TO EVANGELIZE OR TO MAKE PROSELYTES?
Copyright © 2006 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
In the Christian churches of our day there is an emphasis on “getting souls saved.” It is taught that every Christian is a “soul-winner.” This is not a biblical statement or emphasis. To make matter worse, the true biblical emphasis, which is that God’s people be righteous, holy, and obedient to God, is relegated to an imaginary “state of grace” which is supposed to take care of the sinful nature of the believers. The resulting moral chaos in the churches is the natural result of such unscriptural concepts.
TO EVANGELIZE OR TO MAKE PROSELYTES?
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, And teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19,20)
Until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:13)
I am writing the present essay out of experience and the resulting personal conviction. Sometimes when you’ve been through something yourself it helps others. If this discussion helps you and gives you peace, praise the Lord!
During the last few years we have had questions in our church over evangelism—“getting people saved.” Ours is a teaching church with a burden to build up the members of the Body of Christ. Many of the people around the world who get our books and tapes are evangelists, chaplains, pastors and so forth who are busily engaged in evangelism. So we feel we are helping in that direction.
However our personal commission is to go into all the world and make disciples, teaching them to keep God’s commandments. This precisely is what we are doing with our tapes and books in, the Philippines, several countries of Africa, Israel, India, Nagaland, the United States, Canada, England, Hawaii, Guam, Denmark, and in other places I can’t remember because I don’t have our map with the flags on it in front of me.
Some time back a concern in our assembly arose centered around the idea that everyone is supposed to be an evangelist and our church should be converted into an evangelistic center.
Our response was to appoint a Minister of Evangelism and offer assistance in whatever program of saving souls was undertaken. “But,” we said, “we know God has called us to do what we are doing. Our ministry is bearing fruit worldwide and we are not going to change until we hear from God.”
Unfortunately, this was not enough. After a period of time several people found another place to attend that may have more of an evangelistic thrust.
Sometimes it seems those with a gift of evangelism have tunnel vision such that they cannot see the other ministries of the Body!
Recently we had a meeting of our teaching elders and officers to discuss a lingering uncertainty about whether we actually should be pressing on the congregation to “get out and save souls.” An interesting discussion followed which examined the role of the evangelist and the place evangelism has alongside the remaining gifts of the Holy Spirit given to the Church to bring us into the mature stature of Jesus Christ.
The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. (I Corinthians 12:12)
As we were in bed that night after the elders’ meeting, in the process of falling unconscious it seemed the sweet Presence of Jesus was there. You know what I mean? He seemed to say the following. You be the judge whether it is in accordance with the Scriptures.
While we make no claim these were the precise words used, this was the burden. And I am checking it out in prayer as I am writing and it seems to be the general idea:
The evangelist is a gift given from the ascended Christ. Not all members of the Body of Christ have been given this gift of evangelism.
Some members have been given the gift of intercession; others, leading worship; others, serving; others, working miracles; others, teaching; others giving and so forth.
Every ministry without exception is to operate according to the will of the Holy Spirit just as the parts of the human body operate according to the brain. (This was stressed.)
Every member of the Body can, as the Spirit directs, act as an evangelist, or intercessor, or can serve, or give, or work miracles, or teach. We can “see” with our fingers when in the dark, but this is not the customary use of the fingers.
It is true also that some members of the Body of Christ exercise more than one function, as Paul was an apostle, a teacher, and an evangelist.
No member of the Body is more important than another just as no member of the human body is more important than another. The importance of any particular function derives from the present need. When you need to run away from trouble your feet are more important than your hands.
Each Christian is to let his or her light shine. This does not mean he or she is obligated to “tell others about Jesus.” It means he or she is to live righteously. (The emphasis was on the need for Christians to live righteously, that this is the light of the testimony.)
There is no verse of the New Testament that directs the believers to act as evangelists to everyone they meet. The New Testament exhorts us rather to bear witness by doing the works of righteousness. Then, if anyone asks us concerning our great hope we are to meekly answer their questions. (I wonder what would be true in the United States if the Christians bore witness by living righteously rather than by trying to make converts to their religion!)
Only the Father can draw people to Jesus. When we set out in our own strength to “save” people we are as blind leading the blind.
The Lord Jesus will make each of us fishers of men as we carefully follow Him. We are not to take our eyes off Jesus and in the blindness of the flesh attempt to “bring people to Jesus.” We are to look always to Jesus so the Spirit of God may show us whom the Spirit is dealing with.
