Evangelism should be done to the glory of God, based on the truth of Scripture, and by the church. This article expands on this, from Matthew 28:16-20.

Source: Trinitarian Bible Society, 2011. 5 pages.

Evangelism and the Word of God

It is a pleasure to be standing in the historic Metropolitan Tabernacle pulpit to preach before those who are dedicated to the cause of Christ in the spread of the Gospel to all nations. This is the basic aim of the Trinitarian Bible Society: to publish and distribute the Holy Scriptures throughout the world in many languages and to promote Bible translations which are accurate and trust­worthy, bringing light and life to those lost in sin and the darkness of unbelief, to so many in perilous false religions and sheer unbelief. We are greatly indebt­ed to all who labour in the Gospel at Tyndale House, whether in administration, translation, publication or distribution, and in the deputation work.

When I was a boy, a young man, a student for the ministry, one could have walked on the Lord's Day morning into the Anglican Church in the city of Belfast, and the Authorised Version was read. In the afternoon one could enter the Methodist or a Presbyterian Church and the Authorised Version was read, and in the evening one could have gone into a Gospel Hall and the Authorised Version was read — it was read right across the Protestant spectrum. Many today use new, unsound versions of the Bible in their pulpits and in evangelism. If we are to evangelise — and evangelise we must — we must do so using sound translations.

Evangelism and the Word of God🔗

Our warrant for evangelism has its force in the definition which is our text for this meeting. I am reading from the Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 28, verses from 16 to 20 these words:

Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted. And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying. 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 always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

May the Lord bless our reading of the Scripture for Christ's sake.

This is our warrant for evangelism: 'Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature' (Mark 16:15). Evangelism and the Word of God is a vast subject, and we continue to consider the words of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Great Commission. This commission is not only recorded in Matthew and in Mark, but also in its extension in the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 1 especially verse number 8: 'But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth'.

The method of evangelism was to be based upon teaching, preaching and wit­nessing. A teacher educates, a preacher proclaims, a witness testifies to what he has seen and heard — things of which he has personal knowledge. The disciples were to teach everything that the Lord had taught them. They were to be not dis­puters, not philosophers, not discussion group leaders, but teachers, preachers, and proclaimers of God's revealed Word. They were to be witnesses; as 1 John 1:1 says, 'That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life', we are to declare.

The method for world evangelism, national evangelism, and local evangelism must be church-based, because teaching, preaching and witnessing are the methods of communication authorised by the Triune God through His church. The Trinitarian Bible Society exists to produce sound Bible translations which they send out to all nations; their motto remains, 'The Word of God among all nations'. This Word of God must be central, at the very heart of everything, because there can be no evangelism without the Word of God.

Many are attempting evangelism by entertainment and sadly not by the Word of God. Our task today is the preaching of the Word. But just listen to the inspired voices of the apostles Peter and Paul.

  • Romans 10:14-15: 'and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent?'
  • 1 Corinthians 1:17: 'For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel'.
  • Continuing in verse 18: 'For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God'.
  • Verse 21: 'it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe'.
  • Verse 23: 'But we preach Christ crucified'.
  • 2 Timothy 4:1-5: 'I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ ... preach the word ... do the work of an evangelist'.

We go to the first epistle of the apostle Peter, 1:23-25, which tells us that the elect of God are 'born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God'. This is not by religious entertainment, but 'by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever'. The final words in that chapter, 'And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you', echo those great words in Titus, that God 'manifested his word through preaching' (1:3). So there can be no prop­er evangelism apart from the Word of God taught, proclaimed and witnessed.

I would just like to quote here words from Martin Luther, relevant for today's situation where Scriptures abound:

'No greater mischief can happen to a Christian people, than to have God's Word taken from them, or falsified, so that they no longer have it pure and clear; God grant that we and our descendants be not witnesses of such a calamity'.1

Evangelism and Sound Theology🔗

The first point today is that we can only evangelise effectively on the basis of sound Biblical theology.

According to statistics, there are seventy-five million born-again people in the USA; sixteen thousand people have been added to the church in North and Central Africa, and thousands have made decisions for Christ at evangelistic crusades all over the USA and South America. The much-boasted 'Alpha Course' claims to have won many thousands to Christ.

Surely if such revivals were taking place we should expect to see tremendous changes in lifestyles, but this has not been the case. How can so many be mak­ing these decisions for Christ with so little effect in their lives?

Much can be seen from the 'Alpha Course', which majors on feelings and sensations and experiences, rather than the Word of God and sound Bible the­ology. Success is measured in worldly terms such as numbers attending and how many decisions were made. But feelings and experience and numbers are not the purpose nor the goal of evangelism.

