By Spencer D Gear
A Christian friend wrote to me recently and asked, ‘I’m wondering if you believe all Christians have a duty to evangelise? I’m trying to find someone who can explain the Scriptural case for it’. This is a penetrating question.
I had not thought too deeply about it of late but have taken it for granted from my evangelical church tradition that it is the responsibility of all Christians to engage in evangelism. My friend’s question got me to thinking about biblical support for my position.
Those supporting every-person evangelism
My friend summarised the understanding of the basic message of the people in his church who believe that all should engage in evangelism:
1. Evangelism is a universal command stated in Scripture.
2. Therefore all Christians should evangelise.
3. All Christians don’t evangelise.
4. Therefore those who don’t are less virtuous (e.g. lazy, scared, excuse-making, not prioritising the Kingdom, ignorant) at best, deemed immoral at worst (NB, disobedient or rebellious to Christ’s command).
5. Therefore it is the responsibility of other Christians to exhort the non-evangelising Christians to evangelise.
He provided no biblical references to support this view.
Those supporting evangelism as a special gift
The other group of the congregation promotes the view which he supports, that the evangelism is to be done by those with the gift of evangelism. He stated his position:
1. God uses the Church to accomplish His mission.
2. God equips individuals differently for ministry according to His purposes.
3. The Church body is to value diversity of ministry, valuing each member’s ministry as equally important to the whole.
4. The Scriptures records the Church leadership discouraging others imposing or elevating their personal faith commitments and understanding onto others due to the risk of creating disunity.
5. The Scriptures does not record the church leadership exhorting entire congregations to evangelise. (I may be ignorant here and will happily be proved wrong)
6. Therefore it seems biblically inconsistent to place explicit or implicit expectations onto all Christians that they should be exhorted by other believers to evangelise.
Please note that he provided no biblical references to support his position.
What does the Bible emphasize?
a. Some have the special gift of being an evangelist.
These Scriptures emphasise that gift:
- Ephesians 4:11-12, ‘And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ (ESV).
- Acts 21:8, ‘On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him’.
There are only three uses of the word ‘evangelist’ in the entire Bible. They are Acts 21:8; Eph 4:11, and 2 Tim 4:5. This latter verse exhorts Timothy to ‘do the work of an evangelist’ and is not speaking of the gift of an evangelist. However, the few mentions of ‘evangelist’ do not diminish the fact that it is one of God’s special ministry gifts to the church.
Charles Spurgeon once asked in a sermon:
WHAT IS THAT NECESSITY WHICH IS LAID UPON US TO PREACH THY GOSPEL?
First, a very great part of that necessity springs from the call itself: If a man be truly called of God to the ministry, I will defy him to withhold himself from it. A man who has really within him the inspiration of the Holy Ghost calling him to preach cannot help it. He must preach. As fire within the bones, so will that influence be until it blazes forth. Friends may check him, foes criticise him, despisers sneer at him, the man is indomitable; he must preach if he has the call of heaven….
I think it no more possible to make a man cease from preaching, if he is really called, than to stop some mighty cataract, by seeking, with an infant’s cup, to drink its waters. The man has been moved of heaven, who shall stop him?… I think if God has called a man, he will impel him to be more or less constantly at it, and he will feel that he must preach among the nations the unsearchable riches of Christ….
I have preached this sermon especially, because I want to commence a movement from this place which shall reach others. I want to find some in my church, if it be possible, who will preach the gospel. And mark you, if you have talent and power, woe is unto you if you preach not the gospel (Preach the Gospel, Sermon No 34, 3.1).
Spurgeon himself was one of those with this special gift.
b. Everyone to evangelize
1. Paul wrote to Timothy whose primary gift was pastoral and said, ‘As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Tim 4:5, emphasis added).
Timothy, who did not have the gift of evangelism, was commanded to ‘do the work of an evangelist’. This has application to every believer, no matter what their gifts, to engage in evangelism – sharing the Gospel with unbelievers.
2. Matthew 28:18-20 (emphasis added), ‘And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’.
So these disciples were to teach disciples to observe (i.e. put into practice) all that Jesus commanded them. What did he command them in these 3 verses? To go and make disciples of all nations. Evangelising is a prerequisite of discipleship. To make disciples among the nations means that ALL disciples need to put Matt 28:18-20 into practice. Yes, the original message was given to 11 disciples (Matt 28:16), but to be in the NT should mean that it is there for all Christians to put into practice, ‘Make disciples of all nations’, baptising and teaching to put into practice what Jesus commanded his original disciples.
