The work of evangelism is a very important part of the calling and work of the church of Jesus Christ. It is not the only work of the church, as some today would have it, nor even the most important. It is nevertheless a very important work; so much so that no church that is not actively involved in it is fulfilling the whole of her calling and purpose. The work of evangelism is surely part of the great commission which our Lord Jesus gave to the New Testament church. This great commission stands for our church today. Our reference to evangelism shall be limited in this article especially to the work of proclaiming the good news of salvation in Christ Jesus to those who -are outside of our own church. Evangelism in the broadest sense of course refers to the proclamation of the gospel also in and for the established church, for the building up and preservation of the saints already gathered into the church. The work of evangelism has been variously designated also as mission work, or church extension work. We prefer the term evangelism. Those outside of our own church to whom we must preach the gospel are usually divided into two classes. There are those who never before have heard the gospel. These are found particularly on the foreign mission field, such as the field in which we have the blessed privilege to labor. Secondly, there are those who have before heard the gospel. There are those who have apostatized from the true faith and must be brought back. There are those who are in apostatizing churches that must be called out to join the true church of Jesus Christ.
The work of evangelism is a glorious and wonderful work. It is the work of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, a work which He alone accomplishes through the sovereign working of His Word and Spirit. It is through evangelism that the Lord Jesus is pleased to gather the church of His elect from all nations, tribes, and peoples. The Lord is pleased to use His church for this glorious work. To accomplish this task the Lord has empowered His church with His Word and Spirit. The Lord has also given to every believer in the church a place and calling in this work. On this we would like to concentrate.
Evangelism is accomplished centrally through the preaching of the Word. The preaching is the official proclamation of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ through His ordained ambassador. We as Protestant Reformed Churches have always stressed the importance of preaching. In this we have done well. The scriptures stress the importance of the preaching. Without the preaching there is no evangelism. The preaching is the primary means whereby the Lord will have the gospel proclaimed and through which He will gather His church. Never ought we in any way to minimize the importance and significance of the preaching.
There is however, we believe, an area of the work of evangelism which has not always received the proper emphasis in our midst. This is the whole area of the calling of all believers in the work of evangelism. This is a very important part of the work of evangelism. In fact it is very doubtful that there will ever be any successful evangelism when this aspect of the work is neglected. The involvement of every believer in the work of evangelism goes much further than just the sending and supporting of a missionary. That is surely important. Furthermore it is important that we as members of the church pray constantly for our missionaries. But there is much more than this. The believer’s involvement in the work of evangelism must be such that he also gets involved in the actual proclamation of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. By this we do not mean that every believer must become a preacher or missionary in his own right. Rather the calling of the believer is that he must give a living and personal testimony of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ that he hears in the preaching. The apostle Paul writes concerning this when he describes the outstanding faith and activity of the saints of Thessalonica. “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 speak anything” (I Thessalonians 1:8). The Thessalonians had heard the gospel as the elect of God. Through the mighty operation of the Spirit, the Word of God had been effectual in their hearts, so that they believed. They were filled with the truth of the gospel. They rejoiced greatly in the blessed and glorious gospel delivered unto them. They zealously published the truth of the gospel by giving a living testimony of the truth of the gospel to all with whom they came in contact. Therefore the Word of God echoed and re-echoed throughout all of the land, from one believer to another.
That we are to be personal witnesses of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is possible because the Lord has anointed us with His Holy Spirit to the office of all believers. Included in the fact that we are anointed to the office of all believers is the wonderful fact that we are all made the prophets of the Lord, who can and must give testimony with the mouth concerning the truth of the gospel, and priests who must consecrate their lives in holiness unto God and walk in all good works which the Lord has before ordained.
Now this has great significance for the believer’s calling in evangelism. First of all, we have received the truth of God. He has revealed His truth to us and has caused us to know it spiritually and believe it with our heart. This in itself is a most glorious and blessed thing. This is the result of the grace of God and not at all due to our own wisdom. The blessed and wonderful gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ has been preached to us and it has come to us with the power of the Holy Spirit so that we have believed. This is particularly glorious and blessed because to us has been preached the Reformed Faith. This faith is the true faith of the scriptures. It is therefore the most blessed and most glorious faith. It is the wonderful gospel of sovereign grace which exalts and glorifies God alone. Any other faith than this is not only contrary to the truth of the gospel; it is also impoverished, it is a miserable gospel which really is no gospel at all.
In order to see our calling in the work of evangelism we must first of all see the blessed and glorious character of the gospel that has come to us. It is sad that so many Reformed Christians have no real sense of this. Therefore they are silent about the gospel they believe. Many who are Arminian put them to shame in the manner in which they publish the gospel.
