Is Friendship Evangelism Really God-Centered?

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Several years ago a student explained that he was prohibited from teaching evangelism in his Sunday School class unless he taught Friendship Evangelism. In other words, he was told that he could not discuss how to share the gospel without affirming that a Christian must first have a friendship with another person prior to sharing the gospel.

That same student then admitted that when he looked for Friendship Evangelism in the Bible he could not find it—so he went ahead and taught what the Bible said about evangelism.

Was that not an interesting pickle for this Sunday School teacher to find himself in?

The core of the issue is as follows. The church leader requiring this student to teach the necessity of friendship prior to sharing the gospel was, in fact, placing a human friendship in the divine Order of Salvation (aka. Ordo Salutis). However, when one studies the Order of Salvation, a long fought over concept for the Protestant Reformers, nowhere is there included in it the need for human friendship. In fact, requiring human friendship effectively injects a man-centered addition into the Ordo Salutis.

The Reformers, for their part, were protesting the man-centered additions of Catholicism, the Sacraments, priests, the Pope, Mary, the saints, Holy Water, and other add-ons into the Order of Salvation. Luther’s focus on Sola Scriptura (Scriptures alone) made God’s Word the only intermediary between God and the soul of man. It is through the very words of the Bible that the Holy Spirit works to bring men to justification and sanctification. The Holy Spirit works in, with, and by the Word of God. Yes, Jesus is the one and only Mediator between God and man. And this mediation is explained in, with, and by the gospel proclaimed.

The Christian, through evangelism, becomes a spokesperson for God by communicating the message of the Scriptures. Nothing should be added to this message and nothing subtracted from it. The gospel must-needs remain pure and unadulterated.

However, in recent generations it seems like we have re-injected a human addition into the salvation process by requiring friendship.

This man-centered approach was taught by Joseph Aldrich in Life-Style Evangelism in the early 1980s. He used Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” as the basis for his approach to evangelism.

“I have used Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs for years as a teaching tool. I find it helpful in determining what level of need a person is struggling to satisfy. Motivation to act appears to be directly related to need. If I can link a solution (the Gospel) to a felt need, I have created a favorable climate to meet that need. … Maslow’s model also lets us see how important genuine Christian fellowship can be as it is specifically targeted to meet these needs.” (pages 90, 94)

So armed with Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” Aldrich came to the decision that proclamational evangelism was no longer the most useful methodology:

“Although the proclamational approach to evangelism will have validity until Jesus comes, it is not a means by which the majority of Christians will reach their own private world.” (page 78)

Apparently, the words of Jesus to “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached unto the whole world as a witness” (Matt 24:14), or “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15), or “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations” (Luke 24:47) do not fit the paradigm of Abraham Maslow.

So who wins? Maslow or Jesus? Aldrich or Jesus?

A generation later Steve Sjogren of Conspiracy of Kindness taught people to do “Acts of Kindness,” borrowing his thinking from a paradigm similar to that of Aldrich. Again a man-centered approach built on secular psychological foundations. Here is what Steve Sjogren, Dave Ping, and Doug Pollock wrote in their 2004 book, Irresistible Evangelism:

“Many Christians talk about developing an intimate personal relationship with God, but the message they present to not-yet-Christians focuses almost exclusively on explaining how the atoning death of Jesus satisfies the requirements of God’s justice. … Talking about doctrines such as justification by faith and atonement by the substitutionary death of Jesus is usually unnecessarily confusing.

“…Relationship is the true heart of the matter. … Following Jesus is more than just a handy way to gain admittance into heaven or to avoid hell. It’s more than a magic formula for salvation.” (page 149)

So, according to Sjogren, Ping, and Pollock, talking about justification by faith is “unnecessarily confusing”! What of the book of Romans? Consider the great words of Paul in Romans 1:16-17:

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” (Rom 1:16-17)

Again who wins? The Apostle Paul or Sjogren, Ping, and Pollock?

This author commends Paul and Jesus. Similarly, Luther’s concept of Sola Scriptura provides a helpful foundation for evaluating methodologies of evangelism.

We live in a day of Young, Restless, and Reformed, for which I am very grateful. In that light, it is quite odd that such a man-centered approach to evangelism prevails. Ours ought to be a Bible-centered approach to evangelism. And if our approach to evangelism is truly Word-centered, then it will automatically be God glorifying and Christ-focused.

For example, there are 52 personal evangelism conversations in the Gospels and the Book of Acts. The Greek verb “evangelize” is found in the New Testament 54, 55, or 56 times, depending on which Greek text-type one is using. There are literally 149 biblical verbs and 20 nouns that explain what evangelism is. Surely, God has not left Himself without a witness.

In fact, adding a human relationship to the order of salvation makes our efforts at building a friendship the reason for the election or predestination of the person with whom we are seeking to build a friendship. The issue does not become their acceptance or rejection of the gospel, but rather our efforts in building a relationship. Inversely, our failure to build a proper friendship then becomes the reason that our would-be-friend is consigned to hell, not their rejection of the gospel. Therefore, through Friendship Evangelism, the Enemy lays a guilt-trip on the evangelizing Christian for the eternal salvation of those he does not properly befriend before evangelizing. Quite a Catch-22!

