Discovering New Testament Evangelism
By Brian Anderson
Although all evangelical Christians believe that the evangelism of the world is a sacred charge Christ has entrusted them with, modern churches come far short of the evangelistic zeal of the early church. We have translated, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mk.16:15), as "Go and build chapels and church buildings, and invite people to come in, but if they won't - leave them alone." Our evangelistic efforts consist of inviting a few friends or relatives to come to church and listen to the pastor's sermon, or inviting them to a gospel film or Christian concert. It is my conviction, however, that the church today is a pitiable reflection of the early church, both in our evangelistic zeal and our unscriptural message. I believe God is calling His church to return to the methods and message of the early church in order to obey Christ's Great Commission.
The Evangelistic Methods Of The Early Church
How did Christ expect His followers to propagate His gospel throughout the earth after He ascended to heaven? I believe the answer is clear as we examine His final words.
Matthew 28:18-20: "And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, 'All authority has been given to Me in heaven and earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.'
Mark 16:15: "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation."
Luke 14:23: "And the master said to the slave, 'Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled.'"
In each of these passages Jesus commands His disciples to go. Where are they to go? Into all the world. What are they to do? Preach the gospel. To whom are they to preach? All creation. Taken at face value, Christ's words are quite clear and simple. They teach that the church is to be involved in active and aggressive evangelism. Her mission is to seek out lost men wherever they are in the world, and preach the gospel to them. Far from telling us to passively wait for the lost to come to us and ask how they might be saved, Christ commands us to actively go to them. In fact, Jesus describes those who shall save their lives as those who lose their lives for His sake and the gospel's (Mark 8:24). The church of Jesus Christ consists essentially of those who are giving up their lives for the sake of Christ and the spread of His gospel - period.
How did the early church seek to live out Christ's clear command? Let's examine the methods the early church employed in propagating the gospel to the world in which they lived.
The Early Church Preached In The Open Air
Acts 2 records the first evangelistic message of the church. On Pentecost, God's Spirit fell in power upon the 120 disciples, so that they began to speak in other tongues, while a loud noise like a hurricane filled the house where they were sitting. The streets of Jerusalem were crowded to their limits with Jewish travelers who had come to partake of the celebration. When these thronging masses heard the deafening noise emanating from the house, a curious multitude assembled quickly. Peter took advantage of the opportunity to explain to the crowd that what was taking place was actually a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (Joel 2:28-32). Right there in the thronging streets of Jerusalem, Peter lifted up his voice and proclaimed that though the Jews had murdered Jesus, their Messiah, God had raised Him from the dead and exalted Him to His right hand in heaven as the Lord of the universe. When the multitude were pierced in their hearts and cried out, "Brethren, what shall we do?" Peter responded by indicating that they must repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. The astounding result was that 3,000 people were saved and added to the infant church that day. The church was born as a result of open air preaching.
Again, in Acts 3 we find a similar situation. By the power of Jesus Christ, Peter ministered healing to a man who had been lame from his mother's womb. Immediately the beggar began to walk and leap and praise God in the temple. His exuberance quickly attracted a crowd. Again, Peter took advantage of the multitude to preach Christ to them. Often we read the account as though Peter was preaching to a congregation who had assembled in the temple and were seated in pews. Nothing could be further from the truth. The temple didn't have pews in it, like our modern church buildings do. The multitudes had assembled on the steps of the outer court of the temple because they had come to offer sacrifices to God. Peter merely cried out to them from a spot in this outdoor covered porch area of the temple.
It wasn't long before Peter's zeal got him in trouble with the temple police. He was arrested more than once. On one occasion, all the apostles were locked up in a public jail until an angel of the Lord released them and told them to go right back to the temple and continue to preach the gospel (Acts 5:20), which they promptly did. In fact, the apostles' ministry in Jerusalem is nicely summed up in Acts 5:42, "and every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ." Open air preaching was a very popular form of evangelism in the early church.
Although we can't be sure, it seems likely that Philip's preaching to the Samaritans was in the outdoors. As great crowds were attracted by the signs and healings he performed, God wrought salvation in their souls through the gospel he preached (Acts 8:5-8).
