New Testament Evangelism

The following essay is a chapter taken from evangelist James Stewart’s book, Evangelism, first published in 1955. We have permission from Revival Literature to post this chapter. I encourage you to acquire this book along with other works of James Stewart by contacting . . .

Revival Literature, P.O. Box 6068, Asheville, NC 28816, 800-252-8896 or clicking on revivallit.org

—— “New Testament Evangelism” . . . by James Stewart ——

OUR PRESENT FAILURE

In perusing our evangelical magazines all over the world, one would be led to think that we were winning in the spiritual warfare; whereas the fact remains that we are absolute failures. Lullabied to sleep as babies by our mothers singing the glorious hymns of Zion, cradled in the Sunday school, and nurtured in evangelical, fundamental churches, we are grossly ignorant of what exists outside the pale of our evangelical testimony. Smug and complacent in our own applause and commendation, we seem to have lost the vision of the actual worldwide Gospel picture today. The awful reality is that twenty million people are born into the world every year, but only one and one-half million pagan people are being evangelized each year. It is a cold and sobering fact that not two percent of the world’s population are evangelical believers. More than half of our brothers and sisters, bound with us in the natural ties of humanity, have never once heard the Gospel of our peerless Redeemer. We may as well face the reality that, at the present rate of advance, not only will they never hear the Gospel, but millions born each year will be added to this Christless multitude. The human family today consists of two billion, two hundred million. The population of India alone increases by fifty million in one decade. In other words the birthrate of pagan people outnumbers our modern, global evangelism.

“A hundred thousand souls a day
Are passing one by one away,
In Christless guilt and gloom;
O church of Christ what wilt thou say,
When in the awful judgment day
They charge thee with their doom?”

(Since Dr. Simpson wrote these lines it is a hundred and fifty thousand souls a day.)

At the home bases we have only about four new converts a year for over two hundred professed believers. How impossible then seems our task. It would take centuries for us to evangelize even a part of the great unevangelized areas of the world. Even in our outstanding evangelistic campaigns in America and the British empire, usually only five percent of the fruit remains. Surely before making loud claims of mighty results, we should allow one year to pass before counting the abiding fruits of our ministry. Out of the millions of Christian young people who profess Christ as Saviour and Lord, only a handful are going forth to carry the Gospel to those who have never heard. No one could accuse me of being anything other than an optimist (though to be over-optimistic is as dangerous as being pessimistic); as the Irish say, “Facts are like mules; they are stubborn things and must be faced.”

It is wrong for us to build fairy castles and live in a dream world of enthusiasm. We must face sober realities and confess that, unless something revolutionary takes place in our midst at once, then we shall have failed God, and we will be held responsible at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

As a babe in Christ I was simply astounded at the method of evangelism used by ourselves in contrast to that of the Early Church in Acts.

SUCCESS OF APOSTOLIC CHURCH EVANGELISM

As Dr. Graham Scroggie points out: “The period covered by the Acts is approximately 53 years (B.C.4 – A.D.30) thus showing how intense is the activities of this first generation of Church History. Had the later generations of the Church followed the example of the first, the world would have been evangelized fifty times by now.” They succeeded where we have failed. Surely the crying need of the present hour is to get back to apostolic evangelism. The Church in its first twenty-five years of existence accomplished more than at any other time in the history of Christianity. The startling fact is this, that if the Apostolic Church had continued as she began she would have evangelized the world in the first few centuries. There were only 120 members in the first local church, and then in one day they had 3,000 additions, and in a few days more they numbered 5,000. Yet, from the human viewpoint, they were doomed to fail in their mission; yea, their very existence was a living miracle of the power of God. Who would believe the fantastic story that Jesus of Nazareth, that man who died such an ignoble death of shame as a criminal on a felon’s gibbet, had risen from the dead, and that He was the Son of God?