The example of Jesus shows that proximity does not predestine or elect people. In fact, rather the opposite:

“Then He went out from there and came to His own country, and His disciples followed Him. And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue. And many hearing Him were astonished, saying, ‘Where did this Man get these things? And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands! Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?’ And they were offended at Him. But Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house.’ Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He marveled because of their unbelief. (Mar 6:1-6 NKJ)

In this case the people of Nazareth (1) were astonished at Jesus and (2) were offended by Him, and (3) Jesus marveled because of their unbelief. Proximity to Jesus was not helpful. So also with the towns were Jesus ministered:

“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades” (Luke 10:13-15)

In the case of Jesus, Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum were the cities were Jesus accomplished much of His ministry. Proximity to Jesus and experience of His teaching and miracles did not cause them to be more open to the gospel, but rather it was a cause for Jesus calling for their judgment!

Yes, nature abhors a vacuum. If we take God out of the equation, then we put ourselves into it. Yes, it is dangerous to build on any other foundation than that of the Word of God. The following words of Christ make sense in light of the dangers of competing views of evangelism:

“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.” (Matt 7:24-27)

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A Friendly Response to Darrin Patrick

Recently Darrin Patrick published a short article titled “Make Friends, Not Just Converts” at the “For the Church” website (ftc.co). I consider Darrin a friend, though I only know him from afar. I respect his work and ministry. However, at the request of a former student and due to its methodological content, I have felt the need to write a kindly word of response to this article.

Darrin shared about his past as a “tract boy” who was “obsessed with evangelism.” He then explained that he is now much more incarnational in his evangelism, teaching a house-based-style of friendship evangelism. He spent several paragraphs anecdotally explaining Jesus’ incarnation into this world to build friendships, using the example of Jesus’ “lounging around” in the house of Matthew as His primary evangelism strategy.

The theme sentence of his article may be this one: “Jesus was intentional about the relationships he formed.” Therefore, by transference, our evangelism strategy, in order to be like that of Jesus, needs to focus on intentionally building relationships. This relational evangelism is contrasted by Darrin’s former life as a “tract boy” who was “obsessed with evangelism.”

As it turns out, last year I designed a new gospel tract, “The Greatest Words Ever Spoken.” I have also recently returned from my third evangelism trip to New Orleans where I handed out gospel tracts on Bourbon Street. Darrin said that he made this same trip one time during his “tract boy” era. He set up his comments with a compare-contrast of what he was before and what he now is in evangelism. With this before-after narrative, he shared how he is no longer “that way”. He recommended his opinion to his readers, writing, “You don’t want to be that guy or that girl.”

However, as professor of evangelism at Midwestern, I am “that guy.” And I attempt to try to encourage and convince students to consider reasons for being “that guy” or “that girl.” I have also developed 1,200 pages of notes on evangelism to make “that” point (see http://www.evangelismunlimited.com/notes.php).

So, while I am not in my early 20s anymore, I still go to Bourbon Street in New Orleans to hand out tracts and share the gospel. In fact, just this morning I was knocking on apartment doors in Grandview, Missouri, seeking to share the gospel with anyone who would come to their door. Whereas Darrin wrote about his past, “I was obsessed with evangelism.” For myself, I would wish that I were more obsessed with evangelism!

I must assume that Darrin is not espousing raw pragmatism or cultural accommodation. So I will answer his arguments from a biblical perspective, assuming that most of his audience comprises of the “Young, Restless, and Reformed.” First of all, God explained that His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts higher than our thoughts (Isa 55:8-9). Clearly in the area of gospel proclamation, a “hearing of faith”, repentance, confession, and conversion, God’s ways are far above our ways. And fortunately God has not left Himself without a witness. The Bible provides a storehouse of helpful material to assist us in navigating the difficult questions related to a philosophy of evangelism.

I cut my teeth on a biblical philosophy of evangelism in the mid-1980s when I was teaching the Bible and evangelism in Quebec. Then popular American Evangelical books on evangelism were being translated into French and were sold to French Evangelicals. Popular books on evangelism at that time taught friendship and lifestyle evangelism. These books were greatly debilitating to French Evangelicalism in Quebec. The human-centered American philosophies of evangelism in that era were unhelpful to the struggling French Evangelical churches in Quebec. Theirs was a long history ostracism and outright persecution for the gospel. Their context was far more in keeping with what Jesus taught in Matthew 10 when He sent out His disciples to evangelize. I struggled with the clear disconnect between the teachings of the Bible and that of the American literature on evangelism.

This conflict between the shallow American methods of the 1980s and French antagonism to the gospel led me into a deeper study of what the Bible has to say about the practice of evangelism—a study that continues to this day. May the reader then consider several comments in response to Darrin’s thought-provoking article.

