(Editor’s note: This article is Part One of a two-part article. To view Part Two, click here. This article includes the first four of eight characteristics of biblical evangelism.)
On a routine Saturday in Boston some 150 years ago, a quiet and unassuming Sunday school teacher by the name of Edward Kimball took the day to visit every young man in his class. He wanted to be sure that each had come to know Christ.
One of the students worked as a clerk in his uncle’s shoe store. Kimball entered the store, walked back to the stockroom where Dwight Lyman Moody was stocking the shelves, and confronted the youth with the importance of knowing Christ personally. In that stockroom, D.L. Moody accepted Christ as his Savior (on 21 April 1855). It has been estimated that during his lifetime Moody traveled more than one million miles (before the days of commercial air travel) and spoke to more than 100 million people.
It was Moody who led Wilbur Chapman to the Lord. Chapman became a great evangelist in the generation succeeding Moody’s. During Chapman’s ministry in Chicago, a baseball player with the “Chicago White Stockings” had a Sunday off (as all professional ballplayers did in those days) and was standing in front of a bar on State Street.
A gospel wagon from the Pacific Garden Mission came by, playing hymns and inviting people to the afternoon service down the street. This ballplayer, recognizing the hymns from his childhood, attended that service and received Christ as his personal Savior.
That afternoon encounter with Christ dramatically changed the life of Billy Sunday. He soon left professional sports to minister in the YMCA in Chicago. Sometime later, Chapman was passing through town and invited Sunday to join his crusade team as an advance man, to help organize pastors and set up the evangelistic meetings. Sunday enthusiastically agreed.
After two years, Chapman left the evangelistic ministry to become the pastor of one of the leading churches in America. Sunday felt stranded, but he refocused on national crusade evangelism and soon began to schedule his own crusades. In one of Sunday’s meetings, a young man named Mordecai Hamm accepted Christ. Hamm became a great evangelist in the southeastern United States, ministering to massive crowds south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
In one of those large crowds one night, a lanky North Carolina farm boy named Billy Graham stepped out and moved forward to accept Christ.
In relaying this incredible, God-orchestrated connectivity of persons, Joseph Stowell says,
What a phenomenal succession of faithful and stellar harvesters for the cause of eternity. Edward Kimball, the Sunday school teacher, was simply an unheralded follower who gave up a Saturday for the cause. Heaven is crowded with the results of his routine faithfulness.1
This story of simple and straightforward evangelistic witness gets to the heart of biblical evangelism. Stories like this are at the core of commonly held views of evangelism in the broader community of Evangelicals, Pentecostals, and Charismatics and are faithful to biblical models of evangelistic witness.
That is the beginning point, but there is more. Allow me to venture that the following eight characteristics of biblical evangelism also typify generally held views of evangelism in our communities of faith. Not only is a broadened evangelistic agenda faithful to the witness of scripture, but it is in harmony with The Lausanne Covenant and The Manila Manifesto, documents dear to those who are committed to see the whole Church take the whole gospel to the whole world.
1. Evangelism is experiential. The Manila Manifesto claims that, “Our proclamation that Christ died to bring us to God appeals to people who are spiritually thirsty, but they will not believe us if we give no evidence of knowing the living God ourselves…” (Section 7, “The Integrity of the Witnesses”). We believe that one must know God personally through Jesus Christ and that our evangelistic witness flows out of that personal experience.
The pursuit of a personal experience with God through the Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit must be followed by a corresponding passion to make Christ known to others. “The full experience of the Holy Spirit,” said Arthur Glasser, “…will not only move the Church closer to Jesus at its center, but at the same time, press the Church to move out into the world in mission.”2
2. Evangelism is exegetical. Statements regarding biblical authority are central to The Lausanne Covenant (Section 2, “The Authority and Power of the Bible”) and The Manila Manifesto. In both documents there are entire paragraphs on biblical authority supported heavily with a wide array of biblical references for each of their other main sections. Due to their high regard for scripture, Evangelicals and Pentecostals have earned themselves the nickname of “people of The Book.”
Anthropologist Eugene Nida called Latin American Pentecostals, “The Church of the Dirty Bibles.” There, he observed, the Bible is used frequently in worship services, being read along by the poor with their soiled fingers as a reading guide. We believe in the absolute authority of God’s word and are, therefore, committed to telling the biblical story of salvation.
