Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Evangelism Series (Part One): The Primacy of Preaching

Last month at CRBC we had an afternoon “Sunday School” lesson on the topic of Biblical evangelism.  Time was limited, so I thought it might be worthwhile to write a series of blog posts as a follow-up.  One of the obstacles to overcome in understanding Biblical evangelism is the fact that most of us in conservative churches have been affected by the views of evangelism popularized in mainstream, broad evangelicalism.  For the most part, these approaches are rooted in an Arminian rather than a Reformed view of salvation.  We have been influenced by methods that arose in the First and (more importantly) Second Great Awakenings, with ripples that extend to today.  Such views have been popularized by “evangelists” from Charles Finney and D. L. Moody to Billy Graham, Bill Bright, and Rick Warren (for the readers and studiers in our midst who want to know more, get hold of Iain Murray’s Revival and Revivalism:  The Making and Marring of American Evangelicalism 1750-158 [Banner of Truth, 1994] and his Evangelicalism Divided:  A Record of Crucial Change in the Years 1950 to 2000 [Banner of Truth, 2000]).  Thus, when one mentions the word “evangelism” he might immediately think of mass “crusade” events, “four spiritual laws,” the “Jesus Film,” or gospel bracelets (black is for sin, red for the blood of Christ, white for forgiveness, yellow for streets of gold in heaven), etc.

In contrast to much of what we see and hear promoted in the name of “evangelism” today, however, Scripture emphasizes the simple primacy of preaching.  Here are just a few relevant texts:

In Mark 16:15 Jesus commands the eleven apostles:  “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”

The apostle Paul declares that “it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21).

In Romans 10, Paul waxes eloquently on the centrality of preaching in evangelism:

14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?

15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!


He then adds, “So then faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (v. 17).  Likewise, in Titus 1:3 Paul argues that God “hath in due times manifested his word through preaching.”


We should be clear as well as to what is meant by preaching.  This refers to the minister of God, a man appointed by the Lord and recognized by the church, standing in the midst of a gathered congregation in a meeting usually hosted by a local church, attended by believers, and open to the “unlearned, or unbelievers” (1 Corinthians 14:23), where the Biblical message of the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is proclaimed as God’s means of saving sinners and where hearers are commanded to repent and believe this gospel.  Thus, it is not a sermon by example or metaphor but the objective verbal and propositional declaration of the good news.


Charles Spurgeon once gave “An Address to Open-air Preachers” in which he offered this encouragement:


And, first, we must work at our preaching. You are not getting distrustful of the use of preaching, are you? ("No.") I hope you do not weary of it, though you certainly sometimes must weary in it. Go on with your preaching. Cobbler, stick to your last; preacher, stick to your preaching. In the great day, when the muster-roll shall be read, of all those who are converted through fine music, and church decoration, and religious exhibitions and entertainments, they will amount to the tenth part of nothing; but it will always please God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. Keep to your preaching; and if you do anything beside, do not let it throw your preaching into the background. In the first place preach, and in the second place preach, and in the third place preach (from The Soul Winner, Pilgrim Publications, p. 188).


The emphasis on preaching as the Biblical means of evangelism invariably raises the following question:  Since only those appointed to the preaching ministry are sanctioned to this task does this mean that there is no place for “personal evangelism” to be practiced by all believers (e. g., all who hold the general office of believer but who do not hold the specific office of minister or elder)?  Lord willing, we’ll tackle that question and others as the series unfolds.



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