  1. Equating initiative evangelism with being unfriendly or weird is an unfair caricature of all evangelists (ad hominem) and encourages the fallacy of composition (grouping unlike people into one category).
  2. It is easy to overemphasize one aspect of the ministry of Jesus (His relational evangelism) while underreporting other aspects of His evangelism ministry (e.g. His street evangelism, for example His conversation with the Woman at the Well in John 4).
  3. An emphasis on the incarnational elements of Jesus’ evangelism ministry, can overlook that only Jesus was God incarnate, leading us to observe and imitate Paul’s example, who said, “Imitate me even as I imitate Christ” (1 Cor 11:1).
  4. Of the 52 personal evangelism conversations in the Gospels and the Book of Acts, all were stranger-to-stranger evangelism with the exception of two conversations in John 1.
  5. The title of the article, “Make Friends, Not Just Converts,” highlights human interaction while downplaying the more important spiritual dimension of the Holy Spirit’s work in instantaneously converting a soul.
  6. One’s view of conversion comes at the intersection of one’s view of evangelism and justification by faith. A dim view of conversion leads to several questions: how does justification by faith happen? Is it a long process or is it point-in-time, as when Jesus told Nicodemus, “You must be born again” (John 3:7) or as exemplified with Lydia from Thyatira (Acts 16:13-14)? If conversion is truly instantaneous, then what triggers biblical regeneration? Is it not hearing the glorious gospel with a “hearing of faith” and then believing?
  7. It is theologically confusing to infuse irresistible grace with the human work of befriending people, that is, believing that God irresistibly works divine election, predestination, or eternal salvation in and through our efforts in building friendships with those whom we seek to befriend. Even the wife of the unsaved husband cannot be assured of her husband’s ultimate salvation (1 Cor 7:16).
  8. Rather than our friendship, it is the gospel of Christ that remains the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes (Rom 1:16). Our cogent arguments, our friendship, our lifestyle, or our service, important as they are, are not God’s power unto anyone’s salvation.
  9. Jesus Himself went city-by-city evangelizing, and He also sent out His disciples on evangelistic city-to-city mission trips on several different occasions (Matt 9-10, Mark 6, and Luke 9, 10).
  10. As to the power of human relationships, Jesus Himself was notably rejected by His own hometown people (Mark 6:1-6; Luke 4:28-30), by those people living in His ministry center towns (Luke 10:13-15), as well as by His own brothers (John 7:3-5)—surely we are not greater than our Master (John 15:20)?
  11. Just as in the ministries of Jesus and the apostles, all evangelism methodologies will and do result in the seed of the gospel being sown into the four soil types mentioned in the Parable of the Sower (Matt 13; Mark 4; Luke 8)—there’s no way around this sovereign design of God’s grace!

For these reasons, and perhaps others also, it is my contention that there is a positive place for initiative evangelism in the life of all believers. I am not advocating that God cannot and does not use relationship, friendship, service, lifestyle, and the home to play a role in evangelism. However, it is my contention that expectant evangelism should not be maligned or scorned. While practices can always be sharpened and gospel presentations can and should constantly be improved, initiative evangelism methodologies do have a positive place in God’s sovereign economy of His saving grace.

Four Ways to Kindle Faithfulness in Personal Evangelism

A student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, asked me a great question. He said, “Dr. Johnston, what is one thing that has been most helpful to you in maintaining endurance in evangelism?” When Tyler asked me this question, my first thought was, “Have I endured in personal evangelism?” “Am I truly faithful?” Well, I want to be faithful! And in the eyes of Tyler, a 55-year-old professor leading street and door-to-door evangelism is an example of endurance. If this is truly the case, all I can say is “Praise the Lord,” and “To God be the glory!”

So, in keeping with Tyler’s excellent question, my mind has expanded from one thing to four ways that have contributed to my remaining faithful in personal evangelism.

  1. Plan It in Your Weekly Schedule

The one most important thing that forces me to remain faithful in evangelism is to plan it in my weekly schedule. More than anything else, planning time for street or door-to-door evangelism in my weekly schedule has been the one thing that has prompted a level of faithfulness in this most challenging spiritual discipline.

When I attended Trinity Evangelical Divinity School my evangelism professor required that we turn in an Evangelism Contact Report each week for ten weeks. At first I resented that requirement. But during that next four years the Lord used that one requirement to transform my entire life in the area of evangelism.

That same fall I began to go out in evangelism weekly with the Wheaton Evangelistic Team. On one of these evenings a student named Henry said, “Tom, let me show you how it’s done.” We crossed the street and began talking to taxi drivers across from the Water Tower Place. It was an amazing time of growth and stretching!

A veil over my eyes was soon lifted. I began to see those I encountered much as described by Jesus, “weary and scattered, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt 9:36). These experiences raised my eyes to see as Jesus:

“Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!” (John 4:35)

Leading a weekly evangelism team has proven the best spiritual discipline to allow me to maintain a heart for the lost.

  1. Find a Friend to Join with You

Closely akin to going out in planned weekly evangelism is going with someone else. God gave me a good friend to go out with me in the early years of the Trinity Evangelistic Team. I quickly learned that street evangelism was not an activity that I should be doing alone. Dave and I would head down to the Water Tower place together on Saturday nights for evangelism. After I began recruiting students for the evangelism team, God brought other men to partner with me in street evangelism. Leading evangelism teams has led to a lifetime of building friendships, spending time in prayer, encouraging one another, and sharing the gospel together.

