Nine Consequences of a State Church Structure

A student recently sent me the photo of a page in a book seeking my advice. This author said:

“There are no records of Paul reproving a church for not growing, or even giving commands and exhortations concerning personal evangelism. This is all the more striking when we remember that Paul sharply reproved churches for division, heretical teachings, and immoral behavior.”

As I read these lines several reasoning came to mind:

  • The author seems to lack a full understanding of the use of New Testament verbs related to evangelizing.
  • The author highlighted two points important to a state church: (1) avoid division at all cost and (2) safeguard against heretical teaching.
  • State church constructs have rarely or almost never been supportive of personal evangelism within their realms. These negative predispositions to personal evangelism taint everything they touch: histories, theologies, commentaries, and lexicons.

Several hours later, in meeting with this student, I was surprised to find that the book was written by a Baptist for Baptists—who have a long history of being persecuted dissenters, primarily due to their emphasis on personal evangelism!

The several lines of this author cited above, led me to consider how differently the Scriptures can be read, whether from a state church perspective or from a freedom of conscience perspective. As the Scriptures are translated, printed and disseminated, a worldview is sometimes injected or imposed upon the text. For the greater portion of Christian history, a state church interpretation has been the dominant worldview.

However, in order to understand how a state church worldview might influence Bible translation and the broader culture, it may prove helpful to extrapolate consequences of a state church religious system on Christian doctrine and practice. The following nine statements posit points of compliance resulting from the acceptance of a state church arrangement.

(1) Moving toward a General Atonement

The first obvious result of a state church was enshrined in the 1525 Diet of Spier: “Whose Region, His Religion.” Accompanying the concept of a state church was the belief that the entire population within a geographic region was automatically under obligation to submit to the system of religious persuasion of its political leader. Hence one religion, and only one religion, for everyone in a given region. This dictum offered a level of legality to the massacre of Baptists across many parts of the Continent of Europe.

With a universal belief system logically follows the necessity for a universal salvation for those living within those political boundaries. Hence, general atonement naturally proceeds from the state church construct.

In the early development of the state church system, there was a little known council, the A.D. 473 Council of Arles. At that Council a series of recantations were drawn up for a certain errant Lucidus by Bishop Faustus of Riez. One of the teachings Lucidus was to recant was, “That says that Christ our Lord and Savior did not undergo death for the salvation of all.” It appears that Lucidus was not teaching in favor of general atonement, and he was reprimanded for his departure from both a general atonement view, and the larger state church consensus.

(2) Unified Doctrinal Guidelines

As elaborated in the point above, in order to properly manage a state church, rules and regulations are required. For the “Orthodox” churches of the time, the Nicene Creed became their foundational document. Let it be noted that the Nicene Creed did not hinder the state church from fully accepting a sacramental system of salvation.

In a sacramental system of salvation, an evangelist is not needed to preach repentance toward God and faith in Christ. Rather, in a sacramental system, a priest is needed to bestow the graces of Infant Baptism, the Eucharist, and the other prescribed means of grace as determined by the consensus of the leadership of the state church.

(3) Centralizing Authority

Along with controlling the church doctrinally, lines of authority are needed that follow the precedent of political lines of authority. If the state government is centralized, then a centralized church authority is needed to properly associate the state church construct with the many levels of leadership of the state. The pages of the Bible were mined for passages tending toward a focus on centralized authority. In this light, Deuteronomy 17:8-13 proves helpful to require absolute submission to a centralized religious system.

(4) Developing Hierarchies of Roles and Offices

With the borrowing of the organizational structures of the state, titles were needed for different levels of leaders. The pages of the New Testament were therefore scoured to find leadership titles to reflect the organizational hierarchies of the state. From the New Testament were drawn terms such as apostle, bishop, deacon, doctor (teacher), elder, and pastor (shepherd). Soon New Testament church titles did not suffice to fill in the state church flow chart. So, other titles were drawn from the Old Testament, such as patriarch and priest. These titles filled in the elaborate hierarchies being applied to the church, even though they represented an organization quite foreign from what is found in the Book of Acts. They came to exist as the state church sought to align its leaders with their political counterparts. Later titles were invented from outside of Holy Writ (archbishop, archdeacon, cardinal, pope).

Interestingly, two less used New Testament titles are evangelist and prophet.

The use of a term as a state church office title is very hard for a reader to shake off. For example, the title Bishop carries with it cultural connotations related to the state church office of a Bishop. The meaning of a state church title becomes enshrined in the linguistic jargon of a people.

(5) Monopolizing Christ’s Ordinances

In order to control its religious identity and monopoly, the state church quickly gravitated to controlling the application and uses of the ordinances of Christ. They could not allow that just anybody could obey the command of Christ, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” Their state church role was to oversee that only those who upheld a correct (Orthodox) understanding of the ordinances should be authorized to administer the ordinances of Christ. There must be seriousness and unity in the application of the Lord’s Supper, as well as in the administration of Baptism. These two ordinances must be controlled—and they were!

In the case of Roman Catholic Tradition, the names of the ordinances became “Sacrament,” “means of [receiving] grace”—or the reception of holiness based on the root meaning of the Latin sacrum (something consecrated, a holy thing, holy place, etc.). Therefore, the reception of the gift of God’s grace was conferred by these two ordinances, to which five other ordinances were added. Foot washing not being considered one of the Seven Sacraments.

As a follow-up to controlling the ministration of the ordinances of Christ was the extension of church membership into the state-church all those who were “rightly baptized.” The concept of “right baptism” was somewhat fluid as it included Arian Visigoths, a self-baptized Jew from Metz, France, and all those baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit by whatever method or in whatever church. The caveat to this extended church membership was that church discipline [and state discipline] could therefore be applied all who were considered church members by “right baptism.”

(6) Controlling the Preaching Offices

Even as titles were being conferred and the ordinances administered, the preaching office of the church also needed state church oversight. Without state church supervision, how could heresy be kept from the pulpits and from the streets. The regulatory machinery of the state church complex began to decide who could and who could not preach.