Also, the Church lived in a hostile atmosphere. Her message was in direct opposition to the Jewish religion and to the worldwide conquest of Imperial Rome. For example, Paul was accused by Tertullus before Ananias the High Priest, that he was a “mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the whole world,” and profaned the religion of the Jews (Acts 24:5.6). When he managed to escape to Berea from the riot in Thessalonica, they brought Jason, who had given him hospitality, to the Roman rulers of the city and accused him and Paul of preaching in opposition to the decrees of Caesar (Acts 16:21). How easy it is for us to preach the Gospel in our so-called Christian lands today, because of the fact that being a Christian is in direct opposition to Communism, our greatest enemy. Our governors, senators, mayors, and civic and religious leaders all give recognition and a word of approval to our ministry because of this great fact, that Christianity is the only real challenge to Communism, our bitterest foe. But how different it was in the days of the Early Church.

Again let us notice that the Early Church had none of the elements which we would believe were necessary for success in their world-wide conquest. They had no numerical prestige; they were a little flock. They had no financial prestige; they had a common treasury because they were so poor. Possibly Mrs. Mark had a little money. They had no social prestige. They had no educational prestige. Apart from Luke, the beloved physician, they were unlettered and untutored men; mostly fishermen of Galilee. They had no theological and ecclesiastical prestige. It was later that the conversion of Saul of Tarsus raised them to some higher heights. It is also striking to notice that they owned no church building. They preached the Gospel in the synagogue to the Jews (enemy territory). They worshipped and met for communion in the homes of their various members. They possessed no theological nor educational institutions.

How amazing then the phenomenal success!

Let us study carefully, with an unbiased attitude, endeavoring to discover the conquering features of this warrior Church.

THEY CHALLENGED THE POWERS OF HELL

Right at the very outset, on the birthday of the Church, Peter flings down the gauntlet, as it were, and challenges the enemy to spiritual warfare. By the mighty power of the Holy Ghost this transformed disciple courageously calls upon the Jewish nation to repent of its sin of the crucifixion of its Messiah. Defying the whole nation of Israel this single warrior of the Cross commands them, in God’s Name, to repent. Said the apostle, “God has reversed your decision and has raised Jesus Christ from the dead and set Him at His own right hand, an exalted Redeemer” (See Acts 2:32,33). The fight is now on between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. The early Church gives no quarter or compromise; it is war to the finish!

What a weak, anemic group of compromisers we are in contrast!

THE SON OF GOD WAS ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING TO THEM

Nobody can read the pages of the Acts of the Apostles and not feel the holy thrill of their testimony. The risen Saviour was their Redeemer, friend, shepherd, Lord, prince, High Priest, and general. Their very lives glowed with their joy in the Lord!

“Christ! I am Christ’s! And let the name suffice you,
Ay, for me, too. He greatly hath sufficed;
Christ is the end, for Christ was the beginning,
Christ the beginning, for the end is Christ.”

THEY LIVED LIVES SEPARATED UNTO THE LORD

Their power was their holiness. Sanctification means practical separation. As the Sabbath is a sanctified day, and the sanctuary is a sanctified place, so a saint is a sanctified person. One of our great weaknesses is our mixture with the world. We are flattered when worldlings of high position testify to our Gospel, even though they still live in the camp of the enemy. We sadly weaken the spiritual power of a holy church when we compromise on the issues of a holy life. Second Corinthians 5:17 is the acid test of the new birth. To be in Christ means to be a new creature, and to be a new creature means to experience the thrill of longings for a life of holiness and separation unto God. As A.J. Gordon has said, “If perchance the Church shall attract men, without at the same time transforming them; if she shall attach them to her membership without assimilating them to her life, she has only weakened herself by her increase, and diminished herself by her additions.” “He that is not with me is against me,” said our Lord. Our Lord did not say it was difficult, but that it was impossible to serve two masters. The world thinks that you can serve two masters, and a large number of evangelicals also believe that it is possible. Communism will not brook compromise, and why should we?

THEY WERE FIERCELY PERSECUTED

As one carefully reads the history of the Church in its early beginnings, one is struck by the fact that it was daily persecuted and only had an occasional rest from the onslaughts of the enemy. Acts 9:31 is an illuminating verse, because here we have a picture of the Church free from persecution. It is a unique situation. In the early days of the Church men were converted and afterwards put in prison; today, the only prison experiences are before conversion.

