People of Persuasion: Evangelism and the Pentecostal/Charismatic Revival

Only the coming of the power of the Holy Spirit to those who
are witnesses for Christ makes the work of evangelism possible.

Evangelism has been the first priority from the very outset of the modern Pentecostal/Charismatic movement. The historical self-image in the “Pentecostal/Charismatic story” is that we were raised up by God to be an instrument of revival and evangelism in the world. Traditionally, therefore, it has been felt that to be Pentecostal/Charismatic is to be an evangelistic witness. Pentecostals see aggressive evangelism in the pages of the New Testament and due to our high regard for the Bible and our literal interpretation of scripture we interpret the Pentecostal experience as a mandate for evangelism in its various forms and methods.

Definition of Evangelism
For Pentecostals, evangelism is defined as the act of proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ in the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit with the intention that individuals will be persuaded to put their trust in Christ for salvation and serve him in the fellowship of a local church.

Pentecostal evangelism rejects the liberal tenets of universalism that say the work of evangelism is simply to inform people that they are already saved. Neither do Pentecostals believe that proclaiming only for the sake of giving objective information is sufficient. Pentecostal evangelism involves the good news of deliverance over against the bad news that humanity is spiritually dead and bound in the oppression of sin. Pentecostal evangelism, therefore, calls for a confrontation; it is the conveyance of truth-as-encounter. The Pentecostal witness preaches for a verdict and expects results.

This is the sense in which Jesus announces his mission of evangelism under the anointing of the Holy Spirit:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for 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).

There is a persuasiveness and aggressiveness in Pentecostal evangelism characterized by the preaching of the Apostle Paul as he seeks to persuade King Agrippa to become a believer. Paul indicates that he has been rescued in order to rescue others through evangelism. God’s commission to him is central to his evangelistic testimony:

“I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:17-18).

Biblical/Theological Foundations for Evangelism
Pentecostals see their evangelistic outreach as more than the mere extension of a religious movement or recruitment to a particular ideology or experience. From the outset of the modern Pentecostal/Charismatic movement there was a sense of divine destiny, the participation with God in a new work for the last days, an involvement in the purposes of God for the world.

Pentecostals see redemption as the central purpose of God in Scripture and evangelism as the comprehensive method for fulfilling that purpose. They have been aggressively obedient to the Great Commission passages in the Gospels. Acts 1:8 could be claimed as the golden text for their style of evangelism: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”

The connection of the “power” to the evangelistic task is quite clear: only the coming of the power of the Holy Spirit to those who are witnesses for Christ makes the work of evangelism possible. The “power” passages of Acts 1:8 and 2:1-4, as well as the “enduement” passage of Luke 24:49 are central to Pentecostal preaching and teaching on evangelism.

Therefore, evangelism (not other spiritual gifts or manifestations) should be seen as the primary result of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the operation of spiritual gifts. Evangelism occupies the central place in the growth of Pentecostal/Charismatic churches. Other supernatural manifestations revolve around it.

Motivation for Evangelism
A sense of participation in what is central to the nature and heart of God motivates Pentecostals toward evangelism. Emerging from this central desire of God for evangelism come additional facets of the Pentecostal/Charismatic motivation for reaching the unconverted:

First, Pentecostals have understood one of the primary steps of obedience in Christian discipleship to be an obedience to evangelize.  Evangelism is not an end within itself once a person is reached and led to a personal belief in Christ. Immediately this new convert is urged to testify to others and to begin “preaching.” He or she is “saved to serve.”

In early Pentecostalism in particular, we find many accounts of people who started preaching within a few days of their conversion. Various studies of Majority World Pentecostalism indicate that personal witnessing and street evangelism by the newly converted have been the central marks of its outstanding expansion.

Second, it is clear in the theology of Pentecostal/Charismatic evangelism that humankind is lost, under the judgment of eternal punishment, unless they are reached with the good news of the gospel.  The doctrinal confessions of all major Pentecostal organizations reflect their belief in “eternal life for the righteous and eternal punishment for the wicked.”

Third, Christ’s return in imminent and it is the end of all things. There is an “eschatological urgency” inherent in the evangelistic theology and practice of Pentecostals.

Supernatural Evangelism
Pentecostal/Charismatic evangelism involves more than verbal proclamation. We believe and have experienced miraculous signs and wonders to be demonstrations of “the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following” (Mark 16:20). This was clearly the strategy of early Christians (Romans 15:19; 1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

This is evangelism that proceeds from a worldview of power leading to “supernatural evangelism.” Divine healing, for example, has been an evangelistic door opener that leads to verbal proclamation (Acts 3). Every healing, miracle, truly spiritual manifestation, power encounter and exorcism becomes an earnest of the kingdom of God and the means whereby the message and dominion of this kingdom are actualized in the lives of people who are delivered.

This conviction and self-awareness that “God is among us and working with us” is a key factor in the persuasive attraction of Pentecostal/Charismatic worship. That Pentecostal worship is a key evangelistic factor has been agreed upon by both inside interpreters and outside observers to Pentecostal/Charismatic church growth. Central to Pentecostal/Charismatic worship is a unique style of preaching. It is, according to Ray Hughes, “Spirit endowed preaching which is pungent and penetrating.” Hughes claims that there is a “miracle element” present in Pentecostal preaching, making it a powerful evangelistic force.

Supernatural evangelism has also been called “power evangelism,” a concept first articulated in the Fuller Theological Seminary School of Intercultural Studies (California, USA) and popularized by John Wimber in his book Power Evangelism. According to Wimber,

By power evangelism I mean a presentation of the gospel that is rational but that also transcends the rational. The explanation of the gospel comes with a demonstration of God’s power through signs and wonders. Power evangelism is a spontaneous, Spirit-inspired, empowered presentation of the gospel. Power evangelism is evangelism that is preceded and undergirded by supernatural demonstrations of God’s presence.

It is that manifest presence of God that is continually needed in our fellowships and in the entire worldwide Christian communion. It is God’s promise and provision to provide revival that renews the saints and reaches the lost.

Dr. Grant McClung, president of Missions Resource Group, is a member of the U.S. Lausanne Advisory Committee and missiological advisor to the World Mission Commission of the Pentecostal World Fellowship.