In so doing, there is a valid question if state church leaders usurped the authority of Christ, who said, “So send I you.” As in most of the above points, it appears that the true leadership of Christ in His church was being substituted for the leadership of the human hierarchy of the state church.

It was at this juncture that a strong distinction was made between laity and clergy. Soon, in the Western State Church, being considered clergy meant submitting to the state of celibacy. Lay people get married. Clergy remain celibate.

(7) Discrediting Freedom of Conscience

As more and more control was gathered in the state church leadership structure, the right of the people to think religiously for themselves was greatly diminished. As mentioned above, “Whose Region, His Religion.” The state church construct had the tendency to remove all freedom of conscience from their citizens in areas of spirituality and religious practice.

Controlling freedom of conscience is controlling conversion. Persons were not allowed to decide for or against Christ for themselves. At Infant Baptism they had chosen Christ as taught by the state church, and that decision was immutable. The idea of adults willingly repenting and confessing Christ was popularized in English lands through the First Great Awakening—and that not without significant cultural upheaval.

(8) Controlling Bible Translations

The Bible received the highest scrutiny from the state church. After all, the Bible is the one document that provides the followers of Christ with their unified religious constitution. The Bible catalogues the very words of God.

As state churches enlarged their regulatory oversight, after the invention of the printing press in A.D. 1455, Bible publishers and printers of religious materials came under special scrutiny. It appears that one of the factors leading King James to authorize the English translation that bears his name was to quiet the impact of former English translations, such as the Wycliffe, the Tyndale, and the English Geneva. After the formation of the British and Foreign Bible Society in 1803, some Continental state churches were not amenable to the free distribution of Bibles in their lands.

(9) Prohibiting Evangelism

Along with controlling the preaching offices within the state church complex, outdoor preaching of the gospel was strongly discouraged, especially by untitled individuals. Only clergy received training to preach, and only clergy were allowed to preach. Obedience of Christ’s Great Commission was restricted to ordained clergy only, which in the case of the Western Church meant that they also had to be celibate.

The two clearest hindrances to evangelism and evangelists throughout the history of the churches have been state-controlled clergy and Infant Baptism. Through Infant Baptism, all the citizens of cities, towns, and parishes were already “born again.” There was no need for an evangelist to come through town and preach, “You must be born again!”:

“Preacher, everyone is all right in this town. We’re all baptized. Leave us and go elsewhere.”

“What, Baptism is not enough? Why, you must be a heretic!”

It was the A.D. 529 Second Council of Orange that formally linked the reception of grace with [Infant water] Baptism.

All These Are Enshrined in a State Church Reading of Scripture

As projected by the quote of the certain author above, these nine consequences of the state church construct run deep in the veins of our English culture. They are very hard to shed or move beyond. Yet the absolute authority of God and His Word, the Bible, demands that we seek to allow Christ to rule His church and our hearts.

Therefore, are there any “commands and exhortations concerning personal evangelism” in the New Testament?

  • How about, “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men”?
  • Or how about, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation”?
  • Or again, “I have sent you to reap”?
  • And, “You shall be witnesses to Me”?

I have several hundred pages of notes on New Testament verbs directly related to evangelism. For example, Paul used the verb “evangelize” (εὐαγγελίζω) 23 times in his writings, and Luke used that same verb 25 times. These are almost never translated evangelize in English, except for the brief season that the Holman Christian Standard did so (1999-2016):

Acts 8:25, “Then, after they had testified and spoken the message of the Lord, they traveled back to Jerusalem, evangelizing the many villages of the Samaritans.”

Acts 8:40, “Philip appeared in Azotus, and passing through, he was evangelizing all the towns until he came to Caesarea.”

Acts 14:7, “And they kept evangelizing.”

Acts 14:21, “After they had evangelized that town and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, to Iconium, and to Antioch.”

Acts 16:10, “After he had seen the vision, we immediately made efforts to set out for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to evangelize them.”

Rom 15:20, “So my aim is to evangelize where Christ has not been named, in order that I will not be building on someone else’s foundation.”

1 Cor 1:17, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to evangelize—not with clever words, so that the cross of Christ will not be emptied of its effect.”

There’s something about seeing “evangelize” in the text of the New Testament! In parallel form, Paul exhorted Timothy, “Preach the word!” However, Paul was wise to use the first person when he wrote of evangelism, allowing the reader to transfer the application to himself.

As regards the second part of the quote, “Paul sharply reproved churches for division, heretical teachings.” The state church complex vested within itself the role of doctrinal oversight. Anyone not accepting their particular doctrinal distinctives was deemed divisive and heretical.

Ultimately here comes the question of authority and who has the obligation to obey the commands of Christ to “Take heed,” “Be on the alert,” and “Keep watch.” Eventually each individual will stand before God for himself. And each individual must obey the commands of Christ to “Take heed,” “Be on the alert,” and “Keep watch.” Obedience to these commands cannot be deeded over to a state church.

This essay is being written using the English language. Along with the English language comes a cultural use of church titles and a history of Bible translation related to areas such as evangelism. Knowing that certain predispositions exist can enable us to see beyond them and seek to shed them as we may deem necessary in light of our future accountability to Christ.

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How Smartphones and Supercomputers Are Reversing the Tower of Babel

[1]

“Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” Genesis 11:7.

Answersingenesis.org dates the confusion of languages as depicted in Genesis 11 to 2242 B.C. At that time, the inhabitants of the world were dispersed by language group. Language continues to be the greatest barrier to ethnic interconnectivity. According to ethnologue.com as of 2017 there are 7,099 languages spoken in the world. Therefore, 4,259 years after the Tower of Babel languages continue to divide people into nationalistic entities. Into this mix, smartphones and supercomputers have begun to change the landscape of worldwide language disconnectivity.

Linguistic Mapping

Linguistic Mapping systems have developed in the past several years. One site, Llmap.org, was developed as a project of Eastern Michigan University, the University of Stockholm, and several other collaborators. Indiana University oversees new.linguistlist.org, to discuss issues and exchange linguistic information. Ethonologue.com is powered by Summer Institute of Linguistics. Worldgeodatasets.com is run as For-Profit site marketing their linguistic research. I.B.M.’s Watson, Google’s Cloud Natural Language API, and Amazon’s Lex are also important contributors to the fields of linguistics, voice recognition (VoiRec), and Instantaneous Translation (InsTra). The field of linguistic mapping has grown significantly, attested by universities with degrees in linguistic studies and the competition in this area between technology companies.

