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THE AUTHORITY FOR EVANGELISM
Johannes Schneider

1. The Basis of Authority

a. Authority for evangelism is grounded most deeply and finally in the risen Lord’s Great Commission (Matt. 28:19). He Himself commanded the disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and upon baptism to receive those who believe on Hint into the redeemed fellowship of the new covenant. He thus gave a comprehensive charge which bound not only them, but all others as well who stand in His service, to Win the World for Christ! This is the great objective He has placed before us. And He Himself lends dignity to this command, for to Him is given all power, in heaven and in earth (Matt. 28:18). Through His disciples and messengers He is still continuing His earthly ministry: “As the Father hath sent me,” He says, “so send I you” (John 20:21; see also John 17:18). This indicates that evangelism is intrinsic and essential to God’s plan of redemption. It is through evangelism that Jesus’ great prophetic vision is being realized: “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (Matt. 24:14).

b. In His lifetime Jesus shared with chosen men the tasks committed to Him by God, first with the twelve, then with the seventy: they were to proclaim the Gospel, heal the sick, and cast out demons as a sign that God’s kingdom had dawned.

The ministry of the disciples was confined first of all to Jesus’ promise: “Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in: all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of th earth” (Acts 1:8). Thus was clearly set forth the plan for spreading the Gospel. This procedure was not born of human genius, nor was it the product of some deliberate far—flung missions strategy. No, it was the Lord Himself who determined the manner and purpose of world-wide evangelism.

c. Through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit the disciples were granted power to carry out their commission. Peter’s mighty ministry on the Day of Pentecost is the first example of large—scale evangelism, and the miracle of tongues documents the beginning of world-wide missions, for representatives of all nations heard the message of salvation in their own language. The Spirit—filled message, in which God’s mighty works were proclaimed, brought about repentance, conversion, faith in Christ and further building up of His church. The broadcast seed of the Word yielded much fruit. The Gospel began its triumphal march throughout the world.

d. Then Antioch became the second great missionary center. Here, too, the church placed itself completely under the effectual power of the Holy Spirit who commanded: “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto have called them” (Acts 13:2). As the two accordingly embarked upon their ministry among the heathen, the Scriptures emphasize once again that they were sent out by the Holy Ghost (Acts 13:4).

e. Special blessing, moreover, attended the evangelistic and missionary labors of the Apostle Paul to whom the risen Lord had appeared on the road to Damascus. The Lord had set him apart as a chosen vessel and had authorized him to declare His Name to heathen nations, to kings, and to the children of Israel (Acts 9:15). This commission was of un— precedented breadth and ecumenical importance, an entrustment which until his martyrdom Paul fulfilled with indefatigable faithfulness, holy passion, and sacrificial dedication. He was gripped by a constraint that he could not shake. “Woe is unto me, if I preach not the Gospel” (I Cor. 9:16). Paul speaks of the incomparable greatness and indescribable glory of his service (II Cor. 3:10) through which the bright light of the salvation message should illumine the hearts of men (II Cor. 4:4). In proclaiming the Gospel he does not limit himself to but one fixed method -- he is anything but a man of narrow vision —— instead, he adapts himself to the spiritual and religious condition of his listeners, yet never loses sight of the determinative objective, namely, to win as many as possible to Jesus Christ (I Cor. 9:19—23). His strongly emphasized self—identification with the Jews and with the heathen is but a point of contact for witnessing to the one and only truth that is equally valid for all men.

The Apostle considers his apostolic office a priestly service; the heathen are, as it were, to be an offering well pleasing unto God and sanctified through the Holy Ghost (Rom. 15:16). He knows, too, that the results granted in his evangelistic work are not due to his own prowess, but are to be credited rather to the Lord who has achieved them through him (II Cor. 3:6). This is true not only concerning the authoritative message that he proclaims, but also-concerning the power of the signs and wonders that accompany his proclamation. Thus through him and in most exemplary fashion, Jesus’ promise that the Gospel will be made known to all the world began to be fulfilled.

f. Besides Paul there are other favored men of early Christianity whom Christ set apart as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers (Eph. 4:11). They know that the Christ of whom they bear witness is Lord not only of His church, but Lord also of the cosmos, the One who fills all the universe (Eph. 4:10), the heavenly Omnipotent One (Pantokrator) whose servants and messengers do His bidding.

g. Throughout the centuries and up to the present day the Great Commission has retained its power to constrain and engage the church of Jesus Christ. In Him, and in Him alone, we, too, find our authority for evangelism.

