So, I inadvertently got involved in a Facebook fight!
I never ever take the bait on those things because not only are they a waste of time, but they can degenerate into lots of unhealthy name calling and disunity. However, I ended up responding to a guy over the issue of evangelism.
Long story short, the other guy thought evangelism – or more correctly evangelists – are bad and I think evangelism and evangelists are good.
Predictably the “discussion” devolved into name calling and all the rest. At one point when I stopped engaging the guy wrote 12 posts in a row kind of ranting at me. Okay, fair enough. I’m actually happy he had his say and got it off his chest.
But pondering his comments I realized that evangelism has been hijacked and those both inside and outside the faith look at it as a cancer due to those who have hijacked it. Makes sense if you think evangelism is the sole domain of the TV preachers, celebrity pastors, and Trump sycophants who honestly preach a different Jesus than I know. However, I believe it’s time to retake Evangelism from the fringe and move it back to the mainstream where Jesus Himself says it belongs.
This is going to be a bit of a lengthy post but hang tough through it. I think it will raise important points as I look through scripture to outline just what evangelism is and why every Christian is commanded to be an evangelist.
Let me first organize this a bit because there are a lot of moving parts.
First, we have to explain what evangelism is and is not.
Second, we have to examine evangelists and how to discern evangelism from evangelists.
Third, we have to explore how we take back the mantle of evangelism and rehabilitate it from the derogatory reputation it has among many.
What is Evangelism?
For our purposes this is a pretty good definition:
The word evangelist comes from the Koine Greek word εὐαγγέλιον (transliterated as euangelion) via Latinised evangelium as used in the canonical titles of the Four Gospels, authored by (or attributed to) Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (also known as the Four Evangelists). The Greek word εὐαγγέλιον originally meant a reward given to the messenger for good news (εὔ = “good”, ἀγγέλλω = “I bring a message”; the word “angel” comes from the same root) and later “good news” itself.
So, evangelism simply means “I bring a message of good news!” Of course, if our Christian faith that Good News is Jesus the Messiah has come as our savior to reconcile man and God, paying the penalty for our sin so that we can be seen and holy and righteous before the Father through the sacrifice of Jesus granting us eternity with Jesus by grace through faith. (Boy, that was a mouthful!)
Thus, when Jesus gives us the “Great Commission” in Matthew 28:18-20 He (Jesus) was commanding us to be evangelists.
18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Everybody that follows Jesus is “commissioned” to share the Good News of Jesus with people!
In Acts 1:8 Jesus again commissions us:
“But ye shall receive power after 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 the earth.”
This evangelism was prophesized by Isaiah in 57:2 –
“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” (Emphasis added)
My brothers and sisters this is evangelism – the evangelism Jesus commissioned and prepares all of us in the faith to carry out. Nothing more and nothing less.
So, how in the world did evangelism – going out and sharing Jesus with people – become such a dirty word? Well, we need to study a little history here.
Evangelists vs Evangelism
I think there have always been people out there – evangelists if you will – who give Christianity a bad name. scripture bears me out noting there would be false prophets and wolves among the sheep. But let me just look at recent history staring in the late 1970s and early 1980s moving forward.
How many of you remember the Reagan Revolution during the 1980 presidential campaign? President Jimmy Carter oversaw the Iran hostage situation, the oil embargo, gas rationing, immense interest rate hikes, and a crashed economy. There was no doubt he was not going to be re-elected, but something happened during that election that changed the landscape of “evangelism” in the American eye.
Does the name Ralph Reed mean anything to you? Do you recall Ralph Reed creating the “Christian Coalition” an organization aimed an politicizing the Christian faith to support candidates who endorsed a family-values agenda?
Certainly, there were television “evangelists” around at the time, but Christian Coalition galvanized the movement during the Regan Revolution – at least from my memory having lived through it.
As this was going on you had Jimmy Swaggart, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, PTL (Praise the Lord) TV, and others were taking advantage of the Christian political engagement, making tons of cash off people watching their shows.
For mainstream Christianity, those television evangelists made us cringe. Not only were they caricatures of Christians, but they were clearly in it for the money and power.
Then came their downfall.
Swaggart gets caught with some others sexually using a secretary named Jessica Hahn. Jim Bakker was engaged and allegedly raping and paying off a secretary. There were other high-profile falls from grace as well.
For the Christian community we were happy to see them go in that they did not represent Jesus or us! But for the American public these were the popular faces of Christianity with plenty of Christians following them and defending them. This is what the public saw as evangelism and the mainstream Christian church lost complete control of the term.
Unfortunately, it didn’t get better.
TV preachers continued begging for money from their adherents for planes, houses, and other personal luxury items in return for their own “prosperity” from God for their faithfulness in their giving.
High-profile pastors continued to fall to sexual sin, financial fraud, mistreating employees, and even leaving sound doctrine for their own made-up version of Christ.
It is no real wonder why that guy on Facebook was so adamant that evangelists are bad.
But are they really?
My first argument would be to reject the premise that these people who supposedly represent Christian evangelism are either Christian or evangelists.
