Concern over God’s Glory in Evangelism
Almost always today evangelism efforts are judged by their effectiveness. In other words, do they work? Sometimes you’ll hear, “Door to door just doesn’t work any more.” Or, “Door to door evangelism turns people off.” Or, “We invite the lost to our church services because we have found that it is more effective.” I read often about all sorts of “effective” programs for evangelism. “We’ve got this ministry or that ministry, and we’ve found that they work.” Whether these evangelistic efforts work or not seems to be the justification for their usage. Does it matter that the “program” or the “ministry” are not in the Bible? I believe so.
I know this might sound harsh, but I don’t care about your evangelism statistics. I don’t care that a certain program that you used garnered more numbers than other means that you have used. I do care if you are obedient to the Bible in evangelism. That’s what will please God. It is living by faith when we trust what God told us to do and then do it. He gets the credit for it. When I hear about some new program, I can see the innovator getting the credit for it. And I think that following exactly what God said is most important in evangelism. God will always be the One doing the saving no matter what the innovation, but how we go about doing it will affect whether God will get the glory or not. It is for this reason that we should limit our selves and our churches to biblical evangelism methodology. God revealed the way and He gets the credit when it works.
Before I talk to you about why I believe we should do it only God’s way, I want us to consider that we can’t even judge results. God has a perspective about results that we can’t have. He sees all of time in one indivisible present. We may think that we see better results with a certain methodology because of something visible and immediate. We have no way of judging whether that will be the best for the next 500 to 1000 years. None of us should imagine that we could think of a better way than what God has proposed. And yet there seems to be non-stop innovation in the work of evangelism. I keep hearing about one new program and method after another that really makes a difference.
I might see few results in my entire lifetime, but those results may yield more results in the next generation, which then produces even more results in the next generation, and then it keeps going like that. My new method might see some short-term results and then crash in the next generation. This is where we get into trouble with a very cultural “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” philosophy. I think of Jesus in the parable of the mustard seed. He said that the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. A major point of this, I believe, is that the population of His kingdom builds up slow to something great. It doesn’t show immediate massive size.
What I’m proposing here is seeing your own personal stupidity. I think I’m too stupid to judge better than God. I’ll leave that judgment up to Him. I know that there are things that I can judge by the grace of God, through the Word of God and the Holy Spirit. Really these are things that God is still judging. Not me. I should take responsibility for judging where I am supposed to, but I don’t want to judge where I can’t possibly succeed. I’m ridiculous to do so. I want to think of myself as a methodological imbecile. God created a universe. I have, um, hmmmmm, not been very impressive. So let’s get off our high horse, folks. Get a rich understanding of how stupid you are and how smart God is. Stop depending on what you might think is keen judgment of results. You don’t have it.
The Permanence of God’s Glory
What will last is God’s glory. And that’s what He wants. He’ll produce salvations. He is the only One Who can do that. If we use His method, we’ll get exactly what He will effect. I’m fine with that, because He gets the glory and that’s why I do what I do. He’s a good God. He deserves to be glorified. I deserve zero glory, less than zero. He isn’t glorified when I do it my way, so I don’t want to do it my way. On top of the fact that I can’t judge results. I’ve got to leave all that in God’s hands.
His glory is the gold, silver, and precious stones. His glory is the laboring, that whether present or absent, I’m accepted of Him. His glory is what’s important at the judgment seat. His glory is what will last through eternity. My ideas are at the most a vapor.
What Glorifies God In Evangelism
The Bible is full of this teaching that God doesn’t want human innovation in evangelism, replete with the idea that God wants worshiped through our preaching of the gospel. We’ve obviously needed to have heard that instruction because we’ve often forgotten what He told us. We have built our own evangelistic towers of Babel. We’ve become the Thomas Edisons of evangelism. And I don’t think we’ve recognized how far we’ve gotten away from what He said.
I’m not going to focus on all of the passages on this, but some are very enlightening. I think of three right off the top of my head and I’ll deal with them in the order that they appear in my brain. The first is 1 Corinthians 1-2.
1 Corinthians 1-2
1:17 gets it started when Paul writes, “preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words.” The “wisdom of words” represents human strategy and technique. This is the gospel plus something else, the gospel along with the additions that make it work or make people like it, take some of the foolishness off of it so that it might seem a little more palatable to the lost. He moves on with this in v. 18:
For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness.
What we should get from this is that preaching of the cross doesn’t make sense to us as a method. The world doesn’t like it. He continues in v. 19:
For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.
Who are these wise and prudent? They’re the ones who have have figured out that people don’t like the straight preaching of the gospel, so they choose something else or something more.
The smartypants know that “Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom” (1:22). They’ve studied the demographic. They know how people tick. They know how to customize the gospel according to the particular characteristics of a type of lost person—the alcoholic, the drug addict, the homeless, the American, the big city person, the third world country citizen, the rich guy, the kiddies, youth, urban braniacs, etc.
Paul moves opposite of the strategic program evangelism. He continues in 1:23:
But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness.
And more in 1:25:
Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
What people say doesn’t work is actually the wisdom of God. They don’t think it works because they don’t see something that says to them that it has worked. God says it works. That should be enough. No one should assume it hasn’t worked. The assumption should be that God has worked powerfully, because that’s what He does. The way that glorifies God doesn’t make any kind of human sense that it should work. It looks exactly like it shouldn’t work. That it does work is because it is of God.
And why this particular methodology of straight preaching, of just going out and proclaiming the gospel? 1:29 answers:
That no flesh should glory in his presence.
And v. 31:
That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.
