Rev. Mahtani is eastern home missionary of the Protestant Reformed Churches.
In order that we might take seriously our calling to equip the saints, and thus explore areas where officebearers might help to equip God’s people to be busy in personal evangelism, I believe that we ourselves must be fully convinced of the proper place of personal evangelism in the church. What is evangelism? Whose duty is it to evangelize? Whom must we evangelize? What is the place of personal evangelism? These are some of the questions that must be answered as we consider the need to equip God’s people for personal evangelism.
Evangelism is the duty of the church to make known the gospel to all men.
Evangelism is the God-given duty by which the church is called to make known to all nations the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let me say that Reformed people ought to be the most multi-cultural in their mission efforts, since they insist that when the Scriptures speak of “all men” or “the world” the reference is to all kinds of people.
Biblical and Reformed evangelism must also emphasize the faithful proclamation of the gospel message. I am going to take for granted that all of us understand the importance of this essential principle of Reformed evangelism. It is simply wrong to emphasize zeal in missions and forget that the message of the gospel is the most important thing. We must not bring a false gospel. We must bring the glorious gospel of grace that a man is justified by faith in Jesus Christ, which faith is not of man but is the gracious gift of God.
It also needs to be emphasized that God has given to the church this high calling to do the work of evangelism and missions. It is simply not the calling of parachurch organizations to send out ambassadors of the gospel. The tools they produce might be useful, and we are not saying that all their work is useless or in all cases detrimental, but the Scriptures plainly teach that it is “the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (I Tim. 3:15) that God has appointed as the agent to preach the gospel. A man cannot preach except he is sent (Rom. 10). God sends His servants through His church. The church therefore must take that God-given calling seriously. She must faithfully feed God’s people and she must diligently spread the gospel. I will assume that all of us are convinced also of this important principle of missions.
This duty of the church to make known the gospel to all men must be taken very seriously by the Protestant Reformed Churches. The gospel may not be hidden under the bushel. It must continue to be preached to the nations till the return of Christ. Without a doubt we must continue to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints and be doctrinally sound as churches. But what needs to be understood is that, besides the building up of the flock itself, the church must know it to be her God-given duty to evangelize beyond her pale.
Every congregation must be busy in that work and not leave it to a denominational mission committee or a particular calling church to do evangelism. Every minister must know it to be his duty to lead his congregation to be “mission-minded” and not simply applaud the missionaries when they effectively do this on the mission field, or complain when they do not seem to be carrying it out as effectively and quickly as we might like. Our own members in our own churches, and not only those on the mission field, must be zealous to witness of the truths of the gospel by their life and by their testimony to those around them. All our people in all our congregations must be equipped to do personal evangelism because evangelism is the duty of the church to make known the gospel to all men.
The chief means for evangelism is the lively preaching of the Word.
The question is asked: “Is not the gospel made known chiefly by means of the preaching of the Word?” The answer is: absolutely! Reformed evangelism must not only emphasize the God-given calling of the church to be the vessel He has ordained to do the work of evangelism, but Reformed evangelism must also uphold the biblical means God has ordained for this work: the official proclamation of the gospel in the preaching of the Word. Jesus said: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). People are not converted to Christ by watching movies or puppet shows. People are only converted to more movies and puppet shows by watching movies and puppet shows. God does not work repentance and faith in the hearts of sinners by man’s word and by man’s entertainment. God works repentance and faith in the hearts of His people by the preaching of the Word. The chief means for the work of evangelism is the preaching; no personal evangelism is possible without the preaching of the gospel; indeed, without the preaching of the gospel, there is no possibility of salvation.
The lively preaching of the Word not only works and strengthens faith, but it also produces personal evangelism. For one thing, it gives content to the witnessing; secondly, the preaching itself is the means that works the zeal in the members to witness; thirdly, the preaching of the Word ought to produce godly lives that result in people asking, and our people responding; and finally, it is the preaching too that makes believers know how to do that work of evangelism meekly, humbly, in true love for the neighbor. We will return in more detail to this in our next section that deals with personal evangelism as the fruit of the preaching itself.