2. Spiritual Essentials for an Authoritative Gospel Ministry.

a. The same spiritual requisites pertain to evangelists as to anyone who acknowledges Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. In conversion and regeneration they must have had a personal experience of salvation effected by the grace of God; they must believe on Jesus Christ with their whole being, must be in constant fellowship with Him by the power of the Holy Spirit must live a life dedicated to the Lord, and in word and deed must show themselves to be living members of the body of Christ. Certainly every Christian has the responsibility of being a Gospel witness; this, however, does not make him an evangelist in the true sense of the word. For this he must have a special call.

b. Evangelism is a charisma, a gift of grace bestowed by the Holy Spirit. No one can determine to become an evangelist simply on the basis of his oratorical gifts. Fleshly ambition is absolutely out of place, so is even the desire to assume a leading role in the church of Jesus Christ. Moreover, even a winning personality, or the ability to fascinate people and to spellbind them does not make an evangelist. Assuredly God uses . person’s natural gifts and puts them into service. But woe to him who boasts of these gifts! They are meaningful to evangelism only if they are sanctified by God, for it is God Himself who by His own free choice calls those who are to proclaim His Word and by the Holy Spirit equips them with the unique gift to become authoritative ministers of the Gospel.

No doubt Apollos had the gift of evangelism. He was a highly endowed man who had outstanding ability in public speaking, was well educated, and was also apt in expositing the Scriptures. His preaching left a deep impression on Corinth. He represents that kind of evangelist in whom strong natural propensities are combined with God’s special gift of grace. And yet it was the oratorically less gifted Paul who became the outstanding charismatic personality of early Christianity. Characteristic of him was; an apostolic consciousness of being sent and a full awareness of the meaning of the spiritual office entrusted to him; Paul was freely the lord of all things, yet like no other he was a servant of Jesus Christ. Paul was humble and regal, at one and the same time, a man who never boasted of his privileges and advantages; once when it was necessary he even called himself a fool (II Cor. 11:1—12, 18). He was a man of Christ who felt responsibility only to the Lord (Kyrios) of heaven and followed his instructions. He was accountable to no “missionary committee” He was no charming speaker who captivated the hearts of his listeners, nor was he a forceful evangelist by natural disposition. His enemies, while they probably exaggerated the situation and spoke in spite, said of Paul:. “He’s no speaker in any sense of the word! (His speech is contemptible)” (II Cor. 10:10, see also II Cor. 11:6). At times his mien was far from impressive and his bearing lacked self—confidence. In I Cor. 2:1-4 Paul confesses openly and in all modesty that he had come to Corinth, that famous metropolis of the East with no intention whatever of proclaiming the Gospel with overwhelming eloquence or show of human wisdom. This educated theologian who had been thoroughly trained in the School of the Torah at Jerusalem, and besides this was well—versed in Hellenistic culture, deliberately made no use at Corinth of this extensive knowledge; his one and only concern was to bear witness to Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Unlike the wandering philosophers of that day, Paul did not try to strike an impressive pose; he came, rather, “in weakness”, yes, even “with fear” and “great timidity.” But he bore a message that surpassed all the wisdom of the world, and proclaimed it in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. Thus the Gospel and its indwelling power was fully vindicated and actively manifested. Paul knew the danger that threatens an evangelist who seeks personal prominence; to do so undermines the authority of the message.

c. Paul teaches us that our evangelistic preaching must be Christocentric. Obviously we will treat many and diverse themes, for after all, we must be aware of our times and preach accordingly. That is, we must know people’s questions, problems, and needs and must come to grips with them. Any evangelist who evades or ignores the current, concrete world in which he lives has failed his calling. He must be ready for questions and answer. This he can do only if he is thoroughly trained, possesses broad knowledge and is sensitive to and aware of every facet of people’s lives. This concern is also essential for authoritative preaching. But evangelism which does not make Christ and His salvation central, that does not press for conversion and definite decision has fallen short of its purpose. Evangelism without commitment is no evangelism at all, but only a kind of religious activity.

d. Paul taught us also how we are to evangelize. What words and concepts we use is no matter of indifference. Repeatedly the apostle warned against language prompted by human wisdom; philosophical speech, after all, cannot properly delineate the content of the Gospel. Paul therefore emphasizes and stresses that in “comparing spiritual things with spiritual” (I Cor. 2:13) we must use words given us by the Holy Spirit. By this he means that the manner of our proclamation, yes, even our choice of words is not a matter of personal determination. It derives, rather, and is pressed in upon us from what we are to proclaim. Paul was the first to recognize today’s very real problem of “theological communication” (Sprachtheologie) and met it in the only correct way. This, too, belongs to authoritative preaching. Otherwise it becomes very simple to adulterate the Gospel. For our day this simply means that in presenting the redemptive message we cannot take up the modern mode of existential philosophy and theology whose anthropological purpose limits or obscures the Gospel. Where this sort of approach leads is seen with frightening clarity in Bishop Robinson’s book Honest to God. German theologian W. Künneth, who believes in revelation, points out in his publication, Von Gott Reden? (Brockhaus, Wuppertal 1965, p. 78) that while Robinson has purported to bring the Gospel to “modern” man, in reality, he has destroyed the Gospel.

