Who is in Charge of Evangelism?
What is the decisive factor in evangelism? What does the Bible teach about it?
Is your preaching and teaching ministry doing enough to prepare your church for the task of evangelism? In this series, Andy Paterson offers biblical encouragement that every Christian has a role to play, free from false guilt.
This is part 13 in the series.
You may call it the elephant in the room of evangelism; I call it the most delightful and encouraging news there is.
It’s this: God is in control of all things, and that includes the salvation and rescue of lost, helpless, hell-bound people.
All who were appointed
Barnabas and Paul had set out on their first missionary journey. They had crossed over Cyprus and then sailed to Perga on the coast of Asia Minor, before making the strenuous mountain journey to Pisidian Antioch, which was in the region known as Galatia. On the Jewish Sabbath they had visited the local synagogue to meet with the Jewish community there, and Paul used the invitation to speak as an opportunity to proclaim a whole-hearted gospel message, rich in Old Testament references but centred on the work of Christ.
However, the reaction was mixed to say the least.
Some did become Christians, for Paul and Barnabas “talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.” (Acts 13:43).
The next Sabbath it would appear that word had got round the whole city because of the amazing numbers of Gentiles who joined with the Jews to hear what Paul had to say. And though there were many conversions again, jealousy was so stirred up that Paul and Barnabas had to move on from the city.
Luke includes a phrase in this account to describe what is happening when opposition arises and Paul and Barnabas announce they will focus upon Gentile evangelism: “When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honoured the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:48)
Now the Greek word that Luke uses here is ‘tasso’, which means to ordain or decree. Sometimes it is used with the meaning of assigning someone to a particular group, and sometimes the word has been used with the idea of someone who has been inscribed or enrolled in a particular book.
In fact, Luke uses this particular word three other times in Acts (in bold):
“This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.” (Acts 15:2)
“‘What shall I do, Lord?’ I asked. ‘Get up,’ the Lord said, ‘and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.’” (Acts 22:10)
“They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying.” (Acts 28:23)
So, what Luke seems to be accepting as perfectly normal is the doctrine that we know as election or predestination.
Wayne Grudem summarises election like this: “Election is an act of God before creation in which he chooses some people to be saved, not on account of any foreseen merit in them, but only because of his sovereign good pleasure.”
Election in the Bible
FIEC, as a family of churches, does not take an official position on election. It leaves it to the conscience and wisdom of each church to determine the Bible’s teaching in this matter. Yet, it would be very strange, in such a series of articles, if I did not express the convictions I personally hold. What I express, I express in love; and where there are differences between God’s children, may each one of us respond to the other with respect, love and humility.
Now for various reasons the doctrine of election offends some people. Yet it is hard to deny that this is what the Bible teaches in various places. Because this is a vital matter, let me take you through some of these references.
“And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.” (John 6:39)
“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” (Ephesians 1:4-5)
“In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:11-12)
“For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.” (1 Thessalonians 1:4-5)
“But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” (2 Thessalonians 2:13)
“God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.” (2 Timothy 1:9)
“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect,” (1 Peter 1:1)
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God,” (1 Peter 2:9)
“The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast,” (Revelation 17:8)
Indeed, this is also recognised within the 39 Articles of the Church of England.
Article 17 says: “Predestination to life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid) he hath constantly decreed by his counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honour.”
However, let me pick up on two of the most common objections that are raised to the teaching of election.
The foreknowledge of God
The first objection suggests that God chose those who he saw would respond to him by faith. In this way, they try to reconcile God's electing call with their understanding of man’s free will.
And the passage that is used to make this point is Romans 8:28-30:
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”
The argument is that God looked into the future, saw who would choose him, and so predestined them to be his children.
However, this argument falls down in a number of ways:
- God’s foreknowledge, spoken of in Romans 8, does not mean foreknowledge of what people would do (there is no reference to that), rather it is an expression used in the Bible to describe God’s knowledge of real people who he thought of in a saving relationship to himself before they ever drew breath.
- Such an understanding of foreknowledge means that salvation is dependent upon some merit or choice of our own. We chose God, therefore he chose us. Our faith becomes the reason God chooses us. But the Bible clearly speaks of salvation as being by grace alone, not by works. It says that even our saving faith was given to us by God.
- Such an understanding of foreknowledge is in effect, deeply fatalistic. It teaches that people are bound to make certain choices that nothing can change. That’s why they argue God is able to elect them: because he is certain that they will not change. But this smacks of an impersonal fate, whereas the Bible teaches that a loving, personal God sovereignly rules his creation in an active and intimate manner.
We will go on in the next article to consider the other major objection to God’s electing grace and how this all fits into our understanding of evangelism.
But probably best now to take a break…and breathe!
Next time: Does election kill evangelism?