In the New Testament we see all the preaching coming from the Church as expressed in the local churches whether at Antioch, Corinth, Ephesus or elsewhere. All converts were added to the churches. All preachers were subject to the discipline of the churches and, if travelling abroad, were sent out by one church or another
(Editor’s Note: Dr. Hulse presented this material as a series of addresses he gave to The Carey Conference in 1975. We believe this material has as much, if not more, application to the church today and are reprinting it with the permission of the author. We have devided it into six separate postings: the introduction and five major points. We will run 2 of these a week over the next three weeks.)
3. A dynamic Church is the agent of evangelism
a. The Nature of the Church
That the Church is the agent of evangelism can be seen, firstly, by observing the nature of the Church and, secondly, by examining the example of the Church in the New Testament.
Our Lord commissioned his disciples to go and, “teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matt. 28:19). Those so baptized are joined to the body of Christ which is the Church. The Church is described by different analogies.
The predominant analogy is that of the human body. Each member of the Church has a function. (Rom. 12:4, the word “office” is better translated function from the Greek word prazin; I Cor. 12:12-27; Eph. 4:16.) Union with Christ by faith is essential in order to be a member of Christ’s Church. To be joined to Christ is to live or to have spiritual life.
The living union is illustrated by the analogy of the vine and the branches (John 15:1-1 1). Christ’s body, or Church, is like the vine. To abide in it is to have life but to be severed from it is to be severed from the means of grace given by Christ to his Church which leads to drying up and ultimately to spiritual death.
A further analogy is that used by Paul in Ephesians where he likens the Church to a living building. It is organic, for it is growing. The Holy Spirit dwells in this building in which all the members are like living stones, fitly framed together in harmony, union and common purpose. (See also 1 Pet. 2:5.)
Essential to the Church is the purity of her membership. The stones must be living for they are to offer up spiritual sacrifices. That they must be living is further seen in that they are to grow and increase in love (Eph. 4:16). It is self-evident that nothing will contribute more quickly to the destruction of the Church than the entrance into her visible membership of those who are hostile to her doctrines and to her Head. Christ has, however, made provision for the purity of the Church to be maintained by means of discipline.
This discipline was vested first in the apostles for the establishment of the New Testament Church and following that extraordinary period of establishment this discipline is vested in elders. Stress has been laid on the fact that the Church is a living body, this life being well illustrated by the human body, the vine and the living building. This life is exclusive. It belongs to the Church alone. Therefore evangelism emanates from the life of the Church for the enlargement of none other than the Church.
Furthermore, the body of truth upon which evangelism is based is entrusted to the Church which is “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). The truth, together with the authority to propagate, defend and maintain it, is vested in the Church alone and the Church alone is commissioned to evangelize by taking the teaching to all nations, and by preaching the Gospel to every creature. The converts or disciples that are made are added to the parent body by baptism and each one is subject to the discipline of the elders of that body.
b. The Example of the New Testament Church
This principle is illustrated throughout the book of Acts. All the evangelism issued or came from the Church. All the converts made were baptized into the Church. “Repent and be baptized every one of you,” declares Peter (Acts 2:38). When Paul writes to the Corinthians he writes to the Church at Corinth, the composition of which he specifies exactly as “them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints”. To them he writes and no other. Paul insists that discipline be maintained to preserve the purity of the body or the membership at Corinth (1 Cor. 5), just as Peter was used to maintain the purity of the Church at Jerusalem by the removal of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5).
Every true local church is an expression in an area of the body of Christ. The life of Christ is seen in that body as it can be seen in no other group of people on earth. The members of that local church are joined to Christ. They have his life and to have his life is to have dynamic life. The Holy Spirit dwells in and fills the members of the local church. Such love of people for each other the world has never seen.
This is no small factor in convincing them that the Gospel is true (John 17:21). Such unity and such affection for God and devotedness in worship as expressed in the local church the world has never witnessed. The members of Christ’s body found in the local church should have no peers when it comes to hospitality and good works. The inhabitants round about observe in them a people who suffer with meekness, who rejoice in God’s goodness, whose lives are blameless and who abound in the truth which has brought transformation and eternal life to them. Thus the dynamic local church is God’s agent for evangelism.
The whole local church is involved. All members evangelize by life and lip and support some of their number who have been recognized and set apart, not only for the oversight and the maintenance of discipline, but for the public preaching of the Word. Care is taken to fulfil the high standards of correct doctrine insisted upon by the Scriptures (Acts 20:27-32; 1 Tim. 4:16; Titus 1:9 and 2:1). Those recognized in this way lead the flock in evangelism. The work is a corporate work and the elders or leaders do not act independently but see every member as having some part to play.
