An Evangelistic Church
Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. - Acts 8:4
The majority of churches in America today are not characteristically evangelistic. Yet this is a mark of the true church. A church that is evangelistic "teaches the gospel with an aim to persuade" (J. Mack Stiles, Evangelism, How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus) people to come out of sin and death into a life in Christ with his church.
The early church were "witnesses" (Acts 1:8) of the incarnation, atonement, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They were his disciples who went and made disciples (Matthew 28:18). God's good news sounded forth from them as their faith went everywhere (1 Thessalonians 1:8). They were not popular but persecuted. They lost belongings, their families, their homes, their gathering places, and becoming the scattered, they "went about preaching the word."(Acts 8:4). The word they preached was the good news, the gospel. The church was marked by being evangelistic. Michael Green says of the early church. "Christianity for them was no hour slot on a Sunday. It affected everything they did and everyone they met. As far as we can tell, their church life was warm and nourishing for the most part, and equipped people to move out with the good news. The ordinary Christians, the missionaries, the academics, the women all seemed to have shared in the same passionate commitment to the cause." (Evangelism in the Early Church). The "cause" was their Lord's great commission to make disciples by "teaching the gospel with the aim to persuade."
The contemporary church does not reflect the evangelistic zeal of the early church. Thom Rainer, a leader in the Southern Baptist Church, and a surveyor of many issues regarding the church, recently posted an article of the churches lack of evangelistic zeal (http://thomrainer.com/2015/02/23/fifteen-reasons-churches-less-evangelistic-today/). In an unscientific poll he asked the question, "Why do you think many churches aren’t as evangelistic as they once were?” These are the top 15 reasons he compiled from the survey:
- Christians have no sense of urgency to reach lost people.
- Many Christians and church members do not befriend and spend time with lost persons.
- Many Christians and church members are lazy and apathetic.
- We are more known for what we are against than what we are for.
- Our churches have an ineffective evangelistic strategy of “you come” rather than “we go.”
- Many church members think that evangelism is the role of the pastor and paid staff.
- Church membership today is more about getting my needs met rather than reaching the lost.
- Church members are in a retreat mode as culture becomes more worldly and unbiblical.
- Many church members don’t really believe that Christ is the only way of salvation.
- Our churches are no longer houses of prayer equipped to reach the lost. Churches have lost their focus on making disciples who will thus be equipped and motivated to reach the lost.
- Christians do not want to share the truth of the gospel for fear they will offend others.
- Political correctness is too commonplace even among Christians.
- Most churches have unregenerate members who have not received Christ themselves.
- Some churches have theological systems that do not encourage evangelism.
- Our churches have too many activities; they are too busy to do the things that really matter.
I am sure we can identify with many of these responses, and conclude that the church lacks an evangelistic zeal. In a sermon this past Sunday I encouraged the congregation to share the gospel with one person this week. In surveying the responses above what will be the reason we don't? Maybe there is another that you might add to the list? Whatever the reason when we look at our lives as those who are a part of the church, the gathered people of God, we know we do not represent an evangelistic church.
Let me suggest that the way we become an evangelistic church is by a redeemed life of gratitude that acts in works of love. In Heidelberg Catechism question 86 we read,
"Since we have been delivered from our misery by grace alone through Christ, without any merit of our own, why must we yet do good works?"
The authors of the catechism are acknowledging that no one can be justified before God by works of the law (Gal.2:16), but are saved by grace through faith in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Yet this faith does not stand alone but works by love (Gal.5:6). Therefore the church, the gathered people of God, do the good works that they are prepared and created for in Christ Jesus (Eph.2:10). Our redeemed life leads to a life that works towards others in love. The answer to Question 86 shows us what the works are and where they come from.
"Because Christ, having redeemed us by his blood, also renews us by his Holy Spirit to be his image, so that with our whole life we may show ourselves thankful to God for his benefits, and he may be praised by us. Further, that we ourselves may be assured of our faith by its fruits, and that by our godly walk of life we may win our neighbours for Christ."
The works of love toward our neighbors is to "win" them for Christ. They are won to Christ by our "godly walk of life". But this does not mean that anyone is won to Christ by seeing how Christian you are. Paul says, "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ." (Rom.10:17). A person must hear Jesus in the gospel preached or taught and be persuaded by the Spirit to repent and believe. As Paul says again, "How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?" (Rom.10:14). People are won to Christ by the gospel you teach. Therefore, the works are for winning people to Christ, and people are won to Christ through our teaching them the gospel with the aim to persuade.
These works of a "godly walk of life" teaching our neighbors the gospel come from a whole life of gratitude before God. To be an evangelistic church we must walk by the Spirit, hearing and seeing by faith all that God has been, is for us, and will be for us in Jesus Christ. The redeemed life that works by love toward his neighbor with the gospel never leaves the face of God where the gospel is continually renewed in his own heart producing a whole life of gratitude. When he is most valuable to us, then we will live costly lives in love toward our neighbors. When he is enjoyed by us we will share what we enjoy. When we glory in the God of the gospel by faith in Christ then we will insist that others come into that glory with us. The redeemed church is a gathered people marked by gratitude and acting by love toward others to win them to Christ. Let us pray, learn and live to teach the gospel to our neighbors with the aim to persuade
First, pray. Pray that God will forgive us for loving our idols more than God and his creatures and for our being ashamed of his gospel. Pray that God will renew us as his church in a love for him and our neighbor by a renewed faith in the gospel. Pray for boldness to share the gospel.
Second, learn the gospel. Learn God as the holy, wise, sovereign and good Creator. Learn man as the rebellious sinner. Learn Christ as the righteous, crucified, and raised redeemer. Learn that the gospel demands a response of repentance and faith. Learn how to talk naturally about the gospel and how to weave it into everyday conversations. Learn what God requires of you for a godly life.
Third, live toward people who are not gripped by the gospel by knowing, loving, and acting toward them. You are in their lives or should be in their lives to teach them the gospel with the aim to persuade. Pursue people purposefully in love to know them and act toward them to win them with words and a godly life.
The American church is not an evangelistic church, but we should make every effort in the grace God gives to repent and by faith become one. Our Lord Jesus went about "proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel." (Mark 1:14-15). The followers of Jesus became his witnesses who would speak of him wherever they were scattered. Let us become known as him image bearers as an evangelistic church.