“Outreach” Must Have Two E's!


I’ve served in ministry for five decades now, and I’m one to think about the changes I’ve seen, especially when I feel those changes are severely harming Christ's church. Many things have changed, but the most disappointing is the lack of communication and cooperation I see among local and denominational churches that basically hold to the same apostolic truths of the Christian faith. At the very time when the society around us is looking more and more like Romans 1, we aren’t heeding at all what the apostolic teaching and advice was to the church living in those days. It reminds me of the late Dr. Vance Havner's quote:

“When the spiritual tides are low, every shrimp has its own private puddle.”

They see their own work and only their work unless forced to look beyond. That’s not at all the N.T. example.

It’s both revealing and refreshing to go back to the instructions in the epistles of Paul and review them for dealing with a society not very different from our own. As we’d expect, they’re filled with the thrust of taking the gospel out to everyone in every place. But what we might not expect are his instructions filled with directions for encouraging and building up each other and the church as a whole universal body. (I Cor. 8:1; 1 Thes. 4:18; 5:11) Furthermore, he himself returned to most of the congregations either in person or in written form [Gal. 4:13-20; II Tim. 1:4] for the sole purpose of encouragement. 

What we see from the earliest days of the New Testament phase of the church is that their outreach was twofold: (1) evangelism and witness, (2) encouragement and comfort. From reading Acts, it clearly appears that one went hand in hand with the other and resulted in both a strongly connected and unified body and one that genuinely cared for other members in that body.

Most of those reading this are in churches that believe in the connectional concept of the body of Christ. That simply means that we see the church not as merely a local body of believers, but rather a unified global family that crosses denominational boundaries. 

In our spiritually disfunctional and disconnected world, we hear a great deal about our Biblical mandate to get the gospel out to the lost. I don’t want to minimize that in any way. But the fact of the matter is the early N.T. church set the precedent for us by reaching out with a mandate to encourage as they spread the gospel of grace. With many Christians beyond our denominational walls so totally overwhelmed and discouraged by our secularistic age and its many faceted problems, let us again take up this part of our apostolic mandate and show that we care about those others in God's forever family. Why? Because we read

“And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works, not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and even more so because you see the day of the Lord's coming and judgment drawing near.” (Heb. 10:24-25 )                                                  

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Good thoughts, George.

I am reminded of Mark Wilson's comment about Paul's first missionary journey--when Paul and Barnabas were in Derbe (Acts 14:20) they were about one decent mountain away from Tarsus, and home. Instead of crosssing that mountain they turned around and visited every church that they had just planted a few weeks earlier. Strictly for the purpose of encouraging them and establishing them. Let us follow in their steps, in whatever way we can.

Why is it that the greatest missionary the church has known, the apostle Paul, when he writes to the churches  says next to nothing about evangelism?

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Could it be because the gospels and Acts make it very clear.

Let me rephrase the question.  If evangelism is the essence and/or the primary function of the church, why did Paul not appoint evangelism committees instead of consistories?  Evangelism as popularly understood deals with only opening the door to Christ.  To make that the primary task of the church is like saying that the primary task of marriage is conceiving children.  The actual conception, the joining of sperm and egg takes only a very few seconds: then follows 9 months of gestation and 20 years of parenting.  Apparently the primary task of the church is door keeping. 

As far as the gospels and Acts being filled with evangelism, that fact is that the great majority of the preaching of Jesus was to the Old Testament Church, to both the faithful and the fallen.   The same is true in the first part of Acts.  Jesus preached in synagogues and Paul, immediately after his conversion began preaching in synagogues.

In the great commission Jesus sent old covenant believers, now new covenant believers into the world to make, not converts, but disciples.  He sent Israel into the world to gather the nations into Israel.  But they were first sent to Jerusalem, then to Judea and Samaria, and finally to the ends of the earth.  Transitioning from unbelief to faith usually doesn’t take long.  Making disciples takes a lifetime: thus consistories instead of evangelism committees.

There really are not two E’s, one for joining Christ and the other for living in him.  There is the common perception that the “gospel” is for the unchurched and a different message is for the church.  This suggests that there is one gospel for being joined to Christ and another gospel for remaining in Christ: one gospel for baptism and a second gospel for the Lord’s Supper.

 Paul knew only one “evangel”, one gospel.  His primary task was not converting people and changing their lives, but rather preaching Christ.  “We preach not ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord. “  Paul’s commission was to “bear the name of Christ to the nations.  Whether he was in the synagogue, the town square or the newly formed churches – he had only one message – Christ.  I am determined to know nothing amongst you except (the bodily risen) Christ and him crucified.  The one GOSPEL is God’s power to give the gift of faith and to maintain the life of faith.   Note also that Paul spent a great deal of is time and energy building up the churches.

Furthermore, the “gospel” of today’s evangelism is not gospel at all.  The witnessing today takes basically two forms.  The first is “God love you and has a wonderful plan for your life” and the second is “I want to tell the world that I am a Christian”.  The first concentrates on the person needing change and the second on the person trying to effect change.

The first is not biblically accurate – think of those drowned in the flood or the Red Sea.  The risen Lord’s plan for Paul was to experience a great deal of suffering and Paul later says that all who would life godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution ( II Tim 3:12).  How many apostles were martyred?   The second is essentially talking about yourself and your marvelous spiritual experiences: in doing so the believer replaces Christ with himself.  This is forbidden by the first and second commandments.

Furthermore, these are exactly the two methods used in modern advertising.  Buy our product and your life will be changed.   Drink our beer or use our cosmetics and you will enjoy the good life.  The second is the personal testimony – I have used this product and it has changed my life – and it could change yours also.

Our life of faith cannot even begin to approach the sinless perfection and flawless faith and obedience of the Lord Jesus.  The gospel is always about the risen Christ once crucified and his personal redemptive experiences.  His life of faith and obedience has reconciled us to the Father and continues to sustain and nurture us.  This is the heart of the one gospel.  Paul had one passion – I want to know Christ, the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings.  He had one goal in life – make this Christ known.  The apostles didn’t talk much about themselves – they had a great deal to say about Christ and for good reason.

To split the church’s task into two, I would suggest, seriously distorts the biblical message.  We need to return to the singularity of the biblical gospel and learn to share Paul’s passion for Christ.

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I do not know where to start.  Most of what you say is beyond dispute. Thanks for such a well thought out response. However I do not know who are what you are speaking of when you refer to the "gospel according to today's evangelism."  Is this a reference to ministers in the CRC, perhaps a specific group of CRC pastors?  I do know that the greek (euangelizo) from which we get the word evangelism is used nearly synomously with the greek word for preach (parakaleo)  I know that the angel  "evangelized" the shepherds (Luke 2:10), that Jesus proclaimed the evangel ( Mk1: 15) and Paul was not ashamed of the evangel and was eager to evangelize (preach) to the people in Rome.  This leads me to think that we could call all our preachers evangelists and that our task is to evangelize the world.  I have a very high regard for evangelism as well as preaching because they are one and the same.  But the audiences change.  Not the gospel.  Paul makes this clear in 1 Corinthians 9: 19-23.  It seems then that the preacher must adapt his message for the benefit of his audience so that "by all means we/I might save some."