While the word “evangelization’ does not appear in the New Testament, the use made by sacred writers of the terms “Gospel,” “evangelize” and “evangelist” enables us to see clearly what conditions are necessary to make our evangelization fruitful and to overcome the obstacles that would normally make it impossible.
We have three different constructions of the word Gospel. Reference may be made to:
a) the messenger, as when Paul speaks of his Gospel (Rom. 2:16);
b) those evangelized when the Gospel of the circumcision or the uncircumcision is referred to (Gal. 2:7);
c) the content of the message
We read the phrases, Gospel of God (Matt. 4:2 9:55; 21+:14) of grace (Acts 20:24) of salvation (Eph. 1:15) ‘and especially the Gospel of the Son or of Christ (Rom. 1:9; I Cor. 9:12; II Cor. 2:12; 9:13; Gal. 1:7; Phil. 1:27; I Thess. 5:2). The last expression may have two interpretations: the Gospel of which Christ is the theme or object (evangeliumde Christo) or the Gospel of which Christ is the author or the subject (evangelium Christi). The first interpretation is preferable because of the comparison with scripture passages that emphasize the “good news of Christ” to these we will refer later. The second interpretation, however, is supported by the phrase, Gospel of God, where without doubt, God is understood to be the author of the message (Born. 1:1; 15:16; II Cor. 11:7; I Thess. 2:2; 2:8, 9; I Pet. 4:17).
Similarly the Greek verb euangelizomai may be applied either to the individuals to whom the Gospel is being preached or to the message that is given. This distinction is not as clear in our translations, as in the original text. In the English only people are “evangelized” whereas in the Greek text it is the content of the message that is proclaimed. The apostles preached as the good news, euengelizonto the Lord Himself (Acts 5:42; 8:55; 11:20; 17:18; Gal. 1:16). This resulted in the preaching of the Word (Acts 8:4; 15:35; I Pet. 1:25); of the promise (Acts 13:32); of the kingdom (Luke 16:16); of peace (Acts 10:36; Rom. 10:15); of faith (Gal. 1:24); of conversion (Acts 14:15); of resurrection (Acts 17:18).
All this calls our attention to the content of the Gospel. The 11good news” is not just any message that might be preached but is unique and clearly defined in its content.
Already in the apostolic era, there were those who, using the name evangelist, preached “another” Gospel (II Cor. 11:4; al. 1:6, 7). Paul cursed them (Gal. 1:8, 9). To change the content of the Gospel is to destroy it. There is no substitute. It makes no difference how dignified the author of this counterfeit may be: “But though we, or an. angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8).
The temptation to change the content of the Gospel generally has its origin in a desire to make it more palatable. The Gospel has always been foolishness and a stumbling block to them that perish (I Cor.. 1:18, 23). Those who think that the apostolic preaching was well adapted to the mentality of their generation and. that it is necessary to make it more acceptable to the man of the 20th century have not carefully read the Epistle to the Corinthians. The Gospel will never be fashionable at any period of history or in any country. We note also that some have always sought to have a wider and more ready hearing. They have tried to improve the Gospel by rounding off its sharp angles, by sweetening some of its more bitter aspects, by removing some of its hindrances to the natural man.
But this approach has very serious consequences. First, it is a direct betrayal of the Lord who has sent us. What would we think of an ambassador who changed his instructions from his government to please those to whom he is sent? It is also unfair to those whom we are supposed to evangelize because it deprives them of the divine message they have a right to hear and which alone can bring them salvation.
Christianity “is not a religion that flatters the natural man; those of the world as they reject it testify that Christianity is a strange teaching; those who do not dare reject it, try to adapt it. They take away its unpleasant features or its myths, as they choose to call them. They make it almost reasonable; but, when it is made intellectually acceptable, it has lost its power.... Zeal, fervour, holiness and love disappear with these strange dogmas. The salt of the earth has lost its savor.... On the other hand, when you hear that revival has started somewhere, so that faith is quickened and zeal is flourishing, do not ask on what kind of ground, do..not inquire concerning the system that has produced these precious plants. Before the question has been asked, you may be able to reply that it is on the rough and uneven soil of orthodoxy, in the shadow of these mysteries that transcend human reason end which the latter would like to avoid.” (Vinet, Discours, Un caractere du Christianisme, ed. 1853, pp. 59, 60).
In view of what we have just seen, we conclude that effective evangelization is closely associated with a certain form of doctrine; this expression is used. even by the apostle Paul (Rom. 6:17). Thus it is evident that unbelief and heresy constitute the greatest obstacles to evangelization.
Other panels will examine certain contemporary errors such as universalism and sacerdotalism with its twin brother sacramentalism. But many other doctrinal deviations threaten the proclamation of the Gospel and we will denounce them at this point.
First, since we are to preach Jesus Christ, any false teaching concerning the person of the Lord cuts at the root that enable us to evangelize in the right way. It is certainly true that ‘we know in part and. that we prophesy in part. We must be modest in our presentation. But since the Lord has revealed Himself to us, we must adhere to this revelation of Himself. If Jesus is not at the same time God and man, there is no more good news. God alone is able to save (Isa. 43:11) and it is only by His incarnation that the Son is able to be our Mediator (I Tim. 2:5). The miracle that has confirmed this dual nature of Christ is the virgin birth (Isa. 7:14). As Karl Barth so well expresses it, ‘let us take two theologians who seem to sh forth the same respect for the mystery of Noel. Can we say ti they have the same idea in their heads, if one accepts the vi birth as a confirmation of this mystery and the other rejects it as a useless form or refuses to preach it? Must not this negation or indifference with respect to the miracle of the virgin birth reveal a negative attitude with respect to the reality toward which this miracle points? Is not this reality only perceived by him who has firmly accepted. the miracle as purposed by the Biblical witness?” (Karl Barth, Dogmatique, first volume, chapter 2, second. section, 615:3, page l67 from the French translation, page 196 from the German text).
