by Jason D. Morgan, North Pacific Union Conference Evangelist
As relatives, friends, and loved ones shared their special words of encouragement and dedicatory songs, those committing their lives to Jesus eagerly stepped up to the baptistry with tears of joy! The local pastor who invited me to England, leaned over to whisper “We were not expecting a harvest in this series. England is just too secular and progressive to have a response like this!” As a result of being willing to go back to traditional evangelism, the church witnessed an unexpected response of souls from the local community, and received a renewed vision for the work Jesus has called them to do.
There are some that question whether the early church’s method of evangelism really works in the progressive, post modern, liberal culture of today. Does publicly preaching our message really contribute to the growth and strengthening of our church in a postmodern/post christian world, or is it nothing more than an exercise in futility to prove our propositional truths?
Think back for a moment to the apostolic church represented by Ephesus in the opening scenes of the book of Revelation. Here was a church, a movement, motivated by, and unashamed of the preaching of the gospel that Jesus Christ had commissioned them with. Make note of Peter at Pentecost who “…standing up with the eleven, lifted his voice, and said unto them…hearken to my words.” Acts 2:14 The result of this public effort speaks for itself. “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”
Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Then those who gladly[g] received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. 42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship” Acts 2: 37,38,41.
Here is an amazing paradox! The Apostles were sharing this public proclamation of the gospel in a culture that was steeped in Roman polytheism and infused with Greek mythology. Despite this, the foolishness of preaching resulted in an amazing number of souls being baptized. In what we would call a “post modern”, progressive culture today, this public method of evangelism was patently effective. “ Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.” Acts 2:7-11
The follow up to this campaign is worthy of note. The Apostles believed that evangelism was not an event, but a process that needed to provide a healthy and conducive atmosphere for new converts to grow in faith. They “kept them how they won them” we would say today, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” Acts 2:42
The leadership of the church understood the importance of nurturing these souls in the doctrine and fellowship that Christ had entrusted to them. Fellowship,as Ellen White describes, is defined by “participation” and “partnership” ( Gospel Workers p.392.) Their commitment to Christ included a pledge of partnership with the church in the “faith once delivered unto the saints” Jude 3. “Continuing in the doctrine” was also another vital part of growing in grace. We can never say enough about the love of God in giving His Son to die in our place upon the cross, yet conversely we cannot neglect doctrine. The former doesn’t invalidate or undermine the latter. These two important principles of salvation and doctrine are not diametrically opposed, but are more rather two sides of the same coin. The death, burial, and resurrection of Christ makes up the flesh and blood of our Christian experience, while Biblical doctrine or truth is the framework upon which our religious experience depends. Both were important to the health and growth of the church then, and should be no less so today.
It’s unfortunate to see articles and sermons presented that give an obvious disdain for the method God has clearly ordained to reach and nurture the masses as characterized by the Apostolic Church and late Advent Movement. In Acts 17:6 the response was “These who have turned the world upside down” and eventually brought the world to recognize the power of the gospel through the “foolishness of preaching”. Today, the Seventh Day Adventist Church is nearly 19 million strong. One thing is clear, the success of the early pioneers and later generations of our movement have not been attained by abandoning the apostolic method of evangelism and retreating to a less aggressive approach because of societal changes.
Why is there such indifference to the method that has brought success despite the ever shifting sands of social and culture values of centuries past? Let’s take a closer look at the cause and effect of preaching the message God gave the early church. In Acts 4:2 the disciples who had taught and preached to the people, received “many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.” Acts 4:4
The public proclamation of the gospel resulted in the harvest of five thousand men into the church. The Bible says as a result“…they laid hands on them and put them in prison.” Notice how these successful methods brought persecution – the play and counter play of unseen forces at work.
A few examples
(Play) “And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.”
(Counter play) “Then the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with indignation, 18 and laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison” Acts 5:14,17
(Play) “Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly.”
(Counter play) “And they stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes; and they came upon him, seized him, and brought him to the council. Acts 6:7,12
(Play) “Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.” Acts 8:4
(Counter play) “…At that time a great persecution arose against the church.” Acts 8:1
(Play) “But some of them were men…preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord..” Acts 11:21,24
(Counter play) “Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. Acts 12:1
In light of history, the fact that we see a growing disdain in some circles for traditional public evangelism and the proclamation of our special message for this time shouldn’t surprise us. It existed in the early church and we are told it will continue until Jesus comes the second time. A more subtle and contemporary strike at traditional evangelism is to divorce Christ from the unique message of Revelation 14.
