Guidelines for World EvangelismGeorge Gurganus, editor
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A few years ago an elder in a midwestern church was reported to have said, "This missionary business is just a fad which will pass off before long." I did not believe then, nor do I now, that most of our world evangelism is a product of a fad. Most of the workers I knew had reasonably good motives, even if they shared with me an inadequate preparation for their task. But there is a tragic truth reflected in the elder's comment, a truth greater than he apparently knew: work done for the Lord can have an insufficient foundation.

In the nineteenth century when Europeans were sailing the seas and establishing colonies, it was very easy for "missionaries" to go to those colonies. They were privileged and had easy access to the "heathen". A whole set of circumstances made it easy for one to follow the flag carrying the cross.1 It was easy to be interested in foreign evangelism during "The Great Century." But when circumstances changed—war interrupted peace, colonies wanted independence, economic conditions changed, etc.—it was easy to forget "missions". The churches were influenced by the world in which they lived.

In our own case there was a great surge forward in world evangelism just after World War II. Why? There were several causes, including the availability of funds, comparative peace in the country and in the church, and a new interest in the world which came from former military people who had traveled and seen world conditions, and from the general national interest in helping other countries.2 The national posture influenced the church's attitude.

The story has been repeated many times. When the circumstances are favorable, the church pushes forward with evangelism. But there is a corresponding danger in letting interest in evangelism be conditioned so much by the political and economic climate of the country in which we live that we do not evangelize out of principle. Fad becomes more important than faith! There seems to be no way to escape this fadism in evangelism other than through grounding our evangelistic thinking and action in the Scriptures.

Evangelism: Life of the Church

1. Old Testament Background. From Genesis through Revelation there is a concern for man's relationship with God. In this sense the whole of Scripture is related to the evangelistic task. Although a creature of God, man was separated from God through sin3 and became a worshipper of creatures rather than the Creator.4 The task of bringing mankind back to the fellowship with God was not an easy one because of the power of sin in man's life. So God began by working through the few (the Jews) in order that He might ultimately reach and regain all. The promise to Abraham shows both God's choice to use the Jews and an ultimate desire to bless all his creatures.5

The Jews, as God's blessed people, were to be "a light to the nations" (Gentiles),6 the means by which God shows something of Himself to all mankind. God was concerned about the Gentiles. Their idolatry produced a senselessness for which God did not make His creatures.7 But while the prophets denounced idolatry8 and extolled the living God, there was in the Old Testament nothing like an evangelistic enterprise. Moses' speaking to Israel as God's envoy9 and Jonah's preaching on Nineveh10 are not real cases of evangelization.

Even though there was no proper evangelism in the Old Testament, there was a keen expectation for a time when "the nations" (Gentiles) would bow before their Creator:11

All nations thou has made shall come
and bow down Wore thee, 0 Lord,
and shall glorify thy name.
Some marvelous time was coming when the nations would go to Jerusalem and learn of the Lord.12 Thus, in the Old Testament the tragic plight of idolatrous mankind is portrayed, and along with it there is the promise that something wonderful is yet to come which will rescue man. The road out of Eden is clearly visible at the end of the Old Testament. But there is a promise of something better.

2. Jesus and the "Hinge of History." During his ministry Jesus had declared that something new was happening: "The kingdom of heaven is at hand." But he sent his disciples only to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel" during his ministry on earth.13 It was not until after his death and resurrection that the Old Testament expectations burst forth into a new era. Before his victorious ascension on high14 Jesus appeared in Galilee to the eleven. There he made such claims for himself ("all authority"), gave his disciples such a charge ("all nations"), and made such a reference to time ("to the close of the age") that one realizes he was announcing the dawning of a new era.15 The Old Testament hopes were now to be fulfilled. The Gentiles were to receive God's favor. The long Jewish era had come to the point in time for which it had prepared. This new era is sandwiched between two important events: the ascension and the final appearing of Jesus. The events in Jerusalem (death and resurrection) and Jesus' commission in Galilee constituted a "hinge of history", the ushering in of and the era in which the church of Jesus' promise16 came into existence.

