kid reading Bible saying wow

Everybody knows what an evangelist is, right? Right?!?

What would you say if I told you that today's preacher role is quite different than that of a first-century Christian evangelist?

Let me show you why this is the case and why it matters. Check it out ⬇️...

(If you've missed past posts in this series, start here.)

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The apostle Paul wrote:

11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
(Eph. 4:11-16 NIV)

The Greek word that is translated "evangelist" is εὐαγγελιστής, οῦ, ὁ and it literally means "an evangelist, a missionary, bearer of good tidings."

The word, in two variations, is found a total of just 3 times in the New Testament.

It is found in Acts 21:8 with reference to Philip the evangelist (not the apostle), Eph. 4:11, which was referenced above, and 2 Tim. 4:5, in reference to Timothy.

The "good tidings" that evangelists spoke obviously referred to the gospel of Jesus.

The apostles were the first evangelists within the church, because Jesus had told them:

“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
(Mark 16:15b-16 NIV)

This began with Peter's message to the Jews at Pentecost, as recorded in Acts 2, and continued from then on. We see it again in Acts 3:17-26.

This was in fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah:

2 Now it shall come to pass in the last days, the mountain of the Lord and the house of God shall be visible on the tops of the mountains and exalted above the hills. All the Gentiles shall come to it. 3 Many Gentiles shall travel and say, “Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will proclaim His way to us, and we shall walk in it.” For the law of the Lord shall go forth from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
(Isa. 2:2-3 OSB)

Jesus alluded to this prophecy when speaking with the eleven after His resurrection in Luke 24:

45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
(Luke 24:45-49 NIV)

After Stephen was stoned, a great persecution broke out against the Christians in Jerusalem, such that everyone except the apostles were scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. Everywhere they went, they preached the gospel, sharing the message of Jesus and what He had done for them, and how they too could be saved (see Acts 8).

Philip (not the apostle; recall, he stayed in Jerusalem) went to Samaria, and GOD confirmed his message by miraculous signs. Many believed the gospel and were baptized to receive forgiveness of their sins.

Peter and John came to Samaria to lay hands on the new Christians there so they would receive the Holy Spirit. After these things, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in Samaritan villages along the way.

The Holy Spirit then instructed Philip to travel south to the desert road that runs from Gaza to Jerusalem. There, Philip would again preach the gospel to a eunuch of Ethiopia who was diligently seeking to know GOD.

This pattern continues throughout the historical record in the book of Acts.

Christians evangelized by sharing the message of Jesus with lost people who hadn't heard, or lacked a proper understanding (in the case of Apollos in Acts 18 and the believers from Ephesus recorded in Acts 19).

When Paul wrote to the Romans, he said:

11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

16 But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” 17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.
(Rom. 10:11-17 NIV)

Again, here we see the focus for preaching and evangelism is on lost people.

In the early church, evangelism was performed by going and not by inviting people to "come in" (to church assemblies).

Oh, sure, they had visitors attending their church meetings too (1 Cor. 14), but the focus on preaching to the lost was outbound.

In the early church, evangelism was performed by going, not inviting people to "come in" (to church meetings). Click to Tweet

In the case of Timothy, which I mentioned previously, Paul wrote to him, saying:

1 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
(2 Tim. 4:1-5 NIV)

It is my belief that the first few verses here likely explain what Paul means when he says "do the work of an evangelist."

It is important to note, however, that these instructions are comprehensive in nature and not made within the context of church meetings.

In other words, the role of a biblical evangelist, based on what we read in Acts and elsewhere, seems to be significantly more focused on preaching to the lost and teaching lost people than on those within the church or in church meetings.

(The latter of these is more the role of teachers, which we've looked at previously. It is important to note that one person could perform both roles, just like we see with the apostles. However, this is more about how we think about evangelists and separating what is from what should be.)

If we back away and look at the big picture, what we see from Scripture is that the role of evangelists in the church is to proclaim to lost people what Jesus has done in hopes of leading them to salvation which is found in Christ alone.

By introducing lost souls to Jesus, evangelists are responsible for helping that person begin the journey that ends in their becoming mature, as Paul spoke of with regard to the entire body of Christ in Eph. 4:11-16.

We need to be very careful that the activities and actions we ascribe to the role of an evangelist fit with biblical evangelism as opposed to really being separate roles.

I have a strong personal distaste that some brethren call themselves evangelists yet spend very little time actually teaching the lost (outside of preaching from the pulpit, which is like 2 hours a week, and in many cases the congregation is entirely comprised of Christians). 

If these men want to call themselves a teacher and the church wants to pay them for their teaching efforts (sermons, Bible classes, bulletin articles, etc.), then I believe the "worker is worth his wages" principle applies (see 1 Tim. 5:17-18).

But is this really the best use of the church's funds?

Often times, it isn't what's best; it's just "what we've always done."

What Paul prophesied to Timothy has occurred—and for nearly the full 2,000 years of Christianity's existence: people have turned away from "sound doctrine" (i.e., healthy teaching) and have followed other gospels—other teachings about how to be saved—and have piled up teachers that scratch their ears, making them feel better about themselves, but doing absolutely nothing to help their lost spiritual condition.

Thus, modern evangelists are challenged to preach the truth of what should be in the midst of the religious confusion of "what is."

Tim Harris
Author: Tim Harris

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