A Program of Practice

Let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

If one were to take a look at many of the blogs produced by young fundamentalists such as myself, he would find that it is becoming more common to reject virtually everything fundamentalism is known for. While it is true that some changes need to be made, and are being made, we must be careful to not change simply for the sake of change. There were and are still some things about fundamentalism that are extremely helpful. We may not all like certain details, but how we go about these things is between us and God.

One such area up for dispute is that of evangelism. As fundamentalists, we are taught that the highest priority in life – the reason God left us here on earth – is to share the gospel with the lost. Of all the commandments Jesus gave to us, the one we all call the Great Commission deals with that very thing. And so, being the movement known for its passion and zeal, fundamentalism has placed an intense emphasis on personal evangelism as well as church-organized evangelism. As many leave, or consider leaving the movement, evangelism as a program is being rejected. The reasoning seems to be, that since it is everyone’s job to preach the gospel, as long as the church is training people to do so, an organized program is not needed. Programs, after all, can easily become a substitution for one’s personal spirituality. While I agree with some of this reasoning, I conclude differently. Evangelism should be both a personal practice and an organized program.

A while ago Pulpit Magazine posted articles about evangelism in favor of the view that organized evangelism is overrated. In “Cold Evangelism“, Jesse Johnson says, “But I also note that while this form [“cold” evangelism – sharing the gospel to random people] of evangelism may be seen in the New Testament, it is by no means normative. After all, not everyone is specially gifted as an evangelist.” In “A Practice, Not a Program“, he says, “At Grace Church, our philosophy of evangelism hinges on the idea that evangelism is not a program. A church does not transform a community through activities and events. In fact, church-sponsored evangelism programs generally do not produce results.”

Now when you read the those two articles, as well as others produced under the tag “evangelism”, and the ensuing comments, you get the full understanding – emphasize each individual church member’s responsibility to share the gospel on a personal level more than their participation in church-organized evangelism programs. I want to make it clear that I agree. Johnson also posted on “Facilitating Evangelism in the Church“, which is a helpful supplement to the other articles.

I also can see why those leaving fundamentalism would want to pursue different forms of evangelism than the typical kinds we have in our movement. Door-to-door evangelism certainly has its problems. Also, the attitude displayed by some concerning this area has become a turn off for many. In larger churches, especially those with Bible colleges, one’s weekly outreach report can easily become the tangible expression of the measure of his or her spirituality. Instead of rejoicing that the gospel was preached through an encounter at a coffee shop, or a family gathering, we slipped into the attitude that said, “I put in my two hours of door knocking this week.” If such is the case, and many times it admittedly is, then this is to be rejected. But the question is still, what do we reject? Do we reject the zeal that fundamentalism has for evangelism? Do we reject exhorting church members to plug into programs? Do we reject door-to-door or street preaching altogether?

What I see in the New Testament are churches that not only shared the gospel on an individual basis, but as a family:

Acts 8:3 As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.
4 Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.
5 Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.
6 And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did.
7 For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed.
8 And there was great joy in that city.

In the above passage, we see both a group of believers (they that were scattered, note: except the apostles) and an individual (Philip) take advantage of an opportunity (persecution) to preach the gospel. The end result? “There was great joy in that city.”

Now these men and women who went everywhere preaching the word were obviously trained to do so. At the very least, they could share the gospel of Jesus Christ. What’s to say they didn’t do it in an organized fashion? Jesus trained and then sent His disciples in a systematic way:

Mark 6:7 And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits;
8 And commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only; no scrip, no bread, no money in their purse:
9 But be shod with sandals; and not put on two coats.
10 And he said unto them, In what place soever ye enter into an house, there abide till ye depart from that place.
11 And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.
12 And they went out, and preached that men should repent.

What I think we need, then, is both a church-based program in which members can participate, and a strong emphasis on personal evangelism. A proper balance would keep the program aspect from lording over people’s lives, and the personal aspect from being neglected.

Since Pulpit and other blogs have provided weaknesses in program-oriented evangelism, let me give a few strengths:

1. According to most surveys, the majority of professing believers do not share their faith on a regular basis. The training that comes from classes and videos such as the Way of the Master are extremely helpful, but nothing can replace the training that comes from experience. And that experience can be gained on a regular basis from a church-organized evangelistic program.