Jesus Himself came to announce the good news of peace which w by the blood of the cross (Eph. 2:13, 17). This message of reconciliation which was committed to us is interwoven with t f act that He who was without sin was made sin for us (II Cor. 5:20, 21). We cannot explain the mystery of the atonement. Bt we must believe that Christ’s death is a sacrifice for sin (Isa. 53:10). Surely it is also an example, an act of devotion a way of reaching the heart. But when we see only this side c the atonement and neglect His vicarious suffering, there is no longer a message for the troubled conscience or the anguished heart. Evangelization has become impossible.
Paul sums up the Gospel in three points: Christ has died, He was buried, He rose again.(I Cor. 15: 3, 4). Then he recalls the various appearances of Christ. The objective reality of that resurrection is the only guarantee that we have of forgiveness and life (Acts 13:37—39; Rom. 4:23—25; 10:9). If the resurrection of Jesus is a myth, evangelization has become a fraud. “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain ai your faith is also vain” (I Cor. 15:14, 17).
The New Testament speaks of it also as the Gospel of grace (Acts 20:24). Anything that tends to cloud the fact that this salvation is a free gift from God or that we are undeserving, destroys the Gospel. It is quite clear that by our own effort we can never satisfactorily meet the holy requirements God One must be very superficial to imagine that eternal blessedness can be earned. “Who will say: I have purified. my heart, and I sins are cleansed?” (Prov. 20:9). The Gospel is simply this: God has consented not to consider our failures; He does not expect us to acquire a personal holiness that is forever beyond our possibilities, but He clothes us in His righteousness, a righteousness fully sufficient for time and eternity. It was essential subject that the Judanizing teachers repudiated by insinuating that observance of the Mosaic law must be added to the redemption that is in Christ. We know with. what spirit Paul refuted this doctrine in his epistle to the Galatians. Yet even today there are those who would make good works a requirement for salvation. Those who accept this error create a certain kind of propaganda which alas,is sometimes crowned with success. But they are not evangelists; they are more like messengers of bad news.
The Gospel call requires a reply from man. We find the expression “preach the faith as the good news” (Gal. 1:24). Elsewhere the Gospel is presented as an invitation to conversion (Acts 14:15). We cannot stop at this point very long because it approaches the theory of universaliam which is to be discussed in another panel. But it is certain that an invitation is of primary, importance if there is to be real evangelization. Jesus called his disciples to follow Him, and to do this immediately and visibly (I’flc. 1:16—20; 2:14; liuke 9:59—62). In the Acts of the Apostles, we read again and again that the hearers accepted the Word, believed and committed themselves——and all this without delay (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 8:14; 11:21; 13:43; 16:34; 17:34; 18:8., etc.). Certain opponents of our methods are especially irritated by this aspect of our evangelization. It is quite apparent that we must be careful not to exert psychological or emotiOnal pressures on the audience, and not to confuse a visible act which ay be ambiguous with a true conversion which God alone is able to know with certainty. And we must not put our confidence in statistics which can often give the wrong impression. But it is not only biblical but also psychologically necessary to invite those who have been touched by the message of grace to manifest it in some visible way. Otherwise there is the risk of letting the ripe grain dry and rot rather than of harvesting it. We must now throw out the net of the kingdom of God and then neglect to draw it in.
All these obstacles in evangelization that we have mentioned have a common denominator: in one way or another, they have their source in unfaithfulness to the biblical standard. The apostles 1preached the good news of the Word” (Acts 8:4; 15:35; I Pet. 1:25). They were confident that they brought a message come from God and confident that they must make it heard whatever the cost. They did not hesitate on certain occasions to enter into dialogue with their contemporary philosophies (Acts 7:17, 18), but they were fully persuaded that the Gospel was not of human origin and the trumpet that they put to their lips did not give forth an uncertain sound.
We must not be afraid to bring an authoritative word to our contemporaries. Some tell us that we must not speak like those who give the appearance of knowing and instructing others, but that we must listen to what the world has to say, and must seek to discover the voice of Christ in the accents of the world. That is, we should be engaged in a dialogue where we receive at least as much as we can give. This is not the way to evangelize.
Certainly, we must be unpretentious, and more than that, sncere1y humble. We must show that our confidence does not come from ourselves (II Cor. 1:9). We must be ready to confess.our sins and errors. We are only .human vessels. But we have a treasure that those to whom we are preaching do not have (II Cor. 4:7). Let us not forget that the world by its wisdom did. not know God (I Cor. 1:21), that the history of the most brilliant human civilization may also be considered a time of ignorance (Acts 17:30), and that we preach Him whom men at their best can ignorantly worship (Acts 17:23). Let us not be ashamed of the Gospel (Rom. 1:16), but proclaim it with boldness, as we ought to speak (Eph. 6:20)!