Then we are to listen to the Spirit, because the “four steps of salvation” may not be what the person needs at that time. It may be a word of comfort, or wisdom, or a friendly hand, or perhaps just an example of godly behavior.
One sows, one waters, but God gives the increase. Other people have labored and as we follow the Spirit we find our part in the worldwide harvest.
The several functions of the Body of Christ are as the pipes of a great organ. If a cat walks across the keyboard of an organ the product is discord. But as a master organist plays a Bach fugue he builds a cathedral of sound that inspires and uplifts as each pipe sounds according to the direction of Johann Sebastian Bach and the organist.
So it is true that the Body of Christ will build itself up and then radiate Divine Light to the world when each pipe sounds according to the direction of God and Jesus Christ.
This is the end of what we got last night from our Friend in high places. What do you think? Sound like the Lord?
There seemed to be two emphases. One was that all ministry is to be conducted by the Spirit of God. Well, we know this is true because in some cases the Lord told those who were ministered to to go and tell their city, and in other instances He said tell no man. Have you noticed in the Gospels that when the Lord told some people to keep their mouth shut they went out and broadcast what they had seen and it caused trouble for the Lord?
The other emphasis of our pre-unconsciousness instruction (while we were on our face before the Lord, as Bob Mumford puts it) was that the purpose of salvation is to produce righteous behavior in us, and that it is the righteous behavior the world is waiting to see.
When I first became a Christian I was given Joshua 1:8 to memorize and advised that we will never prosper while we are acting in an unscriptural manner.
The stress on “saved to save others” is unscriptural. The stress on growing in righteous behavior is scriptural. Shall we obey the Scriptures or our traditions?
This struggle over the thought that the world is going to Hell and I need to get out and save others began in my mind over a half century ago when I became a Christian.
I was informed that I should “testify” to everyone I met, I was “saved to save others,” that I should “burn out for Christ,” willing to stagger with malaria across a rice paddy until I fell in and drowned if I could “bring one soul to Christ”; that it would be worth it to crawl on my knees over broken glass from here to China to “bring one soul to Christ.”
I was also pressed to adhere strictly to the Bible (although the Bible said nothing about “having a passion for souls” or “testifying to everyone I meet”).
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, (I Peter 3:15)
One morning standing in chow line I turned to the Marine behind me and said, “I want to tell you what Christ has done for me.”
He said, “What has Christ done for you?” I couldn’t think of one blessed thing. I had been saved for two weeks and did not have a blazing testimony. It was embarrassing!
In fact, I never repented when I got saved. I was seeking God on my own when I moved into a tent with a backslidden Baptist boy and began to pump him about the Gospel. He told me about the atonement. I received the good news and he got back to the Lord. This was in Honolulu.
A night or so later I was born again listening to the chaplain in a Quonset hut. I know when I was born again. After the service a zealous Marine (bless him!) led me through the four steps of salvation. I took the steps in a hurry so I could get out of there and marvel at the love of God that came into my soul when the Chaplain was preaching from Ezekiel about how God was longing to be our God.
I carried this load of worry (about getting everyone saved) on my back for two or three years—the obligation to tell everyone I met about Jesus. It reminds me of some of the things C. S. Lewis strained over.
One day I was wrestling with myself over this issue at a bus stop. (You can tell from all of this I do not have the gift of personal evangelism in spite of the supposed universality of this grace.) I got on the bus, went to the rear, and squeezed in next to a rather large lady. I put steel into my back, girded up the loins of my mind, and said, “I would like to tell you about Jesus.”
Her response was something like “No hablo Ingles” (I hope this is correct Spanish). “I do not speak English.”
That did it! I said to myself, “This simply cannot be God!”
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. (James 1:27)
The hounds of personal evangelism tracked me to Bible school. We even had a class in personal evangelism (the devil take it!) I had a friend in Bible school who was good at personal evangelism. He would get on the bus and pass out tracts (he is passing out tracts to this very day and is almost eighty years old). Everybody loves him. When I try something like this all I get are icy stares.
While in Bible school I received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Soon thereafter the Lord began to speak to me about what He was going to do after Pentecost. Can you imagine? As green as grass and the Lord is giving me this profound word. This was in the late 1940s.
The wrestling match intensified. Was I to take a freighter to the Orient and begin to tell others about Christ or was I to listen to what the Lord was informing me about the feast of Tabernacles?
Souls are sliding into Hell by the moment. Babies in foreign lands who may die in infancy are going to spend eternity in the Lake of Fire because they have never heard of Christ. And I am wasting time eating lunch and thinking about what comes after Pentecost.
