by David Y
Like many of you, I spent most of my Christian life in church world being taught that all Christians are responsible to do their part in fulfilling the Great Commission. I remember countless sermons that provided just enough guilt to make me certain I was a lousy Christian that wasn’t as effective as God wanted me to be in reaching the lost.
So, when the church organization sanctioned opportunities to be involved in programs that were purposed to “win souls”, I usually got involved. Not always because I really wanted to, but because my guilt convinced me I had better be involved in some kind of evangelism so God would be pleased with me. The pastor told us that the Great Commission is given to all believers and we are commanded to evangelize the lost.
Normally we look for commands when we need a reason to do something unpleasant. When I tell my kids to eat their vegetables, they want me to give them a command with exact specifications. They ask: Do I have to eat all of the vegetables? If not, how many? Does that include the ones mushed into the potatoes? But it’s a different story with chocolate. If I put chocolate in front of them, no command is required. That’s because there’s no reason not to eat chocolate. The same thing applies when we start asking whether we’re commanded to evangelise. By asking the question, we’re treating evangelism like kids treat eating vegetables. We’re saying that evangelism is technically a good thing to do, but we’d prefer not to do it unless we really have to. That should tell us that something has gone wrong somewhere. – Lionel Windsor (The Briefing blogsite)
Often times, my secretly-held view of typical church-sponsored “evangelism” was that it was often boring, silly and (many-times) embarrassing. This brought me to another concerning emotion; being embarrassed (I thought) was evidence that I must be ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus. Gasp! God help me! God forgive me! I prayed for boldness because I wanted to be able to tell people about Jesus without being embarrassed in the process. Maybe I wasn’t even really saved, because how could a true believer feel embarrassment about passing out tracts on a street corner or bringing an unsaved friend to church?
That having been said, I did enjoy some good times being involved in outreach endeavors and I think the Lord even spoke to my heart through some of these occasions. In fact, one of my most cherished memories was my involvement with a street outreach group called the S.W.A.T. Team that helped inner-city youth (I was involved with this group for several of my highschool years). My motives weren’t altogether impure. I really did want to please the Lord and I really did want other people to know Jesus, but looking back I see how much of my faith was centered on a very distorted image of God as my Father (not to mention Christianity as a whole). What I really grew up in was something I now like to call “church-ianity” rather than Christianity. Occasionally, the two intersected and I witnessed the goodness of God at work, despite the fog of religion. These are the good things I can point to from my past involvement in church world. Nevertheless, through each activity I thought I had to be involved with, the Lord began to open my eyes and teach me. God did work in my life in the midst of it all, just as I know He does for all those He loves and has called to Himself. I’m so glad His kindness and patience accompany His faithfulness to daily lead us to more freedom, further and further from the bondage of religion.
I remember being involved with a number of outreach programs over the years; one of which was the Power Team conference in Seattle’s Coliseum (those big muscular dudes that smash bricks with their heads for Jesus). I was about 17 at the time. As counselors, we were trained to position ourselves all throughout the stadium so that when the altar call was given, we would be the first to respond; thus giving the illusion that hundreds were coming forward to make decisions for Christ. The whole idea was to both encourage others to come forward who might be too nervous to step out into the isle, but also to put a show on for the local news cameras and the TBN recap. When I watched the news later that night, they reported on large numbers of people responding to the altar call and showed the video of hundreds stepping out of their chairs and walking down to the front. I remember when I was down front, looking for a lost soul to pray with, I had a hard time because just about every face I saw was another counselor. The whole thing really was a sham, despite whatever good intentions there might have been.