Jesus tells us plainly that we will know His disciples by two traits: How they love one another (John 13:35) and by their fruit (good trees bear good fruit and bad trees bear bad fruit Matthew 17:7) It is painfully obvious that these famous people – TV evangelists, prosperity gospel pushers, political religious hacks making some elected official a demagogue, and celebrity pastors – are not producing good fruit and love only themselves.
But again, they are caricatures of the faith not actual Christians following Jesus or true evangelists whose feet bring good news!
My Facebook challenger lumps all evangelists into one group – stereotyping us as the same in character, method, motive, and action. He’s wrong. Any time you stereotype people you’re wrong. People have to be taken individually and not just because I say so – scripture says so.
In Exodus 34:7 we read that God will visit the sins of the father on the third and fourth generation of his sons. That verse has been taken out of context quite a bit especially when contrasted with these verses:
“Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.
“Yet you say, ‘Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father?’ When the son has done what is just and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.
What is truly visited on the sons through generation is generational sin and dysfunction. Each of us struggles with something that is probably a generational issue – pride, greed, lust, addictions, financial struggles, anger, and more. Generational sin/dysfunction is extremely difficult to break but obviously can be done.
However, scripture is extremely clear that the sins of one person is their own and cannot be commuted to another person relative or not.
This is important because while some want to lump us all together for various purposes, each Christian in the Body of Christ is an individual in an individual relationship with Jesus although we worship corporately and hopefully work arm in arm to spread the Good News!
So, when a respected pastoral and leadership personality such as Bill Hybles falls that is on him not the rest of us. When another respected national voice such as Andy Stanley seemingly leaves the faith with apostate views that is on him not the rest of the Body. An individual’s decision is their own so when so-called evangelists hijack the word and abuse it that’s on them and they will suffer God’s judgment on their actions but their actions in no way tarnish my work as an evangelist in the eyes of Jesus!
This is why I fight back against those who would lump us all together. I am not Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, Creflo Dollar, Jesse Duplantis, Jerry Falwell (or his son), Franklin Graham, Paula White, Benny Hinn, Joel Olsteen, Pat Robertson, or any of the other people who are famous for their “evangelism” in America.
I’m just Rev. Tom doing what God has directed me to do and encouraging everyone to test what I say and do by scripture and only scripture. Again, you can test my evangelism by the way I love people and the fruit it bears. Not too complicated.
And I’m not the only one out here doing it! There are plenty of people on TV and other platforms that you can test, too, that seem pretty orthodox in their views! So, to lump us all together is not only culturally repugnant but also unbiblical. We are not all the same and God does not judge us as a group; He judges us on the individual ministry we have been given based on His expectations of how we each represent and share Him.
Taking Back Evangelism
That brings us to the trickiest part: How do we take back evangelism in a way where it becomes what Jesus meant it to be?
First, we actually have to love the lost and burn for them to know Jesus. Don’t forget the commission: Go and share Jesus everywhere. If you don’t really care about people – all of whom are made in the image of God – then you won’t share Jesus with them or at least you won’t share Jesus with them with the right motive.
I see people try to share Jesus by telling people they’re going to hell. Not the most convincing way to start a relationship wouldn’t you say? “Love Jesus or you’ll burn!” That’s not a Jesus I would want to know!
If you love people you will be concerned about them knowing the Jesus you know so that they can know His ways and embrace their own rebellion in such a way they realize that what Jesus offers – the Good News – is better than anything they could do for themselves.
So, it starts with us! Those of us that share Jesus have to share the Jesus from the Gospels not some other Jesus. The Jesus that loved you so much He gave His life for you. The Jesus that wants to spend eternity with you so badly He endured torture for you! The Jesus that can not just change your life but transform it! The Jesus that, yes, will cleanse you of bondage of sin. That Jesus.
But there is more that must be done.
Those of us in the mainstream of evangelism must call out those who are the fringe folks so that those both inside and outside the church know that regardless of the platform they may have they don’t represent Jesus or us.
I love Dr. Michael Brown who has a podcast that I occasionally listen to. When Trump lost the election, he called out the so-called prophets who were telling everyone that God told them Trump would win. Some doubled down on the alleged prophecy claiming that God would intervene within seven days of President Biden’s inauguration to place Trump back in the White House! Dr. Brown called them out asking them to explain themselves! If they were truly a prophet hearing God’s voice, then their prophecies had to come true. If they did not come true then they were not actually prophets and they did not actually hear from God! Get ‘em, Dr. Brown!!
And the Lord said to me: “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds.
Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
We’ve been warned about this! God told us plainly that there would be people who come up with their own “prophecies” that are not from Him. And like Dr. Brown the Christian Body has to call them out! If we don’t those are the people others see as representing Christian evangelism and all of our witnesses suffer.
I’m going to add a section here that I think is vital to how we call them out! I’ve noticed when I get attacked on my blogs or preaching (which I do all too often) there are a number of faulty logic approaches people use. I want to make you aware of what these are before getting to my last point. If you’re not interested just scroll past; however, I think recognizing these when people push back against you is important. (Yeah, I know it’s a rabbit trail but it’s a good one!)