I went to a missionary service in the First Assembly of God church in downtown San Diego, Ben Hardin Pastor. The call to service was given. I hastened to the altar and flopped on my face while the piano player played parallel octaves with more than average facility. (He later became a Methodist minister and since has retired, which has nothing to do with my story.)
I was not married as yet. I cried to the Lord, “I will go to Tibet wearing only this sweater if this is what you want. Anything, Lord! I am ready to stagger over the horizon and drown in the rice paddy. I am ready to burn out for Christ.” (Who coined this wild expression?)
“To the Regions Beyond I Must Go”!
All of a sudden I knew the Lord was going to speak to me. I turned over on my back (I was laying on the rug at the front of the church) and waited for my travel instructions.
The Lord said three words: “I love you.”
I love you, when I am ready to rip it all up for Jesus? I knew it was the Lord, so that ended that.
Well, I came to a decision. I quoted to myself from Shakespeare, I think it is, “To thine own self be true.” I thought if I am ever going to be my own man I am going to have to do what I think is God.
If the world goes to Hell it goes to Hell. I am going to wait and find out what God wants me to do. What do you think about that?
God continued to speak to me about what comes after Pentecost, and this has led to related topics. The fruit of evangelism has occurred as a byproduct of our ministry. There is at least one fairly well known evangelist on the field who told me he is serving the Lord today because of one of our tapes. Another lady was inspired to go to the mission field because of one of the tapes.
So maybe I’ll receive a commission from their work. But my main job seems to be to get the Christians saved.
As I said we had a meeting last night of some of the officers of our church. We discussed the confusion caused by the fact that the evangelists who had left said we were missing God by not getting everyone in the assembling to go out and save souls.
As we contemplated the problem we all came to the conclusion that the spirit so common in evangelical churches that stresses “we are saved to save others,” the constant guilt-producing emphasis on the need to “go out and compel them to come in,” “the king’s business requires haste,” is not of God. It is a spirit of proselyting.
The more we talked about the power and prevalence of this spirit, how it corrupts certain texts such that the fruit Jesus mentioned is the fruit of “getting souls saved” and what Paul meant when He said “that I may win Christ” actually means “that I may win some to Christ,” how Sunday after Sunday the message of salvation is preached to saved people in case there is one person who is not saved, while the rest of the believers are not fed the meat of the Word, we began to feel we are dealing with something that is not of God but of Satan.
So we joined together in prayer and bound this ungodly spirit of proselyting that prevents spiritual growth, that brings guilt to church people who want to obey the pastor and yet do not have the grace to go door to door and “compel them to come in.”
Hopefully this confusion will leave our assembling altogether and never be heard of again.
How can we ever find rest in Jesus and hear His voice when we feel we are not doing God’s will because we are not saving souls from Hell?
But there is more to it than this. The unscriptural concept that our first job after getting saved is to save others actually works against growth in righteousness, and we think this is precisely what Satan is after.
I personally have numerous opportunities to talk to people about the Lord. During recent heart problems I spoke to several doctors and nurses, as well as patients in the ward, about the things of God.
“Did you take them through the four steps of salvation? Did you bring them to ‘closure’?” (Lord I hate these Bible school terms. They smell like something the cat dragged in.) “Did they ‘make a decision for Christ?’”
No, I just talked to them as a friend, and in every case the conversation turned to the Lord.
In one instance a dermatologist was blasting me with carbon dioxide. I said, “This is going to turn black and I have to preach tonight.”
The doctor then wanted to know all about the church and about Pentecost. The same thing happened recently in a carburetor shop. I got to talking to one of the mechanics about Aimee Semple McPherson and her miracles. This particular mechanic was a minister in the Jehovah Witnesses. He was fascinated with the account of Mrs. McPherson (who wouldn’t be?).
It’s as Oswald Chambers said, if you come at people with the idea of converting them they can smell the gunpowder. Chambers took a dim view of the idea of a “passion of souls.” As I remember what he said, Brother Chambers felt the notion was suspect. It certainly isn’t scriptural.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:5)
I notice in the Gospels that when people were brought to Christ they were not impaled on the “four steps of salvation.” When the woman touched the hem of His garment Jesus did not say, “We must have closure here. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. You are a sinner. You cannot save yourself. You must confess Me with your mouth. You must make a decision for Christ. Now that you are saved go out and tell others how to get saved. And boys, be sure she is listed on the monthly report as a decision for Christ.”
Isn’t this a bit stilted? Honestly, I think our four steps of salvation sometimes prevent people from coming to the living Jesus. It’s too unnatural, too contrived, not reflecting the breadth of God or the infinitely varied way He gets Himself into the bosoms and businesses of people.
