(Editor’s note: This article is Part Two of a two-part article. To view Part One, click here. This article continues with the fifth of eight characteristics of biblical evangelism.)
5. Evangelism is eschatologically urgent. Jesus said, “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work” (John 9:4). Following Christ today brings with that experience a built-in urgency because we know our time is limited. Again the words of our Lord: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14).
In Section 15 of The Lausanne Covenant, the expectation of the return of Jesus Christ is highlighted as a major motivational force in world evangelization (the first three lines are cited below):
We believe that Jesus Christ will return personally and visibly, in power and glory, to consummate his salvation and his judgment. This promise of his coming is a further spur to our evangelism, for we remember his words that the gospel must first be preached to all nations. We believe that the interim period between Christ’s ascension and return is to be filled with the mission of the people of God, who have no liberty to stop before the end…
Eschatological urgency was at the heart of the missionary fervor of early Pentecostals. When supernatural phenomena burst on the scene at the Azusa Street revival and other locations in 1906, Pentecostals felt sure that they were living in and directly experiencing the end-time restoration of New Testament apostolic power.
Signs and wonders were a portent Christ’s imminent return. Everything else was put aside for the urgent business of world evangelization. Scores of Pentecostal missionaries, most of them ill-prepared in language/culture learning and without adequate financial support, took off for the far-flung corners of the globe, expecting to remain there until the rapture, which they believed was imminent. Pentecostal historian Vinson Synan characterized these early evangelists as “missionaries of the one-way ticket.”1
“Proclaim Christ Until He Comes” was the entire congress theme at Lausanne II in Manila, reflected in the final lines of The Manila Manifesto: “…proclaiming Christ until he comes, with all necessary urgency, unity, and sacrifice” (“Conclusion: Proclaim Christ Until He Comes”).
6. Evangelism is ecologically active. Biblical evangelism is also ecologically active—that is, bringing the message and realities of the Kingdom of God into the social affairs of human beings (i.e. , “human ecology”) and into responsible stewardship of all creation. Proclamation evangelism results in the emergence of church plants and communities of the Kingdom of God who live out prophetic social activism and community transformation.
African church leader Gottfried Osei-Mensah, a former executive secretary of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization (LCWE), has said that four words state the different opinions held by Christians on the relationship between evangelism and social action. The words is, or, for, and and offer four options for definition and implementation:
- Social action is evangelism—anything and everything done as a social action could be called evangelism.
- Social action or evangelism—a choice of one over against the other.
- Social action for evangelism—using social action/benevolence as a method or channel toward opening up an opportunity for evangelistic witness.
- Social action and evangelism—acknowledging that scripture commands both.
Most Evangelicals and Pentecostals would emphasize at this point the “prioritization of evangelization” or, to use the language of The Lausanne Covenant and The Manila Manifesto, “evangelism is primary” (more from both documents at www.lausanne.org).
Over the years, after discussing Osei-Mensah’s categories with seminary students, local pastors and laity, and church leaders in various cultural settings, I have suggested a fifth option: Social action in evangelism—evangelism in and of itself as an action and process is social action.
Another way to express this is to turn it around and formulate it as, “Evangelism is social action.” This is the conclusion of evangelist Luis Palau and the title of an article in World Vision magazine:
The people of this world create the problems of this world. If we can lead them to Christ, we will create a climate for other positive, practical changes to take place…Conversion leads to the greatest social action. As people’s lives are changed, they are different in their families, in their jobs, and in society…. I am proud to preach the gospel, which is the power of God, because nothing helps people more than introducing them to Jesus Christ. Evangelism saves people not only from dying without Christ, but also from living without him. As they live with him, and for him, they become salt and light in a world lost in sorrow, injustice, violence, hunger, and disease.2
The biblical integration of evangelism and social responsibility is extensively discussed in The Lausanne Covenant (Section 5, “Christian Social Responsibility”). The Manila Manifesto expresses “a continuing commitment to social action (i.e., an affirmation of the Lausanne statements), but adds a new and unique line of its own that deplores “…all forms of exploitation of people and of the earth” (Section 4, “The Gospel and Social Responsibility”).