I began to see how, for the most part (in many of these kinds of programmed outreaches), “the lost” was just a label for an unknown, impersonal group of people that were not yet part of the church thing. Compassion wasn’t really part of the equation at all. Neither was a sense of calling or personal conviction. Most of these kinds of outreaches had nothing to do with seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit (even though they would sometimes have a pre-service prayer time… The truth is that, even without the pre-service prayer time, the show was going to go ahead as planned). Everything was human-organized to perfection for the show. I think, to be fair, there were folks involved that truly did want to see genuine conversions… but it’s just the method that was more apparent to me than I had noticed before. A well-tuned performance, some hip music, and an emotional appeal (and a much too-long appeal for money) was expected to draw people to Jesus… rather than simple confidence in the Holy Spirit, who is really the only one who draws hearts to the Father. Instead of preaching the Gospel, there was all this other stuff going on, purposed to entice people into a decision by manipulating their emotions. This is the problem with the whole religious system though; it relies on performance, pattern and manipulation rather than trusting God. Which often makes me wonder how many people are actually being “saved” at all.
So, what am I saying with all of this? Am I suggesting that evangelism is not important? Am I saying that the Great Commission doesn’t apply to all believers after all? The following is my opinion on this matter and I am offering it as such. I realize that some will not agree with my conclusions and others might even be offended by them. By all means, I encourage each person to seek the Lord concerning this matter. Follow the conviction the Holy Spirit gives you. I am not speaking at all in terms of “thus saith the Lord” although I do wholly believe my perspective is biblical. If you disagree, feel free to share your thoughts in the comment are below this blog. All blog posts are moderated before posting the first time. After your initial post has been approved, all future posts will appear instantly. If you have posted on my blogs before, your post show appear instantly. There is no need to submit your post more than once. If it does not appear right away, it will simply need to be moderated first. I try to check these daily.
The reason I am blogging about this is because I believe the Lord has set me free from years of condemnation and ignorance. More importantly, I now find it easier to share my faith and do not have any anxiety over the whole crazy matter anymore! My prayer is that others will find encouragement through my testimony.
To answer the question of whether or not I think evangelism is important, I will say of course it’s important because the Scripture indicates that God gave us this gift. That having been said, whether or not everyone is called to be an evangelist, my belief is NO they are not. The most basic and obvious text for this is found in Ephesians.
Ephesians 4:11 – And he gave SOME, apostles; and SOME, prophets; and SOME, evangelists; and SOME, pastors and teachers…
The Scripture is obvious that SOME are given a gift of evangelism, not all.
So what is evangelism? According to the Greek (the original language the New Testament Scriptures are written in), an evangelist is someone who proclaims glad tidings (i.e. good news). Evangelism is simply a word that describes people who have been called to preach the good news of Jesus (the Gospel) with others.
Now, what is the Great Commission? Most believers understand the Great Commission as being the instructions that Jesus left with the remaining 11 disciples before he ascended into heaven after His resurrection.
Matthew 28:19-20 – “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
From this, many Christians have concluded that Jesus’ instruction is intended for every member of His Church to go and evangelize the lost; However, here are some of my contentions with conventional logic on this subject.
1.) Jesus was talking SPECIFICALLY to 11 men (and the command was to preach this Gospel to everyone; both Jew and Gentile). There is nothing in this passage to indicate this was a “commission” to the entire Church (nor did any of the disciples reiterate that this specific commission was a mandate for the Church). If you believe I am wrong about this, please feel free to share your perspective. What other evidence is there of this conclusion? Paul, who became an apostle of Jesus after His conversion, was directly commissioned by Christ to go specifically to the Gentiles! Jesus never reiterated the same command He gave previously to the eleven. In fact, at no time throughout Paul’s ministry did he ever refer to a “Great Commission”. He spoke of his own commission by Christ and his own responsibility to follow the Master. So, to conclude on this point, I am suggesting that the so-called “Great Commission” was simply a direct instruction to eleven men, rather than a command to the entire body of Christ. In saying that, I am not intending to diminish the significance of that directive. I am simply taking the Scriptures for what they say and contrasting this to what men so often say from behind their golden pulpits along with all the guilt trips they include. I would rather lean on the truth as presented and trust the Lord to inspire and motivate evangelistic work according to His own will in each individual life and circumstance.