Greater clarity in understanding diversity among languages provides assistance in the development of InsTra tools. The advent of smartphones has revolutionized the need for inter-linguistic communication. Further, social media provides the big data necessary for study of linguistic differentiation.

Smartphone Saturation

The first cell phone that had “smartphone” capabilities was the Simon Personal Communicator unveiled 13 November 1993. It was created as a joint venture between Bellsouth and I.B.M. The term smartphone was first used of the iPhone, unveiled by Steve Jobs in 2007. It is estimated that 1.495 billion smartphones were sold in 2016, and that there existed a total of 2.1 billion users by the end of 2016, representing approximately 28.3% of the world population.

The interconnectivity represented by worldwide smartphone use portrays a rapid seismic historical event. Worldwide inter-communication provides an incentive to breaking down the linguistic divides put in place at the Tower of Babel.

Supercomputers and Instantaneous Translation

Connected to the capitalistic motivation of selling smartphones is conjoined the corollary need to incentivize sales. Members of smaller language groups must be made to expect the benefits of software and applications available to larger language groups. These incentives necessitate InsTra and VoiRec. In the past, InsTra and VoiRec required the computing speeds of the largest supercomputers in the world. However, by 23 August 2017, Google announced its ability to translate instantaneously both text and voice in 90 languages in the world on the Galaxy smartphone. This was up from 32 languages in 2015. The future trend appears to be InsTra into more languages from smaller devices.

Machine Translation

The M.I.T. Technology Review (9 May 2017) heralded a breakthrough in deciphering translation into rare languages at the University of Munich:

“So an important challenge for linguists is to find a way to automatically analyze less common languages to better understand them. Today, Ehsaneddin Asgari and Hinrich Schutze at Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich in Germany say they have done just that. Their new approach reveals important elements of almost any language that can then be used as a stepping stone for machine translation.

“The new technique is based around a single text that has been translated into at least 2,000 different languages. This is the Bible, and linguists have long recognized its importance in their discipline. Consequently, they have created a database called the Parallel Bible Corpus, which consists of translations of the New Testament in 1,169 languages. This data set is not big enough for the kind of industrial machine learning that Google and others perform. So Asgari and Schutze have come up with another approach based on the way tenses appear in different languages.”[1]

Using the various translations of the New Testament, researchers are now decoding linguistic distinctions. At this time, their research appears to be limited to verbal tenses. However, as research develops, it may soon be possible that computer programs will decode the linguistic differentiation God injected into the human experience at the Tower of Babel. One of the driving motivations in this quest is the dominance of worldwide Bible translation in the history of Protestant Missions!

The ultimate success of this proposed linguistic connectivity has yet to be seen. It’s implications on the global human experience have yet to be discerned. There will be religious ramifications to this possible linguistic geo-connectivity. First, restraint will be needed to avoid drifting into religious centralization, so that freedom of conscience can be upheld in light of denominational distinctives. Second, with centralized inter-connectivity comes the issue of control of past and present worldwide Bible translation and translations, as well as Bible access and distribution. It is clear that as linguistic differentiation decreases, an administrative vacuum will be created.

It is helpful to remember that the same God who confused the languages of men so many years ago, also understands computer Assembler Language. Nothing will ever take Him by surprise!

 

“‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.’” Isaiah 55:8-9.

For a related paper from 2013: “Virtualized Biblical Authority: A 50-Year Megashift from Biblical Inerrancy to Automated Translation Work”: http://www.evangelismunlimited.com/documents/virtualized-biblical-authority.pdf.

[1]Emerging Technology from arXiv, “Linguistics Breakthrough Heralds Machine Translation for Thousands of Rare Languages” (9 May 2017); available at: https://www.technologyreview.com/s/607825/new-software-program-translates-thousands-of-rare-languages/ (Online); accessed: 26 Nov 2017; Internet.

Evangelism as Spiritual Wrestling

Wrestling was definitely the most difficult sport that I experienced. Wrestling pits one wrestler against another. No one else can be blamed for a loss. Either the wrestler beats his opponent, or he loses. There is no middle ground. Tie matches in evangelism go into overtime. So, in the end, a tie match in wrestling is extremely rare. Each whistle of every period of a wrestling match tests the skills of two wrestlers going head-to-head.

The sport of wrestling provides an interesting comparative to evangelism. This article will address some of these similitudes. Perhaps applying this analogy will elicit further important spiritual insights to the reader.

(1) Just like wrestling, learning evangelism not a large group activity, it’s one-on-one.

Learning to share the gospel is a one-on-one activity. Where there are some large group or small group aspects to teaching evangelism, like wrestling, it is only effectively learned when being practiced one-on-one. In wrestling, there is no shortcut to the need for practicing wrestling moves on an opponent. Likewise, there is no shortcut to experiencing evangelism. The Christian must encounter responses to various concepts. It is only when hearing these reactions that the Christian can grow in understanding how best to give an answer. These lessons cannot be learned in the one-way communication of a large group setting. Once the Christian experiences, understands, and properly replies to individuals, then they become lessons he can apply to the large group settings. Learning evangelism is a one-on-one activity.

(2) Learning evangelism, like wrestling, focuses on application.

Much like the words of Jesus in the Great Commission in Matthew, wrestling is “teaching to obey.” Matthew 28:20. When a person makes this move, you need to counter with that move. If your opponent leans too heavily on this foot, then you can use an Ankle Pick on that foot. If your opponent drops his head, he might be a prime candidate for a Reverse Cradle. In each move, your opponent opens the door to a panorama of countermoves.

Similarly in personal evangelism, the Christian attacks the principalities and powers of evil. He experiences the need for the moves and countermoves provided in the Bible. It is as he “sits on thorns” and “dwells among scorpions” that he learns not to fear them:

“And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you dwell among scorpions; do not be afraid of their words or dismayed by their looks, though they are a rebellious house.” Ezekiel 2:6.

