EVANGELIZING OR OBEYING?
Copyright © 2012 Robert B. Thompson. 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.
I do not know if it always has been the case with the Christian churches that there has been the emphasis on evangelism that is true of today. I do not see this emphasis in the New Testament. The Great Commission seems to stress making disciples, not getting people “saved.” Anyway, the Great Commission was addressed to the Apostles of Christ, not to the rank and file of believers.
The same thing is true of “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.” This was addressed to the “Eleven.”
The office of evangelist is only one of numerous gifts and ministries given by the Holy Spirit to the Body of Christ.
The idea that “we are saved to save others” hardly is scriptural.
I have thought about this emphasis on evangelism for many years. How often do pastors and evangelists urge every member of the congregation to “get out and get the lost saved.” Perhaps it is because the larger the attendance becomes the more important the church appears in the view of the denomination and the community.
In other words, the number in attendance is an indicator of success or lack of it. The pastor or evangelist who is mentally healthy wants to be a success. So there may be no spiritual growth whatever on the part of the people who attend; but if there is a large attendance, the church is regarded highly and the pastor is considered to be successful.
If the people of the congregation are bound with bitterness, unforgiveness, hatred, gossip, it is unfortunate. But the first priority is to keep growing in numbers.
It seems to me that this approach to the Gospel of the Kingdom is not accomplishing God’s goal of a new world of righteous behavior; of removing all sin and rebellion from His creation.
This emphasis on numbers may not be as true in other countries, but it certainly is the case in the United States of America at this time.
I don’t believe the fact that the Bible is a record of individuals rather than of successful churches is given careful consideration. So the emphasis on evangelism may be little more than an effort to be successful, rather than coming from a directive of Christ to save multitudes from going to Hell.
Well, what is wrong with this emphasis, if anything? Perhaps nothing. Perhaps everything.
First of all, I do not believe it is coming from the Lord Jesus. I think it is proceeding from ambitious ministers, in many instances. Not always, however. It is my opinion that there are numerous believers who genuinely are called to minister to specific groups of people, and Christ leads them in this effort. However, the idea that we all are supposed to go forth and get people “saved” is simply not in the Book.
Jesus did tell us to let the light of our good works shine that people seeing them might glorify God. Did you ever hear that preached? Neither did I.
In another place it tells us to give an answer for the hope that is in us with meekness and fear. This obviously is not referring to aggressive evangelism.
It must be obvious to many of us that the result of stressing evangelism, while neglecting most of the New Testament, is not of God. The goal of the New Testament is to bring people to the full image of Christ; first, internally. Later, in the Day of Resurrection, externally. Also there is the goal of preparing a resting place for God in people.
It may be true that numerous congregations would enjoy hearing God’s true goals preached. Instead what they hear is the same old unscriptural admonition to go out and save everyone from Hell.
The pastor may preach the salvation message every Sunday, even though everyone in the congregation has been saved for over twenty years. But, the pastor thinks, “Perhaps someone will be present who is not saved.” So the congregation hears about basic salvation Sunday after Sunday. But his sheep get nothing for their souls to help them through the numerous problems and dangers experienced by American people.
Yet the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, is filled with Divine wisdom that will enable us to survive in peace and joy in the most desperate situations. The Ninety-first Psalm is an example of such wisdom.
Paul set as his goal attaining to the resurrection from the dead. How often have you heard that preached? Most likely never. Yet it was the stated goal of the principal writer of the New Testament.
Does it strike you as being logical or reasonable that we seldom or never hear about Paul’s goal?
The central idea of the Book of Hebrews is the need to press forward until we enter the rest of God. Have you ever heard that preached? Probably not. Yet it is presented as being the equivalent of Canaan, that is, the land of promise toward which we are to be pressing.
Does it strike you as strange that the goal set for in Philippians and Hebrews is seldom if ever preached? Attaining to the resurrection and the rest of God are the same goal. Yet it is not preached.
Bible scholars regard the Book of Hebrews and the Book of Philippians as being the inspired Word of God. Yet their contents largely are ignored in favor of, “Go out and bring them in.” By this we mean, bring more spiritual babies into the churches so we can urge them to go forth and bring in more babies.
I do believe that one of Satan’s most sincere hopes is that God will bring all the Christians to Heaven along with the Spirit of God. Then Satan could conduct on the earth the mother of all orgies.
Any industry that is as confused about its goals as is true of the Christian churches will not last long!