It is no surprise that Christ sent out his disciples two-by-two (Matt 10; Mark 6; or Luke 9, 10). Two are definitely better than one! If you want to remain encouraged in weekly scheduled evangelism, find someone else to go out with you.

  1. Regularly Pray by Name for Those You Encounter

It was only after being involved in intentional evangelism that I truly developed a spiritual burden for others. I began to encounter a large number of people with hugely diverse spiritual needs. Time on my knees turned from being inward focused to caring about the spiritual lives of others. I prayed for them by name. I also began to be more earnest in praying for them while I was with them. I cried out to God on their behalf.

I began to add the names of my contacts to a prayer list. Soon that list became too long for me to pray through all the names, so I began a notation system to focus on those who made specific decisions. As this list grew, the paper began to deteriorate from daily use, and my small three-ring binder began to fall apart.

A great lesson of that period of my life came from the long list of names of people I had spoken to about Jesus. The harvest truly is white, as Jesus had said. And the laborers are few.

“But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.’” (Matt 9:36-38)

These timeless truths remain wherever we may find ourselves: “the harvest is truly plentiful”! Praying for those we encounter helps us maintain a burden for sharing the gospel with lost souls around us every day.

  1. Memorize Verses that Specifically Motivate Obedience in Evangelism

A fourth motivator for me in evangelism was to memorize verses that spur on urgent evangelism. There are numerous verses that describe the four urgencies of evangelism:

  • Jesus is coming back quickly!
  • The lost are really lost and headed for hell!
  • The Christian is accountable for the lost whom he should reach!
  • The time is short and the harvest is white!

Each one of these concepts provides powerful incentive to remain active in evangelism, along with the many verses that are related to each of these topics.

There are some verses that provide unusual examples of a the motivation for evangelism:

“For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38)

“For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to evangelize, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.” (1 Cor 1:17)

“For if I evangelize, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not evangelize! For if I do this willingly, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have been entrusted with a stewardship.” (1 Cor 9:16-17)

Further, several verses exemplify the need for diligence in the work of evangelism:

“I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work.” (John 9:4)

“Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols. Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there.” (Acts 17:16-17)

These and many other verses provide a spiritual incentive to evangelize. Hiding these Scripture in our hearts gives the Holy Spirit tinder for kindling the flame when a cold blanket settles on our soul.

Need to rekindle a heart for the lost and a passion for evangelism? Add evangelism into your weekly calendar; find a friend to join you; begin praying for those you encounter; and memorize soul-winning verses. Soon God will pour His passion for souls into your heart!

Nine Verbs NOT used for Evangelism in the New Testament-with charts

Next month a group of students and two faculty members will be leaving Midwestern Seminary in Kansas City to head to Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Part of the cacophony of activities in New Orleans is a wide spectrum of evangelistic ministries. These ministries range from people holding up “Need Prayer” signs to others that say “You Are Going to Hell!” Those who hold those signs generally speak to those who pass by in a way that is concomitant to the signs they hold.

In order to ground our thoughts about what is appropriate in evangelism and what is not, it would do us well to glean wisdom from the Word of God in this area.

In gathering and listing 142 verbs and 19 nouns used to describe evangelism in the New Testament, I had the idea of gathering communicatory verbs that were not used for evangelism. So, over the past ten or so years I have been gathering these verbs, which provide a type of photonegative for what evangelism is not meant to be. Among the 68 communicatory verbs and 7 nouns that are not used for evangelism, I have chosen nine verbs that speak to what evangelism is not.

  1. Stirring up a Crowd/Starting a Riot

While there are quite a number of riots started in the New Testament, they are never started by Christ or his disciples. Riots were always started by antagonists of the gospel. It is interesting to note that Paul in his defense actually disavowed ever having provoked a riot:

“And they neither found me in the temple disputing with anyone nor inciting the crowd, either in the synagogues or in the city.” (Acts 24:12)

Yet, this was exactly the technique of Paul’s antagonists, who had provoked a riot against Paul:

“Now when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him.” (Acts 21:27)

  1. Cursing

Cursing is defined as “An appeal or prayer for evil or misfortune to befall someone or something” (http://www.thefreedictionary.com). Although the word is used in the New Testament on several occasions, it is never used in the context of evangelism. Biblical evangelism does not include expounding curses on other people. Rather our speech should “always be with grace, seasoned with salt” (Col 4:6).

  1. Threatening

While it is easy to respond in kind if we are reviled, we are taught in the Bible that we should not menace others who may be rejecting Jesus. Ours is to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt 5:44). Further, Jesus gave the example of not threatening others, even when he was in the midst of unjust suffering:

“Who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.” (1 Pet 2:23)

It is a dangerous thing when our evangelism descends to be nothing more that menacing tones of threatening.

  1. Reproaching or Insulting

Another word never used in an evangelistic context is that of reproaching or insulting another person. Paul admitted that the gospel that he was proclaiming did bring him reproaches and insults:

“For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe” (1 Tim 4:10).