One-on-one evangelism acts as spiritual bodybuilding. The Christian’s forehead grows stronger than his opponent’s forehead:

“Behold, I have made your face strong against their faces, and your forehead strong against their foreheads. Like adamant stone, harder than flint, I have made your forehead; do not be afraid of them, nor be dismayed at their looks, though they are a rebellious house.” Ezekiel 3:8-9.

It is by one-on-one contact with opponents of the gospel that the power and beauty of the gospel become evident. These lessons can only be learned through one-on-one evangelistic encounters.

Evangelism, like wrestling, involves “teaching to obey.” Jesus inseparably linked teaching and obedience. Teaching is confirmed and fructified by the practice of obedience. Both are non-negotiable parts of spiritual learning.

(3) There is a goal in wrestling, just as there is a goal in evangelism.

The goal in wrestling is to win the match. In order to win the match, the wrestler must take down his opponent in the first period. In the second period, his goal is to reverse his opponent if he is found in the bottom position. If in the top position, the wrestler’s goal is to apply a pining combination on his opponent. He can earn back points or he can pin his opponent. In the end, the wrestler wants the referee to raise his hand as the winner at the end of the match.

In evangelism, as the Christian wrestles against the principalities and powers of sin and false ideas. His goal is to win the other person to Christ. He makes every effort, using every argument that comes to his mind, guiding the contact to every Bible verse that is available to him at the time, that the contact may repent and believe the gospel. His is in a spiritual wrestling match. Yes, there will be a raising and a lowering of hands at the end of life. The Christian wants everyone that he can to be won to Christ, so that they will have the victory of Jesus transferred over their sin debt. The Christian’s goal is to bring every contact to the point of decision.

“To the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” 1 Corinthians 9:22.

(4) More participatory than spectator.

Wrestling is not so much a spectator sport. Yes, perhaps “Big Time Wrestling” gets crowds. But nitty-gritty high school and college wresting does not attract large crowds like other sports. Wresting is not a sport to be enjoyed. It is rather a sport that forms individual discipline, character, and drive.

Quite similarly, evangelism is best when it is not done to be seen by others. True evangelism is most powerful when the Great Commission is applied out of sheer obedience to the Master, without any view to human accolades from other Christians. The unsaved perceive a phony evangelist. God does not encourage us to seek to win brownie points with men. Evangelism is best when, like prayer, it is acted upon with a sole audience of God—along with the person with whom we are seeking to share the gospel.

(5) Like wrestling is best learned in one on one practice and matches, so evangelism.

Other than conditioning, the most important part of wrestling practice is found in pairing up with a teammate of a similar weight, and working through moves with that teammate. After the practice of the move, then the effort applied to the move goes to half-go. Then, finally, when in order to fully learn the move, the opponent needs to fully fight the move. Only when practicing full-go are the moves and countermoves really learned.

In evangelism, there is a need for a mentor to take out the learner and show him how to start gospel conversations. The fellow Christian sees his mentor share the gospel, and learns how people respond to certain questions and comments. He begins to emulate his trainer. Then eventually he begins to train someone else. Yes, evangelism is best learned through being paired up two-by-two sharing the gospel in initiative situations, where one person can be an formal or informal mentor.

(6) The close proximity of wrestling allows for eye-to-eye contact with the enemy.

At the beginning of the wrestling match, the wrestler looks at his opponent in the eye, and the referee raises his hand, and says, “Ready, Wrestle.” With those two words, the match goes live. The two opponents crouch like ferocious beasts seeking to discern their opponent’s vulnerabilities.

So, in evangelism, one sadly encounters those whose lives have been destroyed by the enemy of our souls, Satan. The Christian regularly encounters persons who are caught in the clutches of terrible sins. Others are so vehemently antagonistic to the gospel that it appears that there may some form of demonic activity involved. All these types of people are regularly encountered when involved in street evangelism or door-to-door. God uses these negative experiences to warn the Christian to avoid pitfalls. He observes the enemy’s playbook in operation in other people’s lives. He learns the tricks and moves of his prime enemy, the devil.

(7) The wrestler can apply the moves he has learned in practice with success.

In a wrestling match, the wrestler has the opportunity to learn the power and effectiveness of certain moves against his opponents. I remember when I first used a Sit-Out to get away from an opponent in a match when I was in the bottom of the Referees Position. It worked. I got away from my opponent. Earned two points. Now came the hard work of trying to take him down again. Later I learned that I could use the Sit-Out to lead to a reversal on my opponent. As I practiced, there were certain moves that came to me as if by second nature.

Evangelism takes practice. Yes, evangelism can become second nature to the Christian. He can lovingly and naturally start conversations and move them into the gospel. It is not easy. It requires repetition and constant dedication. But it is possible.

Further, as the Christian uses Sword of the Lord, the Word of God, with success, he becomes more agile in wielding that Sword. He observes the impact of the Word of God. He experiences it melting a heart. He notices the Holy Spirit convicting of sin, judgment, and righteousness. His practice and repetition spur him on.

And lastly, the Christian has the privilege of leading other persons to repent of their sins and place their faith in Jesus Christ. He is there when a person calls on the name of the Lord to be saved. He notes the tears and marks the conviction. He empathizes with the spiritual pain. God gifts the Christian with the opportunity to lead the convicted one to request forgiveness and cry out to follow after Christ. These last occasions are perhaps the most elating experiences of my life. All glory to God!

So, there are some interesting links between evangelism and wrestling.

“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:10-12.

Prayers of Blessing

Several years ago, I was going door-to-door in North Kansas City with a Midwestern student. After an older woman answered the door, I said, “Hello. My name is Tom and this is [my partner]. We are with [local church] and are telling people about Jesus. Have you heard of Jesus?” To this question the woman answered, “I’m sorry. I belong to [name of denomination] and I’m not interested.” I responded by saying, “Would you mind if I pray a prayer of blessing on your home?” To this the woman replied, “That would be fine.”