Evangelistic proclamation creates new church plants and a growing “critical mass” of Christ followers who exert influence in policies of social justice and responsible care of the environment. Although urging social responsibility, The Manila Manifesto explains that, “Our continuing commitment to social action is not a confusion of the Kingdom of God with a Christianized society.” It calls, however, for a proclamation of “…the Lordship of Jesus Christ over all of life, private and public, local and global” (Section 4, “The Gospel and Social Responsibility”).
7. Evangelism is egalitarian in recruitment and leadership. Note the recognition of ministry partnerships and equal involvement of women and men, laity and vocational clergy, youth and children, and all races and cultures in Affirmations 13 and 14 of The Manila Manifesto:
13. We affirm that we who claim to be members of the Body of Christ must transcend within our fellowship the barriers of race, gender, and class.
14. We affirm that the gifts of the Spirit are distributed to all God’s people, women and men, and that their partnership in evangelization must be welcomed for the common good.
In Pentecostal/Charismatic history, experience, and evangelistic expression we have been marked by our recognition of human equality and interdependence. From the outset at Azusa Street and for the past one hundred years, media observers and researchers have noted the flattening demographic effect of Pentecostalism. Pentecostal adherents, especially in the South, have come not from the ranks of the privileged, but from the powerless.
In our history, most of our outstanding pastors, evangelists, and missionaries were laypeople from the working classes, with little or no education. The release and participation of the laity (“laity” meaning men and women, boys and girls) is one of the most often-quoted marks of Pentecostal/Charismatic growth cited both by inside participants and outside observers.
A large part of the dynamic growth of our movement has been our ability to mobilize and effectively deploy women into evangelistic witness and church leadership. In fact, seven of the twelve members of the interracial “Credential Committee” at the Azusa Street Mission in 1906 were women. This committee selected and proved candidates for ministerial licensing and supervised the deployment of evangelists across the nation and around the world. Historian Vinson Synan has characterized the Pentecostal movement as “An Equal Opportunity Movement.”3
The empowerment experience on the Day of Pentecost broke the last barrier of separation between humanity, according to Pentecostal ecumenist David J. du Plessis (1905 – 1987). On the Day of Pentecost, du Plessis stated in a 1983 interview that Jesus “…baptized the women exactly like the men, and I say for the exact same purpose as the men are baptized so the women are baptized.”4
8. Evangelism is ecumenically interdependent. The argument here is not for structural but spiritual ecumenism—a partnership of spirit among all who know and personally follow Jesus Christ, regardless of their particular Christian name brand or affiliation.
Kingdom-oriented evangelism creates an environment of interdependence and collaboration. It brings with it an understanding that we all must work together in evangelism, especially when we confront hostility, marginalization, and persecution. David Shibley says it so aptly, “World evangelization can never be accomplished by Charismatics alone. Neither can it be accomplished without us.”5
The Lausanne Covenant has devoted two entire sections toward global interdependence in evangelization (Section 7, “Cooperation in Evangelism,” and Section 8, “Churches in Evangelistic Partnership) and The Manila Manifesto has a lengthy statement on “Cooperating in Evangelism” (Affirmation 9).
People in our world are desperate. Receptivity to the gospel is unprecedented. It is time for all Christ followers to join hands together in a full-orbed, biblically-balanced evangelism that maintains the central priority of proclamation for all believers and lives out the model of the “routine faithfulness” of Sunday school teacher Edward Kimball. What Kimball did for D.L. Moody that Saturday afternoon in a Boston shoe store is our evangelistic heritage. Now is the time to embrace and recover this heritage—as well as all aspects of a broadened, biblical evangelistic agenda—and make it our future horizon.
1. 1992. The Spirit Said “Grow.” Kansas City, Missouri, USA: MARC Publications, 39.
2. 1990. April/May, 4-8.
3. Smith, Harold, ed. 1990. Pentecostals from the Inside Out. Wheaton, Illinois, USA: Victor Books, 43-50.
4. 1983. Theology, News, and Notes. March, 6.
5. 1997. A Force in the Earth: The Move of the Holy Spirit in World Evangelization. Lake Mary, Florida, USA: Strang Communications.