Evangelistic Responsibility

T. David Gordon

The dominant view of evangelistic responsibility in our day may be called the "universal" view of evangelistic responsibility, because it teaches that evangelism is a responsibility incumbent upon every believer. To evaluate this view that believers are universally responsible to evangelize, we must first examine what the Bible does in fact teach about this important topic, identifying any inadequacy or error involved in the view. Finally, we must consider the practical ramifications of this issue.

The Selective View of Evangelistic Responsibility

The New Testament teaches few things as clearly as it does the diversity of gifts given to the body of Christ. Questions may remain about the passages related to gifts, but what is not questioned is the clarity with which Paul teaches that gifts are distributed differentially through the church. Implicit in this general teaching is that believers have different gifts, and, consequently, different responsibilities. Does this differing responsibility include evangelism as well, or is evangelism a responsibility incumbent upon every believer?

Romans 12:4-8. "For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them ..."

It is important to note the parallel usage of "function" and "gifts."[1] Gifts are to the church what functions are to the body; they are things which are operative. We are to employ gifts, because non-functioning gifts are not gifts at all, just as non-functioning body parts are no better than no parts at all. And, these various parts have different functions. As Paul says, we have gifts that differ. This, as a general statement, establishes a recurring principle in Paul's writings. Our gifts differ. We do not have, or need to have, identical gifts, any more than the body needs to have identical parts.

1 Corinthians 12:4-7. "Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord, and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good."

As in Romans 12, so also here, there is a parallel established between gifts, service, and working.[2] Our gifts differ, which is another way of saying our service differs, which is another way of saying our workings differ. For Paul, we have differing gifts, and we do different things.

Later (v. 12ff.), Paul constructs the well-known metaphor of the body that has many members and yet retains its unity, despite the differing functions of the members. Although the various members have different functions, they are all necessary, so that one member cannot say to another, "I have no need of you." This suggests, at least generally, that a variety of services or gifts are necessary in the church, but that there are no services common to all. "If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell (v. 17)?" It may not be inappropriate to ask, "If the whole body were an evangelist, where would be the administrators?"

At the end of 1 Corinthians 12, Paul asks a series of rhetorical questions, each of which implies a negative answer.[3] "Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?" Of course, the answer implied suggests that there are indeed different gifts and different functions within the body of Christ.

Ephesians 4:11. Perhaps one of the clearest Pauline passages related to the specific question of evangelistic responsibility is Ephesians 4:11. "And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers ..." The text treats evangelists as it does prophets, apostles, pastors, and teachers. There is no indication that everyone should be all of these. Further, there is no indication that evangelism is singled out among these other functions as the one function all should have. This passage does contain the difficulty that it may very well be discussing particular offices, some of which may not be perpetual. For those who understand the passage this way, the text is less germane to our discussion than other texts. By any resolution of that question, however, Paul's principle of differentiated service is affirmed.

The three passages summarized. These texts do not specifically prove the selective view of evangelistic responsibility. They do, however, prove that gifts, services, and functions differ within the church, and one of them does specifically mention evangelists as those who are different from prophets, apostles, pastors, and teachers. Further, they shift the burden of proof to those who would suggest that evangelism is a responsibility incumbent upon us all. They require some reason for saying that everyone must evangelize, without saying as well that everyone should teach, administrate, or pastor. These passages demonstrate that, generally speaking, we are not to expect everyone in the church to have the same gifts, the same functions, the same service. Some additional argument would be necessary in order to prove that the general teaching of these passages is altered when evangelism is the particular responsibility considered.

Analysis of the Universal View of Evangelistic Responsibility

Certainly the "majority report" of evangelical Christianity in our day suggests that every believer has a responsibility to evangelize. John R. W. Stott[4] propagates this view, as does J. I. Packer, who says, "He who does not devote himself to evangelism in every way he can is not, therefore, playing the part of a good servant of Jesus Christ."[5] In fact, the popular support for this universal view is so widespread that few would consider it to be debatable. It is a matter whose veracity is assumed, more than argued. Nevertheless, arguments have been made, in an effort to establish this view, and we turn to a consideration of these arguments now. Prior to evaluating these arguments, it is important to make two clarifications. First, the following list of arguments is not intended to be exhaustive, but representative. There may well be other arguments advanced for this view. But the following are, in my judgment, the most common and influential ones; additional ones will probably be variations on these themes. Second, the critique of the position held does not in any way reflect my judgment about the Christian character or commitment of those who hold this view. It is not the proponents of the view, but the view itself, that is under consideration.

