The Gospel of Salvation – Lesson 7: The Message (1) and Lesson 8: The Message (2)

Lesson 7 THE MESSAGE (1) Read Romans 1:8–17; I Corinthians 15:1–11 The word ‘evangelism’ is taken from the Biblical word ‘euanggelion.’ This is an active form of the word “evangel’ which means good news, good tidings or good message. This, of course, is our word gospel. To evangelize, then, in the Biblical sense, is to ‘gospelize,’ to proclaim the gospel. Although it may seem strange to make mention of sl1ch an obvious fact, this is a day in which clear statements or obvious facts are urgently needed. And so we posit the obvious fact that evangelism is concerned, always and only, with the gospel. THE GOSPEL THAT SAVES In Romans 1:18 Paul declares that the gospel is “the power of God unto salvation to everyone that has faith.” In 1 Corinthians 15:2 he reminds the Church that it was the gospel which he had preached to them “by which ye are saved.” In a very significant editorial in Christianity Today (Jan. 21, 1972) with the title “No Other Gospel,” the editor writes, “What then is the Gospel? It is the great good news ‘that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised the third day in accordance with the Scriptures’ (I Cor. 15:3, 4). This is the Gospel proclaimed by the apostles and the early Church after Christ’s ascension, and by Christians ever since. This is the message that changed the course of human history. This is the truth that is ‘the power of God unto salvation,’ a fact demonstrated through nearly 2000 years . . . . ‘But why,’ someone asks, ‘go back now to these old truths in a time of change when society is making one of the great right-angle turns in history?’ Simply because an understanding of what the Gospel is and what God requires of us through it remains indispensable for Christian life and service.” Questions: 1. The Heidelberg Catechism calls the gospel the ‘holy gospel: Do you think this is proper? Give reason for your answer. 2. In Acts 4:12 we read that salvation is ‘IN THE NAME’ (of Jesus Christ). Is this another way of salvation in distinction from the Gospel? Explain. 3. What evidences can you see that much of modern evangelism fails to recognize what the Gospel really is? THE REVEALED GOSPEL Recognizing the holiness of this Message of God’s power, we will henceforth in this series use the capitol ‘C’ when referring to this Gospel. We do this not only because of what God, in His sovereign grace, does through the Gospel, but also because the Gospel is revealed by God, in fact, ordained by God. In I Corinthians 15:3 Paul says he ‘received’ it, and in Galatians 1:12 he insists, “I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came by revelation of Jesus Christ.” The New Testament uses the terms “preach the Gospel” and “preach the Word” interchangeably. A careful study of the Book of Acts makes it clear that the Apostles saw their primary task as “proclaiming the Word of God.” To this they were commissioned by Christ Himself. For this they were empowered by the Holy Spirit. Faithfulness in this was the burden of their prayers (Acts 4:27–31). For this they were willing to give their lives. For a case study in the centrality of “The Word of God” in the ministry of the Apostles, read Acts 13 and underscore every reference to the Word of God, “the message of salvation” (vs. 26). Nor let anyone slyly sneak around this primary mission of the Church by saying that the “Word of God” in the New Testament refers to “the Word incarnate” (Jesus Christ) or some other kind of “word.” It is clearly the written Word as the New Testament Church had it in the Old Testament and as Christ Himself, by His Spirit, revealed it to the Apostles. This is a separate study but it needs to be pointed out here because of recent statements in our Church periodicals. This holy, saving, revealed Gospel must always be treated with sacred reverence. We further quote the esteemed editor of Christianity Today: “The Gospel must neither be abridged or added to . . . Integrity means wholeness, and with the Gospel it is a matter of all or nothing. To truncate the Gospel . . . is to destroy the Gospel. Likewise to substitute for it any other way of redeeming men dishonors the living God, who originated the Gospel as the only means (italics by W.H.) of reconciling the world to Himself.” The Editor goes on with words that few today would dare to write or speak: “Among the most severe words in the New Testament are these from the greatest of the Apostles: ‘But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel that is different from the one we preached to you, may he be condemned to hell!’ (Gal. 1:8, TEV)—a kind of plain speaking that rather grates on the ear in this time of covert universalism.” Questions: 1. What do you think of the clever human formulations which many are urging us to use in leading men to Christ? What is the ultimate test for such formulations? 2. What evidences do you sec among us as Reformed Churches of the “covert universalism” of which the Editor of Christianity Today speaks? 