Without the preaching of the Word, personal evangelism will not only be ineffective, it will have negative and detrimental results. What would one who imagines himself to be involved in personal evangelism witness to when he does not come under the preaching of the Word himself? What would he be able to testify? What would his testimony be? That it is possible to live a Christian life without the preaching of the Word?! That the means of grace can be despised? What an ungodly witness that would be! We must recognize all such evangelism as unbiblical.
It is true of course that there are circumstances that are exceptional and temporary. There are times when under severe persecution the declaration of the gospel by the church is hindered. In those times, God can and will use the lively witness of His people. But the point that must be emphasized is that personal evangelism must not become a substitute for preaching. Even under such dire circumstances as persecution, personal evangelism will lead to a hunger and a thirst and a genuine search for pure preaching. I have experienced that firsthand. I have seen how underground churches in Communist and Muslim lands come into existence: God’s people cannot worship publicly, but they risk their lives by still seeking out the pure preaching of the Word underground. And their testimony is never: we do not need the preaching of the gospel! Rather, as they witness to each other and to others, they long for the preaching of the Word.
Besides, what is the goal of personal evangelism? Is it not ultimately to lead others to the preaching of the Word? Did not the Samaritan woman go to town with the personal testimony: “Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?” (John 4:29) and did not “many more believe because of (Christ’s) own word and say unto the woman, Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world” (John 4:41-42)? Should we not be saying to fellow saints and to others around us: “Come, let us go into the house of the Lord” (Ps. 122:1)? If personal evangelism sometimes must begin in a jail cell or in a living room or in a Bible study, the goal must still be to bring others to join with us in the public worship of God under the preaching of His Word. Anything other than this biblical goal is not properly Reformed evangelism. It is this perspective that we must take if we are to emphasize personal evangelism among our people.
Personal evangelism is the fruit of lively preaching.
This important element in Reformed evangelism must not be forgotten or slighted in any way. No, personal evangelism must not be a substitute for the other important principles of Reformed evangelism mentioned above. However, having given proper place to those elements, we must never forget that one of the blessed fruits of such lively, biblical preaching is the godly witness of the saints. Whether or not there is numerical growth, there will always be spiritual fruit under the preaching of the Word. One of those fruits is that under the preaching of the Word our people will be equipped for personal evangelism. Where the Word is preached, and where sinners are called out of darkness into God’s marvelous light, God’s praises will be heard! Where the gospel is proclaimed, and God’s people set their affection on things above, and look for the blessed hope of Christ’s return, a powerful witness will result.
God’s people will confess Christ! God’s people must confess His name! Confession of faith in the church is important for church membership and as an expression of our commitment to Christ and to His kingdom. But confessing our faith before others, daily, both by our walk and our talk is absolutely necessary. In fact, without such a lively witness, one cannot make confession of faith in good faith. Belonging to the essence of the biblical idea of confessing one’s faith is the promise to make known our hope to all around us. Christ told us clearly inMatthew 10:32-33: “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.” This confession is to be made not only publicly before God and the saints, but also before men, before all men.
Of course, we must recognize that God gives different gifts and talents to His people. Not all the saints are people-orientated; some are quiet, others are more given to conversation. Our personalities affect the way we witness; there is no doubt about that. But we can all learn together to improve and to be involved in personal evangelism. We must all honestly examine ourselves and put away excuses we might give with regard to giving a good witness for our Lord Jesus Christ and for the precious truths of God’s Word.
