February 15, 2006

Great Suggestion or Great Commission?

1505 page16 capHE EVANGELISM EMPHASIS IN THE Adventist Church seeks to follow the command of Jesus in Matthew 28:19, 20: ?Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world."

This commission is basically twofold, with neither part being more important than the other. It tells us to go and baptize the nations of the world. Then we must teach them to observe all things that Jesus commanded. There is a certain amount of knowledge one should have before being baptized, but we must not think that a person has to be a biblical scholar before that event can take place. What?s needed is that people understand the essentials of the faith. Once they accept Christ and follow Him in baptism, they begin an eternity of learning of His grace.

So we?re talking here about two things: evangelism and discipleship. Evangelism is the process of incorporating people into the kingdom of God. Discipleship is helping them bring their lives under the rulership of God. We?re not merely to proclaim the good news: we?re called to make disciples.

1505 page16The Great Commission is to make disciples of all the nations. It involves far more than merely preaching biblical truth. Discipleship is the intentional nurturing for spiritual growth. Discipleship and evangelism go hand in hand. Evangelism spreads the good news that Jesus came and died to give us life; discipleship shows a person how to apply this salvation to their life. Evangelism shows people whom they need to follow; discipleship shows them how to follow. Every program of the church should be focused on one or the other of these two aspects of the Great Commission. To leave out either one is to fall short of the commission Jesus gave to the church.

In many places, unfortunately, a mistaken notion is beginning to slip in--that once a person has made a decision for Christ and joined the church, our work for them is over. They?re then left to grow on their own. Once they have rippled the waters of the baptismal tank, they are viewed as ?bagged and tagged.? If they happen to fall away after a while, the common thinking is they didn?t truly believe in the first place.

This mistaken view has also tainted the idea of true evangelism. Biblical evangelism is a lifestyle process. It?s not an event completed in four or five weeks; nor is it over at baptism. Every believer should become a daily seeker of the lost, just as Jesus was.

What if All of Us . . . !
It appears that a lot of people believe, however, that evangelism is an event in which you hire someone to come and ?fish? for souls. A church hires an evangelist to come in and ?do? evangelism for them. Once the evangelist leaves, evangelism is over for the moment, and life can go back to normal. But if every believer would actively seek the lost, contractors could not keep up with the demand for church buildings.

Our idea of evangelism needs renewal. Evangelism and discipleship are an integral part of the end-time movement that God has ordained to carry His warning message to all corners of the globe. The remnant church, like the early church, will be kingdom-focused, with each believer trained to bring people to the kingdom. The lives of the early believers had been changed in such a radical way by Jesus that they were willing to die for the Christ they preached. But they were also willing to live for Him. And so it should be for us who live in these last days.

Renewing the vision of evangelism and discipleship calls for us to remember that these concepts do not describe an event, but a process--a process lived out in the life of the believer. Each person who becomes a follower of Jesus is called to evangelism. Jesus said, ?Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men? (Matt. 4:19). He didn?t say, ?Follow Me, and I will send you out to fish for men.? Nor is this fishing something we decide to do. No, if we follow Jesus, He makes us fishers of men. It is something Jesus does in our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit. If we share Christ often enough, we will lead someone to Him!

God?s Heart for Evangelism

The Bible shows us God?s heart for evangelism. Note the following Scripture passages:

 1. Christ came to save sinners (1 Tim. 1:15).
 2. God wants everyone saved (1 Tim. 2:4).
 3. Jesus actively seeks and saves the lost (Luke 19:10).
 4. Jesus wept over lost people (Luke 19:41).
 5. The Father seeks people until He finds them (Luke 15).
 6. Jesus calls us to follow Him and to ?catch? people (Matt. 4:19).
 7. Jesus commissions us to go and make disciples in the world (Matt. 28:19, 20; Mark 16:15).
 8. Christ calls us to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8).
 9. Christ wants people to know we belong to Him (Matt. 5:14).
10. Jesus wants us to be vocal and clear about knowing Him (Matt. 10:32, 33).
11. The Lord wants us to never stop telling people the good news (Acts 5:42).
12. Christ wants us to be always ready to tell others about Him (1 Peter 3:15).
13. Jesus wants us to be His workers, His harvesters (Matt. 9:36-38).
14. Jesus wants us to act with urgency (John 9:4; 2 Cor. 6:2).