3. Evangelism: the Church's Life-blood. In the new era the church comes into being by the gospel. It is ideally composed of people "from every tribe and tongue and people and nation," who exist to praise God,17 who have accepted and live under the gospel. But the message which brings the church into existence is the message the church is to proclaim. A part of its life-blood is to proclaim to others that which it has come to enjoy.

If your faith in the Saviour has bro't its reward,
    If a strength you have found in the strength
    of your Lord,
If the hope of a rest in His palace is sweet,
    0 will you not, brother, the story repeat?
This evangelizing ("gospel-izing") is to be a characteristic feature of Jesus' people "to the close of the age." From ascension to second coming evangelism is a part of the church's affirmation of its own faith in Jesus as Lord. In George Rawson's hymn ("By Christ Redeemed") we are reminded that the Lord's supper is a chain from betrayal night to last advent:
And thus that dark betrayal night,
    With the last advent we unite,
By one bright chain of living rite,
    Until He come.
Similarly, between the "days of his flesh" and his last appearing those who are Jesus' disciples are to make disciples among others. Churches that live this way live near the heart of God and are less prone to "evangelize because it is a fad." Failure to evangelize is a kind of denial of one's own faith!

Something wonderful happens when a church gives prominence to world-wide evangelization, along with its otherwise balanced program of work. A few years ago Frank Pack reminded us of the 2,106-member Park Street (Congregational) Church in Boston which supported "one hundred twenty-three missionaries on the field" and that sixty-one of them were from its own membership. Over half of its budget was sent to the evangelistic enterprise. It was a conservative church which developed a passion for spreading its faith.18

Similar stories are heard of other churches, and they need not be large. I know a fine church which for years used over fifty percent of its contribution to evangelize; but when a building program markedly reduced that percentage, one of its elders told me that they had a "bad conscience" about it. Not until they restored that evangelistic emphasis did they regain something of their former spirit. We must beware of "one-factor" analysis, be careful about trying to use any one thing to build up the church. But the evidence is rather convincing that when a church catches a glimpse of how through evangelism it can be a part of God's world-wide work, something wonderful happens to its faith, its work, and its peace.


The history of evangelistic work, ours and others', indicates that unless the general terms "evangelism" and "mission work" are defined in terms of goals it is possible to waste much effort and money. Many of the specific and short-range goals will be determined by local conditions in a "ripe" or "unripe" area. But it is of considerable importance for the church to understand those broad goals God has set for his people:

1. Universalize the Message. Jesus specified that the gospel is for "all nations," the "whole creation," "to the end of the earth."19 The Creator God who gives "life and breath" to all men is also concerned about their relationship with himself. The person who is at the remotest point on earth from us is one for whom Jesus died, whom God loves as much as he does me, and who is capable of "becoming" a child of God.20 The God of the universe who cares more for people than for sparrows, sees redeemable creatures throughout the world. Potentially, he has many people who do not yet know him.21 The gospel needs to go to all precisely because it is addressed to all. The Lord's people are charged with that difficult and rewarding task.

A marvelous truth lies back of two frequently misused texts in Colossians. When Paul affirmed that the gospel was beating fruit in "the whole world" and had been "preached to every creature under heaven,"22 he was evidently not meaning to say that every single creature of the globe had heard the message since several areas of even the Roman Empire apparently did not receive the gospel until later.23 We wish to take nothing from our first-century brothers whose accomplishments still baffle the historian! But there is back of this Colossian situation a precious truth which need not elude us. Paul's purpose is to stabilize a group of Christians in the Lycus Valley whose faith is being challenged by those who sought to undermine it by suggesting that something besides the gospel is needed.24 Paul counteracts the teaching by showing Christ to be pre-eminent in everything, creator and sustainer,25 in whom alone one has fullness of life.26 Accordingly, it was not within Paul's purpose to rehearse church growth statistics as such. Rather, he was saying, "What you have received has been received by all kinds of people throughout the world. Indeed, this has to be for the whole world, not just for Judea and your little valley, because it is the gospel of the Christ of the universe. You are a part of God's world-wide work." Precisely because the gospel is good news about Christ, it must be universalized in its proclamation. Failure to do so today may suggest that it is indeed a Western religion rather than a part of God's world-wide work.