At this point, I began to pray in the name of Jesus every good thing that I could think of. I prayed what the Lord brought to my mind that I thought this woman may need:

  • That God Himself would protect her home
  • That His guardian angels would surround her and keep her safe
  • That the Lord would keep evil far away from her home
  • That God would bless her and all who enter her home
  • That her financial needs would be met
  • That God would keep sickness far from her
  • That He would bless her local church and its pastor
  • That the Lord would reveal Himself to her and give her peace, and
  • That, if she did not know Jesus as her Savior and Lord, she would soon come to know Him as such.

As I prayed I literally sought to ask for everything positive that I could think of, knowing that we have a God who answers prayer!

Now, is it legitimate to pray a blessing for people in this way? Absolutely. In Romans 12:14, Paul encouraged blessing and not cursing:

Rom 12:14, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.”

Jesus taught His followers to pray even for their enemies:

Luke 6:27-28, “But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.”

If we ought to pray for our enemies, it only makes sense that it is also commendable to pray blessings upon people whom we do not yet know.

In any case, the older woman at her door thanked us for the prayer. Yes, she told us that she was already a born-again Christian. We were soon in a friendly conversation about the spiritual needs in her area. We gently asked questions about her spiritual welfare. Loving prayer opened the door of conversation and friendship with this woman. In the case of this woman, I turned over her contact information to the church planting pastor.

One church leader reminded us in chapel that when a person allows you to pray for them, you become their pastor. Go back and visit them two weeks later. See how they are doing. Pray for them again. The Lord may use that heartfelt concern to open doors for the gospel.

In our tool-bag of evangelism resources, let’s not forget the power of prayers of blessing. If a person has a hearing of faith or even a slight inclination toward the gospel, prayer can be a powerful tool. They will recognize that they are being brought by name before the throne of grace to find mercy and help in time of need as we pray for them:

Heb 4:16, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Let the words of our mouth bless and not curse.

Ministering to Hurting Christians When Evangelizing

When involved in street evangelism and door-to-door in a majority-Christian society, it is inevitable to meet hurting Christians. These Christians may have attended a church that encountered difficulties. Perhaps they were personally hurt. In some cases, these churches have pastors that no longer preach the Word of God. Yet true believers remain faithful to these churches for a variety of reasons. How can the believer offer encouragement to these hurting Christians? Does the New Testament provide a context and guidance for this type of ministry?

The New Testament provides clues on a number of levels. It addresses the variety of churches found in every portion of church history. Each New Testament author warned his readers to beware of inevitable false teachers. Further the New Testament described levels of belief that will be found within and outside of the church. As these three strands coalesce, conclusions can be distilled and recommendations made.

Paul enumerated three varieties of hurting Christians in his correspondence to the Thessalonian believers:

“Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.” 1 Thess 5:14.

Hurting Christians were considered in three categories: the unruly, the fainthearted, and the weak. Unruly appears to describe Christians who push the boundaries of submission to Christ. They may be deemed compromising or antinomian. Fainthearted seems to specify a Christian beat-down either by life circumstances, by sin, or by a lack of solid teaching. The weak may refer to young or immature Christians who lack an understanding of every good thing they have in Christ. These three types of Christians are regularly encountered in initiative evangelism situations.

As far as false teachers within local churches and denominational structures, Paul warned the Ephesian elders:

“For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.” Acts 20:29-30.

Paul knew from experience and from Scripture that false teachers were salivating all around him to take over and disrupt the churches that he himself had planted. Paul seemed to be recalling the words of Moses to the Levites in Deut 31:27. Moses remembered the many rebellions of the people of God during his life, and knew that it would be worse once he died. As with Moses, so with Paul.

Jesus warned of false teachers as He lowered the looking glass to His eyes in the Olivet Discourse. His warnings paralleled those of Moses and Paul:

“And Jesus answered and said to them: ‘Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, “I am the Christ,” and will deceive many.’” Matt 24:4-5.

“Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many.” Matt 24:11.

“Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it.” Matt 24:23-26.

Therefore, in the Olivet Discourse Jesus picked up on the theme of false teachers. As it happens, this discourse was given in the final week of His earthly ministry. Then, in His heavenly ministry, Jesus again picked up on the theme of false teachers as He revealed Himself to the elder Apostle John.

In Revelation 2-3 Jesus gave seven letters to seven churches that coexisted in the district of Asia Minor in the late First Century. While each of these seven churches existed at the same time, their locations were used to differentiate them from one another. In so doing, Jesus appeared to describe seven common church situations that have and do coexist in every century of the church. Considering them as chiastic in structure provides some fruitful application:

In the three innermost churches (#3, #4, and #5) doctrinal downgrade can be easily discerned. The words of Jesus (1) distinguish the main doctrinal body within the church, and (2) describe a marginal group within the church. In so doing, Jesus separated out hurting Christians within the church:

  • #3 Pergamum: “And you hold fast to My name … There are those who hold to the doctrine of Balaam … You also have those who hold to the doctrine of the Nicolaitans…” Rev 2:14, 15.
  • #4 Thyatira: “You allow the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach … To the rest in Thyatira…” Rev 2:20, 24.
  • #5 Sardis: “You have a name that you are alive, but you are dead …You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments,” Rev 3:1, 4.

The doctrinal drift in Pergamum begins with the few. “There are those,” said Jesus, “who hold to the doctrine of Balaam.” And “those,” He continued, “who hold to the doctrine of the Nicolaitans.” In Thyatira, the teachings of Balaam became prominent in the church through the recognized teaching of Jezebel. Jesus addressed the doctrinally sound of Thyatira as “to the rest.” Then, in the Sardis phase, the doctrinal drift was so severe that Jesus pronounced the church dead. “You are dead,” said Jesus. And yet even so, Jesus still addressed “a few names” in Sardis who held to the faith.

As ministers of the gospel, we will encounter those who attend good churches, but hold to the two types of teaching, the Balaamites and the Nicolaitans. We also encounter the faith of “to the rest” who attend churches that correspond to Thyatira. Lastly, we will share the gospel with those who are holding fast to their faith within churches like Sardis.