THE HOLY SPIRIT HELD SWAY IN THEIR LIVES

The Upper Room was the Spirit’s baptistry. They were all filled with Him. They lived, testified, and prayed in the power of an ungrieved Spirit. Acts 9:31, which we just noted, is a key verse of this blessed Book. They walked “in the comfort of the Holy Ghost.” Yes, they walked in all the blessed ministries of the third person of the Trinity; hence their supernatural power.

PRAYER WAS THEIR MOST VITAL ATMOSPHERE

They seemed to live on their knees. Prayer and prayer meetings were the order of the day. Before and after great times of persecution and witness, they retired to the Throne of Grace. Today our prayer meetings are deserted and very few know anything about intercession. Hence we have lost the supernatural presence of the Lord in the Church. The difference between revival and the ordinary days of the Church is a real consciousness of the mighty operations of the Holy Spirit in supernatural manifestations.

THEY BELIEVED THE GOSPEL WAS THE ONLY HOPE FOR A LOST AND DYING WORLD

They believed with all their heart that Christ was the answer to the world’s needs. They believed they were commissioned by the living Christ to spread this message to every creature. They lived for this one thing alone. This conviction led them to a holy crusade. Day and night, in season and out of season ,they fearlessly and sacrificially crusaded into the enemy’s territory with the message of the great Evangel. This burning passion crowded all secular things out of their lives. Social prestige and money held no charms for them unless such could be used for the spread of the message. They not only lived for Christ, but went to prison and even died for Him. What a contrast to ourselves! We say we believe the same as the Early Church, but our lives deny this fact. We have many ambitions and many pursuits and pleasures which take first place in our hearts’ affections, and our intellectual exercises. The Gospel comes second. What a transformation would come to the Church of God today if we really put first things first and dedicated all that we possess to world-wide evangelization.

THEY BELIEVED THAT IT WAS THE SUPREME BUSINESS OF ALL TO WITNESS FOR CHRIST

If every creature is going to hear the Gospel, then every believer must preach the Gospel. The word witness comes from our English word martyr; one who bears witness by his death; denoting one who testifies of what he has seen, or heard, or knows. Surely this is a striking illustration of the simplicity of New Testament evangelism. The word preach, which occurs more than one hundred times in our New Testament, means “to proclaim”; it is the accepted equivalent for six different Greek verbs; three of these are from a common root which means “to bear a message, or bring tidings,” and this statement covers about sixty cases. As to the other three Greek words, one is used over fifty times and means “to publish or proclaim”; and another, six times, and means “say, speak, or talk about.” The other which means to dispute or reason,” is the only one of the six which suggests a formal discourse or argument, and this is only used twice. The word used in Acts 11:19,20 is very impressive; it is suggestive of “gossiping the Gospel,” or the ordinary, every-day witnessing in casual conversation, or the first attempts of a child to speak. Search the pages of the New Testament, and you will find that to be a herald of the Glad Tidings was not the exclusive prerogative of a special class of paid clergymen.

In the New Testament there is no distinction between clergy and laity. This distinction is a relic brought over from Romanism. John Huss fought and died in Czechoslovakia for the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, and the Hussite symbol to this present day is the communion cup standing upon the open Bible. It was this truth of a royal priesthood and every believer a witness that was the dynamic force in the Early Church. Without the aid of any modern equipment, or transportation, or translation and publication of the Word, the Gospel of God’s grace shook the whole Empire until there were saints even in Caesar’s household. God is calling us back to primitive Christianity.

What we need in the Church is a crusading fellowship to undertake anew the conquest of the world for Christ.

A NEW TESTAMENT ASSEMBLY

Now to the vital part of my message. The Greek word for church is ecclesia meaning “a select company of people gathered out for a definite purpose.”

One of the finest descriptions of a New Testament saint, and the function of a New Testament church is given by Peter: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (I Peter 2:9). We are absolutely different from any other people, and we are the only light that God has in this dark world of sin. As kingly and holy priests our ministry is threefold. We present our bodies a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1), we praise the name of the Lord (Heb. 13:15), and we give of our substance to the Lord (Heb. 13:16). Peter does not claim an exclusive priesthood vested in him, but says that all members of the Body of Christ compose this priesthood. So every born again believer is a king-priest for the purpose of world evangelization. If we are built up a spiritual house and are given the privilege of being royal and holy priests, the question of profound importance is this: are we exercising our priesthood? A local church is nothing more or less than a company of born-again kingly, holy priests functioning in their God-given sphere and ministry.

