Calvinistic Evangelism–Chapter One: The Necessary Prerequisite to Evangelism

“And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach” (Mark 3:14).

It should be impossible for a person to read this verse without noticing two reasons for which Jesus appointed the twelve apostles. Additionally, it should be obvious that one of his reasons for appointing them has priority over the other. He did not merely choose them so that he might send them out to proclaim a message. He first appointed them that they might be with him and only after they had spent time with him did he send them out to preach.

We should consider this a pattern that we must follow. How often neophytes are thrust into the arena of evangelism before they have had opportunity to be with him, but it is being with him that produces meaningful evangelism and bold evangelists. It is difficult to recall an example of a divine call or commission to perform some God-given task that was not preceded by a resplendent revelation of God’s glory. Jesus’ disciples were so powerful in their proclamation of the gospel because they were prompted by the Spirit to recall what they had learned from Jesus while they were with him. John expressed it this way, “. . .we gazed on his glory, the glory as of the uniquely begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” Then he wrote, “and from his fullness we have all received and grace upon grace. . . .”(John 1:14, 16). It was out of this fullness that the Apostles proclaimed the good news that Jesus had risen and had been exalted to the throne. It was clear to those who saw their boldness in proclaiming this message that they had been with Jesus.

Consider the account recorded in Acts four regarding the lame man whom the Apostles had healed and their defense before the council.

On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead-by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another, saying, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:5-20).

This passage makes it clear that Peter and John were not performing their evangelistic activity in a perfunctory manner. They were not engaged in evangelism merely because it was a matter of duty or responsibility. They had not organized an evangelistic planning committee to figure out how they could fulfill their evangelistic task. John had not said to Peter, “OK buddy, I know you are really timid about this matter of evangelism, and I know how easy it is for you to wimp out. I remember the rooster incident, but you have to try to be bold and strong. After all, we have a responsibility to try to fulfill this commission Jesus left us.” They didn’t have to try to be bold; they could not help being bold.

When their hearers witnessed the clarity of their message and the boldness with which they spoke, no one suggested they must have had great evangelistic training. No one inquired about the name of the evangelistic system they had memorized. No one asked about their seminary training. What, then, was the source of their boldness? The text tells us “When they saw the boldness of Peter and John. . .they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” If we are to be bold evangelists, it is essential that we first get a clear vision of Jesus’ glory.

When the members of the council forbade them to preach any longer in Jesus’ name, they replied, “”Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” People do not become effective evangelists because they have finished a course on evangelism and have mustered up the courage to try to put it into practice. People become effective evangelists when they are so filled with the knowledge of God’s glory and of his truth that they simply cannot be quiet.

This accords with Jeremiah’s experience when he had become so discouraged that he resolved never to preach in Jehovah’s name again. He wrote,

I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me. For whenever I speak , I cry out, I shout, ‘Violence and destruction!’ For the word of the LORD has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. (Jeremiah 20:7-9).

An effective and bold evangelist is one who has been so filled with God and his truth that he simply cannot keep quiet. He must proclaim the good news.

In regard to the priority of being with Jesus over simply doing something out of duty, one thinks of Mary and her sister Martha who got into a bit of a squabble because Martha was doing all the work while Mary was spending time with Jesus (Luke 10:38-42). Consider the account,

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Martha was a veritable bundle of energy and activity. It is interesting that when she appears in John’s gospel, the text reads, “Martha served” (John 12:2). Mary, on the other hand, spent her time with Jesus. Martha was overwrought by the thought that the work was not going to be finished. She must have thought Mary was a Hyper-Calvinist who had left all the work to her. Jesus said she was “anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.” Notice how he sets the “one thing” that is necessary over against being anxious and troubled about many things. The one thing that is necessary is spending time at Jesus’ feet.