So while Paul was suffering reproach, he was not reproaching others. This verb in the Greek (oneidizo, to reproach) is found 9 or 10 times in the New Testament, depending on the version of the Greek being used. None of these 9 or 10 uses describes how Jesus or one of His followers was evangelizing.

  1. Speaking Evil of

Another similar verb is the Greek verb kakologeo, which means to speak evil of someone else. This verb is found 4 times in the New Testament. For example, it is used in the Book of Acts to describe the behavior that led Paul to “shake the dust off of his feet.” When some in the synagogue at Ephesus spoke evil of Paul, he left and met elsewhere:

“But when some were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them and withdrew the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus.” (Acts 19:9)

Again, here is another verb that is not used for evangelism, but rather its usage relates to antagonists of the gospel.

  1. Speaking Against

This verb appears to be using pyrrhonic logic in evangelism. That is, tearing down everything the other person is saying. In the Greek it is the verb antilego, or to speak against or to contradict. This verb is also found 9 times in the New Testament, and it is never in the context of evangelism. One use relates to the response of the Jews to the receptivity of the Gentiles in Antioch:

“But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy, and began contradicting the things spoken by Paul, and were blaspheming.” (Acts 13:45)

  1. Deceiving

Deception is not to be used in evangelism at any time and under any circumstances. Satan is the father of lies, and God can only speak the truth. As followers of Christ, therefore, it behooves us never to lie when we are evangelizing. The verb for lying (5 NT uses) and leading astray (40 NT uses) are never used in a context of godly evangelism. Rather these verbs are used of the evangelism of false teachers who intentionally or unintentionally deceive others with their message:

“For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.” (Rom 16:18)

  1. Arguing or Debating

Another interesting set of verbs not used for evangelism relates to arguing and debating. Again, debate was the method or style of the antagonists of the gospel, but it is never used of Jesus or the disciples:

“But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen.” (Acts 6:9)

For example, the Greek verb suzeteo (10 NT uses, meaning to argue, debate, discuss, question) is never used for evangelism. It does not appear that Christ has sent us out to debate others. Rather he was sent us to lovingly proclaim the Good News to those who are receptive.

  1. Debating or Dialoguing

Similarly to debating is the concept of dialoguing. Each party in a discussion sharing their point of view, and seeking to find a middle ground, as it were. The Greek verb sumballo (6 NT uses, meaning to debate, confer) is not used in an evangelistic context. Interestingly it is used of those that Paul was seeking to reach prior to the Mars Hill disrupted sermon:

“Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some said, ‘What does this babbler want to say?’ Others said, ‘He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods,’ because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection.” (Act 17:18)

The first highlighted term, “encountered” is the English translation of the verb sumballo. The philosophers were debating or dialoguing with Paul. Meaning, however, Paul “preached to them.” The verb for “preach” is the verb “evangelize” in the Greek. Whereas the Stoic and Epicurean philosophers were batting ideas back and forth to Paul, Paul held his ground and was evangelizing Jesus and His resurrection.

So here are nine examples of the 68 verbs in the New Testament that do not describe evangelism. They are, as it were, the photonegative of what true evangelism ought to be. So it is interesting that while the Bible has a lot to say about evangelism, it even speaks by what it does not say about evangelism.

May our speech always give grace and be seasoned with salt!

Can you think of other lessons from these words, or other New Testament concepts that I have not listed?

[comments based on the charts below from an unpublished update of Evangelizology]

verbs & nouns for evangelizing

verbs & nouns not used for evangelizing

Ten Strategies to Safeguard Regenerate Church Membership

“Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” 1 Cor 5:6

It does not take much yeast to cause bread dough to raise 3-4 times its size. Given the right temperature and time, a large lump of dough can raise fairly quickly with a fairly insignificant amount of yeast.

Depending on the recipe, normally 6 cups of flour will call for about one tablespoon of yeast. The ration of 6 cups to one tablespoon is 192:1, or one half of a percent. And yet that one spoon of yeast will cause those 6 cups of flour in a batter to rise over and over again.

While having yeast is helpful for making certain kinds of bread, Paul used this allegory to teach a negative lesson. He was illustrating that allowing unchecked sinful behavior among members of a local church impacts the entire church membership. He likely used this illustration because of its example of a very unbalanced ratio, 192:1. When church leaders allow one member to live in obvious sin, the result impacts the remainder of the church just like leaven!

So any given pastor or church leader needs to be aware of the spiritual state of the members of his church.

In a perfect world all members of a church would be regenerate and would remain so throughout their lives. But we do not live in a perfect world. When a new pastor comes to a church, he inherits all the membership decisions made in the past. Perhaps unregenerate people became members in a church by mistake or even intentionally.

So it is beneficial that we have strategies in mind to safeguard regenerate church membership. Let me recommend ten strategies, to which others may be added:

(1) Baptism for Believers Only

We must guard against the desire to bolster baptismal numbers by baptizing those who have not certain of their faith in Jesus Christ. There is danger on both sides here. We can restrict baptism from “Whosoever will” on one hand, sinning against the Holy Spirit. Or we can baptize those who are not genuinely saved, and thereby sin against the Holy Spirit.

