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.

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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!

The Wisdom of this World

“Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise” 1 Corinthians 3:18

The subtlety and speed with which the wisdom of this world enters into the Christian and the church is amazing. Was it not this subtlety that led one generation after another of Israelites to fall into the trap of Baal worship? Was it not this subtlety that led the Corinthian church to fall prey to the teachings of the “super-apostles,” who were unified against Paul and his ministry?

But, more importantly in the current day, how do the subtleties of the “wisdom of this age” enter the church? How does it impact Christian higher education?

The wisdom of this age usurps spiritual wisdom whenever the clear teaching of the Bible is confounded or confused by the teachings of this world. No topic or subject is immune from the impact of the wisdom of this world. Every topic has subtleties through which the wisdom of this age can worm its way into the topic and undermine, sabotage, and twist the teaching of the Bible on the topic.

The examples are numerous, and most are very touchy. Therefore, I will not give any examples. This blog will merely point out that examples do exist en masse, and allow the reader to consider what they may be.

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

The Genius of Church Planting

In preparing notes to speak on evangelism and the local church, I began considering the genius of church planting. Church planting combines many of the focal points important for local church evangelism and adds to them the entrepreneurial spirit of youth—a very powerful mix!

Consider how church planting amalgamates the best of the following:

  • The gift of the evangelist
  • Follow-up and discipleship
  • Pastoral ministry
  • A zeal to starting something new

In addition to these four, church planting also:

  • Frustrates the plans of the Evil One
  • Glorifies Christ

So, church planting as an evangelism tool is a powerful motivational force that can and has captured the zeal of young minds to accomplish something truly substantial for Christ. In fact, church planting is a six-way “Win-Win” proposition!

#1—Church Planting Combines the Best of the Gift of the Evangelist

In Ephesians 4:11 Christ is described as giving gifts of particular leaders to His church. There are five in all:

“And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers.” (Ephesians 4:11)

So the crucified and risen Christ poured out His gift of leaders upon the church to gather and multiply His elect. And one of those leaders was the “apostle,” among whom was the Apostle Paul, who penned the verse above. Yet, although Paul was an apostle he functioned in all five of the roles named above. Several verses focus on Paul’s role as an evangelist.

First, when Paul was seeking the leading of the Lord for his future ministry, God spoke to him in a dream:

“During the night a vision appeared to Paul: A Macedonian man was standing and pleading with him, ‘Cross over to Macedonia and help us!’ After he had seen the vision, we immediately made efforts to set out for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to evangelize them.” (Acts 16:9-10)

So God called the Apostle Paul to the ministry of evangelizing. Evangelism is also the first stage of church planting.

#2—Church Planting Includes Follow-Up and Discipleship

After evangelism comes follow-up and discipleship. Paul did not leave his converts unattended, but sought to follow-up with them and disciple them. In the Acts we find Paul following-up on the churches he planted at the end of his first missionary journey. Notice how Luke described the follow-up ministry of Paul:

“After they had evangelized that town and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, to Iconium, and to Antioch, strengthening the disciples by encouraging them to continue in the faith and by telling them, ‘It is necessary to pass through many troubles on our way into the kingdom of God.’ When they had appointed elders in every church and prayed with fasting, they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” (Acts 14:21-23)

In these verses, we find the first three stages of church planting evangelism gathered in one place. We read of Paul (1) “evangelizing” the city of Derbe. This evangelism resulted in Paul’s team making “many” disciples. Next we find that they (2) strengthened the disciples and encouraged them. So their follow-up consisted of their gathering the disciples and encouraging them to press on in the faith.

#3—Church Planting Encourages the Gift of the Pastor

Then Paul’s missionary team (3) gathered the disciples into local church fellowships by appointing leaders for each church. What a great example of church planting by the Apostle Paul and his team we find in Acts 14!

As to pastoral ministry, another vision of Paul explained God’s calling for the pastor to evangelize. In Acts 18:8-10 God again spoke to Paul in a dream:

“Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed the Lord, along with his whole household. Many of the Corinthians, when they heard, believed and were baptized. Then the Lord said to Paul in a night vision, ‘Don’t be afraid, but keep on speaking and don’t be silent. For I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to hurt you, because I have many people in this city.’” (Acts 18:8-10)

Verse 10 stands as particularly engaging to the pastor. Although the pastor’s number one ministry is shepherding the gathered people of God, he still needs to remember, “I have many people in his city.”

The pastor therefore needs to lead his people in evangelism and into evangelism!