In the New Testament we see all the preaching coming from the Church as expressed in the local churches whether at Antioch, Corinth, Ephesus or elsewhere. All converts were added to the churches. All preachers were subject to the discipline of the churches and, if travelling abroad, were sent out by one church or another. Even the great apostle Paul did not go unsent or independently. He and Barnabas, after prayer and fasting, were sent out by the church at Antioch and to that church they returned and reported after their journeys.
c. Wrong Practice in Evangelism Today
Independent evangelists, some of whom set up their own evangelistic organizations, are popular today. Some churches which are far from dynamic and which have poor preaching; little, if any, discipline; badly attended prayer meetings and a poor reputation in the towns where they are found, often resort to evangelistic campaigns to give them a boost. There is a flurry of activity and for a time a special effort is made to reach out to the neighbourhood. Contacts are made and there may be some additions to the church. After the excitement of the special effort all the unsolved problems emerge once more—the lack of doctrine, the lack of oversight and discipline and the lack of consistent week by week outreach.
The real problems are not solved by an evangelistic campaign. Evangelism does not produce life in the church. Rather, life in the church produces evangelism. Consistent, all-the-year-round evangelism will emerge when the churches are reformed and when due heed is given to the order which God has ordained by way of Scriptural church government, teaching and pastoral oversight. When such reformation takes place by the power of the Holy Spirit and He surges through or empowers the Scriptural order God has specified in his Word, evangelism will be irresistible and spontaneous. The people will not need to be bullied into it. Nobody will be able to stop them doing it!
Evangelistic societies which operate independently of the churches reason that they are needed because the churches are lifeless and dead. The churches, they argue, do not evangelize. Therefore, they contend, it is necessary to have evangelistic organizations to do the work. Yet these organizations appeal for money and depend on the churches for their existence. The evangelists are not subject to the authority of the churches.
Their abilities, energies and resources are not channelled into churches but into separate organizations. Their lives, their thoughts and their practice are not moulded by the realities of local church life. They are responsible for their doctrine, their practice, and their methods to no one but themselves. That the forms of entertainment and the gimmicks they use to gain an audience are harmful to the true worship of God does not concern them. They do not have to face basic issues at local church level. They are independent of the churches and can act as they please.
When evangelistic organizations become huge in power and influence their own interests are predominant and they become a curse to the churches. There may be great talk about evangelizing the world by the end of the twentieth century, but in fact an enormous sum of money and time is spent merely on promoting a colossal organization and the system of evangelistic societies as a whole. In order to bolster up and support the needs of the evangelistic societies two matters are essential.
One is the maintenance of Arminian or decisionist doctrine and the other is the promotion of Ecumenical evangelism. Should anyone preach free grace doctrine at a world Congress for Evangelism it will not make any impact for the simple reason that such convictions represent but one viewpoint among many. Synergism is the order of the day at these Congresses. Synergism is the combination of Arminian and Calvinistic concepts—the blending of truth with error. You take the five points of Calvinism, say on your right hand, and the five points of Arminianism on your left, you fold your two hands and ten fingers together and, hey presto!—perfect truth is the result!
Even the apostle Paul would be baffled by one of these Congresses of Evangelism! His voice would simply be drowned by a hundred others—huge mountains of words and papers—and the end result? —Arminianism and Ecumenism! I can well imagine Paul’s astonishment to observe the truth he made clear buried under such an enormous pile of words and papers!
Let us consider Ecumenism and its implications at the local level. Ministers of true local churches are labouring to fulfil the command of Christ to teach, preach, administer baptism and the Lord’s supper, maintain discipline and evangelize. In most cases they battle and struggle with the problem of Modernistic churches in which false ministers (wolves in sheep’s clothing) deny the faith by rejecting the authority of Scripture and such basic truths as the wrath of God, the Judgment, hell, the atonement, the deity of Christ and the necessity of the New Birth. In some parts evangelical ministers are opposed by Roman Catholic, Anglo Catholic and Modernist ministers all working together in the Ecumenical movement.
Along comes the Evangelistic Crusade which, in order to have adequate support, co-operates with all these alien bodies. When evangelical ministers are not prepared to join in and unite with such an effort they are accused of narrow-mindedness and disinterest in the great work of evangelism.
Not only independent evangelistic societies but all societies must be subject to the local churches. In no other place is spiritual authority vested but the local church. To no other place are disciples ingathered, taught and incorporated (Eph. 4:16). The Church, as represented by spiritual local churches throughout the world, is alone the object of Christ’s saving love (Acts 20:28). It is high time that we thought in terms of dynamic churches alone as God’s agent for evangelism!
Rev. Erroll Hulse, who worked with the Banner of Truth Trust, serves on the pastoral team of Leeds Reformed Baptist Church, Leeds, England, and is editor of Reformation Today, a valuable publication for those interested in reformation worldwide. He is also the author of The Believer’s Experience, published by Carey Publication