Evangelism: Empowered But Not Easy

It’s not uncommon to hear claims that sharing the Gospel is easy and that any follower of Jesus can lead nonbelievers to faith with relative ease, given the right method. Such claims aren’t entirely without merit. Evangelism is simpler than it’s portrayed at times, and any believer can do it. Yet examples from Scripture demonstrate it can be far from easy:

  • For Moses, faithfully sharing God’s Word meant standing eye to eye with a tyrannical pharaoh, declaring Yahweh’s identity, and calling the Egyptian leader to repent of his wickedness (Exodus 7-12).
  • Daniel called King Nebuchadnezzar to repent and follow the Lord (Daniel 4:27) even though the Babylonian monarch had demonstrated a willingness to execute followers of Yahweh when their actions appeared to undermine his authority (Daniel 3:1-30).
  • Stephen was stoned to death for preaching the Gospel to Jewish leaders (Acts 7:1-60).
  • For the apostle Paul, preaching the Gospel led to 39 lashes on five occasions; three beatings with rods; stoning; three shipwrecks; “danger from rivers . . . robbers . . . [his] own people [and] Gentiles”; “toil and hardship”; sleepless nights; hunger and thirst; and “cold and exposure” (2 Corinthians 11:24-27). Eventually, he was executed for his bold witness.
  • For preaching the message of Christ, Peter was arrested by Jewish leaders (Acts 4), arrested by King Herod (Acts 12:1-5), and eventually executed as Jesus had predicted (John 21:18-19).
  • The apostle John was arrested and beaten by the Jewish leaders as a younger man (Acts 4) and exiled to the island of Patmos in his old age (Revelation 1:9).

Even in giving the Great Commission, Jesus implied the difficulty of the task at hand by telling His followers, “All authority has been given to me” and commanding them to “remember” that He would go with them in the work of disciple-making (Matthew 28:18-20, CSB). It was a task possible only through Christ’s authority and with His personal presence. As Robertson McQuilkin and Paul Copan put it, merely “operating by technique, method and programming” without accompanying “reliance on the Spirit” will not yield “lasting, spiritual fruit.”[1]

That’s why the promise of the Great Commission is an essential companion of the command to “go” and “make disciples of all nations.” Overcoming the obstacles of fear, doubt, and opposition is possible only when we rely on the Spirit and grace of God. Paul said he “worked” at evangelism and church planting, “though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). On another occasion, Paul said he “proclaimed” Christ, “struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Colossians 1:28-29).

As it was in the Old and New Testaments, calling nonbelievers to follow the Lord can be difficult today. Yet when we remember Christ’s personal presence and, by faith, rely on His authority in our witness, we will find that the Gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).

[1] Robertson McQuilkin and Paul Copan, An Introduction to Biblical Ethics: Walking in the Way of Wisdom, 3rd edition (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014), 88.

The “Life-Fire” of God’s Word—Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892)

In 1854, at the age of twenty and just four years after his conversion, Charles H. Spurgeon became pastor of London’s New Park Street Church. His ministry so grew that the 6,000-seat Metropolitan Tabernacle was built to accommodate the congregation. In “The Mustard Seed: A Sermon for the Sabbath-School Teacher,” he spoke of the power of the gospel, and his words extended to the whole of Scripture.

The human can never rival the divine, for it lacks the life-fire. It is better to preach five words of God’s Word than five million words of man’s wisdom. Men’s words may seem to be the wiser and more attractive, but there is no heavenly life in them. Within God’s Word, however simple it may be, there dwells an omnipotence like that of God, from whose lips it came.1

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1 C. H. Spurgeon, “The Mustard Seed: A Sermon for the Sabbath-School Teacher,” The Parables of Our Lord (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2003), 707.


