Evangelist is a term used in the New Testament (see Acts 21:8; Ephesians 4:11; and 2 Timothy 4:5) to designate any of the workers in the apostolic church who traveled to distant places to announce the gospel and to prepare the way for more extensive missionary work on the part of the apostles.
In postapostolic times the term evangelist was applied to a writer of a Gospel, that is, to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Traditionally, the four evangelists are symbolized by emblematic figures derived from the prophetic vision of Ezekiel and from Revelation, especially Revelation 4:6-10. For many years controversy existed over which symbol should be attributed to which evangelist. It was finally agreed that Matthew, who started his narrative with the genealogy of Christ, should be represented by the head of a man; Mark, who began with the mission of John the Baptist in the wilderness, by a lion, the inhabitant of the desert; Luke, who commenced with the story of the priest Zacharias, by a sacrificial ox; and John, whose Gospel soars to the heights of theological speculation, by an eagle.
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Evangelism is the proclamation of the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ with a view to bringing about the reconciliation of the sinner to God the Father through the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. The word derives from the Greek noun euangelion, goods news, and verb euangelizomai, to announce or proclaim or bring good news.
Evangelism is based on the initiative of God himself. Because God acted, believers have a message to share with others. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son" (John 3:16). "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). Like a father who longs for the return of his lost son, a woman who searches diligently for a lost son, a woman who searches diligently for a lost coin, and a shepherd who leaves the rest of his flock to find a lost sheep (Luke 15), God loves sinners and actively seeks their salvation. God is always gracious, "not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (2 Pet. 3:9).
God, in turn, expects his people to share in his quest to save the lost. In order to believe the gospel people must first hear it and understand it (Rom. 10:14 - 15). Thus God has appointed ambassadors, agents of his kingdom, to be his ministers of reconciliation in the world (2 Cor. 5:11 - 21).
A comprehensive definition of evangelism came out of the International Congress on World Evangelization (1974). According to the Lausanne Covenant, "To evangelize is to spread the good news that Jesus Christ died for our sins and was raised from the dead according to the Scriptures, and that as the reigning Lord he now offers the forgiveness of sins and the liberating gift of the Spirit to all who repent and believe. Our Christian presence in the world is indispensable to evangelism, and so is that kind of dialogue whose purpose is to listen sensitively in order to understand. But evangelism itself is the proclamation of the historical, biblical Christ as Saviour and Lord, with a view to persuading people to come to him personally and so be reconciled to God. In issuing the gospel invitation we have no liberty to conceal the cost of discipleship.
Jesus still calls all who would follow him to deny themselves, take up their cross, and identify themselves with his new community. The results of evangelism include obedience to Christ, incorporation into his church and responsible service in the world."
Whereas there is a legitimate place for aggressiveness and even confrontation in evangelism, integrity and love should be the foundation on which all methods are built. Furthermore, sharers of the good news should know their hearers well enough to speak to their needs, in ways that they can understand (1 Cor. 9:19 - 23). When it comes to evangelistic method, Paul's words still speak with authority and insight: "And pray for us too, that God may open a door for our message. . . so that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone" (Col. 4:3).
In their enthusiasm for sharing the benefits of the gospel evangelists dare not neglect the obligations that come with receiving it. In many evangelical circles, for example, people make a distinction between accepting Christ as Savior and accepting him as Lord. This often leaves converts with the impression that they can obtain the forgiveness of sins without committing themselves to obedience to Christ and service in his church. Such notions are not found in the NT and may be part of the reason that so many modern converts have so little staying power.
They have been offered and have accepted "cheap grace" rather than the free but costly grace of the gospel. "Counting the cost" is an essential part of responding to the gospel message, not something that can be put off until a later time. Conversion to Jesus Christ entails more than the forgiveness of sins. It includes obedience to the commands of God and participation in the body of Christ, the church. As Jesus said, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nation, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" (Matt. 28:19 - 20).
One way to maintain the connection between conversion and discipleship is to keep proclamation and demonstration together in evangelism. In the ministry of Jesus and in the life of the apostolic church, preaching and acting, saying and doing were always joined (e.g., Luke 4:18 - 19; Acts 10:36 - 38; Rom. 15:18 - 19). Proclaiming salvation without demonstrating its transforming power in the fruit of the Spirit and goods works is as inadequate as showing the effects of new life in Christ without explaining their source. Announcing the good news of salvation without showing the love of Christ in personal and social concern is not evangelism in the style of the NT. In this holistic approach to evangelism we do not fail to distinguish between regeneration and sanctification, but do contend that the two should be held closely together.
T P Weber
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)
D Watson, I Believe in Evangelism; J I Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God; J D Douglas, ed., Let the Earth Hear His Voice; J Engel and W Norton, What's Gone Wrong with the Harvest? A Johnston, The Battle for World Evangelism.
Evangelist, lit., "a messenger of good" (eu, "well," angelos, "a messenger"), denotes a "preacher of the gospel," Acts 21:8; Eph. 4:11, which makes clear the distinctiveness of the function in the churches; 2 Tim. 4:5. Cf. euangelizo, "to proclaim glad tidings," and euangelion, "good news, gospel." Missionaries are "evangelists," as being essentially preachers of the gospel.
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