Evangelism: Past, Present, Our Future
Rev. Edward Franklin Gross, Ph.D.
The first mention in the Bible of the word evangelist is written in Acts chapter 21 verse 8: "And the next day we that were of Paul's company departed, and came unto Caesarea: and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him."
Easton's bible dictionary describes an evangelist as such: a "publisher of glad tidings"; a missionary preacher of the gospel (Eph. 4:11). This title is applied to Philip (Acts 21:8), who appears to have gone from city to city preaching the word (8:4, 40). Judging from the case of Philip, evangelists had neither the authority of an apostle, nor the gift of prophecy, nor the responsibility of pastoral supervision over a portion of the flock. They were itinerant preachers, having it as their special function to carry the gospel to places where it was previously unknown. The writers of the four Gospels are known as the Evangelists.
In Timothy 4:5, Paul writes, "But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry".
Jesus himself ordered every believer to be an evangelist in the Great Commission where we are told to go forth and make disciples of all men. After the resurrection of Jesus, the disciples spread the word like a wildfire, the wildfire of the faith in their hearts. Evangelism and Christianity thrived.
History is full of the courageous stories of people giving up everything or risking their lives for their faith. Even in the days of the Roman persecution, evangelism survived. Although threatened with death, the true Christians still met to spread the word of God. Is this type of courageous evangelism a thing of the past? What can we say about the strength of our faith today?
Today we live in a country where freedom of speech prevails; yet it is against the law to pray in our public schools. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of self-expression, freedom to live our lives as we see fit, more freedoms than any other generation in all of time, but instead of these freedoms being used to glorify God, they are used to protect those who would stand against the will of God and suppress the attempts of his people tolive their lives in the Godly way. How often do we hear of a K.K.K. rally, or of prayer being struck down in school functions? When was the last time that our mainstream news caught your attention with a story about God winning a battle for prayer at any event, or even a Jesus Rally? They are few and far between! The whole town knows when there is a sale on beer at the local grocery store, but how many know about the "big" youth carnival. Why, with so many guaranteed freedoms in our lives are we afraid to speak out about our God and His works or events in our lives?
For a time in our recent past there was a great resurgence of large-scale evangelism. Televangelists filled the airwaves on prime time and the word was everywhere. Then came the rumors and allegations of scandal, both financial and sexual. Many were disgraced and some even imprisoned for their ungodly conduct. This destroyed the credibility of televangelists in the mainstream media. The greatest resource for reaching the masses in the United States had been defiled by men of ill refute. Man's corruption had once again overshadowed God's word. Now, it is rare to even hear of a religious event through the mainstream media. It seems that unless you already belong to a religious organization, you will walk through life only catching small glimpses of what they are missing.
I have read several times that the majority of Christians within three years of finding Christ have no non-believing friends. What about acquaintances, how many people do our lives touch daily that we do not think of as friends? Friends, coworkers, fellow commuters - God puts all of these people in our lives to touch us, even in small ways that we do not perceive. Are we so afraid of worldly rejection that we will reject God's will? Go forth and make disciples of all men.
Evangelism starts within our hearts. Each and every one of us fears that rejection at some point in our lives, but we must start somewhere. Start simple. Each person that we contact in our lives at some point will fall on troubled times and seek guidance from someone around them. Live your life in an exemplary and Godly manner so as to draw these people to you, even if only out of curiosity. When the time is right for them to open their hearts and accept God's word, or at least hear you out, God will make it happen. Always remember that you do not bring people to God, but God works through you to bring them to Him. To paraphrase Paul, he who plants the seed and waters it does nothing for it is God who makes it grow.
Being open to God's guidance will place you in the right place at the right time to share His truth with a lost soul. This will help start you out on the road to true evangelism. As these things happen to you, the fears of rejection will lessen and embolden you to go the next step. Fellowships with God's people are wonderful and required by God, but do not forget that bringing a lost soul to Him is reason for great celebration. Luke 15:7 says, "I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent".
There are causes to be fought and many needs to be met with large sacrifices and group eforts. We as Christians should all be prepared to do that which God commands of us; however, until He stirs our hearts and directs us to one of these causes, we should all do our part in personal evangelism. God created each of us as an individual, and it is this way that we are most susceptible to his truths and teachings.
History has taught us of the sacrifices made so that the word of God could live on. Christianity has prospered and spread through the efforts of many men and women all over the world. Presently, here in the United States we have seen its decline. It is time to realize that evangelism is not just a huge tent meeting, but also an individual spreading the joyous news of God's forgiveness through Christ. Our future as Christians depends on following God's word, and to do that we must wage war. If we all make it a personal goal to enrich the lives of at least three people, God's kingdom will spread over this planet like an unstopable force. It is not just to be left up to the pastors or traveling tent evangelists to bring mankind back to God, but to each Christian personally to do his or her part. Even Jesus himself, upon entering a town did not call for a huge meeting of all the unsaved, but instead met with one person at a time and changed their lives through healing or the revelation of truth. When word of this spread, the masses flocked to him of their own accord because of each one's individual needs and desires.
The spiritual war will not be won with giant productions or extravagant shows, but one soul at a time, just like it started.