Suffragists Play the Race Card

By Henry Blackwell’s calculation, there were three masses of illiterate voters in America in 1895—immigrants in the North, poor whites in the South, and the southern Negro. He compared them to monkeys casting ballots. The solution was clear to his hearers gathered for the Atlanta meeting of the National American Women’s Suffrage Association: Give women the vote. As he put it, “[I]n every State, save one, there are more educated women than all the illiterate voters, white and black, native and foreign.”[i]

The 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granted voting rights to black males in 1870, but some states fought to reverse this through poll taxes, literacy tests, and property requirements.[ii] “In Louisiana, for instance, there were 130,334 registered Negro voters in 1896; in 1904, only 1,342.”[iii] But the long-term solution would be the constitutional guarantee of a new voting bloc essentially doubling the white vote. In the words of Southern suffragist Belle Kearney, it would “insure immediate and durable white supremacy, honestly attained.”[iv] She assured her northern sisters that they would one day be grateful as they faced their own invasion of racial and cultural undesirables.[v]

Surely suffragists in the North would run from this theme, but many found it acceptable. For one thing, they resented the fact that their husbands and sons had fought a Civil War to give the vote to black males while ignoring the disenfranchisement of their wives and mothers. Second, they were convinced that their vote would be an important corrective to cultural dilution of the voting pool, even benefiting blacks. Third, they were pragmatic.

In the late 1880s, the WCTU’s[vi] Francis Willard toured the South, offering “her ‘pity’ to white Southerners, saddled with the ‘immeasurable’ problem of ‘the colored race . . . multiply[ing] like the locusts of Egypt.’”[vii] Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton refused to endorse the 15th Amendment and readily joined forces with racist newspaper publisher George Train, whose motto was “Women first, and negro last.”[viii]

At one gathering, Anthony called Train’s support for her newspaper, The Revolution, “almost sent from God.” In the discussion that followed, abolitionist Frederick Douglass insisted that Stanton stop “characterizing blacks as ‘Sambo’ and ‘bootblacks.’” Anthony stood her ground, saying that “if the ‘entire people’ could not have suffrage . . . then it must go ‘to the most intelligent first.’” And when fellow suffragist Lucy Stone pled for relief from their campaign against the 15th Amendment, Stanton announced that she “did not believe in allowing ignorant negroes and foreigners to make laws for her to obey.”[ix]

In 1920, the suffragist movement succeeded; the 19th Amendment gave women the vote. Of course, this was a wonderful achievement, thoroughly consonant with the biblical teaching on the dignity and wisdom of women. Not so wonderful was the way in which many American suffragists played upon the racial prejudice of the populace. While Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony have been honored rightly on U.S. stamps and Anthony on U.S. coinage, their legacy is stained somewhat, because their crusade for the 19th Amendment stooped to unsavory measures. They should have known that ends do not justify immoral means.

 

Endnotes:

[i] Henry B. Blackwell, “Address to NAWSA Convention, Atlanta, Georgia, January 31-February 5, 1895,” in The Concise History of Woman Suffrage: Selections from the Classic Work of Stanton, Anthony, Gage, and Harper, eds. Mari Jo and Paul Buhle (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1978), 337.

[ii] Ann Douglas, Terrible Honesty: Mongrel Manhattan in the 1920s (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995), 254-255.

[iii] Ibid., 254-255.

[iv] Ibid., 255.

[v] Belle Kearney of Mississippi, speaking at the NAWSA convention in New Orleans, March, 1903. Quoted in Aileen S. Kraditor, The Ideas of the Woman Suffrage Movement: 1890-1920 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1965), 202.

[vi] Women’s Christian Temperance Union

[vii] Douglas, 255.

[viii] Ibid., 256-258.

[ix] One Woman, One Vote: Rediscovering the Woman Suffrage Movement, edited by Marjorie Spruill Wheeler (Troutdale, OR: NewSage Press, 1995), 69-70.

For Such a Time as This

12 When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, 13 he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. 14 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

Esther 4:12-14 (NIV)

A great many Bible events involve persons who act at a propitious moment—not as a matter of sheer chance, but under the sovereignty of God, the Lord of history. A range of biblical examples comes readily to mind: the young shepherd David, who began the day bringing food to his soldier brothers, but found himself facing Goliath in battle (1 Samuel 17); the boy whose lunch fed 5,000 through a miracle of Christ (John 6:1-14); the Pharisee Gamaliel whose intervention saved the apostles from a Sanhedrin death sentence (Acts 5:33-40). Of course, the prime example is Jesus, of whom John the Baptist declared, “The time has come . . . The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15).

The Greek word for “time” in John’s declaration is kairos, denoting a season or moment pregnant with promise, laden with significance, prophetically charged—a day to be seized lest the choice opportunity is lost. It stands distinct from the other Greek word for time, chronos, the “tick-tock” time of your watch or of chronology. Of course, the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, but thanks to a team of scholars who began their work in the third century BC, a Greek version, the Septuagint, emerged over the next hundred years.