It seems like that vision rang in his ears for the rest of his life. Around 20 years later Paul wrote to Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist.” Fulfilling his ministry provided the context for this admonition.

“But as for you, be serious about everything, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:5)

#4—God Has Given Youth a Zeal to Starting Something New

God has often instilled into the psyche of youth the desire to start something new. It is part of human nature and it is part of God’s plan. Solomon encouraged young people:

“Rejoice, young man, while you are young, and let your heart be glad in the days of your youth. And walk in the ways of your heart and in the sight of your eyes; but know that for all of these things God will bring you to judgment.” (Ecclesiastes 11:9)

The Apostle John picked up on this youthful zeal in an interesting way:

“I am writing to you, young men, because you have had victory over the evil one. … I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, God’s word remains in you, and you have had victory over the evil one.” (1 John 2:13, 14)

It is exciting to experience young people being filled with zeal for things of Christ. Church planting movements are founded. New music is written. New patterns of church life and worship are established. Spiritual awakenings happen. It is beautiful to see the creative work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of young people!

#5—Church Planting Frustrates the Plans of the Evil One

Interestingly, as noted by the Apostle John above, when youth are ministering with their God-given zeal, they are victorious over the evil one! Church planting results in the frustration of the plans of the evil one in two ways: (1) it frustrates his work the life of the young church planter, and (2) it frustrates his plans in the lives of those impacted by the church planter!

#6—Church Planting Glorifies Christ

Church planting also glorifies Christ by working together with Him to accomplish what He is busy doing in the world. Jesus said:

“And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the forces of Hades will not overpower it.” (Matthew 16:18)

Christ is in the business of “building His church.” And when we are involved in church planting we are joining Him in His work of building His church!

Paul described this work as building on the foundation of Christ:

“According to God’s grace that was given to me, I have laid a foundation as a skilled master builder, and another builds on it. But each one must be careful how he builds on it. For no one can lay any other foundation than what has been laid down. That foundation is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:10-11)

So church planting is genius. It is a six way “Win-Win.” It furthers the cause of Christ in history, frustrates the devil, and it amalgamates every stage of Christ’s Great Commission. May God give us the zeal to plant churches and may He call out many young people to this important work!

Balancing Evangelism and Discipleship

A quote from a 1914 book by L. R. Scarborough has intrigued me for many years. I have used it in my evangelism notes to demonstrate how various individuals approached the concept of evangelism in history. In this quote Scarborough discussed the interrelationship between evangelism and discipleship, or using the terminology of his day, soul-winning and soul-building:

“It is not wise to say that soul winning is the main thing or that soul building is the main thing. They are Siamese twins of God’s gospel, going hand in hand, and they ought to keep up with each other…. And this leads me to say that the main thing in the Kingdom of God is the evangelistic spirit, the martial note and conquest tread.” (L. R. Scarborough, Recruits for World Conquest [New York: Revell, 1914], 58.)

In this quote, Scarborough answered an unspoken question about the primacy of evangelism and/or discipleship by noting that both are of equal priority. One reason that this quote intrigued me was that I had wrestled with this same issue when attending seminary in the early 1980s. In my case I placed evangelism above discipleship as it concerns the Great Commission. So, Scarborough’s wise comment gave me warning not to overstate my case for evangelism!

While teaching on follow-up and discipleship several years ago, I was struck with some unexpected biblical insight in answer to this question. It struck me that Ezekiel 3 provides the answer to this age-old enigma. Ezekiel 3:15-21 both affirms the statement of Brother Scarborough, and brings harmony between those who emphasize evangelism and those who emphasize discipleship:

“Then I came to the captives at Tel Abib, who dwelt by the River Chebar; and I sat where they sat, and remained there astonished among them seven days.

“Now it came to pass at the end of seven days that the word of the LORD came to me, saying, ‘Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me:

“‘When I say to the wicked, “You shall surely die,” and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet, if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul.

“‘Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die; because you did not give him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand. Nevertheless if you warn the righteous man that the righteous should not sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took warning; also you will have delivered your soul.’”

Since the late 1980s, I have used Ezekiel 3:16-19 to teach the urgency of evangelism. Likewise, in the past three or four years, I have required my Basic Evangelism students to memorize verses 18-19. But it had never crossed my mind that the interrelationship between the warning of the wicked and the warning of the righteous in Ezekiel 3 proved the validity of Scarborough’s quote.