(2) Practicing Communion for Believers Only

Other than baptism, the other command of Christ, the Lord’s Supper, is the place where we need to differentiate between the saved and the lost. Here again there is danger on both sides. On one side, there is the danger of becoming Pharisaical, and on the other becoming Sadducee-ical. For example, it has been my practice to mention the warning of 1 Corinthians 9, stating that the communion table is restricted to baptized believers only, and then allowing the congregants to decide for themselves.

(3) Practicing Church Discipline

Loving ministry necessitates loving church discipline. When a member is found to be living in known sin or immorality, church leaders are obligated to follow Matthew 18, Galatians 6, and similar passages to reestablish this church member. If church discipline is not lovingly practiced, then regenerate church membership is in jeopardy.

(4) Prioritizing Biblical Preaching

A constant diet of the Word of God can protect a church from drifting away from its Master, Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you” (John 15:3). God’s Word preached literally cleanses the consciences and souls of those who have a hearing of faith in a congregation. Biblical preaching is a powerful key to maintaining regenerate church membership.

(5) Maintaining the Bible’s Distinction Between the Saved and the Lost

In a day of compromise, it is important for the pastor to set the pace for his church by maintaining the Bible’s distinction between the saved and the lost in his preaching. Blurring the lines between the saved and the lost is detrimental to maintaining a regenerate membership. When these lines are blurred doctrinally and or in practice the entire congregation suffers from an influx of leaven into the church.

(6) Welcoming Practical Application of the Bible’s Truths

Along with biblical preaching is the importance of clear application of God’s Word. Preaching is more than informing, it also includes the responsibility to warn. The admonition of Ezekiel 3:18-21 comes to mind here. That same admonition rang in the mind of Paul who stated that he was under obligation to teach and warn all men. For example, Paul affirmed that his ministry was one of “warning every man” (Col 1:28). Likewise our preaching should be more than just informing—it should also include warning. And this warning will go a lone way toward helping us maintain regenerate church membership.

(7) Regularly Visiting Our Members

Maintaining regenerate church membership means that we know our sheep. There is no better way of knowing our congregation than visiting them in their homes. Their homes is where we learn how they live and with whom they live. It does not take long to greet a person, read Scripture, and pray for them—maybe 10-15 minutes. But in so doing the pastor shows love for his people and is better able to empathize with them. His regular visitation allows the pastor to understand his people as life issues come up. He can preach to where they live, and build a relational foundation that he may later need in a first level of confrontation (Matt 18).

(8) Fostering Intentional Loving Fellowship

Along with regularly visiting members, the pastor should be sure that there are regular avenues for fellowship among the saints on the church calendar. Isolated church members can drift. Members that are involved in a healthy community with multiple levels of relationship will be discipled and mentored.

(9) Training Our People in Evangelism

Another way to safeguard regenerate church membership is to train our members in personal evangelism. As we voluntarily train our people in personal evangelism, they will have the gospel set before them once again. They can evaluate their own lives in light of the gospel. And they can recommit themselves to a Great Commission priority in their lives.

(10) Giving Our People Opportunities to Share the Gospel

Once a person is trained to share the gospel, they can now proceed to the next level—sharing the gospel! It is helpful and beneficial for a pastor to create varied opportunities for his people to share the gospel—whether in the local context or on overseas trips. They will already have a built in desire to share the gospel from the Holy Spirit. So the pastor puts legs to the work of the Spirit by providing his people concrete ways to share the gospel. He emulates Jesus who sent out his disciples (e.g. Luke 9:2; 10:1). As they share the gospel, they will be reminded of their ongoing need for Christ, and you will safeguard the regenerate membership of your church in their lives!

Just like yeast changes the size of the lump of dough, so unsaved members will transform a local church in a negative way. Maintaining regenerate membership is a challenge. These ten strategies are offered to safeguard the household of God and to help us keep unhealthy leaven from infecting our churches.

A Word about the Interrelationship of Evangelism and Discipleship

Debates between the mission of the church related to evangelism and discipleship only happen in those churches that still believe in instantaneous conversion or “You must be born again” (John 3:7).

So at the outset, it must be clarified that these debates only occur in the minds of those who believe in an authoritative Bible. If a person believes in an authoritative church or one particular person within a church, then that person or church tells them what to think about the issue, and there is no debate. But if a person believes that the Holy Spirit speaks in-with-and-by the Word of God and that each individual is called to “take heed” and “guard their heart,” then each person has the privilege and responsibility to diligently search the Scriptures and have his own opinion on the matter.

Further, it must be clarified that this is not an issue for those who believe in a gradual salvation through prolonged application of certain spiritual disciplines, salvation by infant baptism, or some other form of sacramental salvation. The number of Christian Churches that fall within these categories is far more than a super-majority of those who call themselves Christian. For them it is clear that discipleship is the obvious priority over evangelism. Evangelism is either totally unnecessary or exists only to reach barbarians and savages.

Basic Definitions

At the outset evangelism and discipleship must be defined. By evangelism I mean the sharing of the gospel by which a person who is spiritually dead hears the gospel and is offered an opportunity to receive Christ by placing their trust in Christ alone for the forgiveness of their sins. By discipleship I mean “teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you” as stated in Matthew’s Great Commission (Matt 28:20).

