|Assembly Characteristics - 03 Gospel Evangelism|
Gospel Testimony of the Assembly
1 Corinthians 1:17-2:5
How were local assemblies established in the days of the New Testament? How should they be planted and continued in our day? Is not it interesting that all the assemblies in the times of the apostle Paul and others began as a result of active gospel work, preaching “Jesus Christ and Him crucified,” (1 Corinthians 2:2). One would judge that this is the method that God has intended should continue to be employed in this great work. That is not to say that other forms of that work are not also involved, but the modern term, “church planting” is strangely absent from the Bible! It was “Go… and teach (make disciples) of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them all things that I have commanded you....” (Matthew 28:19-20), and “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature,” (Mark 15:15). That method worked then, and we believe it will yet work if exercised believers employ it today. The Lord said in His great commission in Matthew 28:20 that this work was unto the end of the world (the consummation of the age), so it goes on until the end. Let us be encouraged to continue in the same pattern with the same commission to see God’s work done in God’s way!
There are many passages in the Acts and the Epistles, along with 1 Corinthians 1:17-31, that prove that New Testament assemblies were characterized in their start and continuance by active preaching and gospel work. When Paul wrote this opening section of 1 Corinthians, he was looking back on his initial work in Corinth. In that immoral city, the gospel that he preached, being accompanied with the mighty power of God, resulted in sinners being saved, baptized and gathered as an assembly in the name of the Lord Jesus. Baptism was important, but his primary purpose was the public proclamation of the gospel that the Lord had promised would be, and which proved to be, the effective means for the saving of souls.
The gospel must have priority (1 Corinthians 1: 17), not at the expense of other truth, but surely preceding it to the blessing of the lost. The establishment and continuation of an assembly depends on active evangelistic work, the proclamation of the gospel. There are different words in the Greek language that are translated “preach,” and this passage employs a number of them. Paul says that Christ sent him to “preach the gospel,” and this is the word that means, “to tell the good news,” or “evangelize.” In vs. 21, 23, he uses the word that means the “public proclamation, or heralding of the message.” It was a public proclamation with authority. In 2:1, he uses the word translated “declaring” so that he not only proclaimed it but also expounded its meaning. Other references to his preaching in Corinth are also found in the epistle.
The central subject of the gospel is “the cross of Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:17, 23; 2:2) and the Christ of the cross. The preaching of the cross includes the entire message of the ruin of man and the full provision made in the sacrificial, substitutionary, and satisfactory work of Christ to meet the demands of divine justice and the needs of the guilty sinner (15:1-4). The cross upholds the righteousness of God to fully judge sin while providing grace to save. This preaching is God-honoring and Christ-exalting while it brings peace to troubled, believing souls. It includes the great truth of the resurrection of Christ, for without a living Savior, there would be no salvation for sinners. In our desire to exalt our Lord Jesus in this dark and dying world, we must give priority to the preaching of the gospel to all nations and not neglect to teach all things that He commanded (Matthew 28:20).
The earnest desire to spread the gospel seems begotten in young believers. In the early bloom of their zeal and love for the Lord, they cannot refrain from telling others what the Lord has done for them. It is indeed sad when we lose that exercise and fail to continue with zeal in the gospel. This loss is seen in individual as well as collective assembly testimony. We must constantly seek to fan the fires of enthusiastic endeavor to further the gospel in a scriptural and Christ-exalting way.
Importance of Evangelism
Assemblies that have a gospel spirit, a love for the gospel and are personally involved in its spread are usually characterized by a warm and enthusiastic spiritual exercise. They are usually also the ones that are growing and experiencing fewer internal difficulties. The focus of their endeavor is to honor Christ and to maintain an atmosphere conducive to His blessing in salvation. The active spread of the gospel by an assembly is linked with the progress of its testimony, but there are other benefits that should not be underestimated.
Gospel witness centers on two primary means of propagation: personal witness and public proclamation. Never has there been a substitute for either aspect. The personal work cannot substitute for the public proclamation, which is the heralding of the gospel by an evangelist (or those who do the work of an evangelist by preaching the gospel) to whom this gift has been given. Personal witness is the groundwork, paving the way, giving help in view of that public work. The public proclamation is the means by which God has promised to work and does uniquely bless, and no substitute can be found for it. This is not attempting to deny that many have been saved through personal witness alone, because God is sovereign and works through us or in spite of us, but the commandment from the Lord is that the gospel should be publicly proclaimed (1 Corinthians 1:17-25). It is a grave mistake to give up on this responsibility! Some, at the expense of using the God approved method of proclaiming the gospel, have adopted other methods, but it is often shown in time to result in defective professions that do not prove to be real.