Compact Logical Fallacies Reference List
- Ad Hominem – Directing an attack against the person making a statement rather than the statement itself.
- Affirming the Consequent – A statement where the second premise affirms the consequent of the first premise.
- Appeal to Emotion – The attempt to persuade people by evoking strong emotions rather than making a logical argument.
- Appeal to Force / Fear – Threats that negative consequences will follow if the other person does not accept their position.
- Appeal to Ignorance – Claiming the unknown; specifically, when someone argues that a statement is true simply because it has never been proven false.
- Appeal to Pity – Coercing someone to accept a position by creating sympathy for those who hold the same position.
- Begging the Question – Jumping to the conclusion of what someone is attempting to prove before they finalize their statement.
- Bifurcation – The supposition that there are only two mutually exclusive outcomes, when there may, in fact, be several.
- Complex Question – Coercion by asking a loaded question. Supposing or inferring intent, placing the second party in an uncomfortable or confusing position.
- Denying the Antecedent – A statement where the second premise denies the antecedent of the first premise.
- Equivocation – Altering semantics. Transitioning from one definition of a word to another within an argument.
- “Fallacy” Fallacy – The argument that a statement is false simply because an argument for that position can be proven fallacious.
- Fallacy of Composition – The position that what is true of the parts must also be true of the whole, or what is true of the individual members of a group is also true of the group itself.
- Fallacy of Division – The supposition that what is true of the whole must also be true of the parts. A reverse of Fallacy of Composition.
- Fallacy of False Cause – Claiming the existence of a false cause-and-effect relationship between two separate events.
- Fallacy of Irrelevant Thesis – Involves proving a valid point, but not the point at issue.
- False Analogy – Drawing a comparison between things that are similar in trivial ways, but not at all pertaining to the argument being made.
- Faulty Appeal to Authority – The endorsement of a position or statement simply based on the social stature of the person making it.
- Formal Fallacies – Errors in logical reasoning which flow from the structure or the form of the argument itself.
- Genetic Fallacy – The rejection of a claim simply because someone objects to the source of the information.
- Hasty Generalization – Making a general claim which is derived from an insufficient number of specific examples.
- Hypothetical Proposition – A claim that if A is true, then B must be true also.
- Mixed Hypothetical Syllogism – A statement with two basic premises, one of which is merely hypothetical.
- Moralistic Fallacy – The demand that because something should be a particular way, that it validates that way.
- Naturalistic Fallacy – The position that since something is a particular way, it is morally acceptable for it to be that way.
- “No True Scotsman” Fallacy – The arguer defines a term in a biased way in order to protect his position from rebuttals.
- Question-Begging Epithet – Using biased or emotional language to coerce people into accepting a position rather than using logic or evidence.
- Reification – Attributing an absolute definitive characteristic to something abstract.
- Slippery Slope Fallacy – The claim that a particular action will trigger a negative chain of events, when in reality many surrounding factors would prevent the result.
- Special Pleading -The error of using a double standard.
- Straw Man Fallacy – Drawing a false analogy of an opponent’s position and then refuting the false analogy rather than what the opponent had actually claimed.
- Sweeping Generalization – Generalizing an exception.
Okay, lastly, I think we need to pray – A LOT! Many have already made up their minds about evangelists and there really is no changing those minds. Scripture tells us plainly: “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” (Matthew 7:6) We must “shake the dust from our feet” (Matthew 10:14) and move on.
However, we need to pray that the Holy Spirit can soften the hearts of those who would listen and understand that all people should be examined based upon their own actions not the actions of another even if they belong to the same general group. I really think this is a Holy Spirit thing and a person-to-person thing at the most personal level.
Yeah, I’ll admit it kind of ticks me off when people lump me in with the bad characters that have represented American evangelism. I think they would feel the same if I lumped them in with some group of people who abused their belief in such a way that it was unrecognizable and then claimed since they’re one of them they must also belief the way they do. However, it really is a fate of our own making. When the specter of bad evangelism raised its ugly head none of us cried foul, taking these folks to task for their heresies and apostate hijacking of the Gospel. Instead, we just kept doing what we were doing believing that it would just all work itself out in the end.
Well, it didn’t Today both well-meaning and not-so-well-meaning people assume if you’re a Christian evangelist you’re actually evil – or worse if you’re a white male evangelical you are Satan incarnate! I believe that the true evangelical community – those of us in the faith that believe that we have an obligation to the Great Commission to share the Good News of Jesus – must raise up our voice and say, “No, they don’t represent Jesus or us. Let me tell you about the Jesus I know.” Whether they listen or not isn’t up to us – that’s between them and God. And yes, we’re going to get slings and arrows for it. Suck it up; that’s the job.
Very last thought: It’s not going to get better it’s going to get worse. Scripture is pretty clear on that point to. But hold fast! Trust the scriptures! Keep the faith! And keep on sharing the Gospel of Jesus!!