And it employed the word kairos to capture the role of Esther in delivering her people from destruction.

Living among exiles under Babylonia captivity, Esther was chosen as queen to King Xerxes, who did not know she was Jewish. But that would change. A wicked official named Haman so despised her uncle Mordecai that he managed to elicit a royal decree that all the Jews would be slaughtered on a particular late-winter day. Distraught, Mordecai urged Esther to approach the king on behalf of her people, thereby risking her life by entering his throne room uninvited and by revealing her ethnicity. He reasoned that she may have gained her own high position so that she would be in place to act effectually “for such a time [kairos] as this.” She assented, and the Lord blessed her efforts.

The case of Esther is instructive for Christians of every era: 1) She was available when called, sufficiently attuned to the heart and work of God to say yes when the path opened up before her; 2) She was willing to move outside her safety zone, telling Mordecai, once she’d made her choice, “If I perish, I perish” (Indeed, some, like the disciple Stephen in Acts 7, lost their lives at their kairos moment); 3) She undergirded her action with fresh consecration, in her case through a three-day fast (v. 16).

Meanwhile, God was acting providentially to maximize the impact of Esther’s deed. He softened Xerxes’ heart so that he might not lash out at Esther’s “impertinence.” (As it says in Proverbs 21:1, “In the Lord’s hand the king’s heart is a stream of water that he channels toward all who please him.”) And He gave the king a sleepless night, one in which he turned to old official records, where he discovered that Mordecai had once saved him from an assassination plot.

Of course, most Christians are not recognized for historic interventions, but the normal Christian life involves acts of eternal significance through, for instance, evangelism and discipleship. Indeed, a kairos moment may seem as negligible as a “chance” conversation or as momentous as a deciding vote in Congress. Both may prove crucial. For in God’s economy, great things may come from any and all who stand ready to serve Him sacrificially “for such a time as He may please.”

Christian Missionary & Explorer: David Livingstone (1813-1873)

Even though David Livingstone had spent extensive time exploring Africa during his lifetime, it was not normal and certainly worrying when no one heard from the famous missionary-doctor-explorer for several months in 1871. Henry Stanley, a journalist for the New York Herald and explorer, set out to find Livingstone. He finally found the old man in October 1871 near central Africa’s Lake Tanganyika. The wearied journalist greeted the aged doctor with the famous words, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” With new supplies provided by Stanley, Livingstone was able to continue his efforts to find the source of the Nile.[i] He died on May 1, 1873, a result of years of poor health.[ii]

Livingstone’s grit and determination were apparent even in his boyhood. The second son of a poor family living in Blantyre near Glasgow, he began working a 14-hour day in a local cotton factory when he was only 10 years old. Determined to educate himself, he learned Latin from a grammar book propped up on his spinning jenny, and by means of attending a company school after an arduous day’s work, he went on to acquire a knowledge of geography, science, and other subjects which eventually enabled him to enter Glasgow University at the age of 23 to study Greek, medicine, and theology. Accepted in 1837 as a probationer by the London Missionary Society, Livingstone dreamed of becoming a missionary in China but was prevented from doing so by the outbreak of the Opium War. Instead, he received his call to Africa while attending a meeting addressed by another great missionary, Dr. Robert Moffat, who was speaking about his mission station at Kuruman in South Africa. When he heard Moffat say, “On a clear morning, I can see from the hills near Kuruman, the smoke of a thousand villages where no missionary has ever been,” Livingstone knew what his life’s work would be.[iii]

From 1840 until his death in 1873, Livingstone traveled the length and breadth of Central Africa, penetrating and mapping its interior, preaching the gospel to tribesmen who had never been reached before, healing the sick, and showing the natives how to irrigate their fields and improve their agriculture. The London Missionary Society, then the British government, and finally private donors financed his travels.[iv] He explored over 11,000 miles of unknown country and was the first white man to cross Africa from west to east. During his many and varied journeys he recorded his observations of the geology, botany, and wildlife of the regions he visited, and most important of all, he discovered and exposed the dreadful cruelties of the Arab-dominated slave trade. As well as freeing slaves whenever he could, Livingstone’s published diaries and reports persuaded Britain to take action against the slave-trafficking Sultan of Zanzibar in the 1870s—though Livingstone himself did not live to see it.[v]

Perhaps his most telling legacy, however, is the untarnished memory of himself left in the minds and hearts of generations of ordinary Africans. Many towns, streets, and buildings were named after him, and although decolonization led to many name changes in Africa, most of those named after Livingstone have remained.[vi] Generations of missionaries and evangelists, white and black, have followed in his footsteps. To quote the testimony of an old African who saw Livingstone in his boyhood: “…there was love in his eyes, he was not fierce. He made a path through our land, and you his followers have come, God’s Light-bringers; and more come today.”[vii]

The Bible teaches that “perfect love casts out fear,” and surely this was the source of David Livingstone’s courage.