Like Martha, the “free will” evangelists are a bundle of activity, but bustle in itself proves nothing. The cults are always zealous in their proclamation of their message, but their activity is damning. Jesus said the Pharisees would travel across land and sea to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, they make him twice as much a child of hell as themselves (see Matt. 23:15). I am not citing these examples to suggest that “free will” evangelists are cultic or that they are hypocrites like the Scribes and Pharisees. I am not questioning their motives. Only God knows their hearts. What I am questioning is the idea that feverish activity is laudable or that it is rightly identified as righteous evangelistic zeal.

Additionally, I am not suggesting that lethargic inactivity is to be praised. Those who have good news are under obligation to others who could profit from that news. Paul wrote, “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel. . . .” (Rom. 1:14-15).

You may remember the account of the four lepers who were sitting outside the gate of Samaria. There was a famine in the city because Ben-hadad of Syria had besieged it. The famine was so severe that mothers were eating their children. These lepers said to one another,

Why are we sitting here until we die? . . .let us go now over to the camp of the Syrians. If they spare our lives we shall live, and if they kill us, we shall but die” (2 Kings 7:3-4). When they arrived at the Syrian camp there was no one else there. The LORD had driven the Syrians out of the camp. These lepers had free rein as thy plundered the Syrians’ tents. They ate and drank and carried away gold, silver, and clothing. Then, they went back and took more and hid it. Suddenly, they came to their senses and said to one another, “We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news, and we are silent. . . . (v. 9).

The application should be clear. If we understand the good news of the Christian message and do not share it, we are not doing right.
Still, it must be more than a sense of obligation that impels us in the execution of this task. The question I am asking is not whether we should evangelize. Clearly, we have a duty to do so. My question is whether duty alone should be our first consideration.

It is likely there has never been a more indefatigable evangelist than the great Apostle to the gentiles. If we should inquire about the source of his great evangelistic zeal, his answer would be unequivocal. He wrote, “Christ’s love controls me. . . .” (2 Cor. 5:14). The word translated “controls” means to surround, to hem in, to be held prisoner, and to be controlled. The great Apostle never got over the life altering truth that Jesus had loved him and had given his life for him. A good friend of mine who is now with the Lord used to say, “When Jesus arrested Paul on the road to Damascus, the vision of the risen, and glorified Christ was so burned on the retina of his eyeballs that he was never able to see anything else.” Jesus had filled his vision.

It should not escape our notice that most biblical calls and commissions were preceded by some revelation of God’s glory. Think of Moses at the burning bush, Peter’s call to be a fisher of men , Paul’s conversion on the road to Damacus, John’s commission to write the Apoclypse , etc. All these commissions were preceded by a resplendent manifestion of God’s glory. Perhaps there is no clearer example of this than that of Isaiah’s call and commission (Isaiah 6). If you take the time to read to the end of that chapter, you will learn that the ministry to which God called him was not an easy one. He was not promised a multitude of conversions, a great following, or “a successful ministry” according to the usual modern standard of success. His minisry was to be one of hardening and condemnation, and he was to continue until his ministry resulted in devastation for his hearers. How does one continue under such circumstances? There can be only one answer. One will only successfully finish the course if he has begun the course gazing on God’s glory.

Before you engage in the ministry of evangelism, I urge you to spend time gazing on the glory of God as it is revealed in the face of Christ. Spend time with him. Be overwhelmed by his majesty so that you overflow to those around you. True evangelism always results from the overflow.


1 Response to “Calvinistic Evangelism–Chapter One: The Necessary Prerequisite to Evangelism”

  1. November 23, 2014 at 1:44 am

    What a contrast to the model of evangelism found in most churches today. The common practice is for those being sent to rehearse how they were saved, pointing to themselves as an example of what those being evangelized might attain to. How seldom do they get exhorted to proclaim Christ and Him crucified. And then we see those who are famous and are put on a public platform without being tested or discipled (Deion Sanders comes to mind). Even as Christ spent time with the Father before He went to the cross, so we need to spend time with the Savior before we go outside the camp with the message of the cross.

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