Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 12, 1954
NUMBER 14, PAGE 10-11a

Evangelism On New Testament Principles -- No. 2

Homer Bailey. Tampa. Florida

Evangelism In the Epistles When from the book of Acts one turns to the epistles of the New Testament and carefully reads them, he is surprised at how little stress is laid upon congregational responsibility to preach the gospel, send others to preach it, or to contribute to such work. The emphasis is on the doctrine of Christ and Christian character — on living and doing as individuals that which reflects the character of Christ. If this can be realized men and women will discharge evangelistic obligations. If it is not, the latter will not matter any way. What is found concerns itself primarily with the obligation of the individuals where they are, not somewhere else.

Of the seven lampstands in John's vision on Patmos Jesus said, "The seven candlesticks are seven churches." (Rev. 1:20.) The lampstands were supporters of the light; but the obligation is local. A lamp shines where it is. This is the implication of the figure or symbol. The world is to be lighted by lampstands throughout the world, hence the obligation to plant churches everywhere. When planted, according to the vision, the obligation of each is local. But how are they to be planted? As shown above, they are planted by individuals who go to new places for the avowed purpose of planting churches, or by those who move from one place to another. This point of local responsibility and obligation needs to be impressed and emphasized today.

Paul recognized the church at Philippi as a lampstand, but he puts the obligation of shedding light on a personal, individual basis. "Do all things without murmurings and questionings; that ye may become blameless and harmless, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom ye are seen as lights (plural) in the world, holding forth the word of life." (Phil. 2:14, 15.) Evangelization is here, as in the Jerusalem church, emphasized as individual and personal: each Christian is a light holding forth the word of life. It appears that this point is almost completely lost sight of today. Emphasis has been shifted from the personal, individual responsibility of Christians to that of organized community responsibility.

The same thought is incidentally set forth by Paul when he said of the brethren in Rome, from where he was writing, "And that most of the brethren in the Lord, being confident through my bonds are more abundantly bold to speak the word of God without fear." (Phil. 1:14.) "Most of the brethren in the Lord" — not "most of the preachers," "most of the teachers," "most of the missionaries" — but "most of the 'brethren!" Evangelization in Rome was being done by the Christians in Rome.

Jude's exhortation reveals the same thought, "I was constrained to write unto you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints." (Jude 3.) The exhortation is not to preachers, teachers, elders, "missionaries." But it was "to them that are called, beloved in God the Father." Whom does this include? Everyone who has been called by the gospel and is now one of the "beloved in God the Father" — you and me!

Here is a point from which the church of today has digressed, "missed the mark." While emphasizing evangelism through one man supported by a congregation, or the cooperation of congregations, and while quibbling over whether churches can cooperate in sending individuals to other fields, she has side-stepped the New Testament pattern of true evangelism. Can this be traced to the rise of a clerical contingency among us, separated from "the laity," as primarily responsible for the change? This is not to reflect upon the right of churches engaging an evangelist to work locally or abroad, but it raises the question of whether or not we have abused this right. Whatever may be the cause, gradually the work of evangelizing the world has been shifted from the responsibility of the church as individuals to the shoulders of a few preachers and teachers, with an added group called "missionaries," who are nothing more than preachers or teachers sent into destitute fields. Those objecting to the doing of work cooperatively (several congregations contributing financially through one congregation) are usually as guilty at this point as are others who practice such. We all stand guilty. The New Testament emphasis is individual, and here is where God wants it kept. There must be a return to this principle and practice if the church is to serve God's purpose in this or any generation.

The Question of Congregational Evangelism But, someone asks, is there no account in the New Testament of a congregation selecting and sending out an evangelist, supported financially and morally by the congregation? So far as I have been able to discover, the answer is "no." There are incidental remarks and indications that might lead us to conclude that congregations may have so selected and sent, but it is an indication, not a clear-cut example of having so done, nor a command so to do.

To the Philippian church Paul addressed thanks "for your fellowship in furtherance of the gospel from the first day until now." (Phil. 1:5.) Though Philippi did not send Paul, nor was Paul amenable to the church there, nevertheless they felt a moral obligation to assist in his support. This they did, sending to him once and again, but no other church had such fellowship in the beginning of the gospel in Macedonia. (Phil. 4:15.) This indicates there was no financial arrangement between Paul and the church at Antioch, nor any help from them. The contribution sent by the Philippian church was brought by Epaphroditus, not only as their messenger, but, as Paul said, "minister to my need." (2:25.) As "minister to Paul's need" how was Epaphroditus supported? We are not told. For what was he sent? As "messenger" of the church and "minister" to the needs of the apostle.

We now raise this question: What if a congregation determines to select and send a man into a destitute field to preach the word, supporting him out of the contributions made each Lord's day, is such in harmony with the scriptures? So far as is known to me this has never been questioned: However, such a practice of selecting and sending a man to a destitute field, considering him under the supervision of the congregation 'sending him, to which congregation he reports from time to time by letter and occasionally in person, and who is supported by such a "home congregation" cannot be found in the New Testament.

That preachers of the gospel should be supported is no issue. Paul settled this when he wrote, "Even so did the Lord ordain that they that proclaim the gospel should live of the gospel." (1 Cor. 9:14.) Further, that churches may contribute to such work is clearly taught: "I robbed other churches, taking wages of them that I might minister unto you; and when I was present with you and was in want, I was not a burden on any man; for the brethren, when they came from Macedonia, supplied the measure of my want." (2 Cor. 11:8, 9.) At times Paul made tents, at other times he was supported by churches (plural).

In all that is said in the epistles about contributions and the gathering of funds, not one word of instruction is given for the gathering of funds for evangelistic work. The instructions were concerning funds for benevolent purposes. However, money was sent to Paul, therefore raised. The nearest approach I have been able to find for instructions for support for individuals pertains only to an immediate need, and then is more or less inferred. John wrote, "Beloved, thou doest a faithful work in whatsoever thou doest toward them that are brethren and strangers withal; who bare witness to thy love before the church: whom thou wilt do well to set forward on their journey worthily of God: because that for the sake of the Name they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles." (3 John 5-7.) And this was to an individual. To Titus Paul wrote, "Set forward Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their journey diligently, that nothing be wanting unto them." (Titus 3:13.)

Am I objecting to congregations supporting preachers while preaching? Certainly not! I am trying simply to point out that while our emphasis has been on these things it has tended to shift the responsibility from where God put it, that is, on the shoulders of individuals, to an evangelism by proxy as attention is focused on the work being done by an individual and on his monetary support.