Furthermore, the apostle Paul was no stranger to open air preaching. In Lystra, Paul and Barnabus healed a man who had been lame from his mother's womb. When the pagan Lystrans mistook them for gods and tried to sacrifice to them at the city gates, Paul and Barnabus rushed into the crowd and proclaimed the truth that there is only one living and true God (Acts 14:8-18). In Philippi Paul preached to some women assembled at a riverside. In Athens Paul reasoned in the market place every day (Acts 17:17), in addition to preaching to a council of philosophers on Mars Hill (Acts 17:19-31). In Jerusalem, when the Jews incited a riot to seek to take hold of Paul and kill him, the commander of the Roman cohort intervened. As his soldiers were carrying Paul away because of the mob, Paul asked to speak on the outdoor steps of the barracks. When permission was granted, Paul fearlessly spoke of his conversion to Christ (Acts 21:27-22:21).
In proclaiming the gospel in the open air, the disciples of Christ were merely following in the footsteps of their Master, who had preached outdoors to multitudes from boats, mountains, and city streets, and had commanded them to go out immediately into the streets and lanes of the city, as well as the highways and along the hedges and compel men to come to the gospel feast (Luke 14:21-23).
If it is true, as we have already seen, that the Biblical pattern is to preach the gospel to the lost, and teach the Word of God to the saved, then it seems ludicrous to continue preaching the gospel to Christians in our church buildings week after week, while we neglect preaching to the lost. In our Sunday services at Milpitas Bible Fellowship, very few unsaved people attend. Instead of preaching to a congregation in which only a handful are not saved, why don't we preach in the open air to crowds where only a handful are saved? Although, admittedly, there are difficulties and dangers associated with open air preaching, it is high time that the church of the living God broke out of her comfort zone and began to zealously seek and save those who are lost.
The Early Church Went To Where The People Were
Far from passively waiting for sinners to come to her, the early church militantly went to where the lost congregated to bring to them the words of everlasting life. The apostles in Jerusalem preached Christ from house to house (Acts 5:42). From the moment of Paul's conversion he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues (Acts 9:20). The synagogues were congregated by unsaved Jews, making them a wonderful location for evangelistic ministry. Because synagogue worship was characterized by free and open participation, the apostles were given liberty to speak concerning Jesus as the Messiah. Paul's strategy upon entering a new city was to seek out the synagogue, and reason with the Jews concerning Christ. This was his method in Psidian Antioch (Acts 13:14-41), Iconium (Acts 14:1), Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-3), Berea (Acts 17:10), Athens (Acts 17:17), Corinth (Acts 18:4), and Ephesus (Acts 18:19). In addition, Paul reasoned with Jews and God-fearing Gentiles in the market place every day (Acts 17:17).
It becomes readily apparent that the early church took Jesus' command literally and seriously. They sent men into all parts of the world with the mission of seeking out the lost and preaching Christ to them. If there is one area of contemporary church life we must break with, it is our fortress mentality. We, like the lords of the middle ages, have built our castles, complete with moats and drawbridges. We have retreated to our churches and huddled together away from the perishing masses of humanity in order to protect ourselves from the world and its filth. How unlike our Savior who came to seek and save the lost. The Bible tells us that Jesus was the Friend of Sinners, and that the common person heard Him gladly. He expressed His mission by saying, "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Luke 5:32).
If we are to follow in the footsteps of Christ and His apostles, we must go to where sinners are. We can't expect them to come to our church meetings to hear the gospel. They simply won't do it. Rather, we need to seek them out. That means we must go to shopping centers and malls, flea markets, college campuses, airports, bus stations, courthouses, and trains -- anywhere and everywhere people congregate in order to bring to them the saving message of the gospel of Christ.
The Early Church Evangelized Wherever They Were
When a great persecution arose in connection with Stephen's death, all the disciples except the apostles fled to the surrounding regions of Judea and Samaria. As they were scattered abroad, they went about preaching the word wherever they went (Acts 8:1-4). In fact, those who were scattered into Cyprus and Antioch spoke the word to the Jews who lived there, and those who came to Antioch preached the Lord Jesus there (Acts 11:19-20). When Peter and John were brought before the Sanhedrin, they fearlessly preached Christ as mankind's only hope (Acts 4:7-12; 5:29-32). When Stephen was summoned before the Sanhedrin, he too preached boldly of Christ (Acts 7:1-53). When Paul and Barnabus found themselves in a prison cell, they took the opportunity to preach to the jailer (Acts 16:29-32). When Paul was brought to the Areopagus, he seized the opportunity to preach the truth of God and His risen Son (Acts 17:22-31). When Paul was about to be lynched by a mob, he took the opportunity to preach Christ and tell of his own conversion (Acts 21:37-22:21). When Felix sent for Paul in hopes of receiving a bribe, Paul spoke boldly to him of righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come (Acts 24:24-26). When King Agrippa summoned Paul before him to present his defense, Paul took the opportunity to give his testimony and sought to persuade the king to become a Christian (Acts 26:2-29). When large numbers came to visit Paul while he was in chains in Rome, he sought to persuade them concerning Jesus (Acts 28:23-29).