Clearly, evangelism begins in the heart of God. It?s not of human design. And something so close to God?s heart should also be close to ours.

Jesus also said in John 17:18, ?As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world? (NKJV). He stated that His mission was to seek and save the lost. He has placed that same mission on each of His followers. True followers of Jesus will seek to lead people to Him. ?The evangelization of the world is the work that God has given to those who go forth in His name. They are to be colaborers with Christ, revealing to those ready to perish His tender, pitying love.?1Everyone who receives the Holy Spirit is to witness for Jesus (Acts 1:8).

Why should evangelism be important to an Adventist church? Because it is important to God; He wishes that none be lost, but that all come to a saving knowledge of the truth. ?Those who have Christ abiding in the heart will have a love for the souls for whom He died.?2

Evangelism and discipleship are not the work of only a select few. ?There are those who for a lifetime have professed to be acquainted with Christ, yet who have never made a personal effort to bring even one soul to the Savior. They leave all the work for the minister. He may be well qualified for his calling, but he cannot do that which God has left for the members of the church.?3

Yes, God has blessed some people with the gift of evangelism; part of their work is to help all the others do their part. The gifts of the Spirit are to build up the church, and we must not use the excuse that this area of ministry is ?not my gift.? Jesus has made all His followers fishers of men. ?You are not to wait for great occasions, or to expect extraordinary abilities, before you work in earnest for God. You need not have a thought of what the world will think of you.?4

My point is that each of us has special gifts that God has given us to bring people to Him and to help nurture them. Not every one is called to knock on doors, and not every one is called to preach a sermon; but all are called to make disciples in some way. Some are gifted in hospitality, some with helping, some with prayer--the list goes on. But all gifts are designed to complete the Great Commission and make disciples. Each person is called to work within their abilities and giftedness to build people in Jesus. Each person?s unique temperament, abilities, and circumstance will help direct how they will fulfill the Great Commission in their own lives.

?It is in doing Christ?s work that the church has the promise of His presence. Go teach all nations, He said; ?and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.? To take His yoke is one of the first conditions of receiving His power. The very life of the church depends upon her faithfulness in fulfilling the Lord?s commission. To neglect this work is surely to invite spiritual feebleness and decay. Where there is no active labor for others, love wanes, and faith grows dim.?5

Evangelism must become part of our core value systems. We must intentionally seek to spread the gospel. It is not enough merely to live a good life and hope that others will find Christ through our example. We should also tell people why we live such a life. We must share what Jesus has done for us. We cannot expect that evangelism by osmosis will always work; we need to tell people about the One who changed our lives. We should not fool ourselves into thinking that just because we gave a mission offering or a little extra money to fund a prophecy seminar, we have fulfilled the Great Commission.

Think of What Could Be!
The evangelistic event itself will produce much more fruit if each of us is involved in working our God-given portion of the vineyard. ?Each has [their] place in the eternal plan of heaven. Each is to work in cooperation with Christ for the salvation of souls.?6 If every member of the worldwide church would truly do their part to fulfill the Great Commission in their experience, the current membership could more than double in less than two years.

As followers of Jesus we must live lives surrendered to Him, obeying His commands--including the command to preach the gospel and disciple those who choose to follow Him. In this way we become coworkers with Him, benefiting not only others, but ourselves as well.

1 Ellen G. White, A Call to Medical Evangelism and Health Education, p. 7.
2 White, Counsels on Health, p. 32.
3 White, The Desire of Ages, p. 141.
4 White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3,
p. 247.
5 White, The Desire of Ages, p. 825.
6 White, Christ?s Object Lessons, pp. 326, 327.

Christopher Jones pastors in Magnolia and Eldorado, Arkansas. He is the speaker/director for ExploringRevelation.org.