Dependence on God for Blessing
The first and second chapters of 1 Corinthians agree to all that has been recorded in the Book of Acts that the gospel must be proclaimed with complete dependence on God to work. Blessing does not come through the wisdom of men or methods that appeal to man's pride. There is always a natural tendency to stoop to methods or expressions that cater to man's intellect. This seems to make the entire effort more respectable, more palatable, or more acceptable to sinners. The only genuine and lasting results come from labor with dependence on the work of the Holy Spirit as He speaks through the truth of the Word. Many workers and preachers depend on an ability to sway emotions or to stimulate a response to an invitation. This may achieve some visible results, but if any work is done in this way that will stand for eternity, it is because God has overruled in His own providence and done His own work in spite of the hindrance of human efforts. When we depart from the pattern of scriptural simplicity, we have opened the door to the increased possibility of professions without spiritual life. It is possible to make converts through overemphasis on personal pressure and persuasive methods and such work will never result in fruit for God. We must remember that we are dealing with His work and the eternal souls of men.
There are companies of believers that have abandoned the proven methods of gospel work and no longer have a regular gospel meeting, believing that the day for such an approach is past and new methods are required for a culture immersed in multimedia presentations that appeal to the natural ear and eye. Their approach is a direct denial of 1 Corinthians 2:1-10. We need to keep in mind that the Corinthian mind was attuned to and accustomed to skits, dramatic presentations and play performances with actors playing a part, but it is also clear from 1 Corinthians 2:1-3 that Paul shunned those methods in favor of the simple proclamation of the gospel. It seems that brethren should consider this when they use acting and plays to appeal to people, even to children. This is not the way that God has ordained for the gospel to go forth.
It is true that many gospel meetings are poorly attended by the unsaved, (and, sadly, often by the believers as well) but that is no reason for them to be abandoned. Surely, there is a benefit to the saints themselves to hear the gospel preached, and there is a need for such meetings to develop gift in younger brethren. We could attribute poor attendance to our failure to personally witness to the lost and to seek to bring them to a gospel meeting. When was the last time we seriously sought to speak to an unsaved friend, neighbor or any other one whom the Lord brought across our pathway? The methods are not at fault; they still work and we know it, but waning exercise on the part of the saints results in a lack of fruit and blessing.
Scriptural Methods Essential
Methods used will determine results achieved. Many modern methods lead to shallow professions by persons who have not known the genuine convicting work of the Holy Spirit. Many have prayed or gone forward in meetings and have thought they were saved. One characteristic of the last days is a man-centered type of religion. Man sees himself at the center, able to do something for God by his own efforts, even to use God to achieve his own ends. Most who profess under such methods think that their commitment has required God to respond to them. The truth of the gospel is the reverse of this kind of thinking; God has spoken and it is man's responsibility to respond to Him.
The gospel testimony of an assembly must use right methods and express scriptural doctrine to be truly effective. Brethren who publicly proclaim the gospel should not only be gifted, but should clearly understand gospel doctrines and be able to express them with clarity, authority and sincerity. The saints of an assembly should recognize the need for their personal involvement in the overall effort of the gospel testimony. This includes personally witnessing to others, showing deep compassion for the plight of the lost, praying for them personally and collectively, and bringing them under the sound of the gospel as well as faithfully attending the meetings even if they fail to get others to come with them with them. If we understand our dependence on God to work, we will also realize our responsibility and the necessity of the gospel prayer meeting that precedes the gospel being preached. Today, this gathering to wait on God in prayer is often sadly neglected by many. The future and prosperity of an assembly depends largely on such gospel exercise and we all have a responsibility toward it. If we fail, much harm will result. Failure to preach so that sinners are brought under conviction of sin and truly awakened by the Spirit results in false children being brought into assemblies which can only lead to further deterioration and ruin. May God preserve us with spiritual exercise to see His power and grace displayed in an active gospel testimony in every assembly gathered to the Lord's precious name!
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