e. Let us cite a concrete example from today’s evangelistic scene. Dr. E. Bieneck is a leading German businessman who is also president of the German YMCA and has an excellent overview of the present situation and of the church’s impact in Germany. In “Bibel und Evangelische Kirche” (1956) he states: “I can only say, that in the course of my life I have verified time and again that the more simply the message of the cross is proclaimed, the greater are the results; this is true also today.” Billy Graham’s work is the best proof of this fact.

Dr. Bieneck also mentions a very enlightening experience he had during an evangelistic campaign in one of Germany’s larger cities. The evangelist preached simply, almost in “Sunday School style.” His preaching culminated in the message of the cross and with an invitation that all who wanted to put their lives right with God should come to the front for personal conversation concerning spiritual things. Bieneck had invited a well-educated man to the meeting, a man who was a leading figure in the industrial world. This man had indeed come, and Bieneck was greatly concerned about how he would receive the simple, yet Christ—centered message. He then tells the following: “When I saw him again several days later, he told me to my amazement, that for years he had been well aware of great pulpiteers; in fact when traveling he always stopped to hear them here and there. Never in his life, however, had he been so personally confronted with the message of Christ; he could do nothing else but accept the call to come to the front. The following day he felt constrained to fetch the grown children of his first marriage in order to go forward again with them.” This is what happened in the life of a very modern person who was saved not through an existentially philosophical sermon, but through the message of the cross, a salvation proclaimed in the power of the Spirit.

f. If the evangelical sermon is essentially Christocentric then it will be properly related to all of Holy Scripture. From this center it will encompass the entire wealth of divine revelation and the fulness of redemption. From this centrality, too, it will derive its authoritative judgment of man and his entire godless, salvationless and sinful existence. At the same time, Christocentric preaching will appropriate scientific findings concerning man which are very noteworthy indeed, findings which give a. kind of insight as well as a measure of practical help. This benefit is undeniable, but redemption, redemption in Christ, these findings cannot provide.

3. The Purpose of Authoritative Evangelism

a. Proclamation of the Gospel begins with the idea that there, is only one salvation f or all mankind, namely, salvation in Christ. For “neither is there salvation in any other” (Acts 4:12). This basic statement establishes the purpose of evangelism once and f or all: to win men for Christ. Evangelism therefore is the determinative saving action for a lost world. Through evangelism God offers the world the salvation that in his fathomless love He has prepared in Christ Jesus. But the Gospel is more than an offer of love; it has a mysterious unique dynamic —— for everyone who believes the message of the cross becomes a power of God (I Cor. 1:18). Since the Gospel contains God’s entire plan of salvation, it demands obedience (Rom. 10:16). It comes with a universal appeal: God desires that all men be helped and that they come to awareness of the truth (I Tim. 2:4). Nan’s fate in time and eternity depends on his acceptance or rejection of the offer of redemption (II Thess. 1:8f). There is no other way of salvation.

b. Evangelism is an imperatively essential task, for opposition to the Gospel grows apace in a most frightening manner.

Today we are experiencing a constantly ongoing process of secularization. The world, as it had been rightly said, is becoming ever more worldly. This state is due to both secret and open revolt from God that culminates in political ideologies and world-views tied up with atheism to the very point of enmity toward God and Christ and persecution of the church. Without yielding the battle in so many words, faith in God is abandoned even in so-called Christian countries. For many people God no longer has any practical significance. People live without Him and, apparently, make out very well without Him. After all, it is said, God hinders man’s free development. In truth, however, when man surrenders his ties to God, he does not become really free, but plunges all the more deeply rather into the grip of satanic-demonic powers. He loses every moral norm and creates his own rules for living, rules which are often his very undoing. Deification of power, of money, of material possessions, of sex does not bring him salvation, but rather, destruction. He falls prey to lusts, passions and desires and becomes enmeshed in sins and guilt. Our so—called pluralistic society no longer has any determinative life core or centrality; it is subservient rather to the spirit of this world, that spirit by whom are ruled the Sons of disobedience (Eph. 2:2). While the world indeed mobilizes spiritual and moral forces in opposition, it cannot delay or vanquish the doom that has broken upon mankind in all areas of life.

c. In this situation the church of Jesus Christ must rally its powers all the more to proclaim the message of salvation with every possible means. It will not become discouraged even if its witness brings suffering and martyrdom, for at her side stands the Lord who has promised: “I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:20). Moreover, the apostle Paul’s declaration will always be valid:
“The word of God is not bound” (II Tim. 2:9; compare II Thess. 3:1). Christ Himself gathers together His church through the Word that declares Him to be the crucified, risen One Who lives forevermore.

