise, and who therefore have the gift of being an evangelist (or apostle), I actually believe that they ought to pursue their calling downright obsessively. What, I ask, outside of being a godly husband and father, could be more important to them? (Indeed, I am convinced that there are those who are called to evangelism whilst still single who will be required to forego marriage, and especially if their gifting is that of being an apostle, with the almost constant travelling involved, precisely so they can be sufficiently obsessed and not have a wife and children distracting them. My own calling is that of the Ephesian 4 pastor/teacher – I am obviously using the word ‘pastor’ here in it’s biblical sense and not meaning the commonly used unbiblical definition – and I think it probably safe to say that I’m more than a little bit obsessed myself. Present me with the slightest opportunity to show folk what the Bible teaches, and/or to pastorally help them grow in the Lord, and I positively guarantee that I will dive in with both feet, hook, line and sinker, all guns blazing and with even a faintly maniacal look in my eye. So yeah, I’m obsessed with my calling, and I expect evangelists and apostles to be obsessed with theirs. But it would be nothing short of ridiculous for either me or them to expect Christians who don’t have the same calling to be similarly occupied or equally exercised as we are.
Returning to evangelists, though, this is not to say that they don’t have a role to play in regards to the saints! They most certainly do! And that role, as Ephesians 4 makes clear, is to encourage and carry those believers along with them who don’t have the gift of evangelism themselves, and get them caught up, so to speak, in the wake of their enthusiasm and evangelistic endeavours. This must, however, be entirely voluntary on the part of the non-evangelists, and must occur at the Spirit’s leading without any pressure being put on them. Remember, there is no command in scripture for non-evangelistically-gifted believers to proactively evangelise. But the beauty of having apostles and/or evangelists around is that they will create all kinds of circumstances in which non-evangelistically-gifted believers can get to do a good bit of responsive witnessing which they wouldn’t have otherwise had opportunity for, due to the apostle/evangelist creating those opportunities for them.
Similarly, pastor-teachers like me will always be looking out for younger men to encourage and mentor, just as Paul encouraged Timothy in his calling and then exhorted him to likewise encourage others by way of passing on his function and gifting to them. But in the process of such Ephesian 4 ministries equipping the saints at large and passing on their gifting to others, we must ensure that we keep ever in mind the vital truth that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are apportioned differently to each according to the Lord’s will, and not all are going to have the same gifts.
So here’s the deal; I’ll be obsessed with my calling from the Lord and you be obsessed with yours. We will thereby complement each other and labour together seamlessly in the vineyard, whether by planting or watering, as the Spirit directs and enables. Biblical ministries must never be thought of as being in competition with each other, and we must never ‘play them off’ against against each other as if to suggest that one is more important than another.
In this whole matter of evangelism and making disciples we must start learning to function properly, by which I mean biblically! We need to stop messing it all up by continuing to do things according to unbiblical Christian tradition – which so few believers seem willing to question and challenge – and to function instead purely in accordance with God’s Word.
More tomorrow, same time, same channel! Be there or be square!
I think that most believers would share my understanding that the Church of Jesus Christ breaks down into various divisions, layers and component parts. There is what theologians like to term the Church Universal, by which they mean all believers throughout time, including the future. Then would come the Church Militant, by which is meant all believers alive at any given moment. Then would come the sub-divisions of the church of a nation, then the church of a city or geographical area…and so on and so forth!
However, whereas these are indeed all biblical aspects of the Church of Jesus Christ as viewed from what we might term its cosmic and corporate aspect, it is nevertheless vital to understand that the New Testament writings, and especially the letters to churches, are concerned not primarily with the cosmic, global or national aspects of the Christian Church, but with the smallest component of all; that is, the individual and specific church each individual believer was required to be an actual part of, and which met in believers homes! Indeed, it is to such churches, and such churches alone (no other type then existed), that the New Testament letters were mostly sent, whether to individual ones or to multiple churches far and wide.
Every believer is, of course, a de facto part of the Church Universal, the Church Militant, the Church National and the church of a whole geographical area, but every believer is most not necessarily part of any given individual and specific church. In the light of these important distinctions there are therefore things that can rightly be said of ‘church’ from the cosmic/global/national/geographic point of view, but which would be nonsensical if applied to individual and specific churches. For example, every Christian in England is, by very definition, part of the church Universal, the Church Militant and the Church National, and it can therefore be said that there is, ultimately, just one church in England; but it would be both ridiculous, as well as sinfully divisive, should any specific and particular church in England claim that it is itself the only church. Nationally there is indeed but one church of Jesus Christ in England, but it is made up of a myriad of individual and specific churches. And of course it is this subdivision of specific and individual churches that gives credence to the fact that whereas all believers are, by definition, part of the Church of Jesus Christ cosmically, globally and nationally etc, it can nevertheless still be said of believers who not be part of an individual and particular church that they are churchless!
It is therefore quite obviously the case that, from the cosmic, global and national point of view, by which I mean the corporate aspect of the Church of Jesus Christ as viewed from God’s perspective, is the means of the gospel being spread throughout the world. It is, in todays common theological jargon, missional! To say that the primary function of the Church of Jesus Christ is to spread the gospel is to make a fully biblical statement. Indeed, as someone once said, in this sense the church exists for mission as a flame exists for burning. However, if one were to say that such is therefore also the case for individual and specific churches, then that statement would be actually completely unbiblical! The thing to be grasped here is the fundamental difference between the Church of Jesus Christ as a cosmic entity and universal manifestation of the Lord, and the individual and specific churches of which every believer is, biblically, supposed to be a part.