Thus, we see that wherever the early church found themselves, they sought to speak the truth of the gospel and expand His kingdom. Evangelism was a way of life. If through God's providence a believer found himself fleeing in persecution, in a prison cell, about to be killed by a mob riot, or summoned before kings and potentates, the response was always the same - to boldly proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The same should characterize the church today. Christians need to begin to take the message of the gospel wherever they go, whether it be to school, work, or the marketplace. Not only should we discipline ourselves to make time to go out into the world for the express purpose of spreading the gospel, but we should seek to witness for Christ wherever we are throughout the day. We can accomplish this easily enough, by simply offering a gospel tract to whoever we meet. Often, this will open the doors to deeper conversation concerning the law, sin, righteousness, judgment, hell, grace and Jesus Christ as mankind's only Savior. In the hundreds of times I have given out gospel tracts, only a handful of individuals have refused to receive one, and even then did so politely. When our zeal for Christ's kingdom and love for sinners is set ablaze by the Holy Spirit, the words will come.
The Early Church Preached The Gospel Boldly
The boldness with which the early Christians propagated the gospel is startling. seen clearly in Peter's preaching on the Day of Pentecost. Peter fearlessly pointed his bony finger in the face of his Jewish hearers and cried, "Therefore, let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ - this Jesus whom you crucified" (Acts 2:36). In effect Peter was saying, "You crucified Jesus Christ, but God has exalted Him to the supreme position in the universe, and one day He will be your judge!"
Later, Peter and John were arrested and jailed for preaching the gospel, and then brought out and set in the midst of the Sanhedrin. Yet the apostles did not cower in fear, but boldly proclaimed, "let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead - by this name this man stands here before you in good health. He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the very corner stone. And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:10-12).
When Peter and John had been released by the Sanhedrin for their "crime" of preaching the gospel, they returned to the church and prayed together that they would continue to speak God's Word with all boldness. In answer to prayer, they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak the word of God with all boldness (Acts 4:29-31). It is interesting that the early church did not pray that God would protect them from their persecutors, but rather that they would not stop preaching Christ out of fear. God delighted to honor and answer that prayer.
Furthermore, immediately upon his conversion, Paul spoke out boldly in the name of the Lord (Acts 9:28). In fact, Paul spoke so boldly, that the Jews of Damascus plotted together to kill him, so that he had to escape with his life by being lowered from an opening in the wall from a basket (Acts 9:23-25). In addition, the Hellenistic Jews of Jerusalem attempted to put him to death. The Jews of Iconium tried to stone him (Acts 14:5). Later, Jews from Antioch and Iconium were successful in stoning Paul, but God was faithful to preserve His life and raise him up again (Acts 14:19-20). With unflagging diligence, Paul immediately set about preaching the gospel in the next city. In fact, it seems that wherever Paul went, his preaching produced either a riot or a revival (Acts 17:1-6; 19:23-41). All through the book of Acts, the apostles proclaimed the gospel boldly (Acts 13:45-46; 14:3; 19:8)
Oh, how the church today needs a baptism of boldness that they might speak the word of God fearlessly as the early church did! Fear paralyzes the church from being effective in evangelism. It is like a great boa constrictor that is squeezing out its life. Of all the reasons given for not witnessing, fear stands far and away as the greatest one. When I asked the members of my church to complete an anonymous survey giving the reason they do not witness more, fear of rejection was given as the number one reason. In fact, it surfaced more than three times more often as any other reason. I don't think that is unusual. If we can overcome our fear of man, we will be well on our way to obeying Christ's command to preach the gospel to every creature.
Danny Lehmann has aptly written:
The key to handling rejection is making sure we are getting all the acceptance we need from the Father and not looking for it in the world. By its very nature, evangelism means we are uninvited people taking an uncomfortable message to a Christ-rejecting world where many will refuse it.
By finding all our acceptance in Christ, and valuing obedience to God more than worldly convenience and pleasure, we can make great strides in overcoming the fear of man.