To this variety of Christians within churches we can add those who have heard the witness as described in the Parable of the Sower. There are those who have received the Word of God in good soil. We encounter healthy, mature, growing Christians as we evangelize. There are those who received the word in weed-infested soil. These are those who have already heard the gospel and received it. Yet they struggle to bear fruit because temptations entangle their lives. Others, in the rocky soil, have already heard and responded to the Word. However, their faith was scandalized by persecution because of the Word. These persons we also encounter. As we speak with them, they recall their prior commitment to Christ. They may even mock the Christian who has not succumbed to persecution as they have. Lastly, we will encounter those on the wide road of a hard heart. These are spiritually dead, never having a glimmer of a hearing of faith. The weed-infested and the rocky soil provide examples of persons who have had a negative experience with the gospel—because of their sin and the condition of their heart. These have prior baggage when we seek to share the good news of Jesus with them.

What are some principles that may be helpful in lovingly ministering to these divergent types of persons already exposed to the gospel of Christ?

First, these varieties remind us of our own weaknesses. Our carnal nature may easily draw us to the faith of a Balaamite or a Nicolaitan were it not for the grace of God.

Second, it is an important to understand that as we evangelize we will encounter these varieties of persons with various types of exposure to the gospel. They are all foretold in the New Testament. Therefore, it is important not to restrictively categorize persons as only saved or lost. While their eternal destinies will be decided in these two categories, their temporal experience with the gospel has greater variety.

Third, when dealing with persons of different church backgrounds, perhaps Paul’s admonition in Romans 14 rings true. “Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.” Rom 14:4. The witness needs to keep in mind to encourage the weak and comfort the fainthearted and not to attack the church which he attends.

Therefore, the three commands of Paul in 1 Thess 5:14 provide helpful guidelines:

  • “Warn the unruly”
  • “Comfort the fainthearted” and
  • “Uphold the weak.”

We are called to warn, comfort, and uphold. There are a variety of responses depending on the spiritual need of each heart. Likewise, it has been said that Jesus never shared the gospel the same way with any two persons. Similarly, the believer will encounter a wide variety of hurting Christians. It is important that his words “give grace to those who hear.” Col 4:6. While a memorized gospel plan is essential in the toolbox of any Christian, he must be ready to expand beyond a memorized plan. To properly deal with hurting Christians, the witness needs discernment, love, humility, and flexibility.

On the Scandal of New Testament Evangelism: Thoughts on Deuteronomy 13:6-11

Paul confirmed that Jesus was a reproach to Jews. Preaching Christ became scandalous to those who based their right relationship with God by seeking to live under the stipulations of the Old Covenant. In Romans 9, Paul highlighted this fact by grafting two Isaiah passages related to the ministry of the Messiah, Isaiah 28:16 and 8:14 respectively:

“As it is written: ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, ‘And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.’” Romans 9:33.

The Greek word behind this use of “offense” is the noun “scandal” [τὸ σκάνδαλον]. This noun is found 15 times in the New Testament. The verb “scandalize” [σκανδαλίζω] is used 30 times in the New Testament. As in the case of Romans 9, not all uses of these words are as a deterrent to sinful behavior.

Often, however, the verb “scandalize” is used in warning against scandalizing someone else:

“But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin [σκανδαλίζω], it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck.” Matthew 18:6.

On the other hand, some of the New Testament uses of “scandal” relate to evangelizing. Within these verses dwells the idea that there is a scandalous element to New Testament evangelism. Here are a few examples illustrating this idea:

“And blessed is he who is not offended [σκανδαλίζω] because of Me.” Matthew 11:6.

“So they were offended [σκανδαλίζω] at Him. But Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.’” Matthew 13:57.

“Then His disciples came and said to Him, ‘Do You know that the Pharisees were offended [σκανδαλίζω] when they heard this saying?’” Matthew 15:12.

With this context in mind, this article will consider the role of Deuteronomy 13 in providing a precedent for the Jewish rejection of New Testament evangelism.

The Martyrdom of Stephen

When Stephen was stoned to death in Acts 7, the actions of Saul and the others were sanctioned in Deuteronomy 13. In fact, had they not stoned Stephen to death, according to their doctrinal presuppositions, they would have disobeyed the direct command of Deuteronomy 13:6-11. Therefore, after this deadly deed was done, raging against Christians, Saul of Tarsus could congratulate himself that he was acting righteously according to the Law of Moses.

Here is the Deuteronomy passage in question:

“If your brother, the son of your mother, your son or your daughter, the wife of your bosom, or your friend who is as your own soul, secretly entices you, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ which you have not known, neither you nor your fathers, of the gods of the people which are all around you, near to you or far off from you, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth, you shall not consent to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him or conceal him; but you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. And you shall stone him with stones until he dies, because he sought to entice you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. So all Israel shall hear and fear, and not again do such wickedness as this among you.” Deuteronomy 13:6-11.

Consider that, if anyone was to come teaching or preaching, either publicly or privately, discussing another form of religion, other than society’s generally held interpretation, that person was to be put to death. A religion-state relationship was key to applying the death penalty here. Again, if anyone did not adhere to the prevailing belief system (by which Deuteronomy 13 was interpreted), then that person, regardless of kin or kinship, was to be put to death. There was to be no pity for that person. He was not to be concealed or spared. That person was to die publicly. And his death would be a warning to “all Israel” that they might “hear and fear.”

Herein, God gave the appearance of requiring absolute submission without any individual “freedom of conscience.” There were only two possible views: conformity and non-conformity. For proselytizing non-conformity, there was only one penalty, the death penalty. The purpose for the public stoning was explained, to instill terror in the rest of the people. There was to be in Israel no dissident believers, no pluriform faith or multiform practice. Deuteronomy 13 appears to condone a type of “Reign of Terror.”

Questioning Jesus

In like manner, persons filling the role of “Thought Police” followed Jesus around, picking up stones whenever they determined that He had crossed the bounds of religious propriety:

“Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.’ Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.” John 8:58-59.

“‘I and My Father are one.’ Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him. John 10:30-31.

The Jews, in this case, were doing nothing more-or-less than what Moses had commanded in Deuteronomy 13. They were initiating the same response to what they thought was false teaching that was later initiated by Saul of Tarsus against Stephen in Acts 7.