2.) Jesus instructed His disciples to go and, not merely preach the Gospel, but to MAKE DISCIPLES OF HIM! While the commission to make disciples certainly involves the preaching of Gospel (as Mark 16:15 clarifies), it involves much more. The disciples of Jesus were not told to simply get converts, but to instruct them in all the teachings of Jesus! Jesus did not tell them to go and make sure all these converts get plugged into institutional churches and submit to professional pastors and pay tithes every paycheck. They were given the express charge to point these converts to one Master; Jesus Himself! They were not to make followers of a religion, or of themselves, but of Jesus only!
Since this specific instruction primarily involves the work of not merely gaining converts but actually investing your life in instructing people how to be a daily student of Christ Jesus, there is no way the so-called “Great Commission” can be defined in terms of a mere crusade or evangelistic program that some religious group engages in. Jesus’ commission is NOT to simply make a convert but to make a disciple OF HIM!
Furthermore, since this commission was given to a specific number of people, and considering the fact that there are other commissions given to other believers in Christ in the New Testament (as well as evidence of many who had no commission at all, other than to live rightly and follow Jesus), I believe it is wrong to suggest to Christians that they must all follow the same “Great Commission”.
I believe that a person’s “commission”, if you want to call it that, will be personal and will be made known through their relationship with Christ. I don’t believe it’s anything that a profession pastor, standing behind a pulpit, has the authority to issue or provoke by way of guilt.
3.) The biblical context of “the Great Commission”, in my opinion, seems to represent a “world” much smaller in scope than most modern church folks tend to consider. Most believe that when Jesus said to “go into all the world”, He meant to reach every soul on the entire planet. It’s quite obvious that such a massive directive would have been technically impossible for eleven men to fulfill during the rest of their lifetimes (which we also know, from history, were cut short as most were killed for their faith). As a result of this apparently obvious impossibility, many have simply concluded that Jesus’ instruction was indirectly intended for the entire Church and could not have been intended just for the eleven disciples because a.) there is no way they could have fulfilled the obligation to “go into all the world and make the Gospel known to every creature,” and b.) they argue that they obviously did not accomplish this task. To both of these arguments, I believe there is a logical, simple and biblical answer. Scripture, on several occasions, seems to indicate that the “world” in context was much smaller in scope than “the planet”. The term “world” used in these passages are the Greek word “kosmos”, which may be used in either a broad or narrow sense. Not only that, but on several more specific occasions, this particular “commission” appears to have been fulfilled!
Romans 1:8 (NLT) – Let me say first that I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith in Him is being talked about all over the world.
Romans 16:19 (KJV) – For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil.
Colossians 1:5-6 (MKJV) – for the hope which is laid up for you in Heaven, of which you heard before in the Word of the truth of the gospel, which has come to you as it has also in all the world, and it is bearing fruit, even also among you, since the day you heard and fully knew the grace of God in truth
Colossians 1:23 (MKJV) – if indeed you continue in the faith grounded and settled, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which you have heard and which was proclaimed in all the creation under Heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister,
This, of course brings us to another issue concerning the “Great Commission” that will likely get me into more trouble with some folks. Not only does it appear this commission was given only to eleven men, but it also appears (from their own writings) that they considered it to have been fulfilled!
So, what do I believe is the responsibility of each believer concerning sharing their faith? Well, for starters, when you take the guilt and legalism out of the equation, it becomes a simple matter of personal conviction based on the level of relationship a person walks in with the Lord. Just as I would defend my closest friend and stand up for his good character and reputation because I know Him personally, the same is true of my friendship with the Lord; who is not only my closest friend, but my Master and Savior.
The Scripture also says:
1 Peter 3:15 (GW) – But dedicate your lives to Christ as Lord. Always be ready to defend your confidence in God when anyone asks you to explain it. However, make your defense with gentleness and respect.