You know, since we are approaching moral and physical chaos in America, we might do well to return to the New Testament and stress what it says, rather than emphasize again and again that we should go forth and save the lost. What if it is true that God is more concerned about the immaturity of the believers than He is about the heathen? Do we really know the answer?
There are at least three areas that need to be considered when we are evaluating the role of evangelism at the present time:
First, what is the goal of salvation, of human redemption? Is it to prepare us for eternal residence in Heaven, in the spirit Paradise?
In order to understand the goal of salvation, we have to look at the big picture. Before God through Christ created the spirit and physical realms and their personages, there was a rebellion in Heaven around the Throne of God. Satan desired to take the place of the Father. Many angels followed him, believing, I suppose, that Satan would provide a better life for them.
It is this rebellion that provides the answer to what the goal of salvation is. There is, at the present time, war in the heavenlies. We who are endeavoring to do the will of Christ are fighting against rebellious spirit dignitaries who were important figures in Heaven for unknown ages. They have been moved down to a lower heaven, some of them being incarcerated in prisons in the spirit world.
The history of the world is God’s illustration to angels and mankind of the kind of confusion and destruction that Satan would bring about if he were god.
It is a colossal conflict between good and evil, and we are in the midst of the war today. It is Christ against Antichrist; the Spirit of God against the False Prophet; God against Satan.
God permits the history of the world to proceed in its insane fashion so that out of this horror He may select and begin the training of those who will govern His righteous Kingdom in the future. Meanwhile the destructive influence of Satan and his followers is becoming increasingly evident.
Every Christian who manages through Christ to come out of the dark swamp of his environment and overcome the world, his own flesh, and his self-will, weakens the hands of Satan, as Satan accuses God. One day, Satan and his followers will be torn down to the earth because of Christians who have overcome him.
We may remember that Satan offered to Jesus rulership over the governments of the world. Satan said it was his to give if Jesus would worship him. Perhaps that is why almost all the governments on the earth are filled with every kind of sin and self-seeking.
Therefore the idea that we are saved to go to Heaven to live forever is ridiculous in the light of the truth. Satan understands well that spiritual babies are no threat to his rulership. But saints who are coming to maturity in the Lord Jesus Christ, having learned iron righteousness, fiery holiness, and stern obedience to the Father, indeed are a direct threat to Satan’s rule, his activities in God’s creation.
This is why we notice that the Kingdom rewards are given to those who overcome in the wrestling match against Satan.
Now we can see a possible motive for Satan continually pressing the idea that each believer is to go forth and gain more believers. Everyone is to remain at a baby state. No one is to grow to the full stature of Christ. No one is to present a real threat to Satan’s rule.
I am not claiming that Satan is behind the overemphasis on evangelism. But it appears to me to work to his advantage. If the whole world were filled with baby Christians prattling about how wonderful it is that they can keep on sinning and still go to Heaven by grace, Satan’s grip on mankind would only tighten.
To prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 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 4:12,13)
What then is the goal of the exercise of gifts and ministries? That we all, every member of the Body of Christ, 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.
The goal is not to gain more converts, except as Christ leads an evangelist to do so. The goal is that each Christian reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, growing to maturity in attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
This is not emphasized today. It is being ignored. How can spiritual babies help in the titanic struggle between good and evil? The truth is, they can’t. They do not know how to endure hardships; how to stand strong in Christ and in the power of His might. They will not come to maturity until the churches emphasize victory over sin rather than evangelism.
To send out these babies to gain more babies who will gain more babies does not make progress in God’s great plan to drive all sin and rebellion from His creation.
God is looking for mature saints who are overcoming sin and rebellion in their own lives; whose personalities are becoming the rod of iron that will govern the new world of righteousness when it comes into being.
I saw a video once in which a family had gone to a tribe that knew nothing about Christ. They did an excellent job of gaining the confidence of the tribe.
After a due season the missionaries presented the way of salvation, including water baptism. This the whole tribe was ready to receive and act upon.
Then, and this you may find difficult to believe, members of the tribe asked the missionaries what they were to do further.
The missionaries replied, “absolutely nothing.” Can you believe that? In spite of the numerous directions in the New Testament about presenting our body as a living sacrifice; and the need to not yield to the sinful nature.
This amazing episode actually took place. It comes from a misunderstanding of the goal of redemption. We are not saved to save others. We are not saved to go to Heaven. Rather, we are saved that we might have an opportunity to participate with God in His war against sin and rebellion.