I can remember being involved in a group conference call recently with a particular church board over what should or should not be presented in our evangelistic effort. There was a strong suggestion from some that we dismiss the prophetic message God has given us altogether and only preach Christ’s salvation to the sinner. Though the Salvation of Jesus Christ should be front and center of every message, the messages of Daniel and John to our generation are designed to enlighten us about current issues, and help us to trust implicitly in the merits of a crucified and risen Saviour. “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” says John, “to show us things which must shortly come to pass.” Revelation 1:1-3.
The early pioneers of the Advent movement were dealing with the same issue when great and important prophetic developments where taking place. It was because of this that Ellen White stated –
“The present truth, the special message given to our world, even the third angel’s message, comprehends a vast field, containing heavenly treasures. No one can be excusable who says, “I will no longer have anything to do with these special messages; I will preach Christ.” No one can preach Christ, and present the truth as it is in Jesus, unless he presents the truths that are to come before the people at the present time, when such important developments are taking place.” —Manuscript 33, 1897.
While other denominational churches are promoting a relationship with Christ without a solid prophetic foundation concerning the soon return of Jesus, we are told that we cannot preach Christ “unless we present the truths that are to come before the people at the present time, when such important developments are taking place.” What a sobering thought! The fact that Jesus Christ should be the center in the proclamation of the Three Angels Message will give the final gospel call power to move the masses to decision. We are further told in Gospel Workers p. 156
“Of all professing Christians, Seventh Day Adventist should be foremost in uplifting Christ before the world. The proclamation of the third angel’s message call for the presentation of the Sabbath truth. This truth, with others included in the message, is to be proclaimed; but the great center of attraction, Christ Jesus, must not be left out.” GW p. 156
Notice the work that involves lifting Jesus Christ before the world does not in any sense dismiss the foundational truths of the third angels message. On the contrary, they are to be united together to flood the world with the light of the Everlasting Gospel!
I recently received a surprise email from a gentlemen that was baptized in an evangelistic meeting I held in Amarillo, TX a few years ago. Walter attended nightly, and despite being heavily addicted to alcohol, the gospel cut straight to his heart each night as he attended. Walter was baptized at the conclusion of the series. His recent letter to me stated
“May 1st 2010 you baptized me and two of my friends Randy and Te. We are all still in the church and actively seeking to hasten the Glorious Return of Jesus Christ our Righteousness. This was empowering, and unbelievable as I grew up living a wicked life from a very young age. To hear the preaching of the gospel brought joy. We went over some verses ( I still have them) and from that night I quite drinking, smoking, fornicating, manipulating, acting in violence, gambling, pornography, drug use, selfishness, arrogance, and making greed my goal. After the series I married the woman that i had been with for 7 years ( she also was baptized into the church) Then after being in the church for a year, my wife and I moved to Missouri. We moved there and brought this message to prostitutes, drug dealers, and gang members. I became a bible worker and a literature evangelism worker. I’m currently back in Amarillo going to college studying to be a nurse hoping to use my education to further the medical work.”
To witness Walter’s condition before his life change one might conclude “he’ll just lose interest in the faith and drift away.” Praise be to God that Jesus meets us where we are, but He doesn’t leave us there! Walter’s transformation is a testimony to power of the Word of God. The apostle Paul summarizes the “best method” but not limited to, reaching the lost –
“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 unless they are sent? As it is written: How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!” Romans 10:14,15
As we see the fruit of active churches bringing the good news to their communities, I believe every pulpit should be ringing with beautiful truths of the Blessed Hope and soon return of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Let us not draw back as do others, but let us move forward with greater energy and perseverance “making full proof of the ministry” to reaching and saving the lost. The gift of evangelism, along with many other valuable avenues of ministry have been employed by the Holy Spirit through the church, each unique and distinct, yet essential to working in unison together to bring the greatest potential impact to a dying world that is in desperate need of a Savior. We can hasten the coming of our Lord as we employ every gift God has given for this purpose, never fearing one moment for the future, “unless we forget the way the Lord has led in the past.”