Whenever and wherever there is rising deterrence from non-Christian religions and secularization, along with the alarming drift toward theological “slippage” in the Christian community, the ballast and balance of biblical exegesis and theological scholarship is needed in the task of evangelization. In fact, let it be asserted that, “Exegesis and evangelism need not, and cannot, be mutually exclusive.”
3. Evangelism is expressive. The truth of the gospel is meant to be verbally expressed with the expectation of a verdict on the part of the listener. Even an overview reading of scripture shows the centrality of proclamation in the ministry of evangelism, starting with our Lord Jesus Christ as the primary case in point (italics mine):
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19)
George Peters asks the question:
What if Jesus had silently walked the paths of Galilee or the streets of Jerusalem? If He had only demonstrated the love of God and the compassion of His own heart, but had never proclaimed and expounded the motive, meaning and purpose of His life, service, death, and resurrection? If He had never informed us of the nature and mind of God?3
The straightforward introduction of Jesus by the Gospel writers shows him launching his public ministry with the ministry of proclamation (italics mine):
- Mark 1:14 (King James Version): “Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the Kingdom of God” (“proclaiming the good news of God,” NIV)
- Luke 4:43-44: “I must preach the good news of the Kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent. And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea”
In the ministry of Jesus and his early followers, there is a direct connection between being filled and anointed with the Holy Spirit and the resulting verbal expression of the gospel (italics mine):
- Luke 4:14-15, 32: “And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit…He taught in their synagogues…his message had authority.”
The New Testament pattern was, “filled with the Spirit and spoke boldly” (Acts 2:4; 4:31; 9:17, 20; 12:9-10; 19:6). After the Holy Spirit outpouring on each of the 120 on the Day of Pentecost (cf. the language “all” and “each” in Acts 1:1-4), a rough-and-ready blue-collar fisherman went public with the gospel. Peter stood up (with eleven others) and spoke up into the face a hostile culture.
The Lausanne Covenant gives prioritization to the defining role of proclamation in evangelism. While regarding Christian presence in the world as indispensable to evangelism and providing an opportunity for dialogue, it gives clear priority to gospel expression through proclamation: “…evangelism itself is the proclamation of the historical, biblical Christ as Saviour and Lord, with a view to persuading people to come to him personally and so be reconciled to God” (see Section 4, “The Nature of Evangelism”).
4. Evangelism is exposure and confrontation. Whether it was with John the Baptist, Jesus of Nazareth, or the early Church throughout the Book of Acts, the work of evangelism ultimately exposed and confronted evil powers in spiritual warfare (note, for example, the confrontation of Paul and Elymas, the sorcerer, in Acts 13:6-12).
In the last two decades there has been a proliferation of discussion and publication on the topics of spiritual warfare, power encounter, and signs and wonders in world evangelization, much of it reflecting the realities and frontline experiences from the burgeoning Pentecostal/Charismatic movement in the Majority World. Simply put, evangelism is spiritual warfare. Both The Lausanne Covenant (Section 12, “Spiritual Conflict”) and The Manila Manifesto (Affirmation 11) provide extensive affirmations of the reality of spiritual warfare inherent in the process of evangelization.
True biblical evangelism will also expose and confront the realities of evil that are displayed in unjust economic and political systems (spiritual warfare is not always so recognized). It will cause Christ’s followers to prophetically address issues concerning freedom and persecution, and call for leaders of nations and governments to safeguard the protections set forth in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (See Section 12 of The Lausanne Covenant, “Freedom and Persecution”). Affirmation 9 of The Manila Manifesto declares: “We affirm that the proclamation of God’s kingdom of justice and peace demands the denunciation of all injustice and oppression, both personal and structural; we will not shrink from this prophetic witness.”
1. 1996. Following Christ: Experiencing Life the Way It Was Meant to Be. Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA: Zondervan Publishing, 130-131.
2. Foreword to Paul Pomerville. 1985. The Third Force in Missions. Peabody, Massachusetts, USA: Hendrickson Publishers.
3. 1970. Saturation Evangelism. Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA: Zondervan Publishing, 19.