3. How would you apply I Corinthians 1:23, 24 and II Corinthians 2:14–17 to the New Evangelism which has enamored so many of our people today? THE PRIMARY MEANS OF GRACE It is at this point that we must turn the spotlight on one of the fundamental truths of the Reformed Faith—namely that the Word (written) is the primary means of grace. It is an alarming fact that this truth has been completely lost and even openly denied in much of the Evangelism of our day, even, unthinkable as it may seem, in our Reformed churches. In order to set some basic lines for Biblical, Reformed Evangelism, this fundamental concept must brought back into the focal center of both our principles and practice in reaching men for Christ. Our Creeds certainly place it in this focal center. Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 65, “Whence comes this faith? (Answer) From the Holy Spirit, Who works it in our hearts by the preaching of the Holy Gospel.” Belgic Confession, Article II. “His Holy and Divine Word . . . for our salvation.” Article III. “This Word of God” is given by God “out of special care which He has for our salvation . . . .” Article XXIV. “We believe that this true faith being wrought in man by the hearing of the Word of God and the operation of the Holy Spirit . . . .” Canons of Dort, Section III and IV, Article 5, “What therefore neither the light of nature nor the law could do—that God performs by the operation of the Holy Spirit through the Word . . . by means whereof it has pleased God to save such as believe . . . .” Article 17 speaks of the Gospel “which the most Wise God has ordained to be the seed of regeneration . . . .” Some of our leaders have argued that this doctrine is no longer applicable in our changing society. We need new “thought forms,” new “methods,” new “means,” new “tools” to reach our modern society with the Love of Christ. But what does the Scripture have to say on this point? Let’s take a quick look. – Note the Scriptures at the head of this article. – Romans 10:17, “Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ.” (Read on and this is evidently the Word or Gospel preached.) – Acts 20:32, “. . . the Word of His grace which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance . . . .” – James 1:18, “By His own will he brought us forth by the Word of truth . . . .” – James 1:21, “the implanted Word which is able to save your soul . . .” – I Peter 1:23, “having been begotten again . . . through the Word of God which liveth and abideth forever.” – I Peter 2:2, “the sincere milk [0f the Word] that ye may grow thereby unto salvation.” – Luke 8:11, “the seed is the Word of God.” Need we go on? God carries on His program of grace in the lives of men unto faith and salvation only through the means of the Word—the written Word, the Gospel—the Holy Gospel, preached, proclaimed, sounded forth in faithfulness to Christ’s command. What then is Evangelism in the Biblical sense? It is the proclamation of the Gospel revealed in Scripture, whereby alone men are saved. Anything less than this and anything else than this is not Biblical Evangelism. This is the means that God has ordained. This is the “voice of the Shepherd” by which He calls His sheep to Himself. This is “the Sword of the Spirit.” This is the good Message which we as Christ’s ambassadors are called to proclaim. This is Biblical Evangelism. Questions: 1. Evaluate the following statements, taken from articles which have appeared in The Banner: “That’s why preaching is not the crucial thing in Christian ministry.” “Of course the Word is central in salvation that is the Word Incarnate who is Jesus Christ.” 2. Relate the denigration of the written Word to the loss of the concept of salvation “by Grace alone.” 3. What is “effective evangelism” in terms of the Reformed Faith and the Scripture?     Lesson 8 THE MESSAGE (2) Read Galatians 1 , II Timothy 2:15, I Corinthians 1:23, 24 DRIVING A STRAIGHT FURROW The title above is taken from the New English translation of II Timothy 2:15. This is a very fine rendition of Paul’s counsel to Timothy, the Evangelist—really much better than our “handling aright,” and certainly more correct than the old “rightly dividing.” This counsel of “driving a straight furrow (course) is urgently needed in modern Evangelism also among us as Reformed people. For in this whole vital area of the ministry of the Church and of individual Christians, confusion reigns supreme. We believe that Evangelism or proclaiming the Gospel is the supreme task of the Church. Driving a straight furrow in our proclamation of the truth is one of the most critical issues facing the Church today. In this discussion we will seek to find a straight course, on the basis of Scripture, through the confusion into which we have been thrown. We will deal with some of the main points of confusion. May we do so in the light of what we have discovered, on the basis of Scripture and the Creeds, regarding What Evangelism is and what the Gospel is (please see previous lesson). WITNESSING AS EVANGELISM Everybody is talking about “witnessing” today. Whole groups of people are “going witnessing” on our streets, on beaches, in parks, etc. An inquiry into what they see as their mission meets only with confused answers. We are repeatedly told that we all must he “witnesses.” But no one seems to be very clear on just what this involves on our part. In short, the term witness or witnessing is now used so broadly and so indiscriminately that it has little meaning or