Rev. Kortering is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
In the previous article of this series (see September 1, 2004, p. 472), we set forth that the work of evangelism in the local church must involve every member of the congregation. No matter what project is undertaken, be it door-to-door evangelism, radio ministry, sponsoring local lectures, or whatever, it requires the active involvement of every member to accomplish its stated goal. In this article we want to develop a bit more why this is not only necessary, but also proper, and why it is to be expected by those who are working hard in this evangelism.
I address this question to every reader: Are you actively involved in outreach yourself and not just passing this work off to your pastor, the Evangelism Committee in your local church, or even to other members? The burden of this article is to show from the Bible that God has saved you to evangelize and that the leaders of the church want you to be busy in evangelism and expect it of you. This is God’s way.
John Sittema, in an article in the Outlook of October 2003, raised the question why it is that in the past both Presbyterian and Reformed churches were zealous in outreach and missions, but now seem to have lost the passion for the lost. He writes, “Local evangelism is almost nonexistent. Sadly a correlative attitude seems to be acceptable and popular among Calvinists these days: people get saved in Baptist or other fundamentalistic churches and then they learn good theology and become Calvinists. If it weren’t so arrogant it might be funny. Fact is that not many ‘get saved’ through evangelism effort of Calvinistic churches in today’s Christian world. And that’s a shame.”
If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that we fall under this criticism as well. We can say so easily that the church is being gathered from all nations under heaven and when that is complete, and we are very close to that completion, Christ will return. Do we realize what little effort is being put forth from Reformed churches, including ourselves, to do this work? Just consider India as an example and discover how little effort is put forth among those billion plus people. It is so small, it is mind-boggling. The same is true for Africa, including Ghana. I ask you, are we really doing all we can as churches in our mission work? We are doing something in mission work, and we in no way want to belittle that, it is cause for thanksgiving to God. Could we do more? If you really believe we could do more, then I also ask, why are we not doing it?
Mission zeal has something to do with it. I ask myself, what does it take to generate more zeal for missionary work and evangelism among our members? This ought to be the burden of every member of our churches. It is not honest simply to say, “We have zeal.” It is not enough to say, “To generate zeal is the concern of consistories in the local church.” Yes, they have their responsibility to promote missions. I am convinced that the real issue is spiritual and lies in the heart of every one of us. Every member must accept it as his calling to evangelize, and when we get this straight, we will discover under God’s blessing that our churches will become truly more mission minded. I share the burden which G. Van Dooren expressed for his churches in the book Get Out and Get Rid of Dilemmas,
Better a local congregation with no evangelistic organization whatsoever but fully alive “in the Lord,” than a place with much noise of committees and sub-committees and all the works, but no life of the Spirit and no love for the neighbor.
God emphasizes that every saved person must speak of the wonderful works of God to everyone! A converted soul has within him a burning desire to praise and extol the name of the God who saved him. This is obviously true for new converts in the mission field, but it ought to be just as true for one saved within God’s covenant. The Bible says in I Peter 2:4-10,
Ye also as lively stones are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ…. Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
The word “to shew forth” is “to declare, to make known” the praises, virtues, and wonders of God. This is not limited to ministers, elders, and deacons; it is the task of every stone in the living house of God. The purpose of our salvation is to declare to everyone who crosses our pathway, our neighbor, that God is sovereign, He is great and greatly to be praised.
This is so rudimentary that I need not belabor the point. The shepherds led the way, for after having beheld by faith the wonder of the incarnation, they rejoiced in their salvation, and declared the message of the gospel to all. “When they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds” (Luke 2:17, 18). This is the irrepressible joy of heart that motivates every Christian to share the gospel with his neighbor. He cannot but speak to his precious covenant child at home. No less can he be silent before the coarse sinner with whom he works on the job.
The motive is obvious; it is love, pure love. Jesus illustrated this with His reference to the forgiven debtors in Luke 7:40-50. Why did the forgiven debtor find it easy to forgive his debtors? Jesus put it this way: when one is forgiven a great debt, he finds it easy to forgive someone who owes him a little. In the narrative, Jesus mentioned how Simon criticized Jesus’ evangelistic work with the local prostitute because he did not know his own forgiveness of sins. If we truly know the horror of our sins and the depth of God’s love to wash them away in the blood of Jesus, relief and joy motivate us to want others to enjoy this. The mark of a true Christian convert is his eagerness to see others saved even as he is saved.
It is the task of the ministry of the gospel and the teaching ministry of the local church to promote this activity in every member. I agree with Van Dooren when he writes in Get Out,
Assuming that consistories have to “appoint” committees, let them never instruct those committees, “to promote evangelism among the membership.” That should never be the task of a committee which is only to give a helping hand to “God’s own people,” the “promotion” has to be done by the officebearers themselves, who have to equip the saints for the work of ministry, and are not allowed to “delegate” this Christ-given mandate to others.
(cf. Eph. 4:11ff)
Every pastor has the commission from Christ so to conduct himself in his ministry and by example that he motivates every member to evangelize. In this way the congregation understands this to be their duty and that they ought to exercise it faithfully to the glory of God. Such instruction is part of the gospel, written in the Holy Bible. If we preach the whole counsel of God, it will include instruction in this labor.