The Great Commission. The commission of our Lord, recorded in Matthew 28:18-20, has frequently been cited by those who defend the universal view of evangelistic responsibility.[6] Those who cite the commission in defending the universal view tend merely to assert that the commission defends this view; they do not argue the point. This is regrettable, because their argument would certainly contribute to the discussion if it were available, and, because the commission does not appear to be properly employed in the defense of this view.

The commission is addressed to the eleven disciples/apostles.[7] Because of this, one's understanding of the apostolate influences one's understanding of the commission. If the apostles are paradigm Christians, exemplars[8] of the Christian faith, then we are to do what they do, and everything addressed to them is addressed to us. If, on the other hand, the apostles have at least some unique functions[9] in the history of redemption, then one must always bear in mind the possibility that some things are addressed to them in terms of their unique functions. In particular, one must keep in mind that the apostles were the foundation upon which the church was established (Eph. 2:20), having some foundational responsibilities that would not be repeated. Two contextual considerations allow us to understand the commission's responsibilities to extend through the apostles to the church more generally. First, the geographic/ethnic parameters of the commission (all the nations) are so broad that the apostolate could not (and did not) complete the commission's requirement. Second, the temporal bounds of the commission appear to extend until the consummation of all things ("until the end of the age"). Thus, while the apostles are the ones to whom the commission is originally addressed, it appears that the responsibility entailed therein extends beyond the apostolate to the church of which they are the foundation.

If it is granted that the responsibility entailed in the commission extends beyond the apostolate, then one must ask a second question: is the commission addressed to the church, as a corporate entity, or to its individual members, as individual entities? Expressed differently, is the commission the responsibility of every believer, or is it the responsibility of the church, each believer playing a particular role? Rather obviously, even the wealthiest individual believers cannot go into all of the nations, so this aspect of the commission is clearly beyond the possibility of any individual believer. Further, we surely would not expect every individual believer to have or exercise the prerogative of baptizing people. Prima facie, therefore, it appears that the church as a corporate entity has the responsibility to fulfill the commission, and its individual members are responsible only to contribute to the church's overall mission.

Of what, then, does the commission consist? What does the commission require of the church? Some missions agencies and evangelists have tended to assume that the commission is directed specifically to the activities that they perform. This assumption must be challenged.

The commission itself consists of one imperative and three participles (one of these complemented by an infinitive). The imperative is the predominant idea of the commission, and the participles explain this idea more precisely. While some grammarians have spoken of an "imperatival" participle, those who do so recognize that it is a last ditch effort to describe the function of a participle in a context where there is no main verb, or where the main verb is somewhat distant from the participle.[10] In contexts where there is a main verb, the participle functions dependently, to describe further the main verb, delimiting it in a variety of ways. In our context, the main verb is the imperative μαθητεύσατε (mathēteusate) "Make disciples." Dependent upon this are the three participles, πορευθέντες (poreuthentes), βαπτίζοντες (baptizontes), and διδάσκοντες (didaskontes) (which is itself complemented by the infinitive τηρεῖν [tērein]). Thus, the "going," baptizing," and "teaching" are subordinate to the command to make disciples. A formally equivalent English translation would read, "Going, therefore, make disciples ... baptizing them ... and teaching." This matter is not terribly clear in the English translations, many of which translate the first participle as though it were an imperative, "Go." These translations then insert the word "and" between this and the imperative about disciple-making, leaving the impression that at the most, discipling is parallel in importance with going, and at worst, subordinate to it. Such translations reverse the emphasis of the original text. The original text establishes the priority of discipling, and defines the discipling by the three dependent verbs.

The discipling spoken of in Matthew 28 is specified by the three participles. The first, πορευθέντες (poreuthentes), suggests that the discipling of all the nations is not to be passive, but active.[11] The apostles, and the church, are to go among all the nations, and not to wait for the nations to come to them. The discipling is to be active, aggressive. The second participle, βαπτίζοντες (baptizontes), requires that the discipling include visible association with the church, through the initiatory rite of baptism. Perhaps by synecdoche, this participle includes all of the evangelistic activity that precedes the rite itself, since it is unlikely that this suggests the indiscriminate baptizing of people who know nothing of the gospel. The third participle, διδάσκοντες (didaskontes), is complemented by an infinitive, τηρεῖν (tērein). The discipling includes not only instruction, but instruction eventuating in obedience. Further, the obedience is comprehensive. Those who are discipled are to observe "everything, whatsoever I commanded you."