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Endnotes

[i] “David Livingstone (1817-1873),” BBC Online, http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/livingstone_david.shtml (accessed June 15, 2017).

[ii] The inscription on his tomb in London’s Westminster Abbey read, “For 30 years his life was spent in an unwearied effort to evangelise the native races, to explore the undiscovered secrets, to abolish the desolating slave trade of Central Africa, where with his last words he wrote, ‘All I can add in my solitude, is, may Heaven’s rich blessing come down on every one, American, English, or Turk, who will help to heal this open sore of the world.’” See Rob Mackenzie, David Livingstone: The Truth behind the Legend (England: Kingsway, 1993), 377.

[iii] R. J. Unstead, People in History: From Caractacus to Alexander Fleming (London: Adam & Charles Black, 1957) 446-447; and John Canning, ed., 100 Great Lives (London: Century, 1975), 488-489.

[iv] Livingstone was an official missionary in Africa with the London Missionary Society from 1840 to 1856. From 1858 to 1864, he carried out official explorations for the British government. He returned to African again from 1864 until his death, funded by private support.

[v] See Unstead, 455-457; Canning, 489; and Mackenzie, chapters 13 and 19.

[vi] Like Blantyre in Malawi, for instance. See Mackenzie, 16.

[vii] Ibid., 374.

Marriage: Evangelistic Sustainer of Love

31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

Ephesians 5:31-32 (ESV)

“Your love is your own private possession,” wrote Christian martyr Dietriech Bonhoeffer to a young couple from his prison cell in 1943. “But marriage is more than something personal—it is a status, an office. Just as it is the crown, and not merely the will to rule, that makes the king, so it is marriage, and not merely your love for each other, that joins you together in the sight of God and man. . . . It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.”[i] What a stark contrast to the contemporary, sentimentalized view of marriage!

One of God’s purposes for marriage is to illustrate the relationship of Christ and the Church. Just as in the old covenant, Israel was Yahweh’s bride (e.g., Jer. 2; Ezek. 16; Hos. 1-2), so in the new covenant, the Church is Christ’s bride (Eph. 5:22-33; Rev. 19:6-9). This divine marriage encompasses all of time, from eternity past to eternity future. It is not as if Paul is casting around for an illustration of what it means to live a godly married life and thinks of Christ and the Church. Quite the reverse: marriage is the illustration. Christ and the Church are the ultimate reality.

Furthermore, while marriage is a creation ordinance (Eph. 5:31, quoting Gen. 2:24), the relationship of Christ and the Church is prior to creation. We were chosen in Him before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4); and this is the mystery now revealed in the gospel. While human marriage is merely lifelong (Mark 12:25), the marriage of Christ and the Church will last for all eternity.

Just as marriage is public (“a man shall leave his father and mother”), intimate (“the two shall become one flesh”), exclusive, and lifelong (“[he shall] hold fast to his wife”), Christ’s relationship with the Church is public, intimate, exclusive, and lasting. The Lord Jesus is a faithful husband. His commitment to His bride is seen in that He laid down His life for her in order that she might belong to Him (Eph. 5:25-27). He did this even while she was an idolatrous sinner. His promise is that He will lose none of those the Father gives Him (John 6:39). His commitment to His bride sustains His love for her, even when she sometimes strays.

By taking a bold stand for lifelong, monogamous, heterosexual marriage, pastors and their churches inoculate Christians against an overly sentimentalized view of marriage that pervades the culture. And by committing themselves to marriage as a covenantal institution, Christians reflect the commitment of Christ to His Church and, thereby, proclaim the gospel in their very unions—making marriage a blessed tool of evangelism.

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Endnote

[i] Dietriech Bonhoeffer, quoted in Richard John Neuhuas, “The Public Square,” First Things 113 (May 2001): 67-88, http://www.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft0105/public.html (accessed March 8, 2006).