content. Some feel that any testimony, no matter how vapid or how humanistic it may be, is Christian witnessing. Other writers, of late, have also pointed with some alarm to the misuse of this Biblical term. For Biblical it is, and when we use Biblical terms they should be given Biblical meaning and content and they should not be adulterated for our own purposes. Dr. F. W. Grosheide in his commentary on Acts (Korte Verklaring der Heilige Schrift) puts it very crisply. We might say, he drives a straight furrow. On Acts 1:8 he writes: (translation by W. H.) “This witnessing must he properly understood. It has nothing to do with speaking about our own spiritual experiences, as we use the term witnessing. The witnessing here meant, as we meet it more often in the first part of Acts (sec vs. 22) must be totally objective (italics W.H.). Christ had chosen and instructed the Apostles. The Holy Spirit gives them power. Therefore they can speak, preach what they have seen and heard, witness as a witness does in court.” Grosheide goes on to point out the program for this witness as laid down by Jesus—“Jerusalem-Judea-Samaria the ends of the earth.” He then concludes: “this verse gives the program of how the glorified Christ and the Holy Spirit will bring the Gospel (italics by W.H.) from Jerusalem to Rome, the capital of the gentile world.” In short, then, to witness, in the Biblical sense, means to bear testimony to the facts of the Gospel (I Cor. 15:1–3). Any other use of the word “witnessing” can find justification neither from the meaning of the word itself nor from its use in Scripture. Questions: 1. What reasons can you give for this broadening of the meaning of witnessing? 2. What effects has this had on our Evangelism in the true sense of proclaiming the Gospel of Scripture? 3. Are “witnessing” and true evangelism the same? How do they differ? TOOLS AND METHODS There is a strange myth which has been widely accepted, probably because it has been repeated so often. It goes like this: “Our people really want lo witness. The only reason they don’t is because they don’t know how.” This becomes the kickoff for training courses in the latest methods and the fabrication of ingenious tools for Evangelism. “Soul winning made easy.” “With our method anyone can be an effective witness.” “You can lead a soul to Christ in 5 minutes,” etc., etc. ad nauseam. The market is flooded with booklets and manuals and records and cassette tapes that guarantee your success in Evangelism in six easy lessons. As the traffic in this soul-saving gadgetry increases we get farther and farther away from true Biblical Evangelism. Certainly no ‘tool’ or ‘method’ can take the place of the God-ordained means—the written Gospel which alone can bring men to faith in Christ. Countless well-meaning people with an eagerness to witness for Christ have been deluded by high-pressure sales and advertising gimmicks into believing that there is some new, easy way by which we can fulfill Christ’s commission to the Church. To quote once again from the Editor of Christianity Today (see former lesson): “We must declare that to substitute for the Gospel according to Scripture any plan to regenerate men or society by human effort alone falls into the category of ‘another Gospel.’” The sooner we jettison our cleverly conceived methods and our brilliantly fabricated tools and gadgets, the sooner the Church will get back to God’s program of Grace in saving men only through the means of the Holy Gospel. Questions: 1. Why are people so easily captivated by modern ‘methods’ of Evangelism? 2. Is there something about the Gospel of Scripture which encourages people to look for an easier, more palatable presentation? (See I Cor. 1:23, II Cor. 2:14–17, I Cor. 4:9–13.) A CONFUSING DEFINITION In one of the most widely distributed booklets dealing with the Christian Reformed Evangelism Thrust program there appears the following amazing definition: “Evangelism is understood in the Scriptural sense of witnessing the good news in Christ (marturia), Christ-service to those in need (diakonia), and Christian fellowship which is a witness (koinonia).” Although it is not easy to determine what this strange combination of words actually means, it apparently means to say that Evangelism in the Scriptural sense is 1. marturia (witnessing), 2. Diakonia (service) and 3. koinonia (fellowship). What a masterpiece of confusing rhetoric this is! Fact is that, in the Scriptural sense, Evangelism is not diakonia, nor it is koinonia. It may even be questioned whether the term “witnessing” as it is used in this booklet can be equated with the Scriptural concept of Evangelism. Certainly diakonia as such is not Evangelism -the proclamation of the Holy Gospel. In Acts 6:2 the Apostles specfically state that “it is not right that we should give up preaching the Word (Evangelism) and serve tables (diakonia).” Likewise, koinonia (fellowship) is not Evangelism in the Biblical sense. The koinonia of the New Testament was strictly fellowship among believers and as such in no way served to proclaim the Gospel to others. This kind of confusion can only serve to deflect us from our God-given Evangelistic task of proclaiming the Holy Gospel. Let it be clearly understood that we positively insist that diakonia