Summary of the Commission. Taken as a whole, the commission is far more comprehensive than is normally understood.[12] It consists of the aggressive, worldwide discipling of people who are initiated into the visible communion of Christ, increasingly obedient to everything he commanded. Evangelism is only an aspect of the commission; it is not its distilled essence. Obedience to the commands of Christ is the goal of the commission; not merely initial conversion. Further, this very comprehensiveness excludes the possibility that it can be fulfilled through the efforts of any particular individual. No individual within the church can possibly be responsible for fulfilling the commission, and no individual is without responsibility to contribute in some way or ways to its fulfilling. But this contribution need not consist of active involvement in evangelism. Those who are instructing others in the content of our Lord's teaching, or who are encouraging (or praying for) others to obey our Lord's teaching, are no less participants in the commission than are evangelists, whether foreign or domestic. There is nothing in the commission itself to suggest even remotely that evangelism is more important than the other aspects of discipling, and nothing in the commission suggests that each believer must do every aspect.

1 Peter 3:15. Frequently, this text is cited in the effort to prove that each believer has the responsibility to be actively involved in evangelism. Beginning with the final clause of the previous verse, the text says, "Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defense (ἕτοιμοι ἀεὶ πρὸς ἀπολογίαν, hetoimoi aei pros apologian) to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence ..." The antecedent of the pronoun, "them," in v. 14b is the ones who persecute believers (see context). Rather than fear such troublemakers, Peter exhorts the church to have reverence (fear!) for Christ instead, and with respect to those who persecute, to be prepared to give to them a reason for the church's capacity to be hopeful under such circumstances, if called upon to give such a reason.

This passage is written particularly to those who are suffering on account of righteousness, who may very well be asked to explain why and how they endure their suffering. Since, prior to our Lord's return, suffering is always either our experience or our potential experience, it is appropriate to understand this passage as having at least potential application for each individual Christian.

The passage teaches nothing directly about evangelism. In fact, it does not require the recipients to do anything; but to be prepared to do something. The content of what is required is not specifically the gospel message, but rather the reason for the believers' willingness to endure suffering. The goal of the activity is not the conversion of the interrogators, but rather, the shaming of those who punish the well-behaving Christians ("so that those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame," v. 16). This passage is far from the aggressive "going" of Matthew 28:20. Properly, the passage has nothing to do with evangelism. It is defensive, not offensive; passive, not aggressive;[13] designed to shame the unbeliever, not to convert the unbeliever. The responsibility it describes may very well be potentially universal (any Christian could be persecuted at some point, and could be asked to explain why he remains hopeful in the midst of such), but it is not evangelistic.

Specific apostolic commissions. Several New Testament passages address the evangelistic responsibilities of the apostles. Occasionally, such passages are corralled in the effort to establish the universal view. For example, 2 Corinthians 5:18ff. is sometimes employed to this end: "God making his appeal through us." Stott cites this text in attempting to establish the universal view,[14] yet without making any comments about the specific nature of the apostolate. That the "we" refers to the apostolate could indeed be challenged, since in this chapter, Paul appears to use the first person plural in two ways, to refer either to Christians in general, or to Paul and his fellow-workers more specifically. But no such argument is offered. Nor is there any argument that the "we" does not refer to the church as a corporate entity. It is apparently assumed that the "we" refers to each specific, individual Christian. Since the issue is so important, it does not seem wise to settle it on the basis of an assumption. Further, the immediate context suggests that Paul is referring to ministers, not believers.