2. Some people never get out, and will not hear the gospel unless someone comes to their doors. Some fundamentalists have clung to Calvinistic soteriology, and would even say that God will simply put people in their lives that need to hear the Gospel. Well, that’s up for debate. What is not up for debate, however, is the command to go into all the world and preach the gospel. Instead of waiting for them to come to us, let us go to them.

3. People are saved through evangelism programs.

4. The methodology is seen in the Bible. The prophets preached in the streets.

5. It provides opportunities for people in the church.

6. It is an effective way to systematically reach everyone in the community.

Other reasons could be provided, but I believe we should be very careful what things we drop in our quest to rid ourselves of some of the more undesirable facets of fundamentalism. Thank God for evangelistic zeal. If it is misdirected at times, it doesn’t mean we need to throw it out, but rather direct it back to what it needs to be.



5 comments so far

  1. TJ on

    It’s simply a dangerous backlash of hyper-fundamentalism.
    Evangelistic programs can lead to a pragmatic routine, but it is in no way the “slippery slope” that some make it out to be.
    We become afraid of being too organized. There may not be a direct mandate for organized programs, but there is also no mandate against it. And it only makes sense that when you have a number of people to be involved you want some kind of organization.
    Truth is, the only reason for a program is for practicality’s sake. As soon as you have a group of people and a regular time to go out, you have a program.
    My pastor, who is a fundamentalist through and through, explained it in an intresting way:
    Church visitation and evangelism is like eating a meal. It doesn’t matter what time you do it or how many people you do it with. But you better do it often or you’re going to have a problem. Besides, doing it with people on a regular basis makes the doing that much more enjoyable. “And, if you’re lucky, somebody else will pay.”
    All of that was paraphrased except for the last quote.

  2. David T. on

    I have been convinced for the longest time that people just don’t want it. They don’t want me to proselytize them. They consider themselves good people and I am hateful in telling them that they face hell. It may be fact to me, but it not fact to them, rather to them it is “religion,” a story which may or may not be true. So they may commit themselves to “religious morality” but not to Christ, and that’s where they stop. In these latter days, people are dropping the “religious” and focusing on a “morality” that stands aloof from religion altogether.
    I really struggle personally with holding the conservative line on homosexuality and creationism. I know what the Bible says, and I can’t shake that. I know what the Bible says about Christ and Hell and I can’t shake that. However, ignorance is bliss. You may say, WHAT? What about not going to hell? If that’s all Christianity is, then it isn’t worth it.
    So I am searching for something more, some reason to actually spread the gospel, besides the standard “keeping people out of hell.”

  3. DT on

    Well, I see what you’re saying. But it is more than just keeping people out of hell. In fact, if that were the only motive, it would be a nightmare for us all. I think this is one reason why Christians lose confidence in evangelism. We think it all rides on us, and people’s eternal destination rests in our hands.
    This is where Calvinism is helpful to evangelism. Although I’m not a Calvinist, I love where it places the emphasis: on God and His glory. If we evangelize with this in mind, then we are doing it because we are sharing in the glory of God. We are reconciling people to God. We make sure we do our part in obeying the Great Commission…and God does the rest! It’s all from Him. It’s all about Him. This ought to be our motivating factor. We need to be so happy in Jesus that we delight in obeying His command to preach the good news. If we cease to delight in that, we need to go back to the Source and get happy in God again.
    Go, brother. Go in the power of the Lord!

  4. David T. on

    Thanks, bro. You know, I think sometimes God does not intend our witness to convert- He rather intends it to stand as a testimony and/or rebuke. They may not all be saved, but they will have seen the glory of the gospel. I need to think on this more.

  5. Paul Zeron on

    David T. —

    Here are a few verses to add on a little more:

    2 Cor 5:11-15
    11 Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences.
    12 For we commend not ourselves again unto you, but give you occasion to glory on our behalf, that ye may have somewhat to answer them which glory in appearance, and not in heart.
    13 For whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God: or whether we be sober, it is for your cause.
    14 For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead:
    15 And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.

    2 Cor 5:18-20
    18 And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation;
    19 To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.
    20 Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.

    Rom 1:14 I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise.

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