Paul made a similar point in a paragraph to the Corinthian Church. Because the new age had come, in which God was seeking to do something for all mankind in Christ, it was necessary for Paul and others to make that message known to as many people as possible.27 Perhaps one of the surest ways of knowing that the gospel is taken seriously is to observe the extent to which it is made known to all for whom it is intended. The new song of the saints, which John heard in a vision, should be worked for by the church:28

Worthy art thou to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
for thou was slain and by thy blood
    didst ransom men for God
from every tribe and tongue and
    people and nation,
and hast made them a kingdom and
    priests to our God.

In their praying and planning local churches should seek to get the gospel to unreached peoples, those who have never heard the message. Universalizing the message is a part of God's plan.

2. Work for Valid Decision. Whatever is necessary in making people feel the real impact of the gospel must be done. It does no good to drop gospel literature from an airplane to people who cannot read. The use of interpreters, choice of message elements, and the actions of the workers have a part in making men see God's plan for the ages.29 The goal is so to communicate the message that people will be able to decide validly whether or not they will follow Jesus Christ. While there is no biblical evidence that we will ever "win the world for Christ," there must be the desire to "win obedience" as far as possible.30 It is known that people can say "yes" (by outward acts like baptism and the Lord's supper) to our efforts without responding to the gospel itself. On the other hand, people have said "no" (refused baptism, etc.), not so much to the gospel itself as to its crude handling by the messengers. In both cases we ought to be dissatisfied. There are cases in the New Testament where people said "no" to the apostolic message without blame being placed on the messengers.31 It is upsetting when people clearly understand the gospel and 'refuse to accept Jesus as Lord, but they deserve to know who he is and what he has done for them. It is much more pleasant when men hear, understand clearly and receive the word. Jesus described these positions in his parable of the sower.

The matter of importance here is that Christians must do all possible to make the message understandable. Whatever is necessary to that task must be done. Paul referred to it, in his own case, as becoming all things to all men so he could save them.32 Preparation in language and culture studies, as well as in biblical studies, would seem clearly to be implied in the necessity of working for valid decision.

3. Strive for Persistence of Faith. Jesus constantly warned his disciples about falling away and becoming faithless, and the same emphasis is found in the Epistles. It is clear that in God's purposes Jesus does not want three-month disciples, but people who will have faith to the end, even if it brings physical death.33 The object is for men to live so as to praise God. The kind of work done by the messengers has something to do with the stability, the persistence in faith, of the new converts.

In some areas the best that can be done is to win individuals, sometimes in very isolated conditions. In other cases it is possible to win family units or even villages.34 But in either case every effort needs to be made to weld people into groups or assemblies. Paul had real concern for new converts and went to them in order to "strengthen" them.35 Most of his Epistles were written with that in view, But Paul and others characteristically formed those new converts into groups called churches or assemblies. The size of those assemblies is not always indicated, but is obviously varied. Local churches were referred to as "bodies" to denote, among other things, the inter-relationship of the members.36 There is in the New Testament such a pattern of Christians' functioning in groups that we must conclude that it was a part of apostolic strategy to start churches. Nor is it surprising that they did start churches when one notices what those groups did for their members.

What Christians were to do for "one another" pre-supposes some regular interchange of life. In fact, the "one-another-ness" of any church is one yardstick for measuring its strength. They were to comfort, encourage, prefer, forbear, forgive, edify, exhort, confess to, and be hospitable toward "one another."37 Where an isolated Christian lacks this kind of help it is hard for him to hold on. Perhaps we all know cases where a distant, isolated Christian did not remain faithful.

All of this suggests that "evangelizing in general" may not focus our energies on the church-planting activity by which persistence in faith is encouraged. The local church is the cutting-edge of the kingdom, abroad as at home, Thus a major criterion for measuring evangelistic effort is the number and vitality of local churches which have resulted from the work.