and koinonia are Christian imperatives of great importance. They are essential aspects of the ministry of Christ’s Church. But to say that they are, in their essence, proclaiming the Gospel by which men are saved is preposterous. Permit us one illustration on this score. Prayer is also a Christian imperative. The Heidelberg Catechism puts it at the top of the priority list. It is certainly an essential part of the ministry of the Church. Prayer is also essential to true Biblical Evangelism. Evangelism without prayer is unthinkable. But does this now warrant us to make the leap to saying “Prayer is Evangelism?” Of course, not. Prayer is prayer. Evangelism is not prayer. And Evangelism is not diakonia. And Evangelism is not koinonia. Evangelism is proclaiming the Holy Gospel. Questions: 1. The word marturia is the source of our word “martyr.” Try to establish the relationship between “witness” and “martyr.” 2. What reasons, in your judgment, did the Evangelism Thrust Committee have for coming up with this definition of Evangelism? 3. What is bound to happen to true Biblical Evangelism when it is confused with other Christian ministries? PREACHING THE GOSPEL BY WORD AND DEED The term above has become common parlance in our official publications. In some areas of the Church this concept has become the basis for extensive programs of community service, social welfare, ministries of mercy, etc. All of these can now be neatly categorized as “evangelism” by using the term “evangelism by word and deed.” But just what is preaching the Gospel by deeds? When did our deeds of love and service become a means of grace to bring men to faith in Christ? What is the content of this “gospel” which is being “preached” by deeds of love and mercy? Permit us, once again, to quote from the Editor of Christianity Today (see above). “What should we say, then, when we are told that calling men individually to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior is passe and that we must instead proclaim and work towards the redemption of social structures? What should be our response to this contemporary variant of the ‘social gospel’? . . . We must declare that to substitute for the Gospel according to the Scriptures any plan to regenerate men or society by human effort alone falls under the category of ‘another gospel.’” We insist, with the Editors of Christianity Today, that acts of Christian love and mercy are required of Christians and of the Church. Moreover these deeds of love and mercy may not be divorced from our Evangelism. There is far too much Scripture which indicates that Christ lays upon us the sacred responsibility of living lives of love towards each other and towards others if we are truly to be His disciples. By our love, Christ tells us, all men know that we are His. But does this now warrant the conclusion that deeds are in themselves a proclamation of the Holy Gospel? Certainly not. Permit another illustration. Fly-fishing is a wonderful sport. There is a great deal of preparation that precedes that thrilling moment when the line zings through the air and that carefully selected fly drops with just the right touch into the water where the trout hopefully are waiting. Until that fly is actually cast into the water you have not been fly-fishing. Wading in a stream is not fly-fishing. Tying flies in your workshop is not fly-fishing. Selecting a rod and the proper weight of line is not By-fishing Fly-fishing is putting that fly where you think the fish are. In the same way, deeds of Christian love and mercy are not Evangelism. Evangelism does not happen until the Holy Gospel is verbally proclaimed to living people, to sinners who are pointed to Christ’s saving death and resurrection. Four men dash into a burning building to rescue a mother and three small children. They bring the family to the hospital for treatment, provide food, shelter, clothing, everything needed and more, and then pay the whole bill. Certainly these men have shown love and mercy. But have they preached the gospel? If so, whose gospel? You see, one of these men is a Moslem, one is a Mormon, one is an Agnostic and one is a dedicated Christian. Until and unless that Christian had an opportunity to verbally communicate the Gospel according to Scripture, that Gospel has not been proclaimed and there is no Evangelism in the Biblical sense. What then is the relationship between our deeds of love and mercy and true Biblical Evangelism? Related they are, but not to be identified. True Evangelism should always be carried on in the context of the totality of Christ’s teaching, in the context of Christ’s entire ministry, in the context of Christ’s full authority and rule in every sphere of life. Only then can true, Biblical Evangelism be kept in its place of priority in which Christ places it. To be sure, the “man with the towel” has a mission in this world, but unless the man with the towel is first of all and primarily and essentially the man with the Message, the towel has no real Christian meaning. Questions: 1. What is the end result bound to be when our deeds of love and mercy are classed as preaching the Gospel? 2. Can we take our position in this world and say, “All we have to do is preach the Gospel and all will be all right?” Give reasons.