The organization and government of the first local church was not complicated. It was a simple, spiritual cell or unit for the propagation of the Gospel of our blessed Lord. Paul and his fellow workers were able, within a period of ten years, to establish local churches in homes and other little soul-saving centres in all ten of the great world provinces under the Roman Empire, placing them under local, self-supporting elders. Each member of the local assembly went out to win souls to Christ through personal contact, and then brought these newborn babes back into these local churches where they were indoctrinated and strengthened in the faith of the Redeemer. They in turn went out to do likewise. This local, self-supporting, self-governed assembly was a missionary society, Bible school, and evangelistic mission all in one. These were cells of propagation. It was not then necessary to have a hired preacher before there could be established a New Testament assembly.

When Paul established a church the Head was Christ, and the believers, forming the body, made the local assembly a complete creation of Christ.

I believe, from the careful reading of the Book of Acts and the Epistles of the New Testament, that it is the work of the Holy Spirit to give gifts for every ministry within the local, New Testament churches, so that these individual groups of believers will be built up in the most holy faith and become self-sustaining, not only financially, but also in spiritual service. One reason for power being manifested in the Early Church was that one man could not take upon himself the authority to quench the Spirit in the young converts by giving them very little opportunity to stir up the gift of God which was in them. First Corinthians, chapter twelve, is a forgotten and unnecessary one in our modern churches.

As E. H. Broadbent points out: “The practice of founding churches where any, however few, believed, gave permanence to the work, and as each church was taught from the first its direct dependence on the Holy Spirit and its responsibility to Christ, it became a center for propagating the Word of Life. This drawing of all members into the service, this mobile and unorganized unity, permitting variety which only emphasized the bond of a common life in Christ and indwelling of the same Holy Spirit, fitted the churches to survive persecution and to carry out their commission of bringing to the whole world the message of salvation.”

Neander, a Church historian, wrote in this connection: “As all believers were conscious of an equal relation to Christ as their Redeemer, and of a common participation of communion with God obtained through him, so on this consciousness, an equal relation of believers to one another was grounded, which utterly precluded any relation like that found in other forms of religion subsisting between a priestly caste and a people of whom they were the mediators and spiritual guides. The apostles themselves were very far from placing themselves in a relation to believers which bore any resemblance to a mediating priesthood; in this respect they always placed themselves on a footing of equality.”

Dr. G. Campbell Morgan, commenting on the Church of Antioch, writes: “How was the Christian Church at Antioch constituted? Certain men of Cyprus and Cyrene had preached in Antioch to these Greek men the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ; and these men, hearing the Gospel of the Lord Christ, had believed and been baptized by the Holy Ghost. That company of men and women in living union with the living Christ, by the baptism of the Holy Spirit, constituted the Church. There had been no consecration of a building; there had been no apostolic visitation. The Church was not the result of official action, but of the proclamation of the Lord, and belief in Him and baptism into His life, by the over-ruling of God. Presently they co-operated with the church in Jerusalem; but Antioch was independent of Jerusalem; and the Holy Spirit could speak to the church in Antioch. In that church in Antioch were gifts bestowed by the Spirit: ‘prophets and teachers.’ Whence came these gifts? From the Lord himself. How? By the bestowment of the Holy Spirit.”

These believers, common and ordinary saints of the church, occupying no official position, planted New Testament churches by their dynamic, virile witness. “The Early Church had no room for an idle and selfish soul. Every believer was a worker, warrior, witness. He came into the church as soon as he believed and was baptized, to be a member in the Body where every member had an office and must needs fulfill his function in order to maintain the health of the whole Body.”