The reference Van Dooren makes is to Ephesians 4:11-14. There Paul instructs the Ephesian church leaders concerning their work. “And he gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists; and some pastors and teachers for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” I have mentioned before, that we have a misplaced comma here. It ought to read that the work of pastors and teachers is for the perfecting of the saints for the work of ministry. The ministry (service to others) is that done by the saints. The pastors and elders have the commission to equip the members so that they mature (perfecting) and are thus qualified to be active in service, ministry, which in turn edifies the body of Christ. This ministry includes attending to the needs of fellow members, assisting in training children of the covenant, helping the poor in the midst of the congregation, visiting the lonely, and doing the work of evangelism by sharing the gospel with others and thereby bringing others into the fellowship of the congregation.
In summary we say, when God works salvation in the heart of His child, love excels. God’s love to us is so precious that we respond to Him in love. This love is the effect of the law written on the tables of our hearts. That law has two parts. It is, first of all, to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. With God’s love in our hearts we worship, honor, and obey Him in love. The law also has a second part, to love our neighbor as ourselves. To fellow believers, this love is demonstrated in the communion of the saints. To neighbors who still are lost in sin, our love to them is expressed in our desire and effort to lead them to salvation.
The effectiveness of the gospel is seen in the life and practice of the members. The marks of the true church become the marks of true Christians as spelled out in Belgic Confession Article 29. In the earlier part of the article the well-known marks of the true church are mentioned: pure doctrine of the gospel is preached, the sacraments are administered properly, and church discipline is exercised in punishing sin. Then immediately follows the marks of the true Christian:
With respect to those who are members of the church, they may be known by the marks of Christians, namely, by faith; and when they have received Jesus Christ the only Savior, they avoid sin, follow after righteousness, love the true God and their neighbor, neither turn aside to the right or left, and crucify the flesh with the works thereof.
This is expected of every Christian because God anoints every true believer by His Holy Spirit to serve Him in the church or kingdom of heaven. Every true believer is equipped to be an officebearer in the covenant, a prophet, priest, and king in the service of God.
The Heidelberg Catechism describes this work in Lord’s Day 12:
Why art thou called a Christian? A. Because I am a member of Christ by faith, and thus am partaker of His anointing; that so I may confess His name, and present myself a living sacrifice of thankfulness to Him; and also that with a free and good conscience I may fight against sin and Satan in this life, and afterwards reign with Him eternally over all creatures.
As an anointed prophet, every Christian has the calling and ability to “confess His name.” This has many aspects to it. We think of public confession of faith; confessing His name in the instruction of covenant children; and no less importantly, confessing His name to the neighbor, whether Christian or non-Christian. We cannot separate the prophetic office (speech) from the priestly and kingly office (action). Thus the Bible uses the word “conversation,” which includes both speech and action. Later the Heidelberg Catechism, in Lord’s Day 32, mentions that by our godly conversation, we may be able “to gain others to Christ.”
Witnessing, or the work of evangelism by the members of the church, consists of more than inviting others to come to church. Hearing the preaching of the gospel is the goal of all evangelism. This is necessary because of the key role that Christ has assigned to the preaching of the gospel (Rom. 10:11-15). We may speak of the witnessing of the members as the sharing of the gospel or evangelism because it is in the service of the gospel that they work. Their burden is the salvation of the lost, and this includes bringing them under the preaching of the gospel. To accomplish this, members must realize that for a non-Christian to come under the preaching of the gospel requires our explaining to them what it means to be a Christian, telling them why the gospel is so precious to us, familiarizing them with the Bible, and such things. This is part of our prophetic office, which God may be pleased to use to prepare the heart of one to come under the preaching of the Word.
The benefits of this for the congregation are beyond measure.
True, wrongly motivated and careless methods contribute to the church’s fear of such activity. There are many “objections” that have been and are being raised against this activity. We will begin to address some of them in our next article, the Lord willing.
But we would be remiss in our responsibility to address this subject if we did not end on a positive and beautiful note.
Active witnessing on the part of the individual believer contributes in a marvelous way to his own spiritual maturity. Yes, it includes getting sharpened in apologetics, in what to say to those who argue against the gospel and how to give a Christian response to those who deride and mock the gospel. It is much more than that, it relates to the growth of his personal faith. When we witness to others, we have to “walk the talk.” Careless living and evangelism are incompatible. We have to know the truth if we are to teach others. We learn quickly that we have to be patient with the spiritual growth of others. We must not be careless in judging and condemning if our goal is to gain for Christ. In summary, we learn that God saves whom He wills, in the way He wills, and in the time of His own choosing. Nothing quickens the heart more than to be an instrument in the hands of God to lead a lost soul to the Savior. We cannot help but praise God when we see His work of salvation before our very own eyes. At the same time, we learn that we cannot save a soul, it is all of God and all of grace, thus prayer takes on more meaning when we know that the eternal destiny of the souls of those with whom we speak are in God’s hands. That is humbling, and that is a good virtue for every Christian.
The church is blessed by such activity. When members of the congregation are involved in personal evangelism, they take an interest in all the mission work of our churches. We appreciate the difficulties involved and are patient and prayerful because we experience it in our own efforts. We want to learn more of what God is doing in the various fields of labor so that we can pray fervently for the Holy Spirit’s presence. Even though we live in serous times, the last days, we are not overcome in gloom or defeat by the apostasy within the churches or by the opposition from the world about us. Rather, we remain positive because we are doing the work of our Lord as He has commissioned us to do until He returns. We do not know the day and the hour of His return, so we work fervently and with great hope. His promise is to be with us until the end. The evidence of this is given to us when we recognize His blessings within the congregation and in our evangelistic efforts. This draws us together and makes us joyful and thankful in Him.