Notice that this instruction speaks with purpose to simply be ready to defend your faith if someone asks you. Not to mention “with gentleness and respect”. How many “evangelistic” programs have we seen over the years that presented the Gospel with gentleness and respect, let alone simply in response to an inquiry or a challenge? Granted, this generally tends to put matters in a more passive mode than most of Christendom cares to teach. Some say that if every believer took a passive approach to their faith, no one would know what we believe and no one would ever come to Christ. In my opinion, that’s a pretty bold assumption that cannot possibly be qualified just by merely stating it is so. The sad fact is that many people who participate in loud evangelistic programs do not really live like Christ besides. Remember Jesus’ rebuke of the religious leaders in His day?
Matthew 23:15 (NLT) – “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are!
Jesus pointed out how the religious leaders made wide efforts to proselytize people and walked around acting religious while only being hypocrites! He was not only unimpressed by their performance, he said they were inadvertently creating converts who turned out worse than they themselves! Obviously, Jesus is not interested in mere numbers of so-called converts. He is NOT looking for more religious people to sit in the pews of local churches. He’s not just looking for people who can prophesy or work miracles in His name. He is looking for people who will walk with Him and know Him personally, who live according to His example and follow what He tells them to do!
Matthew 7:21-23 (NLT) – “Not everyone who calls out to Me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of My Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to Me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in Your name and cast out demons in Your name and performed many miracles in Your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from Me, you who break God’s laws.'”
This whole business (and, where the institutional church is concerned, yes I mean business) of “winning souls” nauseates me. It is only God who wins souls and only God who draws souls. Whether the professional pastor and his grandiose evangelistic manipulative program thinks so or not, Scripture is very clear that it is God who chooses to call whomever He wills to Himself and HE alone is the one who saves them!
John 6:44 – (BBE) No man is able to come to me if the Father who sent me does not give him the desire to come: and I will take him up from the dead on the last day.
I do not mean, by all of this, to take away from the significance or the reality that God does indeed call many to go and preach the Gospel. Nor do I wish to imply that evangelism (i.e. proclaiming the Good News of Jesus) is not that important. What I am saying is that I believe “evangelism” must come out of relationship with the Father, not some legalistic, guilt-laden burden put on people by some religious proclamation. A person who genuinely loves the Lord should naturally find it easy to share their faith when the timing is right… and timing is important! Only the Holy Spirit knows this timing so we need to keep our spiritual ears tuned to Him!
I have observed that people who have been impacted by a sense of calling from God to go and preach the Gospel are often very zealous; Sometimes so much so that they cannot fathom how anyone else could not sense the same level of urgency. Many times this zeal is expressed very outwardly and without temperance. They end up imposing their conviction on everyone else and sometimes do much more damage than good.
Granted, zeal has not always been a bad thing in every case. When God gifts someone to speak and to do it with intense zeal and conviction, it is hard to fathom them being able to do any less. Wisdom isn’t always acquired over night and all of us, though we may serve the Lord with the best of intentions, will still make mistakes. Again, this is where I must say that it is God who does the drawing and the saving and we would do well to remember this primary truth! We are but vessels for His good purposes. We are not the reason anyone is saved.
My only point here is to remove all condemnation from the matter of evangelism. Yes, I believe in evangelism, but I dare say we haven’t often seen a pure manifestation of it in today’s religious organized system. But I still believe God gifts people with a mission to share the Gospel. Of course, all of us who know this Gospel and have been changed by it are free to speak as our hearts compel us and as the Holy Spirit convicts us. We should not be afflicted by guilt because of the legalistic agendas of religious people.
If your heart wants to sing, then sing! If you are the quiet type, then do not feel condemned because of it. Love the Lord with all your heart. Trust His voice speaking to you. He is able to work through ANY willing vessel and how boring life would be if He did it exactly the same way with all of us. Just another reason religion annoys and bores me. I don’t fit the cookie cutter mold anymore. I love being free in Christ Jesus. That freedom is true freedom. This freedom sometimes scares religious folks. They think it will lead to chaos and away from the truth… but they have already allowed themselves to be blinded from the truth by thinking that Christ’s freedom is not really freedom at all but religion. His freedom leads to life, truth, peace and unspeakable joy in the Holy Spirit!
John 8:36 (NLT) – So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.
2 Corinthians 3:17 (NLT) – For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.