Evangelism in America has almost reached a point that it is taboo to practice. According to The Barna Group 30% of Christians that are converted in America never seek out to tell one person about their faith. Is it because that they are not truly saved? Perhaps is it because of a false teaching about evangelism? Maybe it is because of a fear that the people will reject them or that the evangelist may seem intolerant of the other person’s belief? In any case, Christians are commanded to go and tell others about what Jesus did and who he is. But just how are Christians to go about doing this? Are they to develop a relationship with people before deciding the correct time and method? What about the outline of the message? Should the gospel presentation start with the creation story and explain about the fall of man? Or, should the Old Testament law be the sole method of introducing the high standard of God? What about the response? When is the appropriate time to ask the person for a decision? When does baptism take place?
According to some Evangelicals such as Ray Comfort, the modern day gospel message has deteriorated and steered away from the biblical practice. Comfort further says that this modern gospel have led to false conversions. Some have even gone so far as to say that the message does not need to be preached but that God has already “picked” who has been saved. Some have stated that the Great Commission was given to the Apostles and that the commandment was never meant to be passed on to the next Christians. The fact remains that the Great Commission is applicable and is expected to be obeyed. Many misconceptions of the gospel presentation can be summed up by a careful examination of the gospel presentation events within scripture. The timing of the presentation, the relationship between the presenter and the hearer, the content of the presentation, the timing of the invitation, and timing of the baptism will be briefly examined in this paper.
Relationship and Timing Issues in Evangelism
In the question of whether or not the evangelist needs to first develop a relationship with the person being evangelized, one must consider the passages in which a relationship was not achieved until after or not at all. Jesus did not develop a personal relationship with the people he encountered but instead presented spiritual things as though it was the most important topic. He intentionally turned the conversation to raise the question in the hearts of the hearers of who He was!
In John 3:1-12 Jesus was met by a Pharisee named Nicodemus. He was obviously a learned man and had power among the Jews because Jesus referred to him this way. However, Nicodemus didn’t want to be seen with Jesus so he met with him under the cover of darkness. The relationship building at this point was merely a coincidental familiarity. They both recognized each other but had no intimate dealings. Nicodemus used the respect that one gives to an authority by calling him Rabbi. Jesus used what he knew of the Sanhedrin and Pharisees and brought up the answer to the unasked question. He knew that Nicodemus was well educated and told him what seemed absurd to lead up to the evangelistic topic. He used being born again to parallel the difference of flesh and spirit.
In John 4:1-42 Jesus had no prior relationship to the Samaritan woman and yet he turned the conversation from the things of this world to the spiritual. He used what He knew about Samaritans and made an opportunity to testify about himself.
Paul’s timing was the same as Jesus. In Acts 16:6-15, Paul was on his way to the river just outside the city gate where he stopped to talk to a group of women. Lydia was in the audience and listened to his speech and became “a believer in the Lord.”
Again in Acts 17:16-34 Paul was being heard concerning his testimony. He was eventually asked a question about the subject matter and he proceeded to relate something familiar to them. Paul used the monument to the Unknown God to tell them about Christ. He again did not wait to begin a relationship.
In Acts 24:1-27 Paul was put on the spot by the High Priest and eventually the Governor. Paul still wasted no time and used the opportunity to tell the Governor, Felix, the reason he is preaching the way he does. It is here that we see that Felix is the one who sends for Paul to listen to the things concerning “the subject of faith in Christ Jesus”.
In all of the above cases, the relationship was never based on a building of a long term friendship first then presented with the gospel. It always began with a finding of a commonality between the speaker and listener. Then the conversation always turned from the carnal to the spiritual. It can be concluded that all encounters of Christians need to start with some type of link between them and the hearer then transition to the spiritual things.
The Evangelistic Content of the Gospel
The content of the gospel is in sorts a finicky subject. The theology and the doctrines of the content cannot be disputed, however, the sections can be picked from. In other words, the hearer of the gospel may not respond best to hearing that he is a sinner doomed for eternal torment. Instead the hearer may respond to the reason that Christ is being preached. Although each part of the gospel such as the unattainable standard of God, is important as any other part of the gospel. The order may not be as important but the exclusion of Jesus who he was and what he did is central and must be included in every presentation.
In Mark 1:14-15 Jesus proclaimed the gospel by stating that the time has come and that they should repent and believe. Jesus was telling his hearers that what they have been hearing about has come true that very day! He didn’t try and get them to have a sense of lostness and hopelessness before he gave them the good news. He simply said that the good news is here. Jesus was the fulfillment of what they were looking for.
Paul clarifies the gospel to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 by saying that what he has told them in the past is not as important as the central message of the gospel. This can be found in the last part of verse 3 and all of verse 4. Christ died for our sins and that He was buried and raised the third day, just as what was prophesied in the Old Testament. Paul had no real outline of evangelism other than his revelation given to him by Jesus. Instead he used the parts of the gospel that the hearers needed to hear at that moment. In 2 Corinthians 5:14-21, Paul expands the gospel message to include the sacrifice of Christ along with the transformation the new believer experiences. He centralizes that it is because of Christ that the sinner is made righteous and that Jesus was the perfect sacrifice because he “knew no sin”.
