First Century Evangelism

This is a follow-up on “The Fatal Flaws of Lifestyle Evangelism.”

We have all seen those obnoxous street preachers on the mega-phones yelling at cars or passers by. Or the picketers with signs: “Turn or burn.” Does this have a biblical relevance? The key to the Christian life is balance. I often say, “There’s a ditch on both sides of the road.” In Colossians 4:6, we are admonished, “Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.” Jesus reiterated this principle in Matthew 10:16 to be, “harmless as doves.” So what is the balance?

Many are so concerned about wanting to come across as “loving” or, as we looked at, “harmless,” that they either water down the message so much that there’s no gospel left, or, they just don’t say anything at all. This has been much of the thinking behind “lifestyle evangelism.” That is not to say we should be hateful or obnoxious, but honestly, I would rather offend someone into heaven then pat someone on the back all the way to hell. So what took place there in the early church? I did a cursory overview of Acts, looking for a glimpse, or quick answer to this question, and was somewhat shocked at what I found.

Synagogue Evangelism
When Paul would go to a city, he would often begin with the synagogue on the sabbath day. He had a great desire to see his people, the Jews, saved (Romans 10:1). After being sent out by the church at Antioch, one of the first places Paul went was to the synagogue in Antioch (Acts 13). His message sparked such an interest that many Gentiles and Jews came out the following sabbath. Many of the Jewish leaders sought to raise up persecution against Paul and his company. This seemed to be the pattern everywhere Paul went. What is interesting is that the first century Jewish faith was a contradictory religion to Christianity. Paul was actually going into a place of worship and preach a gospel, and a doctrine contrary to the belief of that place of worship. That would be like me going into a Catholic Church or a Muslim Mosque and in the middle of their service, standing up and proclaiming that salvation is made possible and found in no other than the person of Jesus Christ because of His atoning sacrifice on the cross and glorious resurrection; that salvation is a gift of God, not by any work of man. How bold can one get?! If that happened today, surely it would make the headlines about some bigoted, hate-filled preacher having the audacity to pull of something like that.

One among many
Consider Mars’ hill in Acts 17. It seems there was a buffet of gods to chose from, and just to make sure their bases were covered, they made a altar to an “unknown god.” Paul saw this as an evangelism opportunity. He stood up and boldly proclaimed that the people were too superstitious and wrong in their worship. He told them of the true God and that they needed to repent. Think of this setting. These were worshipers who were sincere in their desire to worship their various deities. Paul interrupts their worship to tell them they are wrong. Some mocked him, some were intrigued, but some followed him. Think of this approach in our 21st century “tolerance” mindset that says all ways are the same as long as someone is sincere.

The power of God
In being afraid to offend people, or letting the world define how our message should be presented (ie. it’s all about love, or it should be confined to the walls of the church house, etc), we have become sheepish and silent and have forgotten the power at our disposal. We have a powerful message! Jesus affirms that all power was given to Him in heaven and earth and He is with us as we go to tell other (Matthew 28:18-20).  Romans 1:16 tells us that the gospel itself is “the power of God unto salvation.” Our message is, in fact, the power of God! It is the soul saving, life transforming, resurrecting power of God. It is foolishness to them that perish (1 Corinthians 1:18), but for those who receive the message, they truly will know the power of God. We ought not be deterred by those who count our message as foolishness. Rather, we must be faithful to Him who has called us to be ambassadors of Christ, soldiers of the cross, messengers with the most powerful message that can be shared. I am not saying we should cause a ruckus or be a nuisance, but I am saying we should be bold, always looking for opportunities to share the wonderful truth we possess.

“But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4)


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