Sharing Jesus anytime, anyplace, anywhere
What evangelistic practice did the first-century church demonstrate?
Throughout the New Testament, readers will discover examples of evangelists who boldly share the ‘good news’ whenever, wherever, and to whomever, as often as possible, relying upon the work of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul is one who embodies exactly this behavior. Because of the Gospel’s divine origin, Paul recognizes God’s Spirit as the agent of salvation. Paul seeks to snatch men from the fires of hell by the wisdom and power of God, not by his own works.1 Paul lives in service to Christ as a “chosen instrument” (Acts 9:15), not as a "divine" surgeon who crafts redemptive acts by his own power. He knows that proclamation of God’s Word, aided by the Holy Spirit of God, alone, convicts men of their sin and need for redemption in Christ. He said as much in Romans 10:17, when he said, "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ."
Nowhere in the New Testament will you find an evangelist who subscribes to the idea that one must first “[earn] the right to be heard” in order to “validate the truth and relevance” of the gospel’s content.2 C.E. Autrey lamented that ‘some people’ think “evangelism is everything we do,” noting that “often we do everything but evangelism.”3 Speaking with clarity, Autrey remarked further, “[Christians today] must have the same purpose and power which characterized the early church. […] They went out not to enlist people in a certain type of activity [or relationship in hopes of conversion] but to bear witness to an experience which they had with God.”4 Explaining the contents of the early church evangelistic “witness,” Autrey says that the early church stuck to a simple Gospel message of “life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus […] concluding with an appeal to repent and believe.”5 As an example, when Paul visited Athens in Acts 17:16-34, he immediately evangelized “in the synagogue [and] the [public] marketplace” (Acts 17:17). Aware of the divine judgment to come, Paul proclaimed the Gospel of Christ “every day” (Acts 17:17)—urging repentance and a decision of belief (Acts 17:29-34).
So, if you were to investigate the first-century New Testament church practices, you will find that they practiced mass evangelism (Acts 2), public preaching (Acts 26 and 28), held evangelistic “campaigns” (Acts 8:5, 14), house-to-house witnessing (Acts 5:42), and public debate (Acts 17:16-17).5 All the while, people were being transformed daily (Acts 2:47). Lives were saved repeatedly by telling anyone who would listen—using commonly what modern evangelists label the "comprehensive-incarnational" approach.
And what is this "comprehensive-incarnational" approach to evangelism in the New Testament, that is so fancily named by modern academics? It is the belief based on Scripture that in conjunction with the Holy Spirit, the Gospel can convict any size audience, any place, at any time that God chooses.5 The practical implication of this approach implies that God actively creates divine Gospel appointments and shapes hearts before, during, and after the evangelistic event.
Given that God goes before us, Christians should all watch for opportunities to share the ‘Good News’ as often as possible and to whoever will listen. No weakness exists in this approach, given that it faithfully seeks to obey the Lord’s commandment (Matt. 28:19-20). Problems in this approach manifest when Christians fail to obey by not remaining available and ready at any time to boldly share the Gospel, regardless of the audience they stand before. Such failure happens for for many reasons -- which I think I'll cover in another post. But for sure, daily prayer, confession, and devotion help overcome the problem of little obedience.
1 Mark McCloskey, Tell It Often, Tell It Well : Making the Most of Witnessing Opportunities, (Eugene, OR: Wipf Publishers, 1985), 159. McCloskey cites theological foundations for the comprehensive approach. In living out Jude 1:23, every Christian serves as Christ’s ambassador bringing the gospel to the lost.
2 Mark McCloskey, 159. McCloskey cites theological foundations for the comprehensive approach. In living out Jude 1:23, every Christian serves as Christ’s ambassador bringing the gospel to the lost.
3 C.E. Autrey, Basic Evangelism, 16th ed., (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1978), 26.
4 Autrey, 35.
5 Autrey, 153-162.
6 McCloskey, 153-162. See the definition of a Relational-Incarnational approach to evangelism.