No, He didn’t assure Himself of their theological position. He reached out and touched them. The blood stopped. “Your sins are forgiven. Take up your bed and walk.” That’s our Jesus. He’s the same yesterday, today, and forever. Hey, the Man is alive. You don’t have to be catechized to be saved. You have a need? Ask the Man to touch you.
I make a practice of inviting unsaved people to take Communion. Horrors! I tell them to get saved while eating His flesh and drinking His blood. “Receive the Life of the Man! You can figure it out later. He’s alive!”
We don’t tell everyone they have to have a ministry of working miracles, why do we tell everyone they have to have a ministry of evangelism?
“Ah, but evangelism’s different!” Chapter and verse. I was told to go by the Book. Show me in the Book where every saint is to be an evangelist. There is no emphasis in the New Testament writings that each saint is to get people saved. The emphasis clearly is on bringing to maturity the Body of Christ, on personal righteousness and holiness, and the ministries and gifts of the Spirit that were given by the ascended Christ for this purpose.
Satan’s reason for pressing the concept we are saved to save others is to put the stress on external activity rather than growth in internal and external righteousness. By the doctrine of grace Satan has removed the emphasis on righteous behavior. At the same time he is pressing for constant evangelistic activity. His purpose is to prevent the growth of Christians to maturity. Satan is not threatened by spiritual babies.
It is time the pastors of America put the work of evangelism in perspective. There are numerous other ministries needed if the believers are to be able to stand during the age of moral horrors on the horizon. Every member without exception of the Body of Christ has been given a ministry. We can find that ministry only by presenting our body a living sacrifice to God. When we find our ministry we are to wait on it, faithfully serving God and man by what we have been given.
A word concerning proselyting: to proselyte someone is to convert someone to our doctrine or our religion. I wonder sometimes if we are bringing people to the Lord Jesus or to our religion.
Also, I do not believe the current stress on numbers of people who have been converted to our religion is a Bible emphasis. The only discussion of “numbering the people” of which I am aware had to do with a sin on King David’s part and because of which a plague came upon the Israelites.
There are several instances of numbers of people in the Gospel accounts, and at least two instances in the Book of Acts. But in the Epistles there is no emphasis on large numbers of people. In fact, it is possible the believers whom the Apostle Paul greeted at the end of Romans and Corinthians included the entire congregations.
A friend of mine who is a pastor is upset because of the pressure on him to bring in more members to his church. He has a true pastor’s heart. He has told me several times he just wants to love and care for the people God sends to him.
Whenever I personally pray about adding numbers to our church, the Lord says: “You take care of the Word. I will take care of the attendance.”
I do not say this is true of every minister. But I do maintain that when we make the number of people in attendance at a church the measure of the worth of that assembling we do not have scriptural support for our judgment. In fact, it is not impossible that some of the assemblies become large because the demands on the believers are minimal. They are not challenged to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow the Lord Jesus. No doubt this is not always the case, but it is true that God may bring forth His Son in a barn rather than a popular auditorium.
I do not believe any man of God would insist that the number of people in attendance is necessarily a sign that God’s will is or is not being done in a given assembling. Yet, in actual practice, numbers of people is the index of the worth of the church.
It is no wonder we place such emphasis on “getting people saved”! It is a sign of success!
Personally I think we ought to stop doing this. It smacks too much of laying our hands on the Ark. The Lord stands by the side of the road and looks at the ambitious minister running by with his briefcase in his hand. If he is to rise in his denomination he must employ marketing techniques so his statistics are applauded.
I am not making a case for laziness or lack of initiative, but for quality control based on scriptural objectives, and for putting Jesus out in front. What if we all waited for Him until we knew what we were doing!
Does Jesus put the same emphasis on numbers in attendance as we do?
Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel. So David said to Joab and the commanders of the troops, “Go and count the Israelites from Beersheba to Dan. Then report back to me so I may know how many there are.” But Joab replied, “May the LORD multiply his troops a hundred times over. My lord the king, are they not all my lord’s subjects? Why does my lord want to do this? Why should he bring guilt on Israel?” (I Chronicles 21:1-3)
There are times when someone asks us of our incomparable hope in Christ. With meekness and fear we are to offer our bread to the hungry. We are to always have our feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace. When we all do our part the job will get done. I have found my place and I am happy in it. I hope my contribution will be a blessing to you, and I know you will have something with which to bless those around you.
(“To Evangelize or to Make Proselytes?”, 3306-1)