Matthew 28 should be the most convincing as we are told to disciple all nations and teach them to put into practice what Jesus has commanded – evangelism and discipleship. It’s everyone’s responsibility. Obviously some have the special gift of evangelism (I’m not one of them), but I’m told to evangelise.
3. Second Corinthians 5:17-20 (emphasis added), ‘
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God’ (ESV).
Verse 17 gives the context of ‘anyone’ who ‘is in Christ’ – anyone who ‘is a new creation’. So this applies to all Christians. What is one of the roles of these Christians? God ‘gave us the ministry of reconciliation’ (v 18) and ‘we are ambassadors for Christ’ (v 19). So the ministry of reconciliation (we can call it witnessing or evangelism) is a requirement for ‘anyone’ who is ‘in Christ’ and ‘is a new creation’.
I consider that this is further evidence to demonstrate that sharing our faith – the ministry of reconciliation between rebel sinners and God – belongs to all believers, anyone who is a new creation in Christ.
c. Preaching the gospel by deeds?
There’s a challenging article by Duane Litfin in Christianity Today, ‘Works and words: Why you can’t preach the gospel with deeds‘ (30 May 2012). Part of this article states:
So let us say it again: The belief that we can “preach the gospel” with our actions alone represents muddled thinking. However important our actions may be (and they are very important indeed), and whatever else they may be doing (they serve a range of crucial functions), they are not “preaching the gospel.” The gospel is inherently verbal, and preaching it is inherently verbal behavior. If the gospel is to be communicated at all, it must be put into words.
Living for Jesus, being a light for him, or doing good deeds are not considered the Gospel. They may attract people to Jesus through your life, but words are needed to proclaim the Gospel.
The role of the gift of an evangelist
There is definitely a special calling to be an evangelist, e.g. Eph 4:11-14; but please note what the role is for these specially gifted people – including the evangelist:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes (Eph 4:11-14 ESV).
Let’s use the role of the special gift of evangelist as an example. The job description is:
- ‘to equip the saints for the work of ministry’. It doesn’t say the role of the evangelist is to equip other specially gifted evangelists for their role as evangelists.
- This equipping of the saints builds up the body of Christ, and in thus doing it leads to….
- ‘unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God’, and it leads to….
- maturity, which is a measure of the fullness of Christ in our lives.
- By being equipped in this way, we will not be tossed about by false doctrine, cunning and deceitful schemes (i.e. we will be equipped in polemics).
I hope I’m not drawing a long bow here. One of the greatest deficiencies in the contemporary church, from my observation, is its inability to take these equipping verses seriously and do the job of equipping all believers for ministry. The practical questions could include:
(1) How do I know who are the gifted people in our church groups? I have generally found that they will become self-evident. Get me in any small group and it should become evident through my participation that my gift is that of a teacher. An evangelist’s gift will shine wherever he goes. My friend, Pastor Chuck Parrot of Covenant Baptist Church, Union, South Carolina, USA, has an obvious gift of an evangelist. Go with him to any store and you’ll soon find out, as we discovered when he visited us in Australia.
Covenant Baptist Church (Union SC)
(2) Which people will agree to being equipped? In the church I currently attend, I don’t know of any evangelist who would be able to equip people in evangelism. We would need to bring in an evangelist to do that. Or, should that be done by the pastoral team? I doubt it, knowing the current range of gifts.
(3) For much of the equipping in my ministry I have sought help from outside sources for Child Wise, How to parent your out-of-control-teenager, domestic violence counselling and prevention, preaching (homiletics), systematic theology, etc.
You also might be interested in John Stott’s view in his sermon, ‘Preach the Gospel: 2 Timothy 4).
Conclusion: Why are these emphases in the New Testament?
An issue for me in all of these verses is: Why are they in the New Testament if they are not to apply to the whole church? Originally they might have been addressed to 11 or 12 of Jesus’ disciples or Paul’s audiences, but they are in Scripture because we need to practise this teaching.
I conclude with these biblical emphases:
(1) There are those who have the special gift of evangelism. They should exercise that gift AND use it to equip other believers for their ministries of evangelism. Some will need to ‘do the work of an evangelist’ even though their special gift is not evangelism.
(2) There are enough verses to emphasise that all those who are new people in Christ (i.e. all Christians) should be proclaiming the message of reconciliation through Christ and being ambassadors for Christ.
 The ESV footnote was, ‘Or pastors’.
 The ESV footnote was, ‘Or the shepherd-teachers’.
Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 18 November 2015.