METHODS OF THE EARLY CHURCH

Now notice their methods of evangelism. We are all agreed that the key verse of the Acts is chapter 1, verse 8. Here we have the Church’s message, ministry, motive, and might. The Holy Spirit was given for the supreme purpose of empowering the believers to carry the Gospel to every creature. Acts 8:1 is another key verse. It is the fulfillment of 1:8. “And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” Verse four is very enlightening. “Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the Word.” Their methods of evangelism, then were these: (a) All the rank and file of the church preached. (b) They preached everywhere. (c) Their ministry was chiefly personal evangelism. When we study their methods of evangelism and compare them to our modern methods, we are astounded to see how stereotyped and tradition-bound we are. “Rutualism” is just as dangerous as ritualism.” It is striking to notice that we cannot find in the New Testament any special “order of service” for an evangelical gathering. They preached in every conceivable place; chiefly in the open air. They did not erect ecclesiastical buildings and invite the people to come into them. Their evangelism was direct and dynamic and yet simple. Think of how God mightily used two deacons for the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ. Stephen and Philip shine illustriously as mighty warriors in the Early Church. Had they been members of a modern church surely the Spirit of God would have been quenched within them, as it would have been a very rare occasion for them to be permitted to minister the Word to the whole congregation, or preach the Gospel to the unsaved. Consequently the Church today has very few Philips and Stephens. Where would you find a deacon or elder that could preach such a message as Stephen and die so triumphantly when he had finished his sermon! Where could you find a deacon or elder who could visit another city and have revival all on his own? Yes, our sin today is the sin of Nicolaitanism; the sin of the rule of the clergy stifling the ministry of the laity. In the average church the pastor conducts the two Sunday services himself, and if he is going away for even the small period of a month he must invite outside preachers to come in to fill his pulpit, so immature is his flock. As one has well said, “The final responsibility for all the testimony falls upon the whole congregation and is shared equally by every member, man and woman, young and old. The ministry of the Word through the gifts of the Spirit is the responsibility of every member.”

Our ministry today is restricted by these unscriptural methods: (a) We leave the primary responsibility of evangelism to a few paid pastors, Bible teachers, evangelists, and missionaries. (b) Our strongest method is in inviting an evangelistic party, at great financial expense, to conduct huge evangelistic campaigns. (c) We sink millions of dollars in costly church buildings and invite the people to come in and hear the Gospel. Not so the Early Church.

Saintly F. B. Meyer has said: “Antioch will ever be famous in Christian annals, because a number of unordained and unnamed disciples, fleeing from Jerusalem in the face of Saul’s persecution, dared to preach the Gospel to Greeks and to gather the converts into a church in entire disregard of the initial rite of Judaism.”

If these believers had gone from a modern congregation in which the ministry was designated to the sole responsibility of one man, this triumphant period of the Church’s history could never have been written. How tragic that in the average church the ministry gifts of the Holy Spirit lie dormant and latent, because the average believer has no opportunity to minister. As long as every little group of believers has a paid pastor to take care of them, there is one thing certain, and that is, the world will never be evangelized. Thank God for all the voluntary Sunday school superintendents, Sunday school and Bible class teachers and so–called laymen. If they all had to be paid for their services very few churches would be able to function financially.

A CLOSING CHALLENGE

Every believer is a courier. Robert and James Haldane, who belonged to a wealthy and well-connected Scottish family, launched out to evangelize their own beloved country, preaching to thousands daily. As they were not clergymen they were severely criticized and had pulpits closed to them. In answer to the unjust accusations against them, Brother James replied, “We would not be understood to mean that every follower of Jesus should leave the occupation by which he provides for his family, to become a public preacher. It is an indispensable Christian duty for every man to provide for his family; but we consider every Christian as bound, wherever he has opportunity to warn sinners to flee from the wrath to come and to point out Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Whether a man declares these important truths to two, or two hundred, he is, in our opinion a preacher of the Gospel, or one who declares the glad tidings of salvation, which is the precise meaning of the word preach. We deemed the low state of religion a sufficient call for us to go to the highways and hedges and endeavor to compel our fellow sinners to lay hold on the hope set before them in the Gospel.”

I personally am not advocating that everyone give up his employment and go out in full-time Christian ministry, but I believe that every child of God should realize that no matter what his employment is, it is only paying his expenses as an ambassador of the Lord Jesus.

