Because evangelism may be defined as the endeavor to communicate the Christian faith to individual men, Christians have always had an abiding interest in it. The term evangelism is used for this endeavor because in the New Testament the communication of the Christian faith is stated as taking place by the propagation of the Gospel or evangel. The Gospel is the good news of God’s salvation forecast in the Old Testament as coming in Christ. It is described as the message of the Death, Burial, and Resurrection of Christ in its saving significance, as given in Scripture (I Cor. 15:3-4).
The emphasis in Scripture is upon the bearing forth of the message to those who have not heard it (Isa. 52:7; Rom. 10:15). It is to be noted that the terms translated “preach” also have this emphasis. One term means simply the action involved in the evangel, the bearing and delivering of good news. The other means “to herald,” that is, to take forth and communicate officially and authoritatively as a public announcer or as an emissary. And in His last words, in the Great Commission to His disciples, Jesus used this term when He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).
If the Great Commission is conceived as extending to the church today, it may be asked, What is involved? In the first place, it may be seen as a command to be involved in evangelism. Today, it is often assumed that Christians have a responsibility to try to persuade men to accept Christ, but the command of Christ in the Great Commission is actually to announce the message authoritatively. The rest of the New Testament shows that this was indeed the practice of the apostles in carrying out the commission. They presented the nature of God and His coming Judgment, the Gospel of Christ, and a command to repent and believe (see esp. Acts 17). Thus, to be involved in evangelism means to communicate the message in just this way. When every creature has heard the message the Evangelistic task has been completed.
But this is not the end of the Great Commission. The last words of the Lord Jesus Christ also included the command to make disciples (Matt. 28:19). Evangelism, therefore, is to result in the making of disciples, and there are promises to the effect that when Christians go out with the message there will always be some who will respond. Since this is true, evangelism in a broader sense includes bringing those who respond into a full commitment of discipleship in a local church. There is an inherent responsibility, then, to follow up converts in the matter of discipleship.
According to the statement of Christ, making disciples includes baptizing them and teaching them to obey His commands. But since the meaning of baptism is so closely tied with the meaning of salvation in Christ, it cannot be separated from evangelism. That is what is found in Mark 16:16 ”He who believes and is baptized shall be saved.” And this immediately follows Christ’s command to ”preach the Gospel. ”See also Acts 2:28, in which the instructions of the preacher of the Gospel to those who responded was to repent and be baptized. That baptism is a step of discipleship may be seen in I Car. 1:12-17 and I Cor. 10:1-2. In the first passage the Apostle Paul, in counteracting divisions caused by Christians being followers of Paul, Apollos, or Peter, equates being a follower or disciple of Paul with being baptized in the name of Paul. In the second passage baptism refers to being under the leadership of Moses. Thus, baptism means commitment as a disciple to a master or leader. Yet, baptism immediately follows the proclamation of the Gospel just as soon as its significance is understood, to make disciples of those who respond. Therefore, baptism is a step of discipleship to be administered directly in connection with evangelism. But just as baptism is a part of discipleship, so instruction in the commandments of Christ is also a part of it. This would include a considerable number of items. Taking heed of God’s Word would be one. Praying to God would be another. Loving Christians and having fellowship with them would be a third. Appropriately, these are often included in follow-up after a person has made a “decision for Christ.”
When the question is asked, Who has the responsibility for evangelism? it must be recognized that the Great Commission was given specifically to the apostles. But because the promise of Christ’s presence “to the end of the age” is found in connection with it, the commission was to more than merely the apostles. It must extend to Christians today. But since it was given only to the eleven at an appointed place, it was given to them as apostles, representing the church. Their apostolic position implicitly conveys to the church an authority in evangelism that does not extend to Christians individually. Thus, Christians are to be sent out by the church with the message, rather than on their own. And, baptism is to be performed under the authority of the church, bringing converts into its fellowship or membership (Acts 2:41), not by individual Christians. In the same way, the various gifts given to different members of the church (Ram. 12:4-8) should be exercised within the church to build up a convert, teaching him to follow Christ.
These introductory matters have been mentioned in order to introduce the great concern of this book. Many important elements have been overlooked in past discussions of evangelism. It is the purpose to bring some of these into the discussion, especially in relation to the task of evangelism as described above. The suitability of the various types of evangelistic effort will be examined in terms of the Great Communion of the church (chap. 2). Of particular concern is the unintentional, easy acceptance of ideas about evangelism that are out of harmony with sound Biblical doctrine. No doubt this has come about because thinking about evangelism has been dominated by “practical types” who have been more concerned about getting results than about what they think of as doctrinal “niceties.” Then too, the need for cooperation in evangelistic campaigns has fostered a depreciation of doctrinal differences, and unfortunately this has carried over into areas that are crucial to the right presentation of the message. Finally, there is an underlying conviction on the part of many Christians that the Gospel is inherently simple, so that a small child can understand it in all of its essentials. Of course, there is a truth in this, but the effect has been to minimize the importance of any effort that comes to grips with the real deceitfulness of sin that tricks adult minds about their real plight.
A discussion is next given of what to do about the varied amount of previous preparation of those who hear the message (chap. 3), and leads to the conclusion that a full program of evangelism is needed to meet the needs, rather than dependence on one kind of evangelism.
Personal evangelism is not to be ignored, but is a key to the program (chap. 4). Here a new attempt has been made to state the principles on which a method for personal evangelism should be based (chap. 5). In view of the dangers and weak content of past methods, however, care must be taken to develop a method that does justice to the principles, to the message, and to the preparation of her hearers (chap. 6). The problems a Christian faces in personal evangelism, including what to do in the case of a person who does not respond, are discussed separately (chap. 7). The actual method presented is not to be considered a finished product, but more as an illustration of the ideas already introduced. An effort has been made to apply them in a practical way.
What is given here is a manifesto. It is a compact statement on evangelism from a perspective that sees that important elements have been overlooked. There is not very much that is new. Material has been taken from many sources, but in most cases considerable modification or revision has been found necessary before it could be used. An attempt has been made to offer a corrective to deficient doctrine, one-sided emphases, and oversimplified methods. In compiling material a new synthesis has resulted. And because this is a manifesto, the treatment is fairly heavy and concentrated. It has not been written to interest people in evangelism, but it is for those who are already concerned. Yet, it is hoped that enough practical material is included to be of real help in the training of Christians in the evangelistic task.