The Great Commission is the manifesto that commission’s believers to habitually practice evangelism. Everything in a believer’s life is corollary to this solemn responsibility. The church must be the citadel that recapitulates the necessity of evangelism, and preachers must epitomize love and intrepidity when adjuring the populace. Even if a pastor is ill-informed on evangelistic pedagogy or if a new believer is in the rudimentary stages of Christianity, they must be reminded that Gospel boldness in evangelism emanates from our effectual calling. Charles Spurgeon once said: “Have you no wish for others to be saved? Then you’re not saved yourself, be sure of that!” The purpose of this article is not to cause dissonance or be captious towards anyone who does not evangelize. Rather, this article is intended to awaken the church from its aberrations of dead evangelism.
The word evangelical is unfortunately the antilogy that has caused pejorative debates over its definition. The English word evangelism comes from the Greek word εὐαγγέλιον (euaggelion) which basically means Gospel or good news. The Scriptures declare the Gospel as the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16), and demands believers to remain unyielding and unashamed (Mark: 8:34-38). If a person professes to believe in the Gospel but will not evangelize due to fear of reprisal or unpopularity, then here is a plausible question to ask: What good is your faith if you do not put it into practice? Sadly, it is not only lay people that abdicate their responsibility to witness, it is also pastors. Paul Washer provides a possible explanation (preface) why: “people are not Gospel hardened; they are Gospel ignorant because many of their pastors are.”
Authentic or Vitiated Witness?
What happens when evangelism is not put into practice? Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” If a professing believer is always inaudible about their faith and fretful of being held in derision for witnessing, then it can easily be deduced that discipleship training would be imperative. There are several plausible reasons why self-professing believers will not witness. Here are a few examples: (1) worried about not being liked or held in disrepute; (2) fearful of disputations or quarrels; (3) wise in their own eyes; (4) ashamed of the Gospel; (5) biblically illiterate, (6) or unregenerate. Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 8:34-38, Romans 1:16; 2:13, and James 2:17 and would be helpful studies to overcome the aforementioned reasons.
There are voluminous evangelical ministries that offer academic training and mentorship for pastors. It is not uncommon to meet a reformed preacher who is zealous about academics and has a true affinity for reading books, which are advantageous to spiritual development. If pastors are going to be trained by any ministry that espouses “shepherding pastors,” then this underlying theme must be taught by example: evangelism is not a theoretical practice; it is an indispensable command! Here are a few questions for those evangelical ministries that train pastors and also to my fellow reformed pastors who are advocates of academia and reading solidified books:
First, what good is your ability to train pastors or exegete a text historically, grammatically, and typologically if you do not evangelize (witnessing in community, sharing the Gospel with unsaved family members and friends, street-preaching, passing out tracts, etc)? If you respond by saying, “I am not called to evangelize,” you are correct. You are not called, you are commanded (Matthew 28:19)! There are several biblical and historical examples that you can emulate who typify evangelistic rigor (e.g., Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Paul, Whitefield, and Spurgeon). You must be the example to your entrusted flock (1 Peter 5:3)! If you say, “I preach to my church, that’s my calling,” then you must answer the next two questions:
Second, how do you preach on evangelism to your church when you do not evangelize yourself? Do you not practice what you preach? The Master warned about certain men who told others to do something that they would not do (Matthew 23:3-4). If you do not possess the desire or calling to be an evangelistic example to your flock, then maybe you’re not called! If you are content with a stable (pastoral) job with a respected paycheck and refuse to be an evangelistic example to your flock, then maybe it’s the paycheck that you are called to receive. You must determine if your calling is authentically Gospel centered or false and vitiated. Either you possess the vehement desire to witness out of an inexpressible love for sinners, or you possess the attributes of a trifling pastor who contemptuously tells others what they are doing wrong in evangelism while they themselves do not evangelize at all.
Third, if you do not put your faith into practice by evangelizing then what profit have you gained from your seminary academics, erudition, and robust book collection? It would be absurd to hear about an aspiring medical student who endured laboriously to graduate, then never practiced medicine. It is also absurd to hear about a preacher who professes faith in Christ but will not witness. If you do not evangelize, your seminary degree and books will be nothing more than a compilation of inconsequential rubbish. According to Martin Luther: “You may as well quit reading and hearing the Word of God, and give it to the devil, if you do not desire to live according to it.”
Embracing evangelism does not mean to espouse all of the cultural gimmicks that are gross misrepresentations of the Gospel. Telling unsaved people that God loves them and died for them is not evangelism. Providing inventive principles in worship so carnal people can experience spiritual euphoria is not evangelism. Preaching palatable and innocuous sermons is not evangelism. Being contentious or disputatious on Facebook is not evangelism. The new Reformed fad of wearing skinny jeans, growing long beards, showing tattoos, drinking beer, smoking cigars, boasting about robust book collection, lauding about favorite seminary, and using the “relevant” gimmicks on church slogans is not evangelism. Sharing the Gospel is!
If unbelievers are by nature servants of sin, subjects of death, and do not desire God, then how can they hear the good news without a preacher? It is impossible to earn merit or favor with God by keeping the law because salvation is freely given by His Grace. Christ received the imputation of (His elect) sin willfully and voluntarily submitted himself to be desecrated by wretched men. He received afflictions that are unfathomable to carnal reasoning. His appearance was so marred beyond human semblance and He suffered the pangs of hell that everyone deserves. The sinless Christ did not sip the full cup of divine wrath; Christ had the full cup of divine wrath splashed in His face and was pulverized with a fierce and torrential rage from His Father.
If this article offends you, is it because the article contradicts itself? Or because it contradicts you? If you are in Gospel ministry or you call yourself a Christian, you must be willing to be a public spectacle for Christ. There is no excuse for a Christian not to witness! You can pass out Gospel tracts or witness when you are at work, go to the grocery store, restaurant, dropping off kids at school, or by calling unsaved family members or friends. How can anyone you know ever know the love of Christ if all you do is warm the pews and never put your faith into practice? Remember what the Lord commanded:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20)
About the author Sonny Hernandez is an evangelist for Jeremiah Cry Ministries and is also a Chaplain (Captain) in the Air Force Reserves. He earned a Doctorate in Pastoral Leadership from Tennessee Temple University. He is the author of Reforming the Church of Tradition: A Sunday School Sermon Project, and is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society.