What do I mean? The same command and the same terminology in verse 17, which precedes both the warning of the wicked and the righteous, applies both to warning of the wicked and the righteous in verses 18-21. So, we find

  • The same message: “a word from My mouth”;
  • The same command: “to warn”;
  • The same responsibility: “to warn”;
  • The same judgment: “bloodguilty” for failing to warn either one; and
  • The same “deliverance” for warning them [paralleling Paul’s thrice repeated repetition of “every man” in Col 1:28].

So in essence, Ezekiel 3:17-21 answers the age-old question (“Which is more important, evangelism or discipleship?”) with the answer: “Neither, they are both equally important”! So this application, if it is valid, renders the timeless question—which was clearly an issue in the time of Scarborough in 1914—a mute point. Neither side wins the debate!

Therefore there is no need for competition between our areas of ministry. Both evangelism and discipleship are equally important. Both church planting and evangelism have their place. It’s not an issue of either/or but both/and. Now isn’t that a freeing thought!

The ramifications of this thought may take a while to sink in. If both evangelism and discipleship are equally important in the ministry of the local church, then many of our churches need either to ratchet up their evangelism programs or to rethink the effectiveness of their discipleship methods! If both are equally important in church planting, the ramifications are pretty intense as to how we teach and practice urgent evangelism, as well as life-on-life discipleship. If evangelism and discipleship are equally important in Christ’s Great Commission, what then are the ramifications for seminary education? The implications are serious and ought to be pondered at all levels.

Furthermore, let’s apply Ezekiel 3 to Matthew’s Great Commission:

  1. Matthew 28 addresses both ministry to the wicked and to the righteous. While preaching or testifying is the main concept in the Great Commissions of Mark, Luke, and Acts, in Matthew 28 ministry to the wicked is included in the words “make/win disciples” to Jesus (cf. Matt 27:57).
  2. Our main spiritual responsibility is to warn lost people, seeking to win them to Christ, and to become His disciples. Notice that warning is more than just informing. It is informing about Christ with the purpose of winning, while warning them of the consequences of rejection. “Warning” is definitely the end-game of a Gospel conversation.
  3. If they refuse to take warning, and to become His disciples, then according to Ezekiel 3 our responsibility is complete. We have warned them. We have fulfilled our obligation to them.
  4. If they do take warning, and they do become disciples of Christ, then not only are we delivered, but they are made righteous by the blood of Christ, and our responsibility continues. We are then commanded to baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And once that command is fulfilled, we are commanded to teach them to observe all that Christ has commanded. And in these last two commands we find the glue between evangelism and the local church, baptism, as well as the purpose for the local church, teaching them to observe all that Christ commanded.

So in the words “Go and win disciples” we have our responsibility to warn the wicked. And in the words “baptizing them … and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” we have our responsibility to the righteous who take warning, to give them further warning.

Notice also that the so-called righteous ones who do not take warning in Ezek 3:20, will not be saved by their good works: “his righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered.” Yes, for good works do not save anyone (Rom 3:19-20). But what does save the righteous is found in verse 21—that is, he takes warning. It seems like Jesus built on this idea when He said:

“When Jesus heard it, He said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance’” (Mar 2:17; cf. Matt 9:12-13; Luke 5:31-32).

Ezekiel 3 is a very potent passage indeed!

Further, those emphasizing church planting are not incorrect in their interest in assessing the spiritual condition of others. Notice that in verse 15 the prophet Ezekiel “sits” for seven days in consternation, brooding or brewing. By the way, the Hebrew verb for “sit” (yashab) is found 4 times in this verse—Incredible repetition! Finally, at the end of seven days, verse 16 says that the word of the Lord came to the prophet. So the prophet waited one full week before God commanded him to warn all men. Therefore, while Ezekiel 3 clearly teaches urgent evangelism, it does not teach rash, judgmental, dismissive, or aloof evangelism. Rather it teaches urgent evangelism with God-given conviction, insight, and humility.

The power of this passage is amazing. While it so clearly teaches urgent evangelism, it also includes several other vital lessons. Clearly this passage motivated the Apostle Paul in his evangelism efforts (cf. Acts 18:6; 20:24-27). May this passage also motivate us to obey and teach obedience to the Great Commission, and may it also bring us to new levels of unity in our evangelism, discipleship, and church planting. So, L. R. Scarborough was right after all, soul-winning and soul-building are Siamese twins of God’s Gospel. Let’s teach, preach, administer, and work so that these Siamese twins can keep up with each other!