Similarly, Acts 1:8 is often cited in an ostensible effort to defend the universal view: "and you shall be my witnesses ..." Contextually, it is clear that this promise is made to the apostles (τοῖς ἀποστόλοις, tois apostolois, v. 2), to those to whom the Lord had appeared visibly (ὀπτανόμενος, optanomenos, "appearing," v. 3; ὑπέλαβεν αὐτὸν ἀπὸ τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν αὐτῶν, hupelaben auton apo tōn ophthalmōn autōn, "from their sight," v. 9). These apostles are indeed to be witnesses to the risen Christ. Luke understands this group to be, in his own words, "eyewitnesses (αὐτόπται, autoptai) and ministers of the Word" (Luke 1:2). Both Allison A. Trites and Ned B. Stonehouse[15] describe the unique character of the apostolic eyewitness account of the resurrection of Christ. They did not merely give witness to the character of their religious experience, sublime though it may have been. They gave witness to the appearance before their very eyes of an individual formerly dead. In this sense, their particular witness is unrepeatable. The church after the apostles can call attention to the apostolic witness, but it cannot duplicate it. Perhaps most importantly, as Trites ably demonstrates, "witness" here is not primarily an evangelistic term. It is a forensic or judicial term, which denotes a solemn testimony in verification of a claim, in this case the remarkable claim that a man once dead later appeared alive to many eyewitnesses. Whatever may be true of our generation, one must not lose sight of the importance of eyewitness verification of the resurrection in the first generation of the church. To confuse this witness with a report about our own individual spiritual pilgrimage is to trivialize the apostolic testimony by diminishing the significance of their eyewitness testimony to the risen Christ.

Matthew 9:37ff. is a well-known passage, frequently cited in an attempt to establish the universal view: "Then he said to his disciples (τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ, tois mathētais autou), 'The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.' And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits ... The names of the twelve disciples are these: Simon, ... " Contextually, the laborers appear to be the twelve named disciples. Prior to their commissioning, Jesus was the lone voice of a new religion, the single proponent of this faith. It is not surprising, under such circumstances, that he says, "the laborers are few." This expression is perhaps an understatement, for in actual fact there were, excepting Jesus, no laborers. If this text is treated as though it contains a truth equally true for all time, then will we continue to say this in glory? Is it not possible, even likely, that there might be some situations in the history of Christianity in which the ratio of laborers to harvest is a bit different from the situation in Jesus' day? And even if it weren't, there is no indication in Matthew 9 that Jesus cajoled everyone into participating in this activity. To the contrary, his admonition is to pray that God would raise up laborers. If his desire were that everyone labor in this way, he would have commanded them to go and labor themselves; not to pray for God to raise up other laborers.

Timothy. Although not an apostle, Timothy, as a minister in the early church, deserves special attention, because he is often treated, by those who hold the universal view, just as they treat the apostles. That is, he is treated not as a specific individual with specific gifts and calling, but as a paradigm Christian, an example of what every Christian should be. Those holding the universal view frequently cite 2 Timothy 4:5: "Do the work of an evangelist." This sentence is written to Paul's "fellow worker" (Rom. 16:21), his "helper" (Acts 19:22), about whom Paul could say, "He is doing the work of the Lord, as I am" (1 Cor. 16:18). Timothy accompanied Paul on missionary journeys, apparently doing the same sorts of activities that Paul did. In short, Timothy was an evangelist. Hence, when Paul tells Timothy to do the work of an evangelist, it is because that is what Timothy is gifted and called to do. "Do the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry."[16] Why should this text be lifted from its context and applied to every believer, when verse 13 is not so treated? "When you come, bring the cloak which I left in Troas with Carpus, and the books, that is the parchments." Of course, verse 13 is so obviously something only Timothy can do, that no one would suggest that others do it. But the verse appears in the same chapter of the same letter, written to the same individual, as verse 5.

Variations. Not every representative of the universal view would attempt the arguments for universal evangelistic responsibility challenged above. Most will use some of them. Others will attempt to modify the position, in an effort to deflect the force of the counter-arguments. For example, some have agreed that not everyone is called and gifted to be an evangelist, but these same individuals will respond that every believer does have a responsibility to "witness."[17] In one sense, it is true that the church, by its very existence, is a witness to the power of Christ and his gospel. A worshipping community witnesses to God in the very process of witnessing. The mere presence of an assembly of people on the first day of the week celebrating the resurrection of Christ is, of course, a substantial witness to the resurrection. But this is something that we are, not something we do. And further, it is something that we are as a corporate entity, not necessarily as individual members thereof.