4. The Biblical-Theological Basis for Authoritative Practice of Evangelism

Now we come to a very real problem. Because of certain impacts upon present day theology (by Bultmann and others) the matter of proper and currently relevant proclamation confronts us anew. This matter is of determinative significance not only for preaching in the churches, but also for evangelism.

We have already touched on the question briefly, but must now interact with it more extensively. In doing so we do not wish to deal in detail with the problem identified by the keyword demythologizing,” but will limit ourselves rather to intensive discussion of that phase which relates directly to our topic. This actually concerns the matter of method and practical execution of evangelism; in the last vital analysis it concerns the Gospel itself. This matter is so tremendously vital because preaching today already contains so much that is different from what in obedience to the clear witness of the Word of God we can subscribe to.

The best approach to the problem is from the vantage point of a passage in one of Paul’s letters, II Cor. 5:19—21, because it plays a big part in helping us orient ourselves about the question under consideration and brings opposing viewpoints to light. Paul’s exposition is dominated by three declarations

a. The first states: “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself.”

This is the basic statement of the Christian doctrine of salvation as presented by Paul. He ascertains an historical event of revelation accomplished by God which eliminates any and all human initiative and activity. By free decree according to the riches of His grace God gave His Son to die as atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world, and in obedience to God’s will, Christ took upon Himself the sacrifice that has brought redemption to lost mankind. This is the unique, once—for-all and unrepeatable fact valid for all time. Although witnessed to throughout the entire New Testament this event is dimmed in modern existential theology, robbed of its worth, or even denied. To deny the reality of redemption facts is to pull the very foundation out from Christian faith. For Bultmarin the cross of Christ has meaning only as it serves man’s existential self—realization: I must decide to take up the cross of Christ as my own. Robinson spoke similarly. He does not see a redemptive provision of God in the cross of Christ, puts aside the theory of the atonement and his theology comes, to the conclusion accordingly that the cross of Christ is only evidence of Jesus’ selflessness, of a love that gives itself to and unites itself with the ground of being (Seinsgrund). To do this is to rob the cross of Christ of its determinative substance. The statements of the New Testament are falsified to benefit an unbiblically oriented Christology.

The redemptive historical event of Jesus’ resurrection is closely related to the salvation fact of Christ’s death; for if Christ had not risen, then the saving and redemptive work of God would lose its meaning. Therefore Paul declares in I Cor. 15:17, that if there were no resurrected Christ then we should still be in our sins. But the apostles do indeed witness and in full agreement, that God raised His Son from among the dead. That there has been no resurrection of Jesus as an historical event is another item of contention among representatives of existentialist theology. This, they say, is mythological speech; to them the concept of an historical resurrection is irreconcilable with today’s scientific view of the universe. This concept must therefore be given up. Only the appearances the “Resurrected One” are historically ascertainable, they say, but no one can say with certainty of what kind they were and just how they took place among the disciples. It •is presumed impossible to speak of an immediate intervention of God; to do so would contradict our modern concept of God for which the fact of God’s transcendence and personal being have become irrelevant. Nonetheless -— and this is what is so corrupt and deceiving —— existential theology does maintain a concept of the resurrection. Christ, so the new interpretation says, was not raised to a new, glorified being, but -- says Bultmann —- was resurrected into Kerygma. That is, Christ does not continue to live as a person in a changed form, but is ever-present in the proclaimed Word. But how can He be active in proclamation if He does not actually exist, inasmuch as His death ended everything? This “kerygmatic Christ” has no reality whatsoever, nor is he identified with the historical Jesus of Nazareth; rather he is a fictitious greatness of some kind with which there is no fellowship, and to which one cannot pray. That is not the Lord to whom is given all power in heaven and on earth. Bultmann explicitly declares: “I must admit that I consider any talk about the personal aspect of Christ as mythology” (Kerygma and Mythos I —— 1960 —— 4, p. 127). Thus here, too, the redemptive—historical foundation of Proclamation is removed. The biblical message is totally falsified. An evangelism that falls for this sort of talk is totally without authority.

b. The apostle’s second declaration states: “God has set up among us the Word, of reconciliation.”