The Early Church Understood Evangelism As The Responsibility Of All
Often in contemporary Christian circles, evangelism is assumed to be the responsibility of the professional clergy: pastors and evangelists. We make the tacit assumption that evangelism is the job of Billy Graham and Luis Palau. However, the Scriptures never make that assertion. Rather, we find Jesus instructing His disciples, "Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men" (Mk.1:17). Thus, Jesus has promised that he will make all of His disciples into fishers of men. Indeed, Jesus describes His disciples as those who lose their life for His sake and the gospel's (Mk.8:35). Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, charged them "Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ" (1Cor.10:32 - 11:1). In other words, Paul charged the entire church to follow his example in seeking the profit of the many in order that they may be saved. In Colossians 4:5-6 Paul commands the entire church to conduct themselves with wisdom toward outsiders, so that they might know how to respond to each person.
The early church obeyed the teachings of Jesus and His apostles. As we have already seen, when the church was persecuted in Jerusalem, they were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. As they went, they preached the word (Acts 8:1-4). The same thing took place as these believers made their way to Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch (Acts 11:19-20). Acts 2:46-47 says, "And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved." It stands to reason that if the entire church was having favor with all the people, and the Lord was adding to their number day by day, the Lord was working through the witness of the entire church.
Indeed, Paul could write to the Romans and say, "First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world" (Rom.1:8). To the Thessalonians Paul could write, "For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything." The entire body of Christians must have been zealously committed to the propagation of the gospel in order for their faith to be spoken throughout the known world.
In 2 Timothy 3:12 Paul informs Timothy that "all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution." Since persecution is most often leveled against those most vocal in promoting Christ and His cause, it seems apparent that Paul expected every believer to do his or her utmost to promote Christ's kingdom.
Indeed, Michael Green in his book, Evangelism in the Early Church, summarizes the witness of the early church thusly:
Communicating the faith was not regarded as the preserve of the very zealous or of the officially designated evangelist. Evangelism was the prerogative and the duty of every Church member... The ordinary people of the Church saw it as their job: Christianity was supremely a lay movement, spread by informal missionaries... The spontaneous outreach of the total Christian community gave immense impetus to the movement from the very outset.
Oh, that the church of Jesus Christ would arise as one man today and go forth to obey His command to preach the gospel to every creature, going into the highways, the streets and lanes of the city, along the hedges to compel men to come to the gospel feast provided by Christ. Surely, we would see the entire world blanketed with the good news of the gospel in a short time. But in order for that to take place, we must recover the understanding that every believer is responsible to do their utmost to spread Christ's gospel.
The Evangelistic Message Of The Early Church
Not only have our evangelistic methods shifted dramatically over the last 2,000 years, but our message has gone through subtle refinements as well.
Not "God Loves You and Has a Wonderful Plan For Your Life"
One popular manner of presenting the gospel today is to proclaim, "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life." In about the mid 19th century, evangelical churches began to give a much greater emphasis to the love of God in evangelism. Up to this point, the starting point in evangelical preaching was the holiness, justice, and sovereignty of God. Now, however, the love of God was so emphasized that these other equally important attributes of God were slowly crowded out of the message. However, if the book of Acts is to be utilized as a model for evangelistic ministry, we must admit that the new emphasis on the love of God is ill-founded. Interestingly, the love of God is never mentioned in the entire book of Acts. In fact, no where in the five evangelistic sermons in Acts (Acts 2:14-39; 3:11-26; 10:34-43; 13:16-41; and 17:22-31) do we ever hear the apostles declaring that God loves them. Now, that may seem odd to those of us who have cut our spiritual teeth on the truth "Jesus loves you," but it is just not found in the apostolic preaching of Acts. Of course this does not mean that we should not proclaim God's love and good will toward all men, and that He is willing to receive and save all who will come to Christ in faith. It should, however, cause us to pause to ask ourselves whether the content of contemporary evangelistic preaching is the same as apostolic preaching.