In fact, if a reader of any of the Gospel accounts begins by reading Deuteronomy 13, the response of the Jews becomes more understandable, as does Jesus’ revelation of Himself. In fact, the actions of the Jews so clearly presumed the precedent of Deuteronomy 13, that they allowed Jesus to fulfill God’s purpose by this biblical antecedent.

The actions of the Jews against Jesus should then lead the reader of the Book of John to ask himself, “Was Jesus truly telling the people to abandon the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?” Or again, “Was Jesus truly ‘the Prophet’ foretold by Moses who would explain the fullness of God’s redemptive plan to the people?”

“The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear, according to all you desired of the Lord your God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, nor let me see this great fire anymore, lest I die.’ And the Lord said to me: ‘What they have spoken is good. I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him.’” Deuteronomy 18:15-19.

Christians believe that Jesus was the Prophet foretold by Moses—which affirmation continues to be a point of contention between Christianity and Judaism to this very day. The attentive reader of the four Gospels must consider if Jesus fulfilled the many Old Testament prophecies regarding His appearing. Deuteronomy 13 led the Jews to question Jesus. And because of their negative response, Jesus became for them “a stumbling stone and rock of offense.”

Saul’s Predicament

When Saul of Tarsus placed His trust in Jesus as His Lord and Savior, and later had his name changed to Paul, he was forced to wrestle with the message of Jesus as a scandalous message. He explained this scandal in the context of describing his difficulties with the Judaizing Christians in Galatians 5:

“And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution? Then the offense [τὸ σκάνδαλον] of the cross has ceased.” Galatians 5:11.

It was because of Paul’s preaching the cross of Jesus that he was persecuted by the Jews. Paul pinpointed the reason for his persecution as not merely the person of Jesus, but His death on the cross—the substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross for the sins of the world!

In his Corinthian correspondence, Paul expanded the reason for persecution to include the “Greeks”—or non-Jews. For their part, the Greeks regarded the preaching of the cross as utter foolishness:

“For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:22-24.

One of the most confusing aspects of evangelism for a new believer is to realize that the preaching of the cross is a scandal. The new Christian needs to face rejection and persecution for the sake of the gospel. The gospel which was so easily received by the him is not so easily received by those travelling on the wide road to destruction.

Paul explained his unrealistic optimism related to his Jewish friends’ reception of the gospel in Jerusalem. As he shared in his testimony before his Jerusalem acquaintances in Acts 22, Paul explained his inexperienced confidence:

“‘Now it happened, when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I was in a trance and saw Him saying to me, “Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, for they will not receive your testimony concerning Me.” So I said, “Lord, they know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believe on You. And when the blood of Your martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by consenting to his death, and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.” Then He said to me, “Depart, for I will send you far from here to the Gentiles.”’ And they listened to him until this word, and then they raised their voices and said, ‘Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live!’” Acts 22:17-22.

The newly saved Paul had a level of naiveté related to the spiritual receptivity of his Jerusalem friends. He thought that their eyes would be open to the gospel, just as his eyes had been. Not so. By evangelism, we enter the saving work of God. We can never know God’s saving purposes for another person. We dare not try to presume upon God or force God’s hand in this matter.

Deuteronomy 13 and Evangelism

Back to Deuteronomy 13. In this rich passage, we read about the proselytizing efforts of a false teacher. The need for individual discernment was taught by Moses in Deuteronomy 13:1-5. More than anything, the discerning lover of God ought never, for any reason, desert his Master to follow after “other gods.”

Then comes the passage cited above, Deuteronomy 13:6-11. This second passage acts as a synonymous or synthetic parallel to the former passage. However, there are key differences between the two. In the second passage, verbs are used to describe the telling of the message, the hearing of the message, and the reception of the message. As it turns out, similar verbs are used to describe evangelism in the New Testament:

  • 6, παρακαλέω [to urge], used of NT evangelism in Luke 3:18; 2 Cor 5:20; and 2 Tim 4:2.
  • 6, λάθρᾳ [secretly], not used to describe NT evangelism, although Paul was secretly lowered out of window to escape arrest in Damascus, as recorded in 2 Cor 11:32-33.
  • 6, βαδίζω [follow after], using other words, Jesus often said to potential disciples, “Follow Me.”

Of the fact that Jesus was accused of setting Himself up as “another god,” we have discussed above the ongoing scandal of following Jesus to Judaism.

Here, by transference, it is clear that any country to which any Christian missionary goes will already have its entrenched religious practices. As in Deuteronomy 13:6, their belief systems are culturally accepted, and are already part of the pattern of religious observance from their “fathers.”

Therefore, when a missionary or evangelist arrives to preach Jesus, expecting that a few will hear and receive the gospel, while the rest are hardened, he sets up the scenario as explained in Deuteronomy 13:6.

For the follower of the Old Covenant, God through Moses explained in great detail the gods that they were not to follow. The people of Israel were not to follow the gods of the people around them, nor were they to follow the gods of those far from them. They were not to follow after any other gods from any part of the earth, from one end to the other.

Then, in verse 8-10, God explained the judicial response to a preacher of apostasy. He was not to be received nor heard. Rather he was to be stoned with stones until he died. Interestingly, the two verbs used in the negative are the exact response desired by the preacher of the gospel:

  • 8, οὐ συνθέλω [not consent]; its opposite—to consent;
  • 8, οὐ εἰσακούω [not listen]; its opposite—to listen.

Consider the second verb, the verb listening. One of the clearest passages describing the interrelationship of God and man in personal evangelism is found in Acts 16:13-14:

“And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled. And a certain woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening [ἀκούω]; and the Lord opened [διανοίγω] her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.” Acts 16:13-14 (NAS).

Lydia was listening [ἀκούω]. The first prerequisite for evangelism is that the person with whom we are seeking to share the gospel must listen or hear us out. Consider that, as it relates to the false prophet depicted in Deuteronomy 13, obedient Jews were not to listen.

Following the order of verbs in Acts 16:14, after a hearing of the gospel, God must then act on the heart of the person. It is God who then opens [διανοίγω] the heart. Lydia’s commitment to Jesus was confirmed by her and her household being baptized (Acts 16:15).

