By Harry Pickup, Jr.
The greatest commission even given to men is the one Christ gave to His apostles: “go ye into all the world and preach the gospel.” The book of Acts is the inspired, though partial, history of the fulfillment of this commission. The responsibility for world evangelism includes more than Christ’s personally chosen apostles. This is apparent from the facts as recorded in Acts and the epistles. When the Jerusalem church was “scattered abroad,” “except the apostles,” all went “about preaching the word” (Acts 8:1-4). Upon hearing of the conversion of Jews and Gentiles in Antioch, the Jerusalem church “sent forth Barnabas.” For a “whole year” Barnabas and Saul assembled with the church and “taught much people” (Acts 11:26). Sometime later, there were both “prophets and teachers” in the church (Acts 13:1). The Antioch church cooperated with the Holy Spirit in sending Barnabas and Saul to preach the gospel in foreign cities (Acts 13:1-3).
Years later, while Timothy was preaching in Ephesus, he received an epistle from Paul in which the church -God’s Saved people-were described as being “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). There are only two ways in which the church can be the pillar and ground of the truth! (1) The church may be the foundation upon which truth rests, being responsible both for the revealing of truth and for validating the certainty of the truth. (2) Or, the church may be the means by which the truth revealed and certified by the Holy Spirit is made known to a lost world.
The former possibility is inconsistent with both facts and doctrine. The Holy Spirit revealed the truth through men as a result of Christ’s prayer to the father (cp. John 14:16, 26 and John 15:26). When men believed and obeyed the truth revealed, the church was said to exist (Acts 2). The Holy Spirit assured men of the truthfulness of the revelation by the confirming signs of miracles. “Our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance” (1 Thess. 1:5). The facts are that the truth produced the church; not that the church produced the truth.
That the “church is the pillar and ground of the truth” in the sense of being responsible for the gospel’s proclamation is consistent with both facts and doctrine. For example, the Thessalonian church existed because individuals had “received,” “accepted” and “worked” the word of the gospel (cp. 1 Thess. 1:6 and 2:13). Then in turn they “sounded forth the word of the Lord” (1:8). The church proclaims the word actually as it supports and provides those who personally teach it (Phil. 1:5; 2:25). Figuratively the church proclaims the gospel through the behavior of Christians. “Behavior in the house of God” is the occasion for Paul’s writing the first epistle to Timothy.
We think of the church as an army (Eph. 6:10f) and have in mind the duty of the Lord’s army, then we may naturally employ the terms “strategy” and “tactics.” Strategy is “the art of military command as applied to the overall planning and conduct of a large-scale combat operation” (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language). Tactics “is the technique of securing the objectives designated by strategy” (Ibid.), To illustrate, World War II was strategically an “air” war. Tactically this strategy was carried out by bombers, fighter-planes and paratroopers.
The strategy of converting men to Christ we learn from specific facts of revelation. The tactics we learn principally by observing the incidents connected with the facts and by applying common sense. The strategy never varies; it is always the same-preaching the gospel. The tactics often vary according to the opportunity and circumstances. The strategy can never be improved upon; therefore it should never be changed nor deviated from. The tactics may often be improved upon; circumstances will vary; therefore they may be changed frequently.
Men with “good and honest hearts” were found often in unexpected places. The gospel containing God’s plan of righteousness saved men of varying nationalities, cultures and backgrounds. It pierced the prejudices of some steeped in Judaism and who lived and served at its center. “And a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7). It was none the less able to dispel the crass materialism of idolatry. “But certain men clave unto him, and believed: among whom also was Dionysius the Areopagite”– an Athenian priest (Acts 17:34).
It made men willing to exchange the glory of their history and heritage-both of which had been the foundation and confidence of their living-for the glory in Christ Jesus. “Howbeit what things were gain to me, these have I counted loss for Christ. Yea verily, and I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:7,8).
It informed men how to become free of the horrible mastery of flesh. Not only men enslaved by the natural passions of the flesh but even those who had steeped themselves in the perversions of the flesh were made free. More than informing them, “it brought to light life and immortality” through Christ. “And such were some of you: but ye were washed, but ye were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11).
The gospel converted men of high and low stations in life. A Roman centurion became a volunteer in the Lord’s army having obeyed the gospel (Acts 10). The treasurer of the Ethiopian queen, Candace, became a Christian upon hearing, believing and obeying the gospel (Acts 8:26f). Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue in Corinth “believed in the Lord with all his house” (Acts 18:8). Women of considerable importance also obeyed the gospel (Acts 18:8). Lydia, a woman merchant of valuable goods, “gave heed unto the things spoken by Paul” and was “baptized” (Acts 16:14, 15).
The gospel was powerfully effective in unusual places. Who would ever have supposed that men who lived “in Caesar’s household” would be susceptible to the gospel’s call (Phil. 4:22)? Who could believe that men who did not know the meaning of restraint when it came to matters of the flesh would be likely to listen to the purity of the gospel? Even though the name “Corinth” stood for all that was base and immoral the Lord revealed to Paul that “I have much people in this city” (Acts 18:10). And, as always, He was right! Who would have thought that men of hateful dispositions could ever be appealed to by love expressed in the gospel? “For we also were once . . . serving divers lusts, and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another …. But when the kindness of God our Savior, and his love toward man, appeared . . . he saved us” (Tit. 3:3,5).