More telling, however, is that some have created a definition of the term "witness" that is without biblical parallel. "Witness" is commonly confused with a "personal testimony." There may certainly be a number of useful dimensions to the recounting of our various spiritual journeys; and we ordinarily take appropriate interest when others tell us of their particular journeys of faith. But there is no biblical warrant for so doing, nor is there any indication that the term "witness" is used in the Bible to refer to such activity.[18] Certainly there are those who assert that Paul gives his "personal testimony" several times (Gal. 12; Acts 22; Acts 26), and Luke gives Paul's testimony in the third person once (Acts 9). In every case where Paul cites the experience on the road to Damascus, the occasion is the challenge to the validity of Paul's apostolicity. In each case, there are individuals who know perfectly well that Paul was not a follower of Jesus during his earthly ministry. These individuals know also that Paul formerly persecuted the church, and they therefore challenge Paul to produce credentials that allow him to proclaim the faith which he formerly persecuted. "Why should we listen to you? Others at least traveled with this Jesus fellow, and spent time with him. But why should we pay any attention to you?" Paul's apostolic authority is on trial, so Paul tells his challengers why his authority is valid. Jesus has appointed Paul, no less than the other apostles. Were it not for the challenges to Paul's apostolic authority, explicit or implicit, we might have no record of the Damascus event at all.

One of the more interesting aspects of the Damascus experience is the infrequency with which it is cited. Actually, it is a rather extraordinary experience.[19] Despite this fact, Paul says nothing about it, unless his authority is challenged. Certainly one cannot establish the necessity of our sharing our own spiritual pilgrimages on the basis of this unusual event that happened to Paul. If even the apostle Paul, whose particular experience of the risen Christ was unique, only rarely mentions the event, and then as a defensive measure, how can it be that this serves as a mandate for us to recount for others our experience?

A Final Example. Perhaps the futility of attempting to establish the universal view from scripture is found in Stott, Our Guilty Silence: "Such testimony is expected of every believer ... One of the plainest indications in Paul's epistles that every believer is required to be a witness is a statement in his Philippian letter."[20] Then, Philippians 2:15f. is cited. Interestingly, in what is allegedly "one of the plainest indications," the words "witness," "testimony," and "evangelize" do not appear. The Authorized Version does read "holding forth the word of life," which might, at first glance, be construed as some sort of mandate to evangelize. However, the verb in question (ἐπέχοντες, epekontes) is notoriously ambiguous. Luther, NASB, RSV, and a number of commentators argue that the verb should be translated "holding fast," not "holding forth." Those who prefer this understanding do so not only on lexical grounds, but also because of contextual concerns which indicate that Paul is encouraging the Philippians to steadfastness and stability in the midst of a "dark generation." In such a difficult circumstance, Paul urges the believers to "hold fast" to their faith. It does not appear that the question can be settled with certainty. It does demonstrate the difficulty one has attempting to defend the universal view. If "one of the plainest" indications of the universal responsibility to evangelize is Philippians 2:16, then the view is anything but plainly clear.

If any of the passages alleged to support the universal view were clear, the citing of less clear texts as substantiating evidence might be more compelling. In the absence of such passages, and in the presence of such clear passages teaching that gifts and functions differ among believers, the paucity of evidence for the universal view amounts to question-begging. Despite its popular support, the universal view simply does not enjoy biblical support. The New Testament does not teach anywhere that every individual believer is to be involved actively in evangelism.

Practical Considerations

There are certainly many practical ramifications of the resolution of this issue. Three such ramifications should be considered, particularly by those who intend to continue to defend the universal view, despite its lack of biblical support.

Binding the conscience. Since the Reformation took place in an era in which many pledges of allegiance to various authorities were requested, and not infrequently required, the Reformers studied at some length the question of conscience, and to whom the conscience was bound. The creeds and confessions of the Reformation churches include sections dealing with the liberty of the conscience. In a nutshell, these various confessions univocally answer that the conscience is bound to God alone, speaking in the Scriptures. There is, therefore, a healthy concern in the Reformation tradition about requiring of people things that the Scriptures do not require.

The present question threatens this noble tradition. If the Scriptures do not demand of all people that they be actively involved in evangelism, then we dare not so demand. In demanding that every believer be involved in evangelism, the universal view has, unwittingly, bound the consciences of many people, leading them to believe that they are disobedient to God when in fact they are not disobedient. Our Lord himself warned about placing upon the shoulders of others burdens which were unbearable (Matt. 23:4), and bearing the responsibility to evangelize is too much for those whose gifts do not equip them for this task.

Destruction of harmony in the church. Closely related to the question of binding the conscience is the concern for the peace of the church when unbearable and unbiblical requirements are placed upon people. Suspicion, bitterness, and resentment frequently attach themselves to circumstances in which genuine respect for a diversity of function is absent. The proponents of the universal view as much as say that those who are not involved in evangelism are disobedient. Certainly such charges do not promote peace. By contrast, few things are as satisfying and uplifting as the word of encouragement that comes from someone whose role in the church differs from our own. Those who genuinely recognize a diversity of functions within the church can promote its peace and unity, whereas those who refuse to recognize this diversity may unintentionally inhibit such peace and unity.