We were not long in Norway until we had heard on every hand of the mighty ministry of Hans Nielsen Hauge. In April, 1796, while ploughing on his father’s farm and singing a hymn of salvation, he was called of the Holy Ghost to carry the Word of Life to his nation steeped in superstition and darkness. His ministry began in farm houses. So greatly was he persecuted by the Established Church, that he was even imprisoned, both at Fredrikstad and in Trondheim harbour, for his faith in Christ. He was fiercely opposed because he was a peasant’s son and not officially ordained as a clergyman. When his parents wondered how he could preach, he replied, “Well, unlearned fishermen did it for Christ, and if a farmer may not fish as well as they, he can at any rate sow the seed of the Kingdom.” His ministry transformed the dead State Church so that it became a mighty, evangelical instrument.

No wonder Dr. Alexander Maclaren spoke to his congregation in such burning words: “It would be a good day for Christendom if the faith and devoutness of a community such as we, for instance, profess to be, were so strong and so demanding expression as that, instead of my poor voice continually sounding here, every one of you had a psalm or a doctrine, and everyone of you were able and impelled to speak out of the fullness of the Spirit which God poured into you. It will come some day; it must come if Christianity is not to die of its own dignity. I am sure that no two things can be less like one another than the worship of the primitive Church, and the worship, say, of one of our own congregations.”

For over four years during the reign of King Carol in pre-war Rumania, the majority of churches were closed and locked and sealed with the Government seal. The pastors were imprisoned during this period, and no public services were held; yet these virile churches made greater progress during this time of persecution than formerly, and had a continuous revival; so much so that when liberty came again, they baptized hundreds of new converts.

THE CHALLENGE OF MOHAMMEDANISM

As Dr. Samuel M. Zwemer testifies: “To the modern Christian world, missions imply organization, societies, paid agents, subscriptions, reports, etc. All this is practically absent from the Moslem ideal of propagation, and yet the movement goes on. In Burma (where Indian merchants are the Moslem missionaries) the Moslem population increased thirty-three percent in one decade. In the Western Sudan and on the Niger, whole districts once pagan are now Mohammedan, and this had been the work of lay missionaries-merchants, travelers, and artisans to a large extent. It would be an exaggeration to say that every Moslem is a missionary, but it is true that with the exception of the Dervish orders (who resemble monks), the missionaries of Islam are the laymen of every walk of life, rather than its priesthood. I knew a pearl merchant at Bahrain, Arabia, who at his own expense and his own initiative printed an entire edition of a Korean commentary for free distribution. On the streets of Lahore or Calcutta you may see clerks, traders, book-binders, and even coolies, who spend part of their leisure time preaching Islam or attacking Christianity by argument.”

In my evangelistic ministry of twenty-seven years I can safely say that no one did as much for Europe’s Christless millions as a medical doctor and a chocolate manufacturer. What shining examples we have of ordinary Christian men and women, burdened with a lost and dying world, who launch out and accomplish great things for God!

Other religions, such as Buddhism, are spread like a prairie fire over great parts of the earth and have succeeded where we have failed, because of the method of their approach through unpaid agents.

THE CHALLENGE OF COMMUNISM

The Communists have stolen our thunder. I verily believe the Comintern use the New Testament as their textbook of propaganda. By using the Early Church method of evangelism, they have in thirty years won more disciples for their cause than we have for the Gospel over a period of centuries. Why? Because they believe that every communist is a red-hot witness. They also follow the principle of the indigenous church of the New Testament. Christianity is doomed to disintegration unless each Christian becomes a courier in world evangelism. Do not forget the solemn warning of the assemblies of North Africa who settled down at ease in Zion and lost their testimony. How tragic that we must evangelize North Africa all over again. Our method is to spend thousands of dollars for great evangelistic campaigns where we have to glamorize our great Christian leaders so that thousands may come to hear the Gospel. All this leads to the emphasis of soul-winning on the part of a few great preachers. There is a great danger here in placing the responsibility of soul-winning on a few paid ambassadors. It has been a well known fact for over a quarter of a century that almost ninety percent of the great crowds of these evangelistic campaigns are already believers. As that valiant missionary statesman, Paul Fleming, has said, “It is like trying to sell vacuum cleaners to an audience of a hundred people when ninety of them already have the vacuum cleaner you are selling.” In the majority of cases it is the same people who are coming out night after night and not an entirely new audience each evening. “The Gospel must be gossiped along the highways of commerce and throughout the bazaars and market places of the world.”

