What We Believe- Article XI, Evangelism and Missions

April 3, 2009

This week we are starting to head into articles dealing with more practical matters for the church and how it operates and views the world.  The first of these articles is article XI concerning evangelism and missions:

XI. Evangelism and Missions

It is the duty and privilege of every follower of Christ and of every church of the Lord Jesus Christ to endeavor to make disciples of all nations. The new birth of man’s spirit by God’s Holy Spirit means the birth of love for others. Missionary effort on the part of all rests thus upon a spiritual necessity of the regenerate life, and is expressly and repeatedly commanded in the teachings of Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ has commanded the preaching of the gospel to all nations. It is the duty of every child of God to seek constantly to win the lost to Christ by verbal witness undergirded by a Christian lifestyle, and by other methods in harmony with the gospel of Christ.

Genesis 12:1-3; Exodus 19:5-6; Isaiah 6:1-8; Matthew 9:37-38; 10:5-15; 13:18-30, 37-43; 16:19; 22:9-10; 24:14; 28:18-20; Luke 10:1-18; 24:46-53; John 14:11-12; 15:7-8,16; 17:15; 20:21; Acts 1:8; 2; 8:26-40; 10:42-48; 13:2-3; Romans 10:13-15; Ephesians 3:1-11; 1 Thessalonians 1:8; 2 Timothy 4:5; Hebrews 2:1-3; 11:39-12:2; 1 Peter 2:4-10; Revelation 22:17.

Given that the major emphasis in most (all?) Southern Baptist churches is on missions and evangelism, one would expect this to be a very solid article.  And reading it over, it doesn’t seem to disappoint.  The one thing that we have to be careful of is checking to see if they actually say too much and overreach on what the Scriptures actuallt call us to in sharing the message of the gospel.

The opening statement is very bold: “It is the duty and privilege of every follower of Christ and of every church of the Lord Jesus Christ to endeavor to make disciples of all nations.”  Many will dispute this and say that Jesus’ commands in Matthew 28.18-20 and Acts 1.8 were directed only to the apostles, but this fails to account for why many who weren’t there, say like Timothy or Titus or Apollos, felt inclined to fulfill it as well.  Instead we see that everywhere the apostles go they not only preach the word of God but that also encourage others to do it as well.  So, unless they missed the interpretation of Jesus’ commands right from the start I think it is safe to say that the Great Commission(s) is meant for all believers.  

The statement that it is a privilege echoes Peter’s sentiments that we are a chosen people that now “may proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2.9).

After making such a strong declaration of our calling to do evangelism and missions, I am very impressed by the way that the BF&M then proceeds to say, in so many words, “But still, evangelism and missions is not to be done out of plain obedience.”  This is important.  A lot of people, even a lot of great theologians (RC Sproul comes to mind right away) will argue that the reason why we do missions is because Christ commands us to.  That is a good reason, but I think it falls short of what the Bible actually says.  Now, I know that RC comes from this angle because he is arguing for why we should do evangelism and missions if God has already set out to save all and only the elect who have been chosen unconditionally from before time, but hear me out: if our gospel witness comes just from pure obedience then we are missing the point.  When we are regenerated we are adopted into God’s family.  This then should produce a love in us for the family and thus a desire to see all of the members of the family (i.e. the elect) brought home and reconciled with the Father.  So, we have this longing and the Scriptures tell us that the only way to see it happen, to see them reconciled, is through their hearing and receiving the message of the gospel (cf. Acts 4.12, Romans 10.9ff).  Viewing our participation in evangelism and missions as simply fulfilling an obligation sets it up as an item on a checklist that we can cross off eventually without having completely sold ourselves out to doing it, which of course is the breeding grounds of legalism.  Viewing it as our internal desire to see the whole family reconciled makes it a lot more personal and more accurately conveys the spirit of him who called us (cf. Galatians 4.1-7).

Finally, we are hit with the question of how we should go about doing evangelism and missions.  This again is a place where I think the BF&M gets it just right.  It says that we are to try and ”win the lost to Christ by verbal witness undergirded by a Christian lifestyle, and by other methods in harmony with the gospel of Christ. ”  Of course, I am not a huge fan of the language of us “winning people to Christ” since I think this puts too high a value on our actually abilities, but the principle expressed is absolutely correct.  Our first weapon is a verbal witness, for “how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10.14b), and then this is to be followed up with a consistent Christian lifestyle and all other means of witness which do not contradict the commands of Scripture.  I think we have all been guilty at one time or another of witnessing only through “lifestyle evangelism,” whether we meant to or not, and I like the fact that the BF&M takes a clear stance that this is not the proper type of biblical witness.  Of course, we shouldn’t expect all of the people in the church to be George Whitefield, especially right out of the gates, but that is why the SBC has invested so much through LifeWay into evangelism training courses and through NAMB and IMB for missionary training.  This is far and away one of the biggest advantages of being in the SBC.

So, going in there was a concern that maybe the BF&M would go too far in its assessment of the Scriptural writings on evangelism and missions, but honestly, I think they did an excellent job in staying true to the word here; and even though this is not a popular way to live– I know I struggle with placing enough focus on evangelism myself– we would all do better at fulfilling God’s call on our lives if we truly embraced what this article says.