Friday, 18 December 2009

evangelical burdens part 2 - personal evangelism

You're sitting at the back of your evangelical church and you're sweating. The guest-speaker from the para-church mission organisation is laying it on thick and you're feeling the weight of conviction. "How many people have you led to Christ in the past year?" he intones. You can hear a pin drop. He continues "The past two years? Three years? Are you hiding the light under a bushel?" And then he prophesies(!): "Maybe God isn't using you because you need to sort out your lust problem." It's at that point all the men realise that, if this is the case, then they'll probably never lead anyone to Christ. Doh!

Sound familiar? If you're an evangelical then you've probably had something approaching this experience. Yet is it fair, if I may employ the crudest of metaphors, to expect every Christian to have multiple notches on their evangelistic bed posts? A "close the deal" mentality grips many evangelicals to the extent that they are walking around under a heavy load of condemnation because they believe they are failing as witnesses to Christ in the workplace.

Is every Christian called to "close the deal" evangelism? No; that is a specific duty of the church. In Matthew 28:18-20 Christ says:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (ESV)
If baptising is not the vocational calling of every Christian (1 Cor. 1:17), isn't it safe to assume that evangelism isn't either? Sure we should be ready to offer a reason for the hope we have and we should know our faith well enough to communicate it (1 Peter 3:15). Sure our conduct should mark us out (Phil. 2:15). Sure God may providentially guide lay Christians into "close the deal" situations (Acts 18:26). But it ain't God's ordinary means. Let's generally just leave "conversions" to the work of the preached word. And another thing, when Mr. Para-Church missionary get's his ecclesiology sorted, then I'll sit down and talk evangelism with him.

PS: In the interests of full disclosure, I shamelessly cribbed the Matt. 28:18-20 insight from Darryl Hart in his astonishing interview with Mark Dever, available for download here.


John Thomson said...

What do you mean by 'lay' Christians? I can see truth in what you are saying. There are those in the church who are gifted as teachers, evangelists pastors etc. Yet the other side of the coin is that in the New Covenant we all have the Spirit. All prophesy, dream dreams etc. All should be teachers (Hebs 5), evangelists etc.

The danger is that you advance a clergy/laity divide that has, to me, little warrant, certainly in the way the words themselves seem to construe.

John Thomson said...


"Are we giving the members of the church an adequate opportunity to exercise their gifts? Are our churches corresponding to the life of the New Testament church? Or is there too much concentration in the hands of ministers and clergy? You say, ‘We provide opportunity for the gifts of others in week-night activities.’ But I still ask, Do we manifest the freedom of the New Testament church? . . . When one looks at the New Testament church and contrasts the church today, even our churches, with that church, one is appalled at the difference. In the New Testament church one sees vigor and activity; one sees a living community, conscious of its glory and of its responsibility, with the whole church, as it were, an evangelistic force. The notion of people belonging to the church in order to come to sit down and fold their arms and listen, with just two or three doing everything, is quite foreign to the New Testament, and it seems to me it is foreign to what has always been the characteristic of the church in times of revival and of reawakening" (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Knowing the Times [Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1989] pp.195-196).

Nick Mackison said...

I was using the term 'lay-Christian' in the sense of anyone who isn't called by the church to preach the word.

Donald Ferguson said...

I think Nick is right in pointing to a distiction in gift, which is different from a division within the body [lay/preacher]. Such a distiction is biblical and only Brethren paranoia immidiately assumes that the one implies the other. There are many gifts that should be exercised within the Church and it is a strange irony that churches which theoretically embrace plural leadership and exercise of gift can act and speak as if only preaching and teaching gifts counted as 'adequate opportunity to exercise their gifts'.

Nick Mackison said...

Word up Donald!

Anonymous said...

There is a place where MLJ is quoted as saying he'd preach on James 3:1 if he was ever asked to speak to a Brethren/Gospel Hall audience.

For some strange reason Dever went very easy on Hart in that interview. I think the issue for Hart and Mackison is with their early Christian upbringings, and the failure of their teachers to take Ephesians 4:11,12 seriously... pastors preachers and teachers are given to the church to prepare the whole body for the work of ministry, singular.

It is the church that is God's evangelistic agent, and as such all Christians are evangelists. This is true, and should be taught properly without any mention of "close the deal" situations... because there is no such thing as a biblical "close the deal" situation.

Historic Presbyterian or Reformed views of formal ministry roles diminish the distinction between church and non-church, believer and non-believer, and are actually based on the working assumption that everyone in your parish should attend your church... so there is no theoretical need to evanglise because everyone is meeting with you under the "means of grace" every Sunday. Everyone hears the same word.

A better model is to assume that for the most part only believers should meet... to be edified and encouraged for day to day Christian living. A large part of that edification and encouragement is through the work of pastor teachers, who are not necessarily the same as those described as evangelists. I'll start taking Hart and Mackison seriously when they belong to churches that employ and recognise evangelists as well as pastor-teachers.