Furthermore, no where do the apostles promise their hearers that if they "accept" Jesus, God has a "wonderful" life in store for them. Rather, Christ requires those who wold come after Him to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow him (Luke 9:23). Furthermore, He tells His would-be followers in no uncertain terms that those who follow Him must lose their lives for His sake and the gospel's if they hope to save it (Mk.8:35). If the apostle Paul's life is any indication of what a sold out disciple will look like, we can conclude that he could face hunger, cold, persecution, and even threats on his life. There were times in Paul's ministry when he was so afflicted that he wanted to die (2Cor.1:8). Paul himself writes that "all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution " (2Tim.3:12). The Scriptures state "through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God," and that we have been destined for afflictions (1Thess.3:3). Furthermore, Jesus said that if we follow Him men will persecute us, cast insults at us, and say all kinds of evil against us falsely on account of Him (Mt.5:10-11). He even said that His followers could be called to die for Him (Mt.24:9). Certainly it is wonderful to know Jesus Christ and all the spiritual blessings that are ours in Him. Yet, if we are to be honest with the unsaved, we must tell them that following Christ will demand everything of them.
Not Temporary Benefits of Salvation
Another popular evangelistic message emphasizes the temporary benefits the sinner will receive if he will only "accept Jesus into his heart." The "seeker" is asked if he would like love, joy, and peace in his life. He is told that he has a God-shaped vacuum in his heart that only Christ can fill. Then the sinner is urged to accept Christ, so that God can make him happy, heal his marriage, and deliver him from his problems. I submit to you, that nothing even remotely similar to this message will be found in the book of Acts. There we find the apostles exhorting sinners to come to Christ in faith in order to find forgiveness of sins (2:38; 3:19; 10:43; 13:38), deliverance from utter destruction (3:23), and safety in the final judgment (17:31). The sinner is not told to come to Jesus to get love, joy, and peace, but rather that God is commanding all men everywhere to repent because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness. We must not cave in to the pressure of changing our message to make it appealing. The simple gospel of Christ preached in clarity is the power of God to salvation (Rom.1:16).
Not Christ as Savior Alone
Furthermore, one popular evangelistic message proclaimed today is that men need to "accept Jesus as their Savior" in order to be saved. Later they should learn to surrender to Him as Lord, but this is not necessary in order to receive salvation. If a new convert receives Christ as his Savior, but does not obey Him as Lord, we are told that he is simply a "carnal Christian" who is saved and eternally secure, but needs to grow in his faith. It has even got to the point where people can be saved while they are consciously rebellious against Christ's lordship. It is interesting that the Book of Acts speaks of Jesus Christ as Savior twice, and as Lord one hundred times! Scripture emphatically declares, "that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead you shall be saved" (Rom.10:9); "and having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation" (Heb.5:9); and "he who believes in the Son has eternal life, but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the rather of God abides on him" (Jn.3:36). Clearly, a response to Christ as Lord is imperative in order for a person to be saved. Certainly, a new convert does not understand all of the implications of receiving Christ as his rightful lord. But we must continually affirm that Jesus will not become a man's Savior without also becoming his King.
Well, if these modern evangelistic messages are not found in early apostolic preaching, what was their message? Though, admittedly, the apostles geared their messages differently to different audiences (basing their messages to Jewish audiences on Old Testament Scripture, while basing their messages to gentile audiences on God's creative acts), yet several themes are woven throughout their preaching. While references to God's love and the temporal benefits of salvation like love, joy, and peace are conspicuous by their absence, the themes of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection, repentance, forgiveness, judgment, and hell are prominently displayed throughout.
The Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ
The crucifixion and resurrection of Christ are mentioned in every evangelistic sermon in Acts. Peter declared, "this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. And God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power" (Acts 2:23-24). Again, He cried out, "But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murder to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses" (Acts 3:14-15). When preaching to Cornelius and his household Peter declared, "And they also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. God raised Him up on the third day, and granted that He should become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us, who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead" (Acts 10:39-41). When preaching to the Jews gathered in the synagogue in Psidian Antioch, Paul proclaimed, "And though they found no ground for putting Him to death, they asked Pilate that He be executed. And when they had carried out all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the cross and laid Him in a tomb. But God raised Him from the dead; and for many days He appeared to those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, the very ones who are now His witnesses to the people" (Acts 13:28-31). Finally, in Paul's sermon to the philosophers in Athens Paul declared that God had furnished proof to all men of a coming judgment "by raising Him from the dead" (Acts 17:31).
Notice also the emphasis on repentance in early apostolic preaching. "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). "Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord" (Acts 3:19). "God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent" (Acts 17:30).
The Forgiveness Of Sins
Further, note the constant repetition in these sermons to the forgiveness of sins. "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins" (Acts 2:38). "Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away" (Acts 3:19). "Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins" (Acts 10:43). "Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you" (Acts 13:38).
