The Need for Personal Evangelism (III)
The Need of the Church
When we speak of the need of the church as suggesting one aspect of the need for personal evangelism, it is the church in the local sense that we have in mind. The church is the pillar and ground of the truth (I Tim. 3:15). The truth and the gospel being the same (Col. 1:5; Acts 8:4, 12; 1 Pet. 1:2225), and the gospel being God's power unto salvation (Rom. 1: 16), it follows that the church is the unit that upholds, defends, contends for, proclaims, and preaches the only message that can save the souls of men. In fact, this is the basic thought which underlies; every phase of activity in which the church engages.
Technically speaking the church as a collectivity does not evangelize. Theoretically, however, it does engage in evangelism. The church preaches the gospel when it supports a preacher and provides him with materials and methods for the accompli8hment of his work. It is the work of the collectivity because it is under the oversight of elders and supported out of the common treasury. But it is also the work of the individual evangelist involved. In the same way, the local church may engage in evangelism by planning (through its elders) and supporting a personal evangelism program out of its common treasury. This includes the training of the members and the providing of opportunities and materials for the work to be done. Those who participate are fulfilling also their individual responsibilities.
We cannot in one short article deal with all the needs a local church has for a personal evangelism program. Since our discussion cannot be exhaustive, let us look briefly at two needs for such a program.
1. The need to stay alive and grow. The first need a local church has is the same need every organism has the need to stay alive. And the basic need of life is growth. As J. A. Hadfield said, "Fullness of life is the goal of life, the urge to completeness is the most compelling motive in life" (Psychology and Morals, p. 61). In a large measure, then, to be alive is to grow, and to stay alive is to continue to grow.
What is true of the individual in this respect is true also of the local church. The all important need of any Christian to be alive spiritually, and the same may he said of the church. But how does one know whether he is alive spiritually or not? He may be dead while he lives f I Tim. 5:6). For the Christian and the church the key to life, and therefore the guarantee of growth, is work---and the right kind at that One's works are the deciding factors of life. Or, if you prefer, "By their fruits ye shall know them" (Matt. 7: 16). Of the church at Sardis, Jesus said, "I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and thou art dead ... for I have found no works of thine perfected before my God" (Rev. 3:1-2).
We sometimes ask a brother, "How is the church where you worship?" and he answers, "Its dead!" By that he means no one is doing anything, and little, if anything, is being done to improve the situation. At a later time he may say the same church is 64 almost dead," and on an even later occasion he may say it is "full of life!" This tells us much about "church life." It has degrees. And if a church is alive, the degree of life it has depends upon the amount of work it is doing.
From the above considerations we may draw the following conclusion: To the extent that a church is successful in activating all of its members in performing the work God gave the church to do, to that extent it is alive, and to that went growth on the part Of the church will be realized (both edification and multiplication). Since the salvation of souls is the mission of the church, it is not unreasonable to conclude that the program to activate the members in personal evangelism is the greatest means by which life may be maintained and growth guaranteed in the local church.
2. The need to put first things first. It is obvious that the church cannot do everything, even if it were its duty. This important fact is well emphasized in the following words: "A lot of things can crowd out the best; a multitude of important tasks can take all the time and energy from the most important ones. The church can and has been known to spend her time, effort, and money on nonessential and second rate causes to the exclusion of her divine commission. The most important tasks the church can do are those that only the church can do" (Albert Sweet, ed., The Personal Worker, p.7).
Too many times brethren are not much different from the denominations when it comes to what they put first. The reasons given by Dr. David Caldwell of the First Congregational United Church of Christ of Washington, D.C. for today's failures are to a large extent true of us also. He lists the following as causes of failure in evangelism on the part of most churches: (1) "Too many congregations use up all their resources on keeping going." (2) "The typical church is preoccupied with providing a chaplaincy for its own members." (3) Most congregations can afford only one preacher, and he is expected to function as preacher, counselor, friend, teacher, administrator, and representative of the church in civic affairs. Having so many duties to perform, he can do none of them well (Memphis Press-Scimitar, May 12, 1967).
This is a classic description of a church that puts second things first. In this kind of church it is easier to get the members to do about anything except the one thing they should be doing trying to win souls. In the final analysis, it makes little difference how beautiful or expensive our church building is, or how many people in the community we may be able to impress through other secondary accomplishments. We give up our right to exist as a local church when we lose sight, of our primary purpose. Personal evangelism is the most successful, the least expensive, and the most gratifying means of fulfilling the mission of the church.
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XV: 9, pp. 7-9