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9Marks Explained : A Letter From Mark Dever

Must Every Christian Evangelize?

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Does the Bible require every Christian to evangelize? How we answer this question will radically impact the shape of pastoral ministry and daily discipleship, so it’s imperative to answer it correctly. 

ANSWERING TWO COMMON ARGUMENTS

The scriptural answer is “yes.” But I have encountered two main reasons for why some argue the answer is “no.”

1. The Great Commission was only given to the apostles and therefore does not apply to us today.

First, some argue that the Great Commission was only given to the apostles and therefore does not apply to us today. While it is true that contextually the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) was given to the apostles, it was not only for the apostles. The command “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” certainly includes the command to make disciples. D.A. Carson notes that the Great Commission does not record Jesus saying to the apostles, “. . . teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you, except for this commandment to make disciples. Keep their grubby hands off that one, since it belongs only to you, my dear apostles.”[1]

What had Jesus commanded the apostles? Among many other things, he commanded them to preach the gospel to the whole creation. So this command of Jesus given to the apostles also applies to every believer today. In addition, should we try to limit Jesus’ promise “I am with you always, to the end of the age,” as only applying to the apostles, or does it apply to us today?  Certainly it applies to us today!

2. Since only some people have the “gift of evangelism,” not everyone is obligated to witness.

Second, some claim that since only some people have the “gift of evangelism,” not everyone is obligated to witness. Space prohibits a full discussion on the topic of “the gift of evangelism,” but a few observations are in order.

First, evangelism is not recorded in the common spiritual gifts listings in Scripture; instead, the office of evangelist is mentioned in Ephesians 4:11. Some (myself included) question whether “evangelism” should be seen as a distinct spiritual gift, such as giving, serving, and so on.

In addition, even if evangelism is a spiritual gift, it is also a command for all believers, just like giving, serving, and so on. Not having “the gift of evangelism” does not excuse a believer from his or her call to share Christ with others.

FOUR BIBLICAL REASONS WHY EVERY CHRISTIAN SHOULD EVANGELIZE

Does Scripture mandate that every believer should evangelize? I argue “yes,” for the following four reasons.

1. The commands to witness are given to all followers of Christ

First, the commands to witness are given to all followers of Christ. Acts 1:8, for example, reads, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” This verse gives a command from the risen Lord to all his followers. As John Stott argues, “We can no more restrict the command to witness than we can restrict the promise of the Spirit.”[2]

In writing to the Corinthian believers, Paul maintained,

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Cor. 5:18-20)

It’s not only apostles that have the ministry of reconciliation and the role of Christ’s ambassadors—all believers do! Other verses that reflect on this ministry of witness for all believers include Matthew 5:14-16, 1 Peter 3:15, Philippians 2:14-16, Colossians 4:5-6 and 1 Peter 2:9.[3]

2. The example of “ordinary believers” in the early church

Second, consider the example of “ordinary believers” in the early church. As we follow the storyline of the early church it is obvious that the apostles sought to evangelize and disciple others. But we see ordinary believers sharing the gospel as well.

Following the stoning of Stephen we read in Acts 8:1, “And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” And what did those ordinary believers do?  Acts 8:4 tells us:  “Now those who were scattered went about preaching (euangelizomenoi) the word.” They went about sharing the gospel with others.

Noted historian Kenneth Scott Latourette makes this observation about the spread of the gospel:

The chief agents in the expansion of Christianity appear not to have been those who made it a profession or a major part of their occupation, but men and women who earned their livelihood in some purely secular manner and spoke of their faith to those whom they met in this natural fashion.[4]

3. The stewardship the gospel imposes on us.

Third, consider the stewardship the gospel imposes on us. Jesus reminds us, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required” (Luke 12:48). We have been given no greater gift than the gospel, and we have no greater stewardship than to share that message of good news with others. Paul expresses it well in 2 Corinthians 5:14: “for the love of Christ controls us.”

4. The “work of ministry” in Ephesians 4.

Finally, consider what Paul calls “the work of ministry” in Ephesians 4. In this chapter Paul notes different offices in the church (apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers). He declares part of the reason God “gifts” the church with such leaders is so they will “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12). And we should certainly include evangelism in “the work of ministry.”

Ephesians 4 raises a challenge for pastors: Are we training our people to do evangelism? Are we setting an example for them in our own personal evangelism? Some people run from the idea of evangelism because they assume it means they must be obnoxious and pushy. There are many approaches to sharing the gospel. The only fixed method is the message: telling others about the gospel of Jesus Christ.

LEAD BY EXHORTATION AND ESPECIALLY EXAMPLE

Pastors, we can say to our people with confidence, “you are called to be a witness for Christ in both word and deed.” As leaders, let us challenge other believers not only with our exhortations but also with our example.[5] And let us take great confidence in the gospel, “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16).

Tim Beougher has served as the Billy Graham Professor of Evangelism and Associate Dean of the Billy Graham School at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary since 1996. He is the author of numerous works, including Richard Baxter and Conversion (Christian Focus, 2007) and Overcoming Walls to Witnessing (BGEA, 1993).

[1] D.A. Carson, “Ongoing Imperative for World Mission,” in The Great Commission:  Evangelicals and the History of World Missions, edited by Martin I. Klauber and Scott M. Manetsch (Broadman & Holman, 2008), 179.

[2] John R.W. Stott, Our Guilty Silence (Inter-Varsity Press, 1967), 58.

[3] While the context of 1 Peter 3:15 is what can be called “passive evangelism” (responding to a question that an unbeliever asks), this command is clearly given to all believers “to be ready” to answer when asked.

[4] Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of the Expansion of Christianity (Harper & Brothers, 1937), 1:116.

[5] Among the many helpful resources for personal evangelism, I highly recommend:  Will Metzger, Tell the Truth; Mark Dever, The Gospel & Personal Evangelism; and J.I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God.