Even so, evangelism and discipleship differ in doctrinal application, in the church leaders in whom these responsibilities are vested, and verbally in the Bible. Yet they are also closely related to one another, as will be noted in three texts. So evangelism and discipleship are similar and also distinct. We will begin with some distinctions.

Doctrinally-speaking

Evangelism, or the gospel proclaimed, when accompanied by a hearing of faith on the part of the listener, leads to justification. Discipleship, when also accompanied by a hearing of faith, leads to sanctification.

Justification is punctiliar or point-in-time in its application to the human heart. A person goes from the state of not-being-saved to the state of being-saved. So it is explained by Jesus in John 5:24:

John 5:24, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.”

Sanctification, however, is a life-long process that begins at justification and continues on until the end of our lives. Hence, Paul wrote to Christians in the church in Thessalonica, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thess 4:3).

So, evangelism and discipleship are differ from a doctrinal point-of-view. Again, for churches that blue the lines between conversion and sanctification (normally by adhering to some kind of sacramental salvation), the doctrinal distinction described above is either non-existent or ascribed to infant baptism.

So evangelism and discipleship are quite different in their result—doctrinally-speaking.

Church Leaders

In His great wisdom, Christ gave the church two separate church leaders, one to focus on evangelism and one to focus on discipleship.

The evangelist is given to the church by Christ as noted by Paul in Ephesians 4:11:

Eph 4:11, “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers.”

So one leader that Christ gave to His church is the evangelist. The main focus of the evangelist is to evangelize lost souls who are yet “dead in their trespasses and sins.” This emphasis is found directly in his name—Evangelist.

And yet in the same text, we the NT’s sole use of the word “pastor.” While the evangelist is to focus on lost souls, the pastor is to shepherd the new believers gathered through the work of the evangelist. The primary task of the pastor is then to be a shepherd to the gathered people of God.

It stands to reason that the shepherd will have a role in evangelism and it also stands to reason that they evangelist will have a role in shepherding. However, their gift set and their motivations will differ, as may their attitudes to evangelism and discipleship.

It may be that one of the greatest difficulties in understanding the differences between evangelism and discipleship is the blending and graying of the distinctions between the evangelist and the pastor. Both the evangelist has a role and so does the pastor-shepherd. Neither should overlook the importance of the other!

Terminology

Just as the leaders have different names, so different verbs are used to explain the roles of each leader in Matthew’s Great Commission. The verb associated with the role of the evangelist is the Greek matheteuo, translated “teach” in the KJV and “make disciples” in more recent translations. These translations are somewhat misleading as they tend to blur the differentiation between justification and sanctification, between evangelism and discipleship, and between the role of the evangelist and that of a pastor.

Here is what the Anglican Church believes about baptism:

XXVII. Of Baptisme. Baptisme is not only a signe of profession, and marke of difference, whereby Christian men are discerned from other that be not christened:  but is also a signe of regeneration or newe byrth, whereby as by an instru­ment, they that receaue baptisme rightly, are grafted into the Church:  the promises of the forgeuenesse of sinne, and of our adoption to be the sonnes of God, by the holy ghost, are visibly signed and sealed: fayth is confyrmed: and grace increased by vertue of prayer vnto God. The baptisme of young children, is in any wyse to be retayned in the Churche, as most agreable with the institution of Christe. (Thirty-Nine Articles [1572]; available at: http://www.episcopalian.org/efac/1553-1572.htm; accessed 21 Oct 2004).

In a church that believes that infant baptism saves the infant, it is hardly difficult to see that they do not appreciate evangelists traveling about evangelizing, making it seem like these infants were not really saved in their infancy. Hence, it is not difficult to understand why the KJV’s blurred the lines between “teach” in Matthew 28:19 and “teaching” in v. 20 to fit their pastoral approach to salvation—salvation through the ritual of infant baptism as applied by a pastor of the Church of England.

However, the Greek word matheteuo has a different meaning than being involved in an outward and overt long-term discipleship relationship, as is often considered to be the case. The same verb is found in Matthew 27:57 as applied to Joseph of Arimathea before he identified himself as a follower of Jesus. Consider this verse:

Matt 27:57, “Now when evening had come, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple [matheteuo] of Jesus.”

The entire phrase “had also become a disciple” is the translation of the verb matheteuo. Here is the skinny. Joseph was called by John a “secret” disciple (John 19:38). And yet the same verb is used of him as was used in the Great Commission for making converts before they are baptized. In fact, we know from other Scriptures, they must be followers of Christ before they are baptized.

So the second verb in Matthew 28:19 is also the first in the salvific sequence of a soul: “Go, win disciples of all nations, baptizing them.” The new convert must first be won as a disciple. Then he must be baptized. Then he is to be taught: “teaching them to observe whatsoever I have commanded you” (v. 20).

Radical Differences

So then, there are radical differences between evangelism and discipleship. These differences are seen in doctrine. They are noted in the offices of the evangelist and that of the pastor. They are also clarified in the Greek verbs used in Matthew’s Great Commission.