THE CHALLENGE OF THE EARLY CHURCH

It is a very weak, anemic, ineffective method to simply invite the unsaved into our religious auditoriums. We must be more dynamic and aggressive and original. We must go out into the highways and byways and witness. The apostles preached under the blue canopy of heaven. Christ used a fishing smack for a pulpit. John Wesley preached on the top of his father’s tomb stone in a grave yard. Paul heralded forth the glorious Gospel on Mars’ Hill amid the temples and statues of the Greek philosophers. Philip won a soul to Christ sitting in a chariot in the heart of a desert. John McNeil was won to Christ in the office of a railway station in Scotland where he worked. Moody was saved in a shoe shop. Matthew was saved sitting in his office. Yes, we must witness in unconventional places, at unconventional times, with an unconventional approach. It is striking to notice that there is no sanctified building in the New Testament except the believer’s body. The house of God is no longer composed of brick and mortar, as God does not dwell now in temples made with men’s hands.

A.T. Pierson says: “We find not a trace of sacred places or sacred persons, and scarce a hint of sacred times, or seasons. Wherever and whenever God and His worshipping people met, the ground was thereby hallowed and the time sanctified; and all believers seem to have been singularly on a level, preaching the Word, teaching the way of God more perfectly and even administering sacramental rites. . . There are no clerical prerogatives, titled officials, choirs, or hired singers, no secular trustees, no worldly entertainments, no consecrated buildings, and not a sign of a salaried service of any sort. God seems to be the center around which the Early Church crystallized, and the whole organization of believers was free from complicated methods and worldly maxims. Work by all, in diverse spheres of activity, according to the diversity of gifts, was a law of church life. The Spirit speaks expressly in the Epistle to the Ephesians, that the very purpose of all offices and functions, apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers was one sublime end: SERVICE.”

The late Bishop Ryle, commenting on the Christian leaders of the eighteenth century, said: “They preached everywhere. If the pulpit of a parish church was open to them, they gladly availed themselves of it. If it could not be obtained, they were equally ready to preach in a barn. No place came amiss to them. In the field or by the roadside, in a village green or in a market-place, in lanes or in alleys, in cellars or in garrets, on a tub or on a table, on a bench or on a horse-block, wherever hearers could be gathered the spiritual reformers of the last century were ready to speak to them about their souls. They were instant in season and out of season in doing the fisherman’s work, and compassed sea and land in carrying forward their Master’s business.”

In a later day, during the mighty days of revival such as has never been known in Britain since, Reginald Ratcliff, a lawyer; Richard Weaver, a miner; John Hambleton, a converted actor; Henry Moorhouse, a factory hand; and David Rea, a craftsman, invaded the kingdom of Satan by preaching in the market squares, circus tents, village greens, prisons, public houses, and everywhere that the unsaved frequented.

Sergeant Wheeler, of the Oldham police, was recognized as one of the mightiest evangelists of all times in Britain. Rarely did he ever preach indoors, as he believed in following the footsteps of the Master by preaching in the open air. He always pitied the pastors and evangelists who preached indoors to an audience that usually comprised ninety percent believers. Often he would say to me: “James, I can never understand why evangelists and pastors do not go after the fish. It is our duty to go to the unsaved with the Gospel and not to wait until they come to us.” It was very ordinary to see from eight to ten thousand dock workers listening spellbound to the Gospel message at 6:30 a.m. as they waited to begin their work. Many times at impromptu services outside the public parks he would preach to audiences of several thousands. The audience usually consisted entirely of unsaved people; occasionally there would be a believer or two in the crowd. No wonder Dr. Wilbur Chapman and Dr. Reuben Torrey and Gypsy Rodney Smith were thrilled with the effective ministry of this mighty man of God.