The biblical mandates seem clear enough: the church of Christ is to spread the gospel message all over the world with such clarity that people can make a valid decision about Jesus Christ, and start viable churches so the new Christians will persist in their faith. But what will impel the church to do this kind of evangelism? What encouragements are there to carry through?


It is at the motive level that faith and fad in evangelism are most clearly to be seen. Bandwagon evangelism ceases when the wagon bogs down. But individuals and churches who evangelize because of their heavenly citizenship will evangelize when it is not fashionable to do so.

Since there are several ways of listing the biblical motives for evangelism38 the following group is purely functional. But it is felt that these call attention to the major areas of motives.

Although Peter refers to the Lord's command to "preach to the people", and Paul and Barnabas mention the Lord's command to go to the Gentiles,39 there is surprisingly little evidence that the command of Jesus was the decisive motivation for evangelism in the first century. It may have been a more important factor than we can detect. However that may be, it is important to notice the other motives which impelled the early Christians to evangelize far and wide in spite of difficulty.

1. Time Motives. Unlike the Mosaic period, which looked forward to another era of blessings and opportunities,40 the present era will terminate in a decisive judgment following the appearing of Jesus.41 This expectation served time and again to urge Christians to evangelize while they had a chance. If one feels, as do Hindus, that each person goes through a series of incarnations, there is no real urgency to teach a religious message. There will be other chances. But when one believes, as Scripture teaches, that after death comes judgment, that after a general resurrection there will be a universal judgment, the incentive to teach is different.42 It was partially in view of man's ultimate standing before the judgment seat of Christ that Paul persuaded men concerning the gospel.43 If the church firmly holds the view of history set out in Scripture, it will busy itself preparing as many as possible for the final appearing of Jesus, both to avoid earned destruction and to prepare a host to meet the King. Michael Green is likely right in saying, "It is not too much to say that without a coherent eschatology it is not possible to do effective evangelism."44

2. Man Motives. The person who himself has been rescued from sin and comes to enjoy life in the Son may well think of the plight of those still estranged from God. Paul's deep feeling for Israel is a case in point: "For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen by race."45 He felt himself to be debtor to men who were ignorant of Christ.46 Gerhard Kromminga has argued forcefully that the New Testament injunction for Christians to love their neighbors is sufficient. authority for them to teach the gospel to their neighbors.47 This dimension of love is important to consider. Seeking the best for one's neighbor must certainly involve his spiritual as well as his physical welfare. Love for sinners is God-like; that is what God does for us, and we should extend it to others.48

3. God Motives. Several motives found among the early Christians were rooted in their consideration for the nature and activity of God. John explained that "we love because he first loved us"; what he did for us causes us to extend the same kind of concern to others.49 It is hard to see how this would exclude the proclamation to others of the good news which originally came from God. Jessie Brown Pounds embodied the idea in the hymn, "Will You Not Tell It Today."

There was also the desire that God be recognized for what he really is, the one true God, Lord of heaven and earth.50 Anyone who loves God can identify, with Paul's agony of soul when he saw the city of Athens given to idolatry.51 However, merely being enraged at the foolishness of idolatry does not produce praise for God; nor does the mere destruction of the physical idols themselves. Idolatry must be removed from the hearts of men so they can see "the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ," and live no longer for themselves (or any other God) but for him who for their sakes died and rose again.52 To that end Paul and others engaged in a divine warfare by which they sought to "destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ."53 This is evangelistic work.

To this day there is something thrilling in the awareness each Lord's day that because of someone's evangelism throughout the world, there are former idolaters of all sorts who "keep the feast." Paul claimed that the Godhead initiated salvation in order that saved people might live "to the praise of his glory."54 It is a source of joy to see former Animists, Communists, Hindus and Secularists now living to the praise of God's grace. Since Christians exist to praise God, the desire to increase the number of "God-praisers" in the world is a wonderful motive for evangelizing. Paul demonstrated this to the Corinthians. "Why should we apostles endure all of this affliction, perplexity, and persecution as a consequence of our preaching?" he asked them. Why, "it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God."55 He evangelized in order to increase the number of "God-praisers" in the world. When Christians are eager for others to glorify God, to live in gratitude before him, singing "Praise God from whom all blessings flow", their evangelism will increase in both quantity and quality.