Amazing Unity

But just as there are radical differences, so also there is an amazing unity of ministry. It is this “yes-and-no” that makes the issue complicated. Paul spoke with amazing clarity using a united terminology. Ezekiel spoke with clarity about this unity in accountability. And then Paul again spoke with clarity about the unity in ministry.

Colossians 1:28

Col 1:28, “Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.”

In Col 1:28, Paul intentionally repeated the phrase “to all men” (panta anthropon) three times. Each time the phrase is attached to an important concept in the sequence of verbs showing the commonality of the focus whether or not people are saved or lost.

In the first case we find it attached to the verb “warn,” the classic verb that we find used in the Ezekiel 3 passage below. Warning speaks of the motivation as well as the extent to which people are taught. It is more than mere informing, true gospel ministry involves warning the hearers.

Next Paul uses the “all men” in relation to teaching. Here we have a verb often used of pastoral ministry. But Paul purposefully attaches it to “all men.” So there is an element of teaching in evangelism as well as in discipleship.

Lastly, Paul uses all men of the end goal or end result of any and all spiritual ministry, that they might be perfected in Christ. Truly this goal is the aim of all Christian ministry.

Ezekiel 3:18-21

In Ezekiel 3 God calls Ezekiel to warn both the wicked (vv 18-19) as well as the righteous (vv 20-21). The punishment for not warning is the same in both cases, “his blood I will require at your hand” (Ezek 3:18, 20). The parallelism is astounding as the same verbs are used for ministry, and the same concepts are used for accountability. There is a clear parallel between ministry to the saved and ministry to the lost

1 Corinthians 1:10-4:7

It is perhaps in 1 Corinthians 1 that Paul made it absolutely clear. He stated that the root of the argument between evangelism and discipleship was arrogance in the heart of the debater (4:6-7). Yet, rather than enflame an argument, Paul used himself and Apollos as examples or types of the two sides:

1 Cor 4:6, “Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other.”

So Paul wrote in chapter 3 that he planted and Apollos watered, but that God gave the growth. He continued expounding upon these two phases in ministry:

1 Cor 3:7-8, “So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.”

So then, it is not about whether evangelism or discipleship is more important. They are both important in God’s economy of things. But in the end, it is God who is important, because it is God who does the work through the evangelist and through the pastor.

Therefore, mankind being puffed up (as we all are), and Christians growing and learning as we go, it is likely that the debate between evangelism and discipleship will not cease with this article. For, in a way it is a useless debate, as it is debating things that the Bible addresses fairly clearly. On the other hand, it is a very important debate. The fact that it exists as a debate shows that those debating it believe in the Bible, believe in conversion, and believe in evangelism. These are all good things. So may the debate continue!

First Person Prayers in the Psalms

In a prior blog I noted six cries for mercy in Psalm 119. In addition to these, the following notes three prayers in the first person singular. These are scripted prayers. They are prayers that God has placed in His word to guide His people to come into and maintain a vital relationship with Him. One has to accept by faith that what they request can and will be answered positively by the God who breathed them out.

Psalm 27:8, “When You said, ‘Seek My face,’ My heart said to You, ‘Your face, Lord, I will seek.’”

Here the Psalmist receives a command from God to seek God’s face. The Psalmist then responds by faith saying from his heart, “Your face, Lord, I will seek.” This is a great example of praying Scripture back to God, as well as a response of faith to that which is written in the Bible.

Psalm 32:5, “I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ And You forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah.”

In Psalm 32:5 we find salvific language dealing with sin and an affirmation of forgiveness of sin, or the issue that is at the heart of the Book of Romans gospel. Interestingly, we have here the affirmation of the need for prayer to the Lord in the first person, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” The rightful response of the reader should be, “I ought to confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And if the reader does, God’s response is to forgive the iniquity of his sin. This powerful verse explains the focal point of responding to God in repentance and faith.

Two items are of special note in Psalm 32:5, the Person to whom we should ask forgiveness is the Lord. Here we have a parallel to 1 John 1:9-2:2, in which John points us to confess our sins to our Advocate, Jesus the Righteous One. Then in Psalm 32:5, the desire for prayer is followed by the affirmation, “and You forgave the iniquity of my sin.” Hence, the person who has the authority to forgive is God alone. Was this not the same teaching with which the Pharisees wrestled with Jesus in Luke 5:21, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And yes, God alone can forgive sins. And God Himself became flesh and dwelt among us through His Son Jesus!

Psalm 41:4, “I said, ‘Lord, be merciful to me; Heal my soul, for I have sinned against You.’”

In this third scripted prayer to the Lord, the reader cries out for mercy and requests healing. The reader admits that he has sinned against the Lord! In a way, Psalm 41 provides the direct terminology to the guidance provided in Psalm 32.

These three pleas for mercy are well summarized by another confession in the Book of Psalms:

Psalm 119:176, “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; Seek Your servant, For I do not forget Your commandments.”

Direct pleas for mercy. All of them in the Bible. And all of them in the first person singular. Powerful prayers from the pen of God. Prayers which He will hear and answer!