We don’t want the glory, do we? Do we? If we don’t, then we restrain ourselves from a different methodology. Just preach the gospel. “But people will be offended.” “It will turn people off.” “It works better if you….” But whether He gets the glory matters.
Because of the doctrine that we read in 1 Corinthians 1:17-31, Paul operated in a particular fashion. He explains that in chapter two beginning with this in v. 1:
I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.
Read this in vv. 4-5:
And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom . . . . That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
Somebody who wants God glorified in evangelism will take the same tack as Paul.
Here’s the program our church uses for evangelism—we preach the gospel. We preach it house to house and to those with whom we come in contact. We preach it to relatives, to neighbors, to co-workers, to fellow students, to children, to teens, to college students, and to the elderly. We preach it to Buddhists, to atheists, to Catholics, to Hindus, to Sikhs, to professing Christians, and to Mormons.
In Matthew 13, the sower went out to sow. We go out and sow. We preach the gospel to every creature. We don’t hide our light under a bushel. We open our mouth boldly as we ought to speak. We don’t have a program. We just preach the gospel. The world might hate us. I marvel not.
We don’t use an invitation to church philosophy. We don’t use any kind of special program for teens, for kids, for drunks, for drug addict, or for any other demographic. We just preach it. I can explain to you how that what I am describing is scriptural. I can also describe how that your program is unscriptural. I don’t think a person invited to church has a better opportunity of being saved than someone who hears the gospel at his door.
For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son.
“Serve” is the word latreuo. It is speaking of the worship of the priestly service, the sacrificial system, the offerings to God. The noun form is used in Romans 12:1 when the offering of your body to God is called latreia.
This verse says that our evangelism is a presentation to God as worship. The concern for an offering to God is whether God accepts it or not. Is it acceptable to God? The question isn’t whether it will work but rather will please God.
That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost. I have therefore whereof I may glory through Jesus Christ in those things which pertain to God.
V. 16 uses the language of priestly service. Paul ministered in the sense that he acted as a priest. As the priest was to offer an acceptable offering unto God, so Paul offered up the believing Gentiles to God. Even as Aaron, the first Levitical priest, offered the Levites before the Lord (Numbers 8:13)—
And thou shalt set the Levites before Aaron, and before his sons, and offer them for an offering unto the LORD.
—So also believer-priests living today may offer Gentile converts before the Lord that they may serve Him. God is well pleased when they’re offered up to Him, because it is His plan for this present age. Every new Gentile believer is sanctified by the Holy Spirit, indwelt by Him, made holy and acceptable to God. You see this thought in Isaiah 66:20 where people “out of all nations” are offered to God.
In v. 17 we see that Paul wants to “glory through Jesus Christ.” For Jesus to be glorified, the ministering, the offering that is Paul’s preaching of the gospel, must be acceptable to God.
The concern in evangelism is whether God will be glorified. When we take care of what is required for that to occur, we’ll get the exact results we’re supposed to get, no more or no less. More converts doesn’t justify a method. This isn’t living by faith but by sight. No one should assume that an evangelistic strategy is better because it has worked better than others.
In a question and answer time during a recent conference, John Piper commented that Mark Driscoll has a much greater opportunity to reach the people he does in Seattle than what Piper could. Why? What is it about Driscoll that would be more effective than Piper in reaching unsaved Seattle citizens? The implication was that Driscoll’s speaking style, his deco teeshirts, his grunge rock bands, and these types of customized innovations to the Seattle crowd were more prone to the use of God than what Piper would be able to offer. And this is coming from a Calvinist, who says he believes and teaches theological monergism in salvation. It is sheer pragmatism, Finneyesque new measures. Piper himself shows again and again that this is what he thinks. He would not have the same results if he hadn’t bowed to his own wisdom in evangelistic approach.
You look at the Resolved conference of John MacArthur and Grace Community Church in Southern California, and you have the rock concert style theater lighting and platform, the relational dress, and the fleshly rock form of music all tailored for the youth culture. These all smack of the contextualization that defies these passages on Divine methodology.
I bring these two examples because they actually contradict what these evangelicals say that they believe. Young fundamentalists and evangelicals hover around them in part because they think that they are different than abuses in old fundamentalism. There’s hypocrisy in their condoning and acceptance.
Of course, we’ve got the promotion and marketing methodologies of modern fundamentalism, the giveaways and the gimmicks, justified by their effect. Methods don’t glorify God because they work. They glorify God because they stand in His wisdom and not that of men. God uses the supposed non-effective. He doesn’t get Jews through signs and Greeks through wisdom, children through toys and games, and adults through buildings and bribes. Music isn’t an evangelistic method. There’s no gospel music in the Bible, only gospel preaching. A Christmas concert is not an evangelistic strategy. A youth rally with pizza and big ball is not a biblical technique.
Typical comebacks are: “Scripture doesn’t say it’s wrong.” “Jesus got a crowd by healing people.” “The Lord gave food to the masses.” “Paul adjusted his message to the Athenian crowd.” “Jesus ate with sinners.”
The Bible does say the human innovations are wrong (see above). The healing of Jesus was to fulfill prophecy in order to reveal His identity. He wanted those to go away who were merely seeking after signs. Jesus didn’t keep feeding people because it wasn’t an evangelistic strategy. Paul preached the same gospel but used the truth that would pull down Athenian strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). Jesus preached to sinners everywhere.
The limitations of the sufficient Word of God will free you from the bondage of evangelistic concoctions. You won’t be burdened by the pressure to find a way to succeed. You’ll find liberty in the simplicity of the gospel. Come to the methods of Scripture. God will give you rest. Above all, Jesus will be glorified. Oh praise His name!