Gary W. Davenport
Christian evangelism is heralding to sinners the good news of hope in Jesus Christ. In his book God-Centered Evangelism, R. B. Kuiper wrote, "The Bible teaches plainly that evangelism is a task of the organized church."
Kuiper goes on to say that not all evangelistic efforts must be under the direct and complete control of the church as an organization, for the church is also an organism. "As an organization, it operates through its officers; as an organism, it operates through its individual members. Both the church as an organization and the church as an organism are God-ordained agents of evangelism." Hence, each individual believer is a God-ordained agent of evangelism.
As the apostolic age drew to a close in the first century, the New Testament writers understood the indispensability of ministerial office for the church's worship, edification, and witness. A continuing church would be dependent upon faithful preaching for its growth in the grace and knowledge of God. The writers also understood the place of individual believers in evangelism. Writing to Christians dispersed across a large swath of the known world in the first century, the apostle Peter said, "Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you" (1 Pet. 3:15).
Interestingly, this command was written by an apostle who himself failed to defend his loyalty to Jesus Christ, even three times before the cock crowed. And later, as an eyewitness to Christ's resurrection, this same apostle on occasion would draw back from breaking bread with Gentile Christians because he didn't want his Jewish brethren to be critical of him for doing so. For that, the apostle Paul criticized him.
Yet 1 Peter 3:15 stands. For within every believer is a readiness to give a reason for Christian hope. Readiness means that Christians are prepared to express their faith even to antagonistic and demanding unbelievers. Your Christian conduct serves as the theater that captures the attention of sinners who take notice and curiously want to know the source and reason for your good deeds and kind speech.
Sophisticated content and speech are not the prerequisites of a genuine faith that heralds the simplicity of the gospel. The Bible does not require you to be a theological know-it-all, for the lost soul in its deepest longings does not require layers of intricate explanations tightly woven together like an explanation of how to solve Rubik's Cube. The gospel accounts are full of redeemed sinners who cried out with grateful relief for having their deepest longings satisfied by rebirth into God's kingdom by the power of the gospel.
All Christians bear testimony to Christian hope. The universe pulsates in declaring God's glory. His invisible attributes are clearly seen on display in nature. To this we add the Christian's certain hope that rests in the bodily resurrection of Christ. The Spirit also pours divine love into our hearts to certify that we are heavenly children. With such broad testimony and more, why would Christians shrink back from obvious opportunities to speak of their Lord to lost sinners?
Peter shrank back because of his fear of man. This fear of man often grips us, revealing that our concern for personal loss is greater than our concern for lost sinners headed for the Abyss. Peer pressure, people pleasing, and embarrassment expose one's fear of man. Think about it. If you use an occasion with a friend to draw his or her attention to Christ's love, what will that friend think of you? How awkward will he or you feel? Perhaps you fear that he will think your Christianity is strange or judgmental. Perhaps you fear stumbling over the words you've rehearsed in advance in your head. Perhaps you are concerned about being diminished in his eyes. You may be afraid that sharing the gospel will jeopardize your relationship and forfeit future opportunities to discuss spiritual matters with him. Some may talk to sinners about their Christian hope only during those times when they feel it is safe and there is little risk to their reputation. Peter made calculated denials (to servant girls) and felt the shame deeply (Matt. 26:69-75).
Most Christians talk openly about their families, sometimes even to strangers. Talking about family seems natural. So why would Christians hesitate to talk openly with others about their Lord Jesus Christ and his church? To be sure, our allegiance to Christ exceeds all earthly relationships, and yet there can be this uneasiness in sharing one's life of faith with others. Perhaps we wonder if a sinner will be socially compatible with our church family. We wonder how someone might fit in or be received by our congregation.
Whatever social or other concerns may linger in the back of our mind, Peter's command for every Christian to "always be ready" is preceded by the accompanying command to "sanctify Christ the Lord in your hearts." To sanctify the Lord in your hearts is to love, adore, and worship him. To sanctify the Lord in your hearts serves as the positive counterbalance to quell those heart-gripping fears arising from threatening challenges faced here on earth. This heartfelt trust in Christ's lordship prepares your heart to be ready to speak. Indeed, Peter writes his letter to Christians who have been uprooted and face fearful adversity from a spiritually hostile environment.
In my church-planting work around the presbytery, I ask mission church members about the joy they experience as a worshiping body and the fellowship they share with one another through meals and other gatherings. These believers regularly assemble together to worship the Lord. They make opportunities to lovingly share their lives with one another. I also ask the members about their readiness to share their Christian hope with people in their community.
Since a mission church is new to the local community and these believers normally meet in rented facilities for an extended period of time, even years, time should be set aside periodically to discuss the witness, the outreach, of the church. How does the community discover that your church exists and come to know what she represents? Beyond the circle of friends known to your local Orthodox Presbyterian members, how will your church's name and location become known to the thousands of others in the surrounding communities? Yes, we enjoy worship and rich times of mutual edification together. Yet how do we keep ourselves from being stingy in sharing with people in our communities what we cherish?
Organizationally, a session advances the best measures for promoting the witness of the congregation (see the Form of Government, XIII.7). The best measures for promoting that witness involve supporting an array of outreach efforts that span the years. In our modern day, promoting the witness of the congregation involves organizationally reaching out through free publicity and layers of reasonably priced outreach, such as direct mail, yellow pages, websites, door-to-door materials, local displays, vacation Bible school, etc. Partnering regionally with other Orthodox Presbyterian churches can even make radio outreach financially feasible.
The 1954 OPC paper entitled "Biblical Evangelism Today" states that modern society stresses mechanical and outward adjustments to achieve desired results. This produces a characteristically mechanical approach to life. Outreach ought to be systemic in the life and culture of a session and a congregation, and was never intended to be relied upon primarily as a remedy during times of declining membership. Outreach should be systemic in a church's life and culture, not only at her inception as a mission church, but also in later years.
As an organism, the church, through her members, is poised with a readiness to express her Christian hope. As an organization, the church prayerfully seizes the opportunity to make known her presence in the community, so that as crisis and acute need arise among sinners, they may seek our churches, where the Lord's name and Word are honored, where people love one another, and where strangers to the gospel find acceptance.
The author is the regional home missionary of the Presbytery of the Southwest. He provides his own Bible translations. Reprinted from New Horizons, February 2009.