Another way of regarding one's evangelism is found in Paul's attitude toward his work among the Gentiles. He knew that Christ's "service" was so designed that "the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy."56 Christ also worked through him "to win obedience from the Gentiles."57 Those whom Paul evangelized and brought to obedience he regarded as an "offering" to God as an act of his "priestly service of the gospel of God."58 Churches who support and workers who go for such service can think of themselves as rescuing people from evil and offering them to God. This can give an added significance to reports about baptisms. When through evangelizing, people are brought to confess Jesus as God's Son and their Lord, and put him on in baptism, they may be regarded as an offering to God.

These God-oriented motives seem to lift up workers to a higher level of work than they would have by evangelizing primarily to save their own souls or to carry out the commission of Jesus as a rather cold commandment. To the Christian, God is to be the center of everything. Evangelism is his work done through his people.


We live in the era marked off by the ascension and final appearing of the "Lord of Glory." What he set in motion by his life, death, resurrection, and directives, his church is to carry out to the end of the era. Man's reconciliation to his Maker and Sustainer, and the praise of God by his creatures, are involved in the evangelistic enterprise. Its faithful and aggressive execution will depend significantly on the dimensions of faith found in local congregations.

The door is open for churches of Christ to have "partnership in the gospel" as the Philippian church had with Paul. By supporting him through gifts of love and prayer, deliberately identifying themselves with his evangelistic work, they were fellow-partakers with him of God's grace.59 Paul did not seek their gifts of love, but they were regarded as "a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God."60 Because of their motives in helping Paul and his work, the gifts were somehow fruit which increased to their credit.61

Wonderful things happen in local churches when elders, preachers, and teachers direct the body in this course of life.


1Kenneth S. Latourette, The Great Century: Europe and the United States. vol. 4: A History of the Expansion of Christianity (CEP edition; Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1970), chapter 1.

2 For a useful analysis see Philip W. Elkins, Church-Sponsored Missions., An Evaluation of Churches of Christ (Austin, Texas: Firm Foundation Publishing House, 1974), pp. 4-7.

3Gen. 1:26-27; Ps. 8:5-8; Gen. 3:22-4; Isa. 59:1-2.

4Rom. 1:24-5: cf. Everett Ferguson, "The Pagan," in World Evangelism, Abilene Christian College Annual Bible Lectures (Abilene: Abilene Christian College Book Store, 1971) pp. 151-161.

5Gen. 12:1-2; cf. Acts 3:24-6.

6Isa. 42:6; 49:6.

7Ps. 115:1-8.

8E.G., Isa. 44:9-20; Jer. 10: 1-16.

9Ex. 3:7-12.

10Although exceptional for the Old Testament, only two verses relate the message preached (Jonah 3:4-5). The design of the book is more to show God's mercy (3:10; 4:2, 9-11) than to record evangelization by a Jew.

11Ps. 86:9; cf. Ps. 96:1-9; Jer. 16:19-20; Zech. 8:20-23.

12Isa. 2:1-4; Mic. 4:1-4.

13Matt. 10:5-6. For a discussion of Jesus' dealings with the Gentiles see Joachim Jeremias, Jesus' Promise to the Nations (London: S C M Press, 1958), pp. 19ff.

14I Tim. 3:16; Eph. 4:8; Col. 2:15; cf. Ps. 24:7-10.

15For an interesting discussion of this text (Matt. 28:16-20) see Johannes Blauw, The Missionary Nature of the Church (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc., 1962) pp. 83ff.; cf. C. Philip Slate, "World Evangelism", in What the Bible Teaches, 1972 Lectureship of Harding Graduate School of Religion (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Book Co., 1972), pp. 161-178.

16Matt. 16:18.