We now are at the beginning of the final war against evil, as I understand it. There is special grace today to help us further toward our goal, that is, to grow to full stature in Christ. The New Testament speaks of this salvation, this redemption from the hand of the enemy, that will be given to us in the last days.
At this point I will borrow a few references from a previous essay:
Who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (I Peter 1:5)
So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:28)
And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. (Romans 13:11)
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:30)
We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. (Hebrews 6:11,12)
All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. (Matthew 10:22)
Can you see from the references above, that, with the exception of Cavalry, which is the basis for all further works of redemption, the fullness of salvation is in the future? I think the fullness has begun now, and this is why many passages of the Scriptures that have not been readily understandable are now becoming clear and pertinent.
Knowing this, we can see why it is doubly important that we do not sidetrack what the Spirit is doing today with an incessant demand for more evangelism.
The lawless-grace and “rapture” teachings should be discarded as soon as possible, for they do not fit with the grand design, which is the overcoming of all the works of Satan. In fact, they are hostile to what God is doing.
Second, does the New Testament emphasize that each believer is an evangelist? If I am not mistaken, one would be hard put to support from the New Testament the present emphasis on evangelism.
It is true rather that the emphasis is on the variety of gifts and ministries the Holy Spirit desires to give to the members of the Body of Christ.
Anyone who has had significant exposure to today’s congregations will recognize that I am telling the truth when I say that the great wealth of spiritual ministry available to each member of the Body of Christ is not always emphasized. Rather, the impression is given that the one important ministry is that of getting people to “accept Christ”—which by the way is an expression not found in the Scriptures.
Whenever Jesus exhorted people to go into all the world with the Gospel, He was speaking to His Apostles. Why isn’t that made plain more often? It saddles the church members with a load of guilt that God is not placing on them.
The Great Commission is not to get people saved or to build churches, it is to build disciples. I understand that people first have to be saved before they become a disciple. The problem is, after they “accept Christ,” and build a church, they are taught their job now it to go our and get others saved. They are not always taught what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
“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)
Make disciples. Baptize them. Teach them to obey everything Jesus and His Apostles have taught us. I am with you. The Great Commission says nothing about grace being an alternative to obedience to Christ and His Apostles.
The above commission was given to the “Eleven.” It was not given to the rank and file of believers.
Jesus did not commission us to save people from Hell but to train them up in the ways of His Kingdom.
Training them up to the fullness of maturity requires the continual operation of the various gifts and ministries of the Spirit. There is no other way to come to maturity in Christ. It is the method God has given.
In how many cases today are missionaries emphasizing to new converts the need to grow to maturity in Christ? In how many cases are they teaching them to covet the gifts and ministries of the Spirit so they may build up each other in Christ?
I have always liked the following passage:
Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:46,47)
It is true that people are drawn to a place where people are rejoicing in their fellowship. I noticed when we were in Israel that what attracted the Jews was the music and rejoicing of the Christians.
Then some well-intentioned Christian lady gave an important Jewish official a Christian tract. It is the intention of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem to win the Jews by showing love and support for them, not to attempt to evangelize them.
So this was not a good thing for this Christian lady to do. But it is the result of the brainwashing that goes on. It violates common sense and our natural feeling of what is decent and right. Oswald Chambers is correct when he says people smell the gunpowder, when we are trying to convert them, and are repulsed.
There simply is no Bible basis for the current emphasis on having all believers go forth throughout the world to get people saved, as noble as that sentiment sounds. But there is New Testament emphasis on each member of the Body of Christ coveting earnestly a gift and ministry in order to help fellow members grow to maturity in Christ.
Third, what is Jesus directing us to do right now? Is the Lord Jesus emphasizing the need for world evangelization? If not, what is He stressing today.
I do not know what burdens Christ has put on the hearts of other ministers, but my personal burden is to find out what Christ’s will for me is, and to do it each day.
The greatest gift God has given me is a delight in doing His will promptly and accurately.
From earliest days in Bible school I decided to believe what God was telling me, even though it was not in agreement with everything in the curriculum. A lack of common sense in handling my “revelations” managed to get me expelled from the Bible school, even though I had A in every subject. My transcript and that of my wife Audrey, are in the records of the large Assemblies of God university that I believe to be in Costa Mesa, California.
Many years later I was invited by the Assemblies of God elders from Santa Cruz to become an ordained minister in the Assemblies of God denomination. They informed me that my adult Sunday school class in the Fremont First Assemblies of God was larger than the average Assemblies of God church in the United States. I politely declined because I do not believe in the “rapture,” which to them is quite important.