Tactically speaking, various means were used to reach men with the gospel. Paul wrote the ‘Corinthians that he “became all things to all men that I by all means may save some” (1 Cor. 9:22). Paul freed himself from personal obligations to any particular person in order that he might voluntarily become a servant to all men-specifically, those who need him most. He explains his meaning by the use of illustrations. He assumed their nationality, their legal obligations, even their personal difficulties, in order that we may be able to reach them with the gospel. He is not saying that he changed the gospel to suit each individual’s preference. He refers to the accommodation of himself and not the gospel. These are his tactics in the strategy of converting men to Christ.
The gospel was preached publicly and privately, in the assembly of the saints and in places not under the control of Christians. In Antioch Barnabas and Saul taught for a “whole year” in the assembly of the church (Acts 11:26). In the unusual place of a Roman cell Paul and Silas used the occasion “to speak the word of the Lord” (Acts 16:32). For two years, while he lived in Rome, guarded by a Roman soldier and awaiting trial he received men into his own hired dwelling “preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 28:30, 31).
Christians used means and methods modern to their times in the preaching of the gospel. The synagogues were places where the Jews assembled to be instructed in the Law and in those matters indirectly involved in living as they believed that they should. Upon occasions they invited others not of their own company to address them. For example, Paul used such a place for three months, “reasoning and persuading as to the things concerning the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8). When circumstances prevented him from doing this longer he went to a school of the day and made use of their facilities. “He departed from them, and separated the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus” (Acts 19:9). We are left in doubt as to whether he simply used their facilities, much as we would “rent” a building today, or whether he was involved with their curriculum. The point is that he used this “modern” means to preach the gospel. Information was passed in New Testament times by letter writing. Paul wrote letters to the brethren in Colosse and Laodicea. He then urged each of them to exchange information (Col. 4:16).
Many of the methods and means which churches use today originated in earlier times and were better suited to other circumstances. The best example of this probably is the “gospel meeting.” Years ago when the pace was different and about the same for all men-the “agrarian time”-the summer time before harvest was a good time to preach a “protracted” series of sermons. Many came consistently to hear the gospel. They were impelled to evaluate their faith and plight in the light of “the faith.” Facts and proof were offered again and again. Variety was not in the substance of facts proclaimed but in the form in which they were presented. Due to changed circumstances “gospel meetings” no longer serve the same purpose. Wise brethren do not stop having protracted series, they simply adapt them to other purposes.
The ease with which men can be educated has made men much more knowledgeable and desirous of education. Never before in the history of man have there been as many schools and as many varieties of them. Formal education is an established fact of life.
The only subject in which we appear to be behind the times in teaching is the gospel. Many of our programs are continued not because they are practical but because they are traditional. The “bible studies” on Sunday and Wednesday nights are cases in point. The real tragedy in all of this is that we have the ability and means to make the necessary corrections. If more effective means for biblical instruction can be found by all means use them to replace the less productive means.
We are not lacking in talent to conceive more effective tactics nor in the money to implement them. Meeting houses are easily available as conveniences to this end. In my judgment, we are principally lacking the will to do it. We have people sufficiently talented to improve and develop better merchandising methods. Many Christians are actively efficient in secular education. If we put our minds to work and enforced our personal judgments we could be more capable in spiritual instruction.
Why not select men especially qualified to teach particularly needed Bible subjects to truly interested men for about the same length of time as most of our gospel meetings? Do it in the same way that medical men have seminars. Encourage those to attend who have a real need to learn the subject and who are able and willing to participate sufficiently to accomplish the end. Provide outlines and materials in addition to the basic text of the scriptures. Assign lessons and give examinations to determine the success of the program.
Let churches prepare men of “faithfulness and ability” to preach. Give both factual and practical courses. Let the older evangelists “pass on the torch”–“commit thou” (2 Tim. 2:2)–to younger men. Such lessons could be presented in intensified studies on a weekend or as a “two-week vacation time” class. Christians in out-lying areas, who have little opportunity to associate with larger numbers of Christians, could be invited. Expenses could be minimized by inviting the visitors to stay in the homes of Christians–“using hospitality one to another” (1 Peter 4:9). In this manner, those who are better adapted to “hospitality” than to “academics” could work together toward the same end. Each one, as he is particularly qualified, could be serving.
Supporting those who labor in the gospel, especially in remote areas where numbers are few and help is meager, could be much improved. Christians are fairly well educated as to the fact of this need; we are lacking in knowing how to best accomplish it. Many preachers in such places are “strangers” to their supporters. Many churches seem to prefer to support many men partially rather than to support one man completely. In my judgment, this method is untenable. It requires that preachers spend a disproportionate amount of time “keeping the support” coming. To the “giving” brethren the “receiving” brother is usually just a name on a check or in a report. The relationship is tenuous at best. Nothing more serious than having to repair an air conditioner can break it.
However, if both “receiving” and “giving” brethren are real acquaintances-Paul and Philippi-many problems could be solved. Know each other; learn each other; talk and pray together. Few churches support a man at home without intimate knowledge of him. There is even more reason to do this between people who will work together while separated by considerable distance.
There is no reason to change the strategy of conversion. To do so is sinful and produces denominationalism with an incorrect emphasis upon the social needs of men. However, there is real need for and reason to change the tactics of conversion. To do so will cause us to be more productive as “the pillar and ground of the truth.”
Truth Magazine XXI: 27, pp. 419-421
July 14, 1977