What is evangelism?
Professor C.H. Dodd in his ‘The Apostolic Preaching and its Developments’ has done the whole church service by pointing out that only one kind of preaching is evangelism although there were teachers, catechists and evangelists in the first century church. “For the Early Church, then to preach was by no means the same thing as to deliver moral instructions or exhortations. While the Church was concerned to hand on its teaching of the Lord, it was not by this that it made converts. It was by kerygma, says Paul (not by didache), that it pleased God to save men …… Much of our preaching in church at the present day would not have been recognised by early Christians as kerygma. It is teaching, or exhortation, or it is what they called homilia, that is, the more or less informal discussion of various aspects of Christian life and thought, addressed to a congregation already established in the faith.” Are the missionaries of the future to be missionaries of Christ or missionaries of the Christian civilisation of the West? Do the missionaries of our Christian churches go out to proclaim to the world the unique and divine fact of the Incarnation or to carry to the non-Christian world the benefits of education, medicine, generally humanitarian values, which have grown up in our civilisation under the stimulus and guidance of the Christian faith?
Now this primary message of evangelism was confined to a few basic facts. Paul calls it the word of the Cross. It was Christ and Him crucified not the wide periphery but the very heart of the Gospel message.
The Encyclopaedia Britannica states: “Evangelism stands for a certain interpretation of Christianity emphasising the objective atonement of Christ, the necessity of new birth or conversion and salvation through faith. This is a fair statement of the essentials of the evangel. Paul made this very message central and primary in 1 Corinthians 15:1-2.
> “Now brothers, I would have you know the gospel I once preached to you, the gospel you received, the gospel in which you have your footing, the gospel by which you are saved provided you adhere to my statement of it unless indeed your faith was all haphazard” (Moffat’s translation).
And what then is this message of good news, this gospel: > “That Christ died for our sins as the scriptures has said, that he was buried and that he rose on the third day.”
There is no other evangel than these historic facts and their tremendous implications. Any kind of evangelism that is silent in this respect is no evangelism at all. If Christ died for our sins, His death was a reality and His resurrection confirms its necessity and validity as the only atonement for sin. The Cross is the one central message and method and power of Christianity.
We are sent not to preach sociology but salvation; not economics but evangelism; not reform but redemption; not culture but conversion; not progress but pardon; not the new social order but the new birth; not revolution but regeneration; not renovation but revival; not resuscitation but resurrection; not a new organisation but a new creation; not democracy but the Gospel; not civilisation but Christ. We are ambassadors not diplomats.
It is time that a protest is made against the misuse of the word evangelism. It has only one etymological, New Testament, historical and theological connotation, namely, to tell the good news of One who came to earth to die on the cross for us; who rose again and ever lives to intercede for those who repent and believe the Gospel. To evangelise is to win disciples, to become fishers of men, to carry the gospel message directly to all nations.
Even prayer, private and public is not evangelism and should not be its substitute. We all pray for our children and grandchildren. But do we ever evangelise them? It is so much easier to talk about them to Christ than to talk to them about Christ.