17Rev. 5:9-10.

18Frank Pack, "Why Couldn't This Happen Among Us?" Gospel Advocate (Nov. 5,1959): 705., 714.

19Matt. 28:19; Lk. 24:47; Mk. 16:15; Acts 1:7.

20John 1:12. Note the change in the Corinthians (I Cor. 6:9-11).

21If the Lord viewed Corinth, of all cities, in that light (Acts 18:9-10), how must he view people today?

22Col. 1:6, 23.

23See Michael Green, The Evangelism of the Early Church (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1970), chapter 10.

24Col. 2:8-23. Note the emphasis on angels, fasting, and visions (verses 16-18).

25Note 1:15-20 in which Christ is presented in terms of the universe, not just as the Son of God who lived, died and was resurrected in Judea.

26Col. 2:9-10. completeness in him renders unnecessary and futile any other effort to obtain salvation. The exclusiveness of Christianity is at once a point of confidence for Christians and an irritant to the non-Christian religions. But the emphasis arises from the nature of Christ himself. See John 14:6; I Tim. 2:5; Acts 4:12; 17:30-31.

27II Cor. 6:1-10.

28Rev. 5:9-10.

29Eph. 3:8-10.

30Rom. 15:18.

31There are no less than fourteen cases of non-conversion in Acts, among them 5:33; 7:54ff.; 9:28-9; 14:2, 19; 17:32.

32I Cor. 9:19-22.

33Rev. 2:10.

34Acts 16:15, 29-34; 9:32-35. On this point see Donald A. McGavran, The Bridges of God (New York: Friendship Press, 1955).

35Acts 14:22 and 16:36.

36Rom. 12:3-8; I Cor. 12:11-27. Local churches are in view.

37I Thess. 4:18; 5:11; Heb. 10:25; Rom. 12:10; Eph. 4:2, 32; Jas. 5:16; I Pet. 4:9.

38Useful discussions are found in Ferdinand Hahn, Mission in the New Testament (Naperville, Ill.: Alec R. Allenson, Inc., 1965); Donald G. Miller, "Pauline Motives for the Christian Mission", in The Theology of the Christian Mission, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co. Inc., 1961), pp. 72-84; Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church, chapter 9.

39Acts 10:42; 13:47.

40Jer. 31:31 ff.; Isa. 66:18-23.

41I Cor. 15:23; II Thess. 1:7-10.

42Heb. 9:27; Acts 24:25.

43II Cor. 5: 10-11.

44Green, Evangelism in the Early Church, p. 277.

45Rom. 9:3.

46Rom. 1: 14; I Cor. 9:16-17.

47Carl G. Kromminga, The Communication of the Gospel Through Neighboring (Franeker: T. Wever, 1964).

48Rom. 5:6-11.

49I John 4:19, 7-12.

50Isa. 45:21ff.; Acts 17:23-24.

51Acts 17:16.

52II Cor. 4:4; 5:15.

53II Cor. 10:3-6.

54Eph. 1:6, 12, 14; cf. I Pet. 2:9-10.

55II Cor. 5:8-15.

56Rom. 15:8-9.

57Rom. 15:18.

58Rom. 15:16.

59[Missing from printed text]

60[Missing from printed text]

61[Missing from printed text]


ANDERSON, Gerald H. (ed). The Theology of the Christian Mission. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1961.

BEYERHAUS, Peter. Shaken Foundations. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1972.

BLAUW, Johannes. The Missionary Nature of the Church. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1962.

BOER, Harry R. Pentecost and Missions. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1961.

HAHN, Ferdinand. Missions in the New Testament. London: S.C. M. Press, 1965.

LINDSELL, Harold. An Evangelical Theology of Missions. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1970.

PETERS, George W. A Biblical Theology of Missions. Chicago: Moody Press, 1972.

TRUEBLOOD, Elton. The Validity of the Christian Mission. New York: Harper and Row Publishers.

VICEDOM, George F. The Mission of God. Translated by Gilbert A. Thiele and Dennie Hilgendorf. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1965.

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