This indicates, further, that God Himself has done something also in reference to the proclamation. In that He has established the Word of reconciliation, He has determined the content of the message. He who proclaims, whether he be preacher or evangelist, therefore has no freedom to dispense the divine Word as he will. He is bound to firm instructions. As a “messenger in Christ’s place” he, like any ambassador, has his orders to carry out in the manner he has been instructed. That is, he is not permitted to project his own religious ideas, concoct more or less clever speculations, or engage in philosophical conjecture. In reference to our discussion this means: he has no right to interpret the soteriological statements of the New Testament in merely anthropoligical or existential terms.. To do this is to destroy them, for what is “meant” is only that which is there recorded, not that which is read into or out of the texts with the help of a certain exegetical method. Proclamation’s task first of all is to witness to the great acts of. God; it must tell the world what God has fulfilled in Christ for the redemption of the world.

Only when proclamation has presented the basic events of the incarnation, of the cross, and of the resurrection of Christ can preaching say what these facts mean for us. Most certainly that which has occurred extra nos (totally independent of us) has occurred pro nobis (for our good). But it is impossible to speak of the “significance” of the salvation facts, that is, of the meaning they have for us, if they themselves are disregarded or even denied. If this happens, the Kerygma becomes a “free floating” Word. When the Kerygma is stripped of its revelational—historical foundation it simply dangles in thin air.

That to which everything tends, in the last analysis, becomes clear in today’s well-loved and in modern German theology’s much used concept of Wortgeschehens. What is questionable about this? At first glance, nothing. Like many theological slogans of our time, the term, “das Wortgeschehen,” is not a particularly happy expression; one could accept it, however, if it indicated that proclamation of the Word is an event brought about by the Holy Ghost, an event that brings about the decisive turning point in the life of someone who accepts it by faith. But in existential theology much more than this is meant. The “Wortgeschehen” becomes the central and our only valid salvation event. This has logical consequences. For if the “Tatgeschehen” (the cross and resurrection of Christ) are declared unimportant for us or made totally devoid of value, then only that proclamation which confronts me relevantly here and now in my concrete existence can have decisive importance. Past history that has lost its redemptive-historical nature by virtue of this new concept of historicity, at best is considered but a “redeeming moment” for the present. Because of this interpretation Bultmann rejects any return to history behind the kerygma.

In the New Testament, by contrast, kerygma means message, proclamation, solemn impartation of facts that have occurred. So Paul understood the message of the cross. It announced that act of God, through which He reconciled the world unto Himself. For this very reason it is the power of God (I Cor. 1:18) which brings redemption and salvation to all who believe (Rom. 1:16). At the same time it is the total sum and substance of divine wisdom (I Cor. 1:24) which appears as foolishness to unbelievers, but which in truth is wiser than all human wisdom (I Cor. 1:25). Consequently the apostle tirelessly and zealously proclaims the crucified Christ (I Cor. 1:22) in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins (Eph. 1:7). Beyond this Paul witnesses to the unfathomable riches in Christ (Eph. 1:8) in whom dwells the entire fullness of God (Col. 2:9) —— that Christ who is the likeness of God, the firstborn of all creation and the firstborn of the dead (Col. 1:14—20); the Lord of all and of the church, that Lord who at His return in power and glory will usher in the fulfillment of redemption. If evangelism is to be authoritative, it must carry forward this true message of Christ.

c. Paul’s third declaration states: “Be ye reconciled to God.” This is an invitation; it is also a mighty summons to an unregenerate, lost world. It personally addresses each one who hears the word of reconciliation. Authoritative evangelism would not fulfill its task completely unless it confronted men with a final, inescapable decision.

Existential theology likewise knows a concept of decision and takes it most seriously. Its aim is to lead man to “reality,” to a proper understanding of himself, to a true God-willed existence. It speaks, too, of the sin—pardoning grace of God which gives man access to a new future. There is no word, however of Christ’s atonement as the redemptive—historical foundation of God’s forgiving activity.

Paul does not ask man to reconcile himself to God; man is in no position to do this. In Christ, God has accomplished everything needful for man’s salvation. Lost in his sin and guilt, man needs only to accept the completed reconciliation and apply it to himself. Through conversion which leads him to living faith in God and Christ, a new existence -— life in Christ – is given him by grace. Zinzendorf’s watchword is still valid for the evangelist today: “My joy until I die: to win souls for the Lamb.”

If properly understood and not existentially misconstrued, Paul’s three statements in II Corinthians contain all that belongs to the nature and realization of authoritative evangelism.


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Last Revised: 11/1/06
Expiration: indefinite

Wheaton College 2006