Evangelical organisations have devised a multitude of schemes to bring the gospel to a needy world. In the majority of cases, the motives behind these enterprises are absolutely pure, and in some instances are prompted by frustration at having laboured long and hard with little to show for the energy expended. When current methods are perceived to be ineffective, the temptation is to resort to alternative strategies to catch the ear of the sinner and to appeal to some natural interest that he may have. Is change legitimate? It has to be conceded that if present outreach is completely unfruitful, change must be considered, and, in certain cases, this can be accomplished without violating Biblical principles. For example, a change of venue is Scriptural. At both Corinth and Ephesus, Paul relocated for the preaching of the gospel. Tinkering with the timing of meetings might be a possibility if new social conditions make traditional days and times unsuitable. The danger lies in change for the sake of change, or, more seriously, adopting methods to incorporate procedures that have no sanction in the inspired Word of God.
"He that winneth souls is wise" (Prov 11.30). An alternative translation is, " he that is wise winneth souls" (e.g. RV). Both of these concepts are true. It is wise to be involved in reaching out to souls, but it takes wisdom to do it effectively. Our business is to evangelise: it is a prime responsibility of the Christian life - "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mk 16.15). The world is your parish, and every soul is seen as a candidate for Gods salvation: our responsibility is to sow seed; it takes God to give a harvest. Manuals on evangelism and text books on methods abound. In them there are instructions about personal witnessing, door to door evangelism, childrens activities, and much more. While it can be profitable to draw on the experience of others, our only safe strategy is to follow the New Testament pattern in dependence upon God.
Personal Evangelism: Acts 8.26-40
A Biblical method of communicating the gospel that is totally unsophisticated and inexpensive is for believers simply to speak to other people about it. This aspect of witnessing is open to both brothers and sisters, and, while we will see a pattern for our activity in a man called Philip, it should be noted that in Bible days women of every age group were very effective in telling what they knew about God and Christ. The little maid was just a girl, but was instrumental in bringing blessing to Naaman (2 Kings 5.2-3). Judging by her history, the woman of John 4 must have been middle aged, and she witnessed to "the men" of her community, so that they "came unto him" (vv.28-30). Anna was "of a great age", and she "spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem" (Lk 2.36-38). Christian women at every stage of life still have the responsibility to convey to others what they know about Christ, and to support the work of the gospel. In our open air preaching in a shopping precinct, we are privileged to have the support of the sisters. I have the greatest admiration for the schoolgirls who stand with us, and the octogenarians, and the sister who attends in a wheelchair. Peter stood up "with the eleven" (Acts 2.14). We may not have apostles standing shoulder to shoulder with us, but these sisters are there. Their voices will never be heard publicly yet they are committed to the noble task of supporting the gospel.
A lifetime of gospel activity has shown me that the sisters seem to be more adept than the men at bringing people to hear the gospel. In one particular series of meetings, a sister brought over fifty people to hear the Word of God. Young mothers have contact with other women as they meet up at nurseries or at the school gates. Those who are a little more mature can have a reputation in their areas as confidantes, or for the kindliness of their disposition, and all of that carries weight when it comes to trying to introduce people to the gospel. Helpful Christian office workers can make an impact for God. So I make an appeal to the sisters among us. Please do not feel that the Scriptural rule of silence in the gatherings restrains you as far as witnessing is concerned. See yourself as an invaluable contributor to the work of the assembly by being "ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is within you" (1 Pet 3.15). You could be greatly used to fill halls with people to whom the preachers can present the gospel. Preachers, make sure that you do not disappoint those sisters who have laboured hard to give you an audience. Give their friends a welcome. Make sure that they hear a clear gospel. You can do it faithfully and with feeling, rather than in that abrasive fashion that alienates strangers and embarrasses the friends who have brought them.
Philip is the only man in the New Testament to be designated "the evangelist" (Acts 21.8). He was one of the men who had been chosen to superintend the care of the Grecian widows (Acts 6.1-6). His personal integrity and his healthy reputation qualified him for the work, for he and his colleagues had to be "men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom" (v.3). So the man who witnessed personally to the Ethiopian in Acts 8 was a man who was respected in his community, a wise man who was under the control of the Holy Spirit. The same was true of Paul the public preacher. One of the things that contributed to the success of the work at Thessalonica was the transparency of the preachers: "Ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake" (1 Thess 1.5). Paul takes vv.1-12 of the second chapter of that epistle to amplify the statement, speaking among other things about how they had behaved "holily and justly and unblameably" (v.10). In the same vein he urged the Philippian believers, "Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ" (Phil 1.27). So whether it is for public preaching or personal witnessing, a necessary prerequisite is holy living, honest behaviour, and a Christ-like spirit. The office Romeo is disqualified. The grouchy neighbour best keep his mouth closed. The lazy or dishonest employee should say nothing. The bad-tempered parent is ineligible. Let us all cultivate that integrity of character and sweetness of disposition that make it easy to introduce the gospel, rather than have a reputation that brands us as hypocrites the moment we open our mouths to speak for Him.
Another feature of Philip was the fact that he was sensitive to divine leading. Both "the angel of the Lord", and "the Spirit" gave him instructions about his approach to the Ethiopian, and he was quick to comply. In the one case, Scripture says with beautiful simplicity, "he arose and went" (v.27): in the other, his zeal is evident when the record is, "Philip ran" (v.30). Now we are learning what the Bible means when it credits him with being full of the Holy Spirit (6.3). The Spirit of God controlled this mans activities. We do not have the luxury of an audible voice of guidance, but it is important to be in a state of readiness, "buying up the opportunity" (Eph 5.16, RV margin). How often we scorn an opportunity to witness, and with shame we have to confess, "We do not well: this is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace" (2 Kings 7.9).
Because the Ethiopian was reading the Scriptures and asked for an explanation, Philip was able to get to the heart of his theme without any preamble. It is not always so easy for the earnest personal worker to make his point as speedily, but his target should always be that of Philip when he "preached unto him Jesus" (v.35). Central to the public preaching at Corinth was "Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (1 Cor 2.2). Similarly, when conversing personally, the aim should be to tell of "Jesus", the Saviour who died and rose again, and through whom salvation is available by faith. The weather, and cars, and work, and gardens, and families may have to be discussed as a lead in to the subject, but with the preliminaries at an end, endeavour to make a lucid explanation of the gospel. Your "word in season" could be as crucial as Philips, a vital link in the chain of events that leads to the salvation of a soul. If you have never been involved in this great work, the best time to start is right now.
To be continued.