Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Evangelism Series (Part Seven): The Office of Evangelist

When most of us hear the word “evangelist” we probably think of a stem-winding preacher on the sawdust trail or of Billy Graham holding a stadium event.  I recall from my SBC days that the convention had a fellowship of full time evangelists (itinerate ministers who “specialize” in evangelism, primarily through evangelistic preaching in revivals, conferences, etc.).

Increasingly, the term “evangelist” is also being applied to any and all Christians in emphasis upon the call for each Christian to be engaged in “personal evangelism.”  Not only is it “every member a minister” but now also, “every member an evangelist.”  This view is presented, for example, in Mark Dever’s The Gospel & Personal Evangelism (Crossway, 2007) [Note:  I hope to offer a detailed review of this book at some point in the future, as, in my opinion, it promotes many of the popular evangelical notions on evangelism that we have argued in this series have little actual Biblical support].  Dever, for example, refers to “the gift of evangelism,” citing as prooftexts for this gift two verses:  Ephesians 4:11 and Acts 21:8 (see Personal Evangelism, p. 46).  When one examines the verses cited, however, one finds they do not refer to evangelism as a personal “spiritual gift” given to various and sundry believers, but to a specific church office.  Compare:

Ephesians 4:11:  “And he gave some apostles; and some, prophets; and  some, evangelists [euangelistas]; and some, pastors and teachers.”

Acts 21:8:  “And the next day we that were of Paul’s company departed, and came unto Caeasarea: and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist [tou euangelistou], which was one of the seven; and abode with him.”

Indeed, the office of evangelist was an extra-ordinary office like that of apostle and prophet which was used of God to establish the church, but which has ceased in the post-apostolic era.  The evangelists were apostolic associates.  In the cases of Mark and Luke they were evangelists in the sense that they wrote inspired Evangels (Gospels).  Timothy was among these evangelists, and this is why Paul can write to encourage him to “do the work of an evangelist” (1 Tim 4:5; Note:  Acts 21:8, Eph 4:11, and 1 Tim 4:5 provide the only three uses of the noun “evangelist [euangelistes] in the NT ).  An example of their typical work is likely seen in Paul’s instructions to Titus (also an evangelist) that he “shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee” (Titus 1:5).

This interpretation is generally shared by the “old path” men.  John Calvin, for example, explained the office of Evangelist in the Institutes (see this post) as follows:

By Evangelists, I mean those who, while inferior in rank to the apostles,  were next them in office, and even acted as their substitutes. Such were    Luke, Timothy, Titus, and the like; perhaps, also, the seventy disciples whom our Saviour appointed in the second place to the apostles (Luke 10:1).

Of the threefold extra-ordinary offices (apostles, prophets, and evangelists), Calvin concludes:
According to this interpretation, which appears to me consonant both to  the words and the meaning of Paul, those three functions were not instituted in the Church to be perpetual, but only to endure so long as     churches were to be formed where none previously existed, or at least   where churches were to be transferred from Moses to Christ; although I deny not, that afterward God occasionally raised up Apostles, or at least  Evangelists, in their stead, as has been done in our time. For such were needed to bring back the Church from the revolt of Antichrist. The office I  nevertheless call extraordinary, because it has no place in churches duly constituted.

The conclusion we reach is that the Biblical term “evangelist” refers to an extra-ordinary office which has now ceased (though note that Calvin believed it had been revived in the Reformation era!).  Thus, it is inappropriate to refer to contemporary men as evangelists (consider how it would sound if there a "Conference of Southern Baptist Apostles and Prophets") or to imply that passages like Ephesians 4:11 and Acts 21:8 refer to a “spiritual gift” of evangelism that is given to believers in general today to act as men like Mark, Luke, Timothy, and Titus did in the apostolic era.


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