Rev. Kortering is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches. Previous article in this series: March 15, 2005, p. 271.
We now focus our attention on the third proposed hindrance to personal evangelism. We now focus our attention on the third proposed hindrance to personal evangelism.
3. We have not emphasized personal evangelism in the past. Why do we seem to think it is so important today? Are we not to hold to the “old paths” and warn the people when new ideas are set forth in our churches? Why is this idea of personal witnessing so important all of a sudden?
The place to being addressing this concern is the question whether personal evangelism is in fact something new. Is personal witnessing by the believer a new practice, and, if so, to whom is it new?
If we survey briefly the history of the Christian church, we would have to conclude that personal witnessing has always been part of the life of the membership. As we noted before, it is set forth in the New Testament as the normal behavior of all new converts who have been brought to true faith. This relates to the shepherds who worshiped the newborn King (Luke 2:17, 18); the Samaritan woman (John 4:28ff.); the persecuted saints of the early Christian church (Acts 8:4); and the Christians who were scattered abroad and needed to be reminded that by holy living they had the privilege of evangelizing personally (I Pet. 3:15, 16).
The church took seriously the need to instruct her members to live a godly life and to evangelize others, as is evident in the church of Philadelphia. Christ said to her, in the letter addressed to her in Revelation 3:7-14, that she had “kept my word and hast not denied my name,” and “thou has kept the word of my patience.” How did she do this? The angel of this church certainly set forth the word of truth and taught it to the congregation by the preaching of the gospel. The people in turn received it and broadcasted it. This is why Christ said she had an “open door.” The promise that Christ gave to her is that her enemies would “come and worship before thy feet.” Christ would give them amazing success in their outreach ministry. Such activity would not weaken the church. It will have the opposite effect: “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God.”
The history of the Reformation demonstrates as well that the ordinary members of the church received the grace of God to confess shamelessly and openly the truth of the gospel as it was delivered unto them through the Reformation. This activity played a key role in the amazing speed with which the truth spread throughout all the countries of Europe. This was true even in the face of the cruelest opposition. They were eager to speak to others of the gospel of salvation by grace through faith. Personal evangelism was used by God at great expense to the faithful—and with mighty success.
The history of mission work by the church illustrates this fact over and over. God raised up fearless preachers to travel throughout the world to preach the great gospel of justification by faith alone. Missionaries brought the same message with the same courage. They did this at the time of the Reformation already and carried on the work all through the church’s history. Also in missions, the new believers responded to the Word preached and spoke to others of their newfound joy. This contributed to the formation of the church everywhere. Story after story can be told of the lone missionary who worked diligently for years until the Lord gave him his first convert. Then things would change. God by the Holy Spirit raised up a new convert, a local person, who was changed from heathendom to the Christian faith. Usually, this person formed the necessary bridge to reach out to the community so that others eventually joined with them in worship and the formation of a church.
The establishing of a church does not mean that this outreach of personal evangelism may then stop. God’s instruction is clear: it must continue. In the way of such activity the Lord adds new members through the wonder of conversion. These new converts are encouraged by the godly example of mature Christians who had the benefit of covenant instruction all their lives. Baptism of adults blends beautifully with the baptism of infants as God gathers His church in the local congregation.
These are the “old paths” that we must acknowledge as right for the church and ought to be part of the life of everyone in our congregations. I am so convinced of this, that if you ask me what one thing is necessary if our churches will be truly mission-minded churches, I would answer that it is the personal evangelism by every member. If we do this in obedience to the instruction of the Word of God, every member will be mission-minded, and outreach, love, and care for others will be the experience of all of us. This will engender in us a true love for the lost souls that God may be pleased to save through us. And out of this personal involvement will also come a desire to do this “with the churches in common” in areas far removed and in foreign settings that require mutual cooperation. Each one of us will appreciate the difficulties connected with mission work from our own experience. It will drive us to our knees to seek God’s blessing of courage and strength. All our members need a “heart for missions,” which can come only when we are personally obedient to Christ in doing evangelism where He has placed us.
From some points of view this is new for us, and it is probably for that reason that it becomes a hindrance to personal witnessing. It is not true that personal witnessing on the part of our membership was completely lacking in the past or that it was forbidden. It is more correct to say that it was not given its proper emphasis. There are many reasons for this. Some of these reasons I have mentioned before and need not repeat. Most of them pertain to our history and the priority given to combating error, advancing covenant instruction, dealing with the practical applications of covenant truth, and such like. In the midst of this we did put forth efforts for mission work and God blessed these as well. The emphasis correctly was placed upon the preaching of the gospel as God’s way to gather the church. Also this was done to combat the errors prevalent in the evangelical church world that contented itself with self-made missionaries. It is time now to emphasize the equally biblical truth that every believer has the gifts and calling to evangelize through personal witnessing. A good and healthy emphasis on personal evangelism within the established church will help us to reach outside of the comforts of our covenant sphere and let our light shine in the world beyond, as Christ has instructed us to do.