The passage in I Peter 3:15 is almost always quoted in any discussion that has to do with personal evangelism. Let us take a few moments to consider this and a few other passages that relate to personal evangelism. “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.” We have here really two imperatives; first, we are to sanctify the Lord God in our hearts, which clearly means that we must consciously live in the fear of God, who is holy, so that we ourselves walk in that holiness before the face God; and secondly, we must be always ready to give an answer or, a “verbal defense,” for that is what the word apologia means in the Greek. No, this does not mean all of us must know how to give a theological dissertation on every subject. Of course not! But it does mean that we must stand ready to defend our hope. It is true that the text adds: “to every man that asks,” but we must not stand behind the excuse: “No one asks, so I do not tell!” A quick look at the context will show that Peter is exhorting God’s people to walk in godliness in every sphere of life, and that they must expect the world to ask, and that they must stand ready to answer!
Why do our neighbors not ask? Why do our friends not inquire about our walk? Is it possible that they do not see in our lives that much of a difference? Is it possible we hear God’s Word in the preaching, but we do not really do what the preaching obligates us to do in gratitude to God? Or is it possible that they do see a difference, but the last time they asked they did not get an answer filled with meekness and fear, but rather with haughtiness? Or perhaps even with anger and bitterness? God’s people need to be equipped to do godly, humble, friendly, personal evangelism, and this is possible only under the preaching of the Word. It is the preaching itself that the Spirit uses to produce the fruit of personal evangelism in the lives of the saints.
The passage in Acts 8:4 clearly refers to the saints who were scattered from Jerusalem under persecution: “Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.” These men and women went evangelizing, not preaching, as the KJV incorrectly has it. The Greek word is euanggelew, which is different from the word kyrusso (as in Rom. 10). The former is the general word for the spread of the gospel; the latter refers to the official heralding of the Word. All God’s people are involved in evangelism — by their prayers, by their witness, by their life, and by their talk. Not all are preachers and not all are missionaries; but all who are under the lively preaching of the Word are indeed involved in evangelism by their witness.
Consider too the apostle Paul’s commendation of the Thessalonians. I Thessalonians 1:8-10: “For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing.” What a powerful witness these saints in Thessalonica gave: they “sounded out the word of the Lord!” But please notice with me that in the previous verses Paul first commends them for receiving the Word. I Thessalonians 1:5-7: “For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance…. And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost: so that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia.” This is important. Without being under the preaching, they could not have sounded out the Word, for personal evangelism is one of the blessed fruits of the lively preaching of the Word.
Another passage that shows this vital relationship between preaching and witness isColossians 4:5, 6: “Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.” This passage is very interesting. Paul writes from prison. He has asked in the previous verses for prayer as he performs his calling: “Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds: That I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak.” But then he turns around and exhorts the saints themselves, as if to say: “Do not only pray for me in my calling to preach the Word; you yourselves walk in wisdom toward them that are without (not bound in jail, but freely walking about), redeeming the time (even as every prisoner must know how to make good use of his time); make sure that your speech is seasoned with grace, so that you also may know how to answer every man.” Sure, preaching is the chief means for missions, but true preachers must demand, and true preaching will produce, the personal evangelism of God’s people themselves.
Notice the same spirit with which the apostle wrote to the saints at Philippi. Philippians 1:27, 28: “Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; and in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God.” Again, Paul writes while he is in bonds for the sake of the gospel. He holds out hope to the beloved saints in Philippi that he might yet come to them. He thanks them for their prayers and for sending a gift through Epaphroditus. But he says that there is something yet more important than all of that: “Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel…,” and he goes on to instruct them in this passage regarding the work of personal evangelism. God’s people must not allow the terror of their enemies to stop them from witnessing to the truth. They must make sure that their conversation, i.e., the whole of their conduct, matches the gospel of Christ. Above all, they must learn to strive together in one spirit, with one mind, for the faith of the gospel. This is the work of Christ’s church under the preaching. The people of God, under the preaching, must do personal evangelism.
There are, of course, many other passages that we might identify and study, but just these few will suffice to show that in any discussion of Reformed evangelism, there must be place given to personal evangelism. Let it be reiterated here: personal evangelism does not take the place of the preaching; it is the fruit of the preaching. It is not to be done in separation from the church; it is a vital part of the church itself. It is the fruit that we must expect from the lively preaching.
…to be continued.