Corruption of evangelism. Although the supporters of the universal view of evangelistic responsibility are sincerely concerned about evangelism, there is a very real danger that evangelism will be (and has been) corrupted by this view. When people who are neither called nor gifted to evangelize attempt to do that for which they are not equipped, they inevitably do it badly. Their good motives cannot overcome their inability. Efforts are not enough, in any area of life; efforts, to be effective, must be competent. To illustrate this, let us consider one of the extended inductions offered by the defenders of the universal view. Citing the biblical injunction to love one's neighbor, they say, "If you love people, you want them to have what is best for them. If you are a believer, you know that what is best for everyone is to believe in Christ. Therefore, you should speak to everyone you can about the gospel." The problem with this argument is that it assumes we are all capable of meeting all of the needs of those whom we love. This assumption is, of course, false. Suppose my love for my neighbor includes my desire that my neighbor receive good dental care. Precisely for this reason, I do not attempt to fill my neighbor's teeth, but make reference instead to a competent dentist. Love wishes that needs be competently met; not that they be met by me.[21]

Further, after sixty or seventy years of the predominance of the universal view, we might also observe that its effects have been largely fruitless, and often destructive. The rise of this view corresponds almost perfectly with the comparative demise of Christianity as a cultural force in the West. The typical unbeliever today is not exposed to the Christian message through the competent presentation of the faith by a trained and devoted minister, but through a (well-meaning, but) less-competent, untrained, inarticulate, and often-bumbling layperson. The impression often left is that the Christian religion itself is confused, inarticulate, and subjective. Further, the zealousness of such well-meaning individuals has often bordered on rudeness, as unsolicited advice is offered, and sometimes offered persistently, to those who have not invited it. The result of this is that unbelievers perceive us the way we perceive the Jehovah's Witnesses: as the necessary evil that must be endured as the result of living in a pluralistic society. They hate to see us coming, and avoid interaction with us whenever possible; an irony that works in precisely the opposite direction that the universal view would wish.[22]

There is too much at stake to turn evangelism over to those who are unable or unwilling. The gospel, powerfully and clearly articulated, has the power to restore rebellious people to a relationship of service to God. It can begin a life of discipleship, which has as its ultimate goal heartfelt obedience to God's claims. For those who are without Christ, the issue is one of life or death, of experiencing the loving care of a merciful Father or the searing wrath of a holy God whose fellowship is spurned. Those who have neither the capacity nor the call dare not enter such an arena. Evangelism must be done; the proponents of the universal view are correct on this point. It must also be done well; on this point the proponents of the universal view may be less correct.


[1] πρᾶξιν (praxin) and χαρίσματα (charismata).

[2] χάρισμα (charisma), διακονία (diakonia), ἐνέργημα (energēma).

[3] Each question is preceded by μή ().

[4] John R. W. Stott, Our Guilty Silence (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967), 60. Stott quotes approvingly the report of the Lambeth Conference of 1958, "Evangelism is not to be thought of as the task of a select few ... It is for every Christian to do what Andrew did for his brother—to say 'we have found the Messiah' and to bring him to Jesus ... the work of evangelism is the duty and privilege of every member of Christ."

[5] James I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1961), 34.

[6] Packer, Evangelism, 26, and Stott, Guilty Silence, 30.

[7] V. 16, Οἱ δὲ ἕνδεκα μαθηταὶ (hoi de hendeka mathētai).

[8] For a discussion of the exemplary approach to historical narratives in the Bible more generally, one might consult Sidney Greidanus, Sola Scriptura (Toronto: Wedge, 1970).

[9] Space surely does not permit a complete discussion of the apostolate here. The reader is encouraged to consult the following: Herman N. Ridderbos, "The Canon of the New Testament," in Carl F. H. Henry, ed., Revelation and the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1958), 187-202; When the Time Had Fully Come (Ontario: Paideia, 1982), 82-89; J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds, 3rd ed. (New York: Longman, 1972), 6-13; Ned B. Stonehouse, Origins of the Synoptic Gospels (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1963), 113-131; Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., Perspectives on Pentecost (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1971), 23-24; George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 353, 535-36.

