By Jimmy Tuten
Someone has said, “We have become keepers of the aquarium instead of fishers of men.” Most brethren seem content to “keep house” or to “hold our own.” We know that evangelism (the Greek term euangelizo means to proclaim glad tidings, euangelion is the good news we proclaim, euangelistes is the messenger who delivers good news and evangelism is the act of teaching men the gospel and bringing them to Christ) is the most pressing need of the church of the eighties. In particular, what is commonly referred to as “personal evangelism” is almost a thing of the past. Each day of delay in taking the gospel to the world, beginning at home, is to make the task of world evangelism bigger. The population of the nations of the world is mushrooming. If we neglect evangelism (personal evangelism is an important part of the over-all task), and omit it, all else is of little consequence. If we are unquestionably sound in doctrine but save no souls, what does it matter? If we erect notable edifices for assemblies and have outstanding lectureships and special classes, but fail to evangelize, it is all in vain. No matter how scriptural our worship is and the amount of edification derived from it; though our sermons are beautiful, scriptural and true, if we are not personally involved in the collective (1 Tim. 3:15) and individual (Rom. 1: 14) obligation of bearing the good news of salvation by winning souls to Christ, we fail. Most of the growth most congregations experience at the present comes from those who transfer from other congregations. Should we grow by gathering members from sister congregations and those who move in from afar, but not reach out in the name of the Lord to our neighbors who stand condemned in the judgment? No other accomplishment, however noble, will compensate for failure in this crucial area. If we have a name that we five, and a sparkling reputation, but do not seek the lost, we are sinners.
When zeal for the lost is omitted, serious consequences befall the church. The function of evangelism is vital and essential to the survival of the church. The decline or stagnation of God’s people in an exploding world population means a drastic reduction of our influence. In view of God’s judgments throughout the Old Testament always coming when there was not enough salt left to preserve, will we hasten the judgment day by reducing our influence? How can a diminishing church salt society with Christian morals and ethical standards? Evil men will wax worse and worse (2 Tim. 3:13). Too, a lessening interest in personal work is the root cause of most of our present problems. If we would get busy in saving the lost and think less of our reputations, we will not have time to scrutinize in a rupturing manner those who are working at evangelism, whether preachers, journalistic editors, or whosoever. The bottom line is that when a congregation ceases to be committed to saving the lost, she will ultimately cease to be faithful in other areas and will reach a state where she has nothing worth propagating. We are talking about the very pulse and heartbeat of the church. Where it stops, we are dead!
Why then do brethren not do personal work?
They Do Not Know
It is axiomatic that we cannot teach what we do not know. Far too many today cannot relate to others in an understandable way the simple plan of salvation with scriptural references. Just as God’s people of old were destroyed because of a lack of knowledge (Hos. 4:6), the brotherhood is on the brink, of chaos. If we ourselves do not fully grasp from a biblical standpoint who we are and what we are, how can we teach the uniqueness of the Lord’s precious body (Eph. 5)? It is no wonder that the church is becoming denominational and some have already gone throughout the community apologizing for sounding sectarian in preaching one church. We cannot continue in what we do not know (1 Tim. 4:16). How can we be a people of the Book when we do not know the Book? Brethren, it is time to get serious about your study of God’s Word. If all you know to do is to load the filmstrip (some can’t do this without tearing it) and plug in the electricity, you are not ready to teach a “home study” or anything else! Ignorance is not bliss and I weep for spiritual Israel, the church.
They Do Not Care
To be a Christian is to be a caring person (Rom. 12:15). Some do not know enough Bible to care about teaching it. Too many are not convinced that people who have never obeyed the gospel and/or not serving Jehovah faithfully in the church are lost. So many are lacking a deep-seated conviction pertaining to basic Bible doctrine. No wonder brethren are now saying, “There are sincere, knowledgeable, and devout Christians scattered among the different denominations” (Rubel Shelly). If we do not really believe that people in the world are lost, why should we care for them? There are more than four billion people in this world and more than 99% of the ones of a responsible age and mind are lost in sin! Less than 1/100th of 1% of the world’s population have embraced the real truth of the gospel. Brethren, don’t you care enough to try to change the situation by working in your circle of influence? God cares enough not to want anyone to perish (2 Pet. 3:9). Shouldn’t you? Jehovah’s sacrifice of His Son was the expression of a desire that all men “be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). Don’t you care about the countless individuals out there in the world who worship in vain and teach for doctrines the commandments of men (Matt. 15:9)? And what about our own brethren who are going beyond the doctrine of Christ (2 Jn. 9)? We would not be what we are if someone had not cared for us. Who cares? How tragic! He who lives to himself and dies to himself, to himself and none beside, lives as though Christ never lived, as though He never died.
They Will Not Work
There are brethren who know the truth and care a little that millions are going to hell-they just don’t care enough to go to work on the matter! Some will not work because there are too many sluggards in the body of Christ. I know a preacher who has a booklet entitled: “How To Sell Without Working.” It was compiled from the combined experience of 25,000 salesmen over a period of twenty years. There are eight pages in the booklet, and all of them are blank! There is no way to save, souls without working at it. I think of “always abounding in the work of the Lord” ( Cor. 15:58), and I shudder. Brethren, if we know and if we care, let us work at the privilege of saving souls!
They Will Not Persist
There have been times when brethren knew the truth, cared enough for lost souls to go out and work at converting them to Christ. But, they didn’t work long enough! They gave up too soon. What if Peter had given up on the day of Pentecost before exhorting “with many other words” saying, “save yourselves” (Acts 2:40). Would the number who gladly received the Word have been about 3,000? What a golden virtue persistence is. The difference between persistence and stubbornness is that one is a strong will and the other is a strong won’t. Galatians 6:9 says that we should not be weary in well doing, for in due season we will reap, if we faint not. The anchor man on a mile relay team was told by his coach: “Son, if we are going to win this race, you are going to have to start running as fast as you dan and gradually run faster.” There is a difference between persistence and aggravation, perseverance and obnoxiousness, continuance and irritation. We need to learn these differences and not despair just because someone says, “Don’t push me!”
We should not give up simply because someone may appear unreachable. I learned this in South Carolina during my first preaching experience. There was a fine veterinarian who was a Catholic. I had dined with him on several occasions, and on each, I was trying to muster courage to ask him to let me study with him. I was persistent in associating with him until I finally blurted out to him, “I want to study with you!” I almost had a cardiovascular attack when in a split second he said, “I’ve been wondering when you were going to get around to that.” He then picked up his Bible and we studied together, even though the study had to continue on the way to and at a farmyard while he engaged in surgery. Yes, we baptized him. About eight years later there was a sweet, elderly gentleman who attended once at the insistence of his wife whom I had recently baptized. He bragged, in a good-natured way, that he had not been to church anywhere in forty years, and “there ain’t no preacher got to me yet.”‘ I was determined. I studied with him weeks without end. But I couldn’t baptize him. So I cooled it for a few weeks. One evening, I put the fishing waders that I had been using for Everglade fishing in the trunk of my Ford and went to his house with the determination that I would baptize him that night. I did I Since then I have baptized a dozen or more “faithful attenders” that other preachers had given up on. We need to be persistent in the Lord’s great cause.
What it all boils down to is that one cannot take “Go” out of the great commission (Matt. 28). We are like modern day salesmen whose only sales come from those who come to us. Too many time people have to come to us and express their desire to study instead of our going to them to express our desire to study with them. The last words of our Master were get up and go! Read it for yourselves (Matt. 28; Mk. 16). It will serve as a good reminder.
We had better get busy, for the first soul we may save may be our own!
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 11, pp. 332-333
June 6, 1985