I realise that it’s now been a couple of months since my last post around the area of the gospel and evangelism. In order to jump in to my next segment, rather than do a summary of all my past 6 posts, I point you to this article that gives you the links to all 6 of my previous posts on the topic.
As a simple summary of the gospel, I would articulate that it, the evangel, the good news, is wrapped up firstly in the announcement that God has come to reign and to make his good reign known through his Messiah-King, Jesus. Looking at the Gospels, we see that Jesus came proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom. And this was before the cross and resurrection event.
In connection with the hope of Israel, in accordance with the promises of the Hebrew Scriptures, God’s Messiah had come to make God’s reign known and a reality. Not just in the future, but from the moment he stepped into human history. And it is in the great cross and resurrection event of Christ that God’s kingdom was established, God’s King was vindicated. And knowing this great enthroning event, we can now enter new birth, new creation, reconciliation, be delivered from bondage and receive forgiveness of sins. This reality becomes just as much a part of the gospel because God’s reign had come in Christ and was established in the work of Christ.
Moving on now, in this particular part of my series, I want to try and work out what I believe is the best description for the word evangelist.
The word evangelist (Greek euaggelistes) is very much related to the word for good news (Greek euaggelion). But this word, evangelist, only shows up a mere 3 times in the New Testament:
- Acts 21:8 & Philip
- Eph 4:11 & the equipping ministry of evangelist
- 2 Tim 4:5 & Timothy’s evangelist role, however that might have played out.
So it might seem hard to really get a grasp on this word.
Yet I believe the best definition for the word evangelist is simply this – bearer of good news. So, if anything, the evangel (or gospel) does literally mean good news. If we have anything to bear, to proclaim, to make known, it is that of GOOD NEWS, not ultimately bad news.
You see, we have all types of weird images of what an evangelist is, maybe connected to the picture above in this article. But, for many, we have had plenty of movement forward of what it means to take the good news to the non-believing world in a more holistic sense. So some of those awkward images of megaphones, or large signs, or mainly following a Roman’s road presentation of the gospel, or what not, have been laid aside as essential to gospel proclamation.
It’s not unlike our understanding of other biblical ministries/giftings. Some can easily equate apostolic ministry as that of ‘writing NT Scripture’. Or we can easily view the apostles as the ‘popes’ of the first century, meaning whatever they said must be done, no questions asked, lest we be seen as directly disobeying God. But apostolic ministry is essentially about being sent out by Christ with a specific mission to accomplish. Consider Christ’s apostolic work. And I think we continue to get somewhat askew ideas about other ministries like that of prophet and pastor (yes, they are ultimately ministries, not titles/positions/offices).
Having recognised a more holistic approach in today’s world towards evangelism, I would also note that standing on a corner, utilising a megaphone, raising a banner-sign, is not necessarily a disqualification from true evangel proclamation by evangel bearers. Such could be very useful, depending on the situation. But these particular ploys are not essential either.
What is ultimately inherent to walking out the ministry of the evangelist is that one be an evangel-good news proclaimer. This is essential to an evangelistic ministry. And in whatever national, cultural, political situation we find ourselves, evangelism will work itself out in quite a few different ways, again, depending on the situation. Such a ministry in post-modern, western Europe could look a little different than in rural, mainland China. There would be similarities as well, but also distinctions.
And so, if an evangelist is an evangel bearer-proclaimer, then I would put forth that, for all those who have believed the evangel of Christ, we have already become evangel bearers-proclaimers. We have believed a message of good news about Christ, God’s kingdom and God’s work through Christ. It has transformed us, changed us, made us new, delivered us from one domain and into another kingdom, and on and on we could go. We have believed with our hearts and confessed such with our lips (check out Rom 10:8-10). It’s now in our DNA (or it should be, and if we don’t think it is, we are challenged to change our perspective of just how pervasive this message is in our lives). So we carry the evangel wherever we go, even if we would not specifically identify ourselves as evangelists or even if we don’t quote a particular Bible verse from John’s gospel or Romans.
As a side note, I don’t believe this daily gospel-bearing is fully worked out in the way I hear some neo-reformed folk speak. Too much of it seems regularly centred in these 2 main points: a) identification to ourselves of our ongoing wretched and sinful state and b) reminding ourselves that God’s grace saves us from such a state. I sense something of that message on the lips of many people when they talk of knowing and proclaiming the gospel to ourselves, or others for that matter, on a daily basis. Of course, I do not doubt at all who we are apart from Christ and his transforming, powerful work. But, at least as I can understand Scripture’s teaching, believing and bearing the good news starts with knowing Jesus is King and that God’s rule has come. Now, this will make us engage with our brokenness and sinfulness. But points A and B above are not intrinsically the proclamation of the gospel to ourselves. Doing ‘gospel ministry’ does not begin there. Again, check out what Jesus proclaimed.
Thus, I sense the church will have a great change of mind and heart, a metamorphosis, if we begin to know the gospel Jesus himself proclaimed – God’s King has come and God’s King has come to make all things right and new, just as God intended in the beginning. And this includes calling broken people (sinners) to repent (bring a radical change of mindset) and believe his rule has come to deliver us and right all wrongs.
And so, knowing we are evangel-bearers because we are evangel-believers, this gospel-bearing ministry is true of the whole people of God. You and I. Your pastor and the greeter at the door. The worship leader and the refreshment organiser. It organically flows from the fact that Christ was the great evangel-bearer, the Holy Spirit was sent to continue such an evangel-bearing ministry, and it is the entire body of Christ, indwelt and empowered by Christ’s Spirit, that become an evangel-bearing community.
So, if we are all evangel bearers, what’s the point of the evangelist?
She or he become important in one very major way – outside of being evangel-proclaimers themselves, they help prepare and equip the people of God for evangelistic living and proclaiming. This is how I would imagine the words of Eph 4:11-13 being played out. The evangelist is on of the ministry gifts given ‘to equip [Christ’s] people for works of ministry/service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature…’
Of course, an evangelist might also function in other equipping roles and ministries. I know evangelists who are also functioning strongly in teaching or prophetic or apostolic ministry. Christ gives the measure of gifting. We simply need to give these women and men plenty of room to help equip us.
It’s just like we need teachers to help the body become faithful handlers of God’s word. We need prophets building up the body in learning to hear the voice of God and living out the voice of God. We need apostles helping equip the church to be mission-minded, initiators and pioneers of new works of God. We need shepherds caring for the sheep and building up a community of people who care for one another. This is exactly what Jesus did and what he continues to do by his Spirit. The Spirit empowers both gifted people and the whole body of Christ in these ministries.
Thus, we, you and I, have the ministry of evangel-proclaiming. We are an evangelistic community. It’s not first and foremost what we DO. It is ultimately WHO we are. And the doing will flow from the identity. You will be my witnesses… (Acts 1:8).
But if the gospel is simply proclaiming that Jesus is King, how in the world does this work out? How do people ‘get saved’ when they hear this simple message? What does this mean in an English-speaking western world? And what does it mean in Telugu-speaking India? How do we practically become evangel-bearers, proclaimers that God has come to reign?
I hope I can address this soon.