Secondly, our involvement in evangelism must come out of a fervent and zealous love for that gospel that has been delivered to us. It is this that must compel us to speak of it. Many of us are to be blamed for our lack of zeal concerning the gospel which God in His wonderful grace has delivered to us. We are in danger of losing our first love. This is very serious. We must remember from whence we have fallen and repent lest the Lord remove His candlestick from our midst. The fervent and zealous love for the gospel must be evident in our earnest desire to know that gospel ever more deeply and richly. That surely means that we eagerly and earnestly attend the gatherings in our church where the Word of God is proclaimed and taught and discussed. There is in some of our churches very poor attendance at societies and Bible classes. There are many who care not to come to these. This is serious. It is a sign of apostacy.
Thirdly, a zealous love for the truth of the gospel must be revealed in an intense desire to speak of that gospel. As the old proverb has it; what the heart is full of, the mouth will speak of. That must be the case. There is no such thing as a silent prophet; that is a contradiction in terms. As prophets we must speak of the blessed and glorious truth of the gospel that God has given to us in a living, personal, and spiritual way. It is not enough to be able to speak in an abstract way about doctrine. Surely it is important to maintain and defend the doctrines of the scripture. But we must also be able to speak spiritually and experientially about what these doctrines mean to us. Sometimes it is easy for us to give abstract defenses of doctrines but very difficult to speak personally and spiritually about our faith in God. We must be able to tell men how wonderful and blessed our God is. We must be able to tell our neighbor, who is not of our church, what wonderful things the Lord our God has done for us. We must be able to tell our neighbors in a personal way of the great blessedness of salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ, how great His forgiving mercy, how marvelous His love, how amazing His grace. We must be able to admonish and exhort and encourage our neighbors with the Word of God and with our faith in God. That is what it means to give a living testimony of our faith. In this way we must be active in evangelism.
The testimony of the saints must be subservient to official preaching of the gospel. We must give a living testimony of the truth that we hear in the preaching. With that testimony we must encourage others to come to the house of the Lord with us. How beautiful are the words of Isaiah 2:3, “And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.” When we hear the gospel preached to us we must be so filled with love and zeal for it that we tell others about it: If we as a church are going to carry out the work of evangelism this is a necessary part. This is the part of every believer. This is where I believe that the young Christians in Singapore excel so greatly. And we can learn from them in this. It is simply amazing how many visitors come to the worship services and the many .other meetings we have in the G.L.T.S. How do .these visitors come? They do not come by newspaper advertisements or by radio announcements. They come because the members of the G.L.T.S. say to relatives and friends and neighbors and working colleagues and school classmates, come with us to the house of the Lord and hear the wonderful gospel of our God and our Savior Jesus Christ.
This same kind of thing must be practiced at societies and Bible studies. These can be very effective means for doing evangelism. That is true, of course, only if we as members of the church are first of all zealous and faithful in our participation at these gatherings. Then we can encourage others to join us to study the Word of God. With personal encouragement outsiders can be brought into our midst and come into the place where they can hear the Word of God regularly and grow in the faith and knowledge of salvation.
There are several motives that must drive us to be faithful in our personal involvement in the work of evangelism. The first and primary motive must always be the glory of God. The great theme of the Reformed Faith is this: to God alone be the glory. When the Word of God and the greatness and might of God, the righteousness, holiness, and truth of God, the wonderful salvation of God in Christ Jesus, when all of this is published abroad by the personal witness of the saints, God’s name is glorified. If we are truly Reformed Christians we glorified. If we are truly Reformed Christians we will seek to tell of the great glory of our God through our testimony before men.
The second motive must be the desire for the gathering of the church of Jesus Christ. The true Christian earnestly desires the salvation of all those ordained to eternal life. He longs for the time when all of the elect will be gathered and the Lord Jesus Christ will return for the perfect salvation of His church. The Christian may not have a smug attitude concerning his own church, having no concern for those who are not yet brought into the church. He does not take the attitude that those who are outside of the church are hopelessly lost and reprobate. It is his sincere desire by every means to gain those of the saints of God who are still without the church.
Thirdly, we must be motivated by the compassion of the Lord Jesus Christ for lost sinners. The Christian is deeply conscious of the awful judgment and condemnation that is upon the sinner. He knows that all, who do not repent will perish everlastingly in hell. He knows how dreadful and awful this is. It is his earnest desire to call men everywhere to repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the desire of every true child of God that all of the Lord’s own shall be brought out of the depths of their sin and misery to the blessedness of salvation and life in the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore the heart of the true Christian burns with compassion also for those who are without. He will therefore do, everything he can by his personal testimony to exhort and admonish, to urge and encourage men everywhere unto faith and repentance and obedience in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We have not yet said anything about the importance of the holy and godly life of the Christian in the work of evangelism. Perhaps on another occasion we shall address this very important subject.