Judgment and Hell
A final emphasis in the preaching in Acts is the constant reference to either judgment or hell. "The Lord said to my Lord, sit at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet. Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ - this Jesus whom you crucified" (Acts 2:34-36). "And it shall be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people" (Acts 3:23). "And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead" (Acts 10:42). "Behold, you scoffers, and marvel, and perish" (Acts 13:41). "He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed" (Acts 17:31). Indeed, in every evangelistic sermon in Acts, reference is made to either the judgment of God or hell.
Thus, to imitate early apostolic evangelistic preaching, we must preach Christ crucified and risen. We must dwell one the fact that Christ is today the risen Lord of the universe, reigning from God's right hand, and that all men must stand before Him on Judgment Day. Furthermore, we must warn sinners that they are in danger of perishing in hell if they persist in their rebellion to Him. Finally, we must urge them to repent in order to receive the forgiveness of their sins. These five themes -- Christ crucified and risen, repentance, forgiveness, judgment and hell must again be thundered across the land in our preaching to the lost if we are to be faithful to the evangelistic witness laid down for us in holy Scripture. It should go without saying that if we are to command men to repent, they must understand what sin is, and thus, we must labor to teach them the demands of God's righteousness. By exposing lost men and women to God's righteous standards, they will see themselves as lost and undone in the presence of a holy God, and flee to Christ for mercy.
Our Journey In Striving For New Testament Evangelism
God began to awaken us at Milpitas Bible Fellowship to our responsibility to aggressive evangelism in December of 1997. When we saw that Biblical evangelism takes place as we go to sinners instead of waiting for them to come to our church services, we began to respond. We began going to shopping centers, airports, bus stations, and universities to hand out tracts and initiate conversations with unbelievers.
Eventually we began to meet regularly every other Tuesday night and ride the local light rail train. We found this a particularly welcome venue to meet and speak with unbelievers. A young man in our congregation developed a Spiritual Beliefs Survey that we began to use with great effectiveness. The Survey is a questionnaire designed to allow us to find out what an individual believes about God, sin, heaven, hell, and the way of salvation. At the end of our discussion, we would ask the person being surveyed if we could take a few minutes to share with him what we have come to know about God, sin, and the afterlife from our study of Scripture. After using the survey in over 150 situations we found that 62% of the people surveyed were willing to talk openly about the gospel, while 82% were willing to take some gospel literature. On some evenings I have taken the opportunity to stand and preach the gospel to those seated on the train. Though admittedly the first few times I preached on the train I experienced "weakness, fear and much trembling" (1Cor.2:3), it has gotten easier over time. The crowd was usually quite attentive, and somewhat receptive to the message. After delivering a 5-7 minute gospel presentation, I would walk down the aisle and hand out gospel tracts to anyone who wanted one.
During this time, we decided to write and print our own gospel tracts so that we could distribute literature fully in keeping with what we believed the Bible taught about the gospel. To date, we have written seven different tracts which we have distributed freely to hundreds of people.
As various ones began to come along to witness on the light rail train, they began to become more aggressive in witnessing to their own family and neighbors. Some have used the survey in door to door witnessing to their neighbors. Others have written bold evangelistic letters to their parents on Mother's Day or Father's Day. Still others, carry tracts in their pocket or purse and hand them out wherever they go.
The elders at Milpitas Bible Fellowship about this same time decided to invest some money into getting the gospel out to the greater San Jose area. They paid to have large signs printed bearing a picture of a man holding the world's goods walking over a tightrope about ready to break and plunge him into the flames below. The inscription, "What shall it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?" is placed in stark relief next to the picture. These posters were placed on thirty buses for during the month of June, 1998.
An interior bus poster utilizing this same picture and a brief but direct gospel presentation was printed and placed inside 400 different buses and trains in the San Jose area. Additionally, MBF is paying to place several quarter-page gospel articles in the local newspaper over a twelve month period of time.
There is no doubt that we at MBF have a long way to go. It is difficult to maintain a burning zeal for the glory of Christ in the salvation of the lost. It is very easy to make excuses when Tuesday night comes around, and we don't feel like going out witnessing. Many at MBF have yet to catch the fire for the lost. Apathy, laziness, and unconcern still plague us far too much. But thankfully, by God's grace we have begun to see Him move upon us in some measure in this area. It is my fervent prayer that He will constrain us by His love to pour out our lives more and more to see more and more men and women brought to His feet in adoring worship!