[10] H. E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, (Toronto: Macmillan, 1955), 229; Nigel Turner, A Grammar of New Testament Greek, James Hope Moulton, ed. vol. iii, (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1963), 343; Blass-Debrunner-Funk, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament, (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1961), 245; and A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament, (Nashville: Broadman, 1934), 944-46, all recognize the so-called imperatival participle, and all also recognize that it is not a genuine imperative, but is to be understood either as an incomplete periphrastic construction, with some form of the copula understood, or as a subordinate clause to an already-expressed imperative.

[11] Though it is also possible that this particular participle merely means, "when you depart from this discussion," as is the case when combined with an imperative at Matt. 9:13, "Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.' "

[12] And one notes that in the publications of the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries, the text is ordinarily cited in discussions of the nature of the church, and specifically in discussions of the nature and limits of church-power. For those several centuries, the text was understood to describe the basic mission and purpose of the Christian church in its historical entirety. In our generation, it tends to be restricted to missions, and especially foreign missions; but I believe the earlier centuries understood the text more correctly.

[13] So Stott, Guilty Silence, p. 58.

[14] Guilty Silence, 14 f.

[15] Allison A. Trites, The New Testament Concept of Witness (Cambridge: University Press, 1977). Stonehouse, Origins, 116.

[16] My hapless students have ordinarily been troubled by my suggesting through the years that perhaps the most important interpretive consideration is the pronoun. How can something so mundane as grammar be important? Well, it has everything to do with responsible interpretation. If the antecedent of the pronoun "your" in "your ministry" is an ordained minister, then the text may not responsibly be employed in discussing the alleged duties of non-ministers.

[17] Stott, Guilty Silence, pp. 57-8: "If God does not call everyone to be an 'evangelist,' he does not call everyone to be a 'minister,' 'missionary,' or 'preacher' either. But every Christian is a witness, and every Christian is called to bear witness."

[18] For a thorough discussion of the usage of the "witness" vocabulary in the New Testament, see Trites, The New Testament Concept of Witness.

[19] Though it has some precedents in the biblical literature, in the calling of Moses, Samuel, Jeremiah, and Isaiah, for instance. Analyses of prophetic call narratives in scripture can be found in N. Hebel, "The form and significance of the Call Narratives," Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 77, no. 1 (January, 1965): 297-323; and William Baird, "Visions, Revelation, and Ministry: Reflections on 2 Cor. 12:1-5 and Gal. 1:11-17," Journal of Biblical Literature 104, no. 4 (December, 1985): 651-62.

[20] Guilty Silence, 58.

[21] As Richard Baxter said: "Therefore do your best to help others to the benefit of able and faithful pastors and instructors. A fruitful soil is not better for your seed, nor a good pasture for your horse or cattle, nor wholesome diet for yourselves, than such instructors are for your neighbours' souls. If you love them, you should be more desirous to help them to good teachers, or plant them under a sound and powerful ministry, than to procure them any worldly benefits. One time or other the word may prevail with them." Directory, Part III, chapter XV (Ligonier, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1990), 813.

[22] I taught for thirteen years at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts, and began my teaching there in 1984. Because of the time (roughly fifteen years prior to the third millennium), there was much discussion in those days about reaching the world for Christ by the year 2000, and people often asked one's opinion about how this might be achieved. My (somewhat impish) answer was: To evangelize the world by the next sixteen years, we evangelical Christians will need to shut up for the first ten of them, so that unbelievers, who now run from us when they see us coming, will adopt a more-welcoming posture.

T. David Gordon, an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America, is professor of religion and Greek at Grove City College, Grove City, Pennsylvania. Ordained Servant, June-July 2009.

Publication Information

Contact the Editor: Gregory Edward Reynolds

Editorial address: Dr. Gregory Edward Reynolds,
827 Chestnut St.
Manchester, NH 03104-2522
Telephone: 603-668-3069

Electronic mail: reynolds.1@opc.org

Submissions, Style Guide, and Citations


Editorial Policies

Copyright information

Ordained Servant: June–July 2009

Evangelism: Whose Responsibility?

Also in this issue

Ambassadors of the Heavenly King

Evangelism and the Church

Review: Seeking a Better Country

Recovering the Reformed Confession: A Review Article

Download PDFDownload ePubArchive


+1 215 830 0900

Contact Form

Find a Church