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EVANGELISM IN THE EARLY CHURCHES –
A MODEL FOR TODAY!

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Evening, July 10, 2011

“And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two” (Mark 6:7).


These twelve men had only been with Jesus a few weeks. But right away He sent them forth two by two to preach (Mark 6:12). Even at the very time Jesus called them, He did so “that he might send them forth to preach” (Mark 3:14). Surely you know that these men were not yet very spiritual. Surely you know that Judas was not converted, that Thomas did not yet believe the Gospel, that Peter later tried to keep Jesus from going to the Cross. Yet Christ sent them out at once to evangelism! The very first thing Jesus said to Peter and Andrew was, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him” (Matthew 4:19-20).

Again, about a year later, Christ called seventy of His followers, “and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come” (Luke 10:1). Please turn to that passage in Luke 10. Stand as I read verses 1 to 3.

“After these things the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come. Therefore said he unto them, The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest. Go your ways: behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves” (Luke 10:1-3).

You may be seated.

It was Christ’s method to send people out to evangelism two-by-two. I think that is exactly what we need to do today. Also notice that these were novices, baby Christians at best, but He sent them out right away. He did not spend years teaching them the Bible before sending them. No! He said to them,

“Go your ways: behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves” (Luke 10:3).

Notice also that Christ told these inexperienced young followers what to pray. And He told them exactly what to pray for in verse two,

“Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest” (Luke 10:2).

He told these seventy inexperienced young followers to pray that God would send forth more and more people into the harvest! Dr. John R. Rice said it well in one of his moving songs,

We should pray the Lord of Harvest,
   “Reapers send into Thy field.”
Few are reapers; white and wasting
   Are the fields, how rich the yield.
Here am I! Here am I! Send me forth, O Lord of Harvest,
   Breathe on me Thy Holy Spirit.
Here am I! Here am I!
   Send me forth to win some precious soul today.
(“Here Am I” by Dr. John R. Rice, 1895-1980).

At the end of His earthly ministry, Christ told them the same thing,

“All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew 28:18-20).

At the end of Mark Christ said,

“Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).

At the end of Luke Christ said,

“...that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem”
       (Luke 24:47).

Toward the end of John’s gospel Christ said,

“As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you” (John 20:21).

And Christ’s last words before He ascended back to Heaven were,

“Ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

There was once a man who split his church by saying that these commands were only for the Apostles, and no Christian needs to obey them today. He put on the cloak of hyper-Calvinism to draw people to follow him and leave their church. But nothing came of it, for there can never be a blessing where Jesus’ words are twisted and disobeyed.

Spurgeon was a five-point Calvinist, but he was not a hyper-Calvinist. As we shall see, there is a difference between the two. Spurgeon said,

Oh! I would that the Church would hear the Saviour addressing these words to her now; for the words of Christ are living words, not having power in them yesterday alone, but to-day also. The injunctions [commands] of the Saviour are perpetual in their obligation: they were not binding upon the Apostles merely, but upon us also, and upon every Christian does this yoke fall, “Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” We are not exempt to-day from the service of the first followers of the Lamb; our marching orders are the same as theirs, and our Captain requires from us obedience as prompt and perfect as from them (C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Pilgrim Publications, 1986 reprint, volume VII, p. 281).

May each of us say with Dr. Rice,

Here am I! Here am I! Send me forth, O Lord of Harvest,
   Breathe on me Thy Holy Spirit.
Here am I! Here am I!
   Send me forth to win some precious soul today.

In the Parable of the Great Supper Jesus said, “Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled” (Luke 14:23). In the Parable of the Marriage Feast Jesus said, “Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage” (Matthew 22:9).

The local church that Jesus established in Jerusalem took His command to evangelize literally. Within a few weeks after Pentecost the high priest complained that “Ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine” (Acts 5:28). Then in Acts 5:42 we are told, “And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.” In Acts 6:1 we read, “the number of the disciples was multiplied.” Later, in Acts 12:24, we read that “the word of God grew and multiplied.” Dr. John R. Rice said,

      In Samaria, where Deacon Philip went to preach, we are told in Acts 8:6, “And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake...” Again in verse 12, “But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” Such a wonderful tide of the power of God and people being saved was normal for New Testament churches.
       In fact, Acts 9:31 says, “Then had the churches rest...and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.”
       The churches were “multiplied,” that is, the converts were multiplied and the churches grew. That was a regular, consistent pattern of these New Testament churches where Christians set out to win everybody they could and witnessed daily (John R. Rice, D.D., Why Our Churches Do Not Win Souls, Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1966, p. 25).