The evangelistic content of the gospel, no matter how it is presented, must include the person and work of Jesus. The order of presentation is not important but rather it meets the needs of the hearer. In the above passages of scripture the centrality of Christ is the obvious main content and will always meet the need of it hearer.
The Evangelistic Invitation
Invitations are sometimes either left out or done improperly. The call to make a decision after the gospel presentation is always found in scripture. The few verses that follow illustrates that the hearer must make a decision at that very moment. It may seem to put them on the spot but looking back at scripture Matthew 13, the devil snatches the understanding up if the gospel isn’t fully understood. Therefore the hearer possibly will remember the encounter and either have a bad experience or continues in this misguidance.
Jesus called for an immediate decision in Matthew 4:17. He said that the kingdom of heaven is near and that they should repent at that particular moment. Likewise, two instances in the book of Acts called for an instant decision to be made. First in Acts 3:11-26, Peter took advantage of the audience’s attention after the healing of the lame man. He called for the crowd to repent and turn from their ignorant ways. The second instance was when Paul was brought before King Agrippa to defend his case found in Acts 25:23 – 26:32. He gives a lengthy testimony and then in verse 27 Paul calls for the king to make a decision. 2 Corinthians 6:1-2 Paul preaches that “now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation!” He pleads with the hearers that it is an urgent act.
In each of the above instances the invitation was immediate and given with a sense of urgency. The call was that of the hearer to turn from their way and stop doing what they were doing. They were to repent and do it at that particular moment.
New Believers and Baptism
Baptism and the timing of the act has sometimes lost its scriptural significance. Some churches have taken baptism and demoted it to merely a work that a new Christian must do. Although it is almost always followed immediately after the moment of salvation, the mode is often performed incorrectly. The timing of baptism, according to the instances found in scripture should always follow immediately after conversion.
The passage regarding the new believers in Acts 2:37-47 illustrate that they were evangelized in such a way that they wanted to be identified with this new belief and so the baptism was right after the conversion. The two instances of the Ethiopian Eunuch and the Roman jailer found in Acts 8:26-40 and Acts 16:16-34 respectively both illustrate that the need for an immediate baptism was felt following the conversion.
The sense of urgency was almost as if the new convert couldn’t bear to not be identified with Christ. So therefore the first act of obedience was an immediate baptism. The conclusion to the matter of the timing of baptism is that it is always follows the conversion and repentance.
New Believers Who Prove to be Unfaithful
Ray Comfort is known for his sermon “Hell’s Best Kept Secret”. In it he talks about the false conversions and gives his analysis of the reason this happens. Whether he is right or not, the bible is clear that there will be false converts along with the actual converts. The bible also gives some indicators as to what will happen to them and how to spot them.
The person who hears the gospel and does not make a decision or doesn’t understand it may be unfaithful. Illustrated earlier in this paper, Matthew 13:1-23 tells of the parable of the gospel being sown and the roots not being fully strengthened. Then the devil comes and “snatches” the understanding and the new convert is unfaithful. In this same passage, the cause of unfaithful is illustrated as weeds. The weeds are allowed to grow along with the good grain but burned up at the harvest.
Some new believers became believers for the wrong reasons and motivations. Acts 8:13-25 tells of a man named Simon who used to practice sorcery. He saw the apostles laying hands and the person receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. Simon’s motivation was that he wanted to take part in this and offered to buy the gift of the Holy Spirit. Then Peter rebuked him and told him that it couldn’t be bought and that he needed to repent and pray that his heart would be changed. Simon was even described as being a believer and that he was baptized, yet he was missing the Holy Spirit which indwells all believers.
Not all who were in the early church were true believers. The case of 1 John 2:19, the church was described as having some who left the church. John said later that if they had been part of us they would have remained with us and in the church.
New believers prove to be unfaithful by being deceived and snatched away if the gospel isn’t fully explained to them. Some unfaithful converts have not had their heart changed and become Christians for the wrong reasons. Perhaps for monetary gain or fame like Simon. Unlike the unfaithful believers in 1 John, the faithful remained with the church. What did the local church do? They let them leave because it proved that they did not belong to them and that whatever testimony they had was not valid and couldn’t led others astray.
The modern gospel message and the evangelism techniques have long been debated. The timing of the presentation, the relationship between the presenter and the hearer, the content of the presentation, the timing of the invitation, and timing of the baptism have all been examined in this paper in accordance with the scriptures. The conclusion is that the evangelist does not need to develop an intimate relationship with the hearer before being given the gospel presentation. The appropriate timing of the presentation is always at the present. The content of the gospel must be centralized with Christ and ended with a call for a response. Baptism is always found to follow the conversion and is usually immediate. False converts will always be among the true believers and they need to be sought out and either called to repentance or left out of the church as a testimony.