Where can you find a more glorious record of evangelism than the invasion of infidel France by “The Marechale” (Mrs. Booth-Clibborn). There hangs today in Gottenberg Art Gallery in Sweden, an old painting of this warrior of God when only a young lady, standing on the table singing a Gospel hymn in a tavern in the underworld of Paris. Yes, she carried the Gospel right into the heart of the Devil’s kingdom. Night after night she and her heroic band of workers, frail and weak, preached Christ in the underground haunts, as well as in the great theaters of the city. During this fierce time of persecution a great multitude was won for Christ, and as Theodore Monod and Henry Drummond testified, they became mighty monuments of saving grace. Personally, my greatest crusades for Christ have been conducted on race courses where tens of thousands listened. Where do we find in the Acts of the Apostles where the disciples erected buildings and invited the unsaved to come into them to hear the Gospel? Nowhere! They met in private homes themselves to worship and pray and study, and then went out into the byways and hedges to preach the Gospel of salvation.

The evangelism of the Early Church was dynamic in that it was personal. Mass evangelism will never be a substitute for personal evangelism. Hand-picked fruit is always the best. This is God’s method. As I have already emphasized, an ordained, paid ministry alone will never evangelize the world. Think of the mighty Methodist revival; ninety percent of the harvesters were ordinary, common believers: grocers, gardeners, bootmakers, street cleaners, policemen, miners, fishermen, mill workers, and professional men. The same can be stated concerning the Moravian Brethren Missionary Movement, of which the late Dr. Chalmers, the mighty Scot theologian said, “Their missionary zeal cannot be equaled since Pentecost.” Carpenters and farmers went forth with flaming fire.

J. E. Connant gives this fine illustration: There was a terrible wreck off the coast of Italy. The captain of the life-saving crew, instead of manning the life boat, stood on the shore and shouted instructions through a trumpet to the drowning sailors. The report that went to the Government said, “We rendered what assistance we could through the speaking trumpet, but the next morning there were twenty bodies washed ashore.” And the church that uses its pastor as its speaking trumpet and fails to man the lifeboat with the entire crew and push out to save the lost who are going down, will be responsible for a great company who will one day be thrown up on the shores of a Christless eternity, who might have been saved if the Lord’s people had gone after them.

The following testimonies concerning the Early Church are deeply interesting. Historian Gibbon said, “It became the most sacred duty of a new convert to diffuse among his friends and relations the inestimable blessings he had received.”

In the year A.D. 110, Pliny wrote to Emperor Trajan: “The number of the accused is so great as to call for serious consultation. Many persons are informed against, every age and rank of both sexes, and many more will be accused. Nor has the contagion of this superstition seized cities only, but the lesser towns also and the open country. The temples are almost forsaken, and the sacred rites abandoned.”

Eusebius (266-340 A.D.) writes: “For a very large number of the disciples, carried away by fervent love of the truth which the divine Word had revealed to them, fulfilled the command of the Saviour to divide their goods among the poor. Then, taking leave of their country, they filled the office of evangelists, coveting eagerly to preach Christ and to carry the glad tidings of God to those who had not heard the word of faith. After laying the foundations of the faith in some remote and barbarous countries, establishing pastors among them and confiding to them the care of those young settlements, without stopping longer they hastened on to other nations, attended by the grace and virtue of God.”

Let us dedicate our lives, talents, possessions, and time to the sacred task of world-wide witness. We are couriers of the Cross. The task is great but not impossible. The Holy Ghost is here to empower us. Without the baptism of power our ministry is in vain.

In 1835 in Hamburg, Germany, seven men in a shoemaker’s shop determined to evangelize the world themselves. Within twenty years fifty churches and ten thousand converts was the result. Besides this, they preached the Gospel to fifty million people and disseminated eight million tracts and one-half million Bibles. This would mean, at that rate, two hundred and fifty believers could evangelize the whole population of the world within thirty years. If every believer would win just one soul a year to Christ, and each new convert did the same, within thirty years the number would multiply to more than thirteen million!

“The sunset burns across the sky;
Upon the air its warning cry.
The curfew tolls from tower to tower –
O, CHILDREN, ‘TIS THE LAST, LAST HOUR!
The work that centuries might have done
Must crowd the hour of setting sun;
And through all lands the saving Name,
Ye must in FERVENT HASTE proclaim.”

—- end —-

drdave@truthreallymatters.com

Comments are closed.