Dr. Rice went on to say, “Despite persecution, amid heathen, blinded people, they won multitudes...The amazing growth of New Testament churches is almost beyond our comprehension. Warnock, in his History of Protestant Missions, says that at the end of the first century [sixty-seven] years after Pentecost, there were about 200,000 Christians. He says that by the end of the third century there were [8,000,000] Christians despite vigorous persecution and [the] martyrdom of thousands. They were now one-fifteenth part of the Roman Empire! [That is, one out of every 15 people was a Christian]...despite bloody persecutions throughout the Roman Empire. Despite the martyrdom of Stephen and James at Jerusalem, and many others, persecuted ‘unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women’ (Acts 22:4), and the imprisonment and attempted murder of Paul, thousands were won among the Jews. Despite the bloody persecutions under Nero, who had Paul and others beheaded; the persecution under Hadrian and particularly under Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius and Septimus Severus, still the blazing fire of evangelism went on. Workman says,

      For two hundred years, to become a Christian meant great renunciation, the joining of a despised and persecuted sect, the swimming against the tide of popular prejudice, the coming under the ban of the empire, and the possibility at any moment of imprisonment and death under its most fearful forms. For two hundred years he that would follow Christ must count the cost, and be prepared to pay...with his liberty and life. For two hundred years the mere profession of Christianity was itself a crime” (Rice, ibid., pp. 27-28).

Dr. Rice said, “In the midst of the most adverse circumstances, violent hatred, persecution and ‘closed doors,’ New Testament Christians carried on their amazing soul-winning work. How does the soul-winning of our churches compare with New Testament teaching and practice?” (Rice, ibid.). “Compared to the New Testament churches and New Testament Christians, our present-day churches and Christian people generally fail disastrously and shamefully” (Rice, ibid., p. 29).

Again, Dr. Rice said, “Only all-out effort can match New Testament soul winning... There is in our poor carnal natures a tendency to drift from all-out obedience, from red-hot enthusiasm and zeal to a lukewarm, half-hearted way of doing God’s business. As a great old song says,

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love.

Thus there is need again and again in the churches for a revival of zeal, a revival of soul-winning compassion, a revival of the power of God upon us. There is no way for a church to win souls after the New Testament pattern except by an all-out effort” (Rice, ibid., p. 149-150).

I know that there are those who will say that Dr. Rice’s emphasis on every person doing evangelism will not “work.” So some have turned to hyper-Calvinism – not five-point Calvinism – but hyper-Calvinism, the idea that you don’t need to go after the lost; God will bring them in by His sovereign grace without Christians doing the work of evangelism. George Whitefield, William Carey, Spurgeon and other great soul-winners were five-point Calvinists, but they were not hyper-Calvinists. They believed that we should all “do the work of an evangelist” (II Timothy 4:5). I wish every Reformed pastor would read, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism, by Rev. Iain H. Murray (Banner of Truth Trust, 1995). Click here to order it. It is a wonderful book that will inspire you, warm your heart, and renew your zeal to evangelize the lost!

Dr. Rice was not wrong to urge Christian people to put their hearts and souls into the work of evangelism. The weakness came because most of the churches that followed him did not spend sufficient time dealing with the lost that were brought in. They usually had people say a “quick prayer” without taking time to make sure that they repented, and experienced a real conversion in Christ Jesus, before baptizing them. Dr. Cagan and I have written a book on the problem of “decisionism” which you can read free of charge on this website by clicking here for Today’s Apostasy: How Decisionism is Destroying Our Churches.

Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water! I completely agree with the quotations I have given from Dr. John R. Rice. We need to reexamine the evangelistic zeal of the early churches, and follow their example! Let us expend ourselves in evangelizing the lost! And let us also be very careful to make as sure as possible that they are truly converted before we baptize them! Above all, let us remember the command of Christ,

“Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled” (Luke 14:23).

Let us stand and sing Dr. Oswald J. Smith’s great song – “Evangelize! Evangelize!”

Give us a watchword for the hour, A thrilling word, a word of power,
A battle cry, a flaming breath That calls to conquest or to death.
A word to rouse the church from rest, To heed the Master’s strong request.
The call is given, Ye hosts, arise, Our watchword is, evangelize!

The glad evangel now proclaim, Through all the earth, in Jesus’ name;
This word is ringing through the skies: Evangelize! Evangelize!
To dying men, a fallen race, Make known the gift of Gospel grace;
The world that now in darkness lies, Evangelize! Evangelize!
   (“Evangelize! Evangelize!” by Dr. Oswald J. Smith, 1889-1986;
       to the tune of “And Can It Be?” by Charles Wesley, 1707-1788).

(END OF SERMON)
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Or phone him at (818)352-0452.

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Luke 9:1-6.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Here Am I” (by Dr. John R. Rice, 1895-1980).