Like “consent,” the New Testament used the verb “believe” to depict a positive response to the gospel. For example, Paul had the following dialogue with the Philippian jailer at the end of Acts 16:

“And he brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ So they said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.’” Acts 16:30.

Correspondingly, in Deuteronomy 13, Moses told the people of Israel that they should not have agreement [συνθέλω] with false teaching or false teachers. They were not to consent to or agree with their teaching.

Again, in various places in Acts, the clear response to the gospel was that of consent, belief, or persuasion:

“And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas. But the Jews who were not persuaded, becoming envious, took some of the evil men from the marketplace, and gathering a mob, set all the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people.” Acts 17:4-5.

“And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, ‘We will hear you again on this matter.’ So Paul departed from among them. However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.” Acts 17:32-34.

“And some were persuaded by the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved.” Acts 28:24.

Therefore, in the New Testament, the response to the gospel was exactly how Moses told the people of Israel not to respond to false teachers and false teaching.

Therefore, Deuteronomy 13 provides an inverse blueprint for New Testament evangelism, set in the context of warning against false teachers and false teaching. The same verbs are used for the method of proclamation, and similar verbs are used as to its reception. Jesus and Stephen were both accused of false teaching based on this and other passages. These parallels are too remarkable to be mere coincidence.

Lessons from the Scandal of Evangelism

What lessons can be applied from this study?

First, Jesus taught His followers to love their enemies. His approach was far different from the “Reign of Terror” that appears to be taught in Deuteronomy 13.

Second, Jesus did not teach from a state-church presumption, whereby all persons were to be forced to follow the prescribed teaching of one sect. Rather, Jesus taught freedom of conscience, whereby individuals have the opportunity to hear and weigh the truth for themselves.

Third, Jesus taught that His followers should be “on their guard” and “take heed” against false teachers. They were not to deed their freedom of conscience to any other authority. By contrast, some followers of Christ deed their conscience to a Bishop or Archbishop of some locality. Jesus, however, taught soul competency and freedom of conscience.

Fourth, Jesus prepared His followers that they would be hated by family members due to the gospel. In His missional sermon in Matthew 10, Jesus was very clear to state that brothers would betray brothers and fathers their children and children their parents (Matt 10:21). These betrayals of kin and kindred were also taught in Deuteronomy 13:6.

Fifth, Jesus regularly taught that persecution and even the death penalty would be applied to Christians for evangelism. He taught that His followers should rejoice in the midst of persecution for His name, Matthew 5:11-12 and Luke 6:22-23. He taught that His disciples would be hated by all men, Matthew 24:9; Mark 13:13; Luke 21:17; John 15:18, 20; 16:1-2.

Yes, God drew some clear lines of demarcation between the Old Testament and the New Testament in certain areas. The area of evangelism manifests several of these differentiations. Followers of Jesus are advised to consider both areas of agreement between the two testaments, as well as those areas of transition and change brought on by New Testament teaching.

Is it not a grave danger for a follower of Jesus attempt to remove the reproach of the cross? Is it not dangerous for Christians to think that they can evade the scandal of evangelism? Is it not preferable, in light of Deuteronomy 13, to agree with the Apostle Paul’s assessment of God’s ways?

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!” Romans 11:33.

Jesus remains a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense to the Jewish mind. The cross remains foolishness to the Greek mind. And yet, in this antagonistic context, the preaching of the cross remains the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18.

Why Biblical Languages Are a Seminary Priority

I was once a young and zealous seminary student. Every class I took was considered through the lense of “How can this help me on the streets.” I experienced the significant dissonance between academic approaches to the Bible, church history, doctrine, apologetics, etc. My initial response was, “Who needs this?”

This knee-jerk response was unhelpful in two ways. First, the mind does need to be trained, even in areas one considers unimportant at the time. Second, if evangelistically-minded students shun higher academia as unnecessary or unimportant, then they will not funnel-up to replenish the ranks of Bible commentators, church historians, and theologians who train up future generations of students.

I once complained to my father about having to take Greek in seminary. He responded to me somewhat sarcastically, “Then why not go to this other school instead!”

At the time, I did not understand the importance of the study of biblical Greek. It did not cross my mind the depth of the Word of God that can never be fully translated into the English language. My feeling at the time was, “We have the Great Commission. What are we waiting for?”

Now, more than 30 years after having received a Master of Divinity, I view things very differently. For example, consider the power and impact of Moses’ polytheistic education in Egypt:

“And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds.” Acts 7:22.

Here are some thoughts that may benefit the current seminary student who has an evangelistic heart.

First, keep and nurture an evangelistic heart. Do not let your passion die. Plan into your schedule weekly times of initiative evangelism. A heart for the lost can easily become static or stagnant. Plan weekly opportunities for eye-to-eye contact with lost people for the purpose of sharing the gospel.

Second, do not underestimate the importance and power of a deep knowledge of the biblical languages. Without a knowledge of the biblical text, verses that encourage evangelism or clearly affirm the gospel can be changed without your knowing it. For example, evangelistically important verses are often the first to be altered in Bible translations.

When Jesus sent out His disciples in evangelism, He told them to be careful:

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” Matthew 10:16.

We may too easily be “gentle as doves” without first being “wise as serpents.” In order to remain vigilant for biblical evangelism, depth of education is crucial.

Third, consider that evangelism and evangelists are often framed out of many topics of study. Whether these omissions are purposeful or unintentional, I will let the reader decide. In order to maintain a Great Commission approach in every subject, the student will need to intentionally seek it out and sometimes reinject it into the topic—if it is difficult to ascertain. This last step must be done with humility and gentleness, just as Jesus stated, in one’s own private study of the topic at hand.

As to evangelism and evangelists in church history, in the study of doctrine, and in ecclesiology. The Great Commission is always there—if Christ is truly Lord of His church. The words of Christ have always been obeyed by some in every generation!

Lastly, don’t give up on the Christian higher education that a seminary provides. The topics taught in seminary are crucial and valid. Especially fall in love with the biblical languages and with every word in the Bible. Become a servant of the Word of God—allow the words of the Word to rule over you. If you do that, then everything else will fall into its proper place, including proper obedience to Christ’s Great Commission.