Through the years I have preached and taught what I believe Jesus has shown me. I still am doing this.
I am not hearing from the Lord about the need for evangelism. What I am hearing is that God is moving according to the pattern revealed in the seven feasts of the Lord. The previous century saw the spiritual fulfillment of Pentecost, the fourth of the seven celebrations. Now, I believe the Lord is telling me, He is ready for the climax of His plan of redemption, which is symbolized by the Blowing of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the feast of Tabernacles.
The spiritual fulfillment of the Blowing of Trumpets, the fifth of the seven festivals, is described in the twenty-fourth Psalm. The King of Glory, strong and mighty in battle, is asking us to open our heart that He might enter and dispatch His enemies.
The Blowing of Trumpets announces the sixth of the observances, the great and solemn Day of Atonement. We respond to this invitation by obeying the Spirit of God as He points out to us the specific sins in our behavior. We are to confess them as they are shown to us, and ask the Lord to help us denounce and renounce them for eternity. Judgment has begun in the household of God, and it is beginning with us.
It is time today for Christ’s fervent disciples to be made manifest at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Otherwise we will not be ready for His appearing. At Christ’s next appearing the members of the Royal Priesthood, who have made themselves ready, will be resurrected from the dead and caught up to meet Christ in the air.
The Day of Atonement prepares us for the climactic feast, the feast of Tabernacles. The spiritual fulfillment of the feast of Tabernacles occurs as the Father and the Son enter our personality and make us Their place of rest.
So if we will take the time to listen to the Spirit of God, we may discover that He is speaking to us about participating in the war against His enemies; about confessing and turning away from all sin and rebellion that the Spirit points out to us; and about the desire of the Father and the Son to make us the place of Their rest.
It may be true that each of us Christians has a choice to make. Are we going to follow the crowd and attempt to “save a lost and dying world,” or are we going to practice listening to the Spirit of God? The Spirit has been charged by the Father to present to His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, a Bride without blemish, the Bride of the Lamb.
First, we have to familiarize ourselves with what the Bible says about the goal of salvation. Is it to make our eternal home in Heaven? Is this what the New Testament teaches? Or is it to overcome the evil that attempts to remove us from God’s will so we may participate with God in His war against Satan and his followers?
Second, we have to read the New Testament carefully and determine if it teaches that every believer is to become an evangelist.
Third, we have to find out what Jesus is saying right now to us as an individual. Is Jesus telling us to try to get everyone saved; or is He inviting us to find out what He has for us to do?
When I first was saved I came under the influence of the Navigators. I was told that I was to “testify to everyone you meet.”
I will assure you, that was an uncomfortable burden.
I tried this on a tall Marine who was standing in back of me in the chow line. I said, “I want to tell you what Christ has done for me.” I had been saved for a couple of weeks. The Marine responded, “What has He done for you?” I could not think of one thing. That was the end of the dialogue.
Still laboring under this directive, years later I was squeezed in on the back seat of a bus next to a large lady. I turned and said to her, “I want to tell you about Jesus.” She replied, “No hablo Ingles.” Right then, right at that point, I said to myself, “Never again. This is the end of this. I no longer am going to testify to everyone I meet. This cannot be God!”
Surprisingly enough, every time I go to the hospital for some reason, I end up talking about the Lord to the health professionals or to some of the patients. It just happens naturally, with no effort on my part. I do not know why this is, but it happens regularly.
I have decided to listen to Jesus all the time. He seems to have given me some sort of ministry of writing. Also, I have ended up pastoring a church, which experienced ministers told me I would never make a success of.
I have been pastoring the same church for thirty-five years. I love the people and the people seem to love me. God has sent members competent in electronics who enable me to put my thoughts into cyberspace.
Thousands of people across the world have read my writings or listened to the audio sermons. I think it is true that if one looks to Jesus, that Jesus will help that individual bear the fruit that Jesus wants.
I have had people attempt to turn me from preaching what Christ has given me and begin to emphasize evangelism.
My response has been that there are hundreds of churches in our county that are preaching evangelism, but I may be the only one preaching and teaching the life of victory in Christ.
So no thank you. I believe I am doing what Christ wants. I desire to please Him. Hopefully it will help other people if I share my thoughts and experiences.
At least I can look up to the Lord with a clear conscience, knowing that I have not compromised what I think He has shown me.
(“Evangelizing or Obeying?”, 3619-1)