Mark Dever, in his book "Nine Marks Of A Healthy Church", outlines the key factors in biblical discipleship and growth. Today, continuing from part 3, we'll look at the fifth component of biblical discipleship and growth.
5. Biblical Understanding of Evangelism
The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" And I answered, "O Lord GOD, you know." Then he said to me, "Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD." So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live." So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. (Ezekiel 37:1-10)
That is a picture of evangelism. Evangelism contains three necessary ingredients:
Firstly, the God of the resurrection. Programs, therapy, and positive thinking cannot raise the dead. Only God can. Unless the Holy Spirit breathes upon the valley of dry bones then all our programs are nothing more than skeleton re-arranging.
The second ingredient in evangelism is the prophet or preacher. It is God who converts but God chose the “foolishness of preaching” (1 Corinthians 1:21) to resurrect those who are dead in sin. The prophet must speak to the valley of dry bones knowing that he can do nothing unless God does a supernatural work. The prophet must also be careful to proclaim the message God told him to speak and nothing else.
The third ingredient in evangelism is dead bodies. That was us prior to conversion and that is the condition of everyone in the world who is not a Christian. The Bible declares all unconverted men to be dead in sin. So what is the problem that causes this?
True growth in a church requires biblical evangelism and God to move by the power of His Holy Spirit.
If we were to break down presenting the gospel of Jesus Christ into five essential elements then I would explain it in this order i) the Holiness of God; ii) the sinfulness of man; iii) the necessity of judgment; iv) the atoning work of Christ and His resurrection and; v) man’s response that requires repentance and faith (for a detailed examination of these five points then go here). Other people may break it down in different ways but these five points encapsulate the necessary truths one must understand in order to come to saving faith. This message God has given to His church is both offensive and foolish to the unconverted sinner.
The popular thought among “seeker sensitive” proponents is that growth in attendance verifies success and validates the methodology. But is this a valid form of measurement? Following this logic Noah must have been an abject failure as an evangelist. To be sure he was a great ship builder but he was also a preacher of righteousness for around 100 years. After a century of Noah’s evangelistic endeavors how many people got on the boat – his wife, his three sons and the wives of his three sons. Think about it, Noah endured decade after decade without a “church growth manual” to improve his ark attendance. How long would most modern mission boards have given Noah before they cut his funding. Few would argue that the problem was Noah’s preaching and Scripture seems to suggest otherwise. It seems pretty clear that the reason no one listened to Noah was that “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually”. Noah’s success as a preacher should be measured by his faithfulness to the message God charged him with and so too should it be with the preachers of modern times. The church growth phenomenon has placed unnecessary pressure on many faithful preachers in the field as congregation size becomes a criteria that prevails over faithful preaching.
Some people will be critical of this analogy concerning Noah. Without a doubt healthy church attendance can be a reflection of faithful preaching and God’s favor. But my contention here is that this should never be our starting point. Several years ago I took part in some campus evangelism at a major university in Australia. Christian leaders on the campus were very interested in methodology and results. The first question asked was “does it work?” to which I responded “wrong question”. Their first port of call in evaluating my material and methodology should have been the question “is it biblical”? If everything we do is not grounded in Scripture then our labor can be like window dressing on a house with no foundation.
This pragmatic thinking where the end justifies the means is very prevalent in many of today’s mega-churches and can be a very dangerous road to travel. Our deceitful human hearts can be quick to embrace ideas that deliver a desired outcome. One key figure within the seeker sensitive movement said this “Create a service that is intentionally designed for your members to bring their friends to. And make the service so attractive, appealing, and relevant to the unchurched that your members are eager to share it with the lost people they care about”. Did you notice the emphasis he placed on preaching content? No, me neither.
While many professing Christians can quote John 3:16 with ease the verses that follow seem to have been highlighted with invisible ink. Yet they contain the missing information. Verses eighteen through twenty have this to say:
He who believes on Him is not condemned, but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the Light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light, lest his deeds should be exposed. (John 3:18-20)
Scripture teaches plainly that unconverted humanity cannot find God for the same reason that a thief can never find a policeman. I cannot find anywhere in Scripture where we are instructed to make our churches more attractive to the “unchurched”, but there is ample evidence of God growing His church and men preaching His message. The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart. Only God can change the human heart, and the “foolishness of preaching” is the method God chose to facilitate that change.
For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:21-24)
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