When it comes to understanding church life in this context of individual and specific churches, it is vitally important to grasp that the writers of the New Testament never teach, or even suggest, that the function of such churches is to evangelise. Indeed, not only does scripture never suggest that the function of a specific and individual church is evangelism/mission, it rather, in complete contrast, states quite blatantly that an individual and specific church exists solely for the purpose of the building up and spiritual growth of those who are part of it, existing therefore purely for the benefit of those who are already believers. A church and its gatherings are for the purpose of edifying the saints, not evangelism! Individual and specific churches exist to spiritually nurture and build up those Christians who comprise them, pure and simple! Biblically, a church is simply an extended family of God’s people, and families exist for no other ultimate reason than to provide love and nurture for those who are part of the family. A husband and wife love and care for each other! Simple as that! Job done! If they have children then they love and care for them also, raising them in the Lord and preparing them to follow Him as adults, thus repeating the process all over again. But of course, this doesn’t mean that family life is only insular and only about the family members who comprise it. No! As a result of the love and nurture received in family life, each member of that family is enabled to be who they are meant to be outside of the family, being thus enabled to become a better citizen of the wider society in which they live.
And so also with being part of a church. Each believer is, biblically, required to be part of a particular and specific church such as described in the New Testament in order that, as part of that extended family of God’s people, they are nurtured, cared for, held to account and brought into increasing maturity in the Lord. And of course part of that growth is that they in turn learn to provide such care and nurture for everyone else in that church, thus growing in becoming a carer as opposed to merely someone who is just cared for. As with a nuclear family, it is a caring and nurturing thing. Neither nuclear families nor churches exists for any other reason than to provide nurture for those individuals who comprise them. However, as a result of such nurture, each believer in a particular and specific church is thereby spiritually built up and enabled to discover their gifting, function and calling to those unbelievers outside the church, by way of sharing the gospel and doing good works in the world. This is where mission belongs, outside of church life and not as part of it!
Though so very clear in scripture, this is nevertheless sadly and disastrously misunderstood and misapplied by most Christians. As a result, and completely ironically, such misunderstanding actually prevents churches being what they are meant to be, and actually stops them from doing what they are meant to do. The New Testament teaches that evangelism and doing good works in the world (two sides of the same missional coin) are not functions of a church, but rather the function of those believers who comprise a church, and are what they do outside of church life. Get this wrong and a church becomes a dysfunctional church, just as nuclear families can become dysfunctional families.
When we look at the letters to New Testament churches there is something quite amazing that stands out that virtually never has any attention down to it. What we hear today, even from many house churches, is the virtually monolithic challenge to the effect that churches, and therefore Christians, ought to be ‘missional.’ “What’s your vision for evangelism?” “How many churches are you committed to planting in the next year?” “How many folk have you witnessed to this week?” Such is what believers are subjected to again and again and again and again! But when we turn to the pages of the New Testament the simple, and completely amazing, fact is not merely how little of such talk and exhortation we find, but rather that there is none of it at all! At no point does any writer of scripture to a New Testament church in any way suggest that those they are writing to should have a vision, strategy or plan for evangelism. Nowhere does any New Testament writer state, or even suggest, that every believer should be in some way proactively engaged in evangelistic pursuits! The closest thing to any such thought is Peter’s exhortation that his readers be ready to give an answer for the hope they have within them, but of course that is an exhortation to a responsive communication of the gospel when asked, and not an instruction to proactive evangelism.
In the New Testament the way evangelism worked was that apostles and evangelists simply got out amongst unbelievers and preached the gospel. They didn’t drag churches around with them, or try to pressure others into joining them by teaching that everyone else was meant to be doing it too. Quite the contrary! Apostles and evangelists evangelised, and then they either started new churches or fed the new believers into existing ones, so as to be cared for and nurtured spiritually. Those Christians who weren’t apostles or evangelists, and most weren’t, just got on with their daily lives shining like a light for the Lord doing good works in the world; and when those around them asked why they were so different they would simply share the gospel in response as enabled by the Holy Spirit.
Question: What is the strategy for evangelism in the New Testament? Answer: Hardly any at all! But what little there is comprises of apostles (the Ephesian 4 gift of proactive evangelism combined with the Ephesian 4 gift of pastor/teacher) and evangelists (the gift of just evangelism) proactively evangelising, and believers who don’t have such gifts, and most don’t, living quietly and minding their own business, just as the New Testament letters teach, yet being ready to give a response to any who ask them concerning their faith and godly way of life.
Conclusion: It is not the function of individual and specific churches to engage in mission, and church life is actually damaged when such an understanding prevails. Further, it is completely unbiblical, to say nothing of actually unfair and oppressive, to put pressure on believers who are not apostles or evangelists by teaching that they should be taking part in proactive evangelism even if they are not at peace about so doing. The role of believers who are neither apostles nor evangelists is to simply live godly in Christ Jesus, be part of whichever individual and specific church the Lord has put them in, and to support and encourage anyone in that church, or in any other church that they know, who has an Ephesian 4 gifting, be it that of apostle, evangelist, prophet or pastor/teacher.
More to follow in the morning!