The basic problem with regard to much of the evangelism around today is a faulty theology, making a separation between faith and practice. A proper Biblical theology on the part of the evangelist will encourage proper evangelism, which in turn will present a correct message for belief. That belief will then bring about an internal change.

It is useful at this point to remember some sound basic principles of evangel­ism, such as these which were once expressed by the late Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

  • The supreme object of the work of evangelism is to glorify God, not to save souls.

I observed that principle at our earlier meeting: nothing must come before this basic principle.

  • The only power that can do this work is that of God's Holy Word in the strength of God's Holy Spirit.
  • The one and only medium through which the Spirit works is the Scriptures; therefore we 'reason out of the Scriptures' like Paul did.
  • These preceding principles give us the true motivation for evangelism — a zeal for God and a love for others.
  • There is a constant danger of heresy through a false zeal and employment of unscriptural methods.2

Observing these basic principles will lead to souls being born again, the elect of God in reality and truth. They will hear the truth of salvation by the Word externally, and by the application of the Spirit internally.

An unsound theology, accompanied by non-biblical methods, will produce at best unsound Christians, of which there are many around today. Worse still, many are being deluded into thinking that they are Christians. One preacher said that most of today's evangelism can be seen as well-meant, God-shrinking, man-exalting and success-orientated.3We need to evangelise on a sound Biblical theology, by the truth of God's Word and the power of God the Holy Spirit.

In Psalm 119.107, King David prayed, 'quicken me, O LORD, according unto thy word'. The Holy Spirit is the quickener, and the Word of God is the instru­ment He uses to accomplish His life-giving and life-preserving work in those who truly repent and believe the Gospel. It is through the Word that the Holy Spirit quickens a dead soul into new life, so that the soul becomes a partaker of the Divine nature as we read in 2 Peter 1:4. It is the seed of God's Word, plant­ed in an elect soul, which makes that soul alive unto God by the power of the Spirit. Our evangelism must be aimed at producing, under God, first regenera­tion, followed by adoption, and then by sanctification.

It is the duty and responsibility of every generation of Christians to discover, understand, interpret, and learn afresh the timeless verses of Scripture. But it must not stop there; we are thus to penetrate into a dark world with the light of God's truth.

Sadly, many ministers and theological institutions, and many who seek to minister mass evangelism, have the wish to be popular today. Let us remind ourselves that the ministry will never be popular: never has been, never will be. True preaching of the Word is not popular in many churches today, and a true minister will never be popular. God has not designed the preaching of the Word to be entertaining, but rather to be effective, to be penetrating, to be life-giving, to be productive, to be progressive.

We are not called to be entertainers, but teachers, preachers and witnesses to the truth of the Gospel, and our initial evangelism must be followed by the exposition of the Word in the power of the Holy Spirit. Only this will enable born-again souls to die unto sin more and more, and to live more and more unto righteousness, producing a people of God with a true Christian lifestyle.

This truth of the Gospel, which has often been abandoned and which must be reintroduced in evangelism today, is the preaching of the utter sinfulness of mankind. As Isaac Watts says, the purpose is to make the sinner sad and then to be driven to the cross of redemption.4

Sin has corrupted our whole nature so that we are spiritually dead, totally unable of ourselves to turn to God. The human intellect, apart from Christ, is blinded; our understanding is darkened, our will is enslaved to sin, so the sinner is unable of himself or herself to make a decision for Christ. Only the truth of God's Word, by the work of the Holy Spirit, can effectively call a dead sinner into new life.

Therefore the conversion of the sinner to the Lord Jesus Christ is a gracious, merciful, solemn work of Divine power. Even manner and time of conversion are controlled by God's sovereignty. It is always God who determines when an elect sinner comes to believe. However, it is the duty of the evangelist to preach the Gospel because faith issues from the preached Word by the work of the Holy Spirit. It is not the so-called 'call for a decision' that draws the sinner to repentance, but the Holy Spirit.

Many of the mass evangelism events and crusades are founded upon a defec­tive theology, that the sinner can decide for himself or herself whether or not to come to Christ. This is, of course, wrong, but God in His utter mercy even through false or mistaken evangelism has brought sinners into salvation through faith. True conversion to Christ is the work of the Triune God, and not man. The Holy Spirit must do the persuading and enabling to bring the sinner to Christ for redemption.

Evangelism and the Church🔗

The church is responsible for evangelism. The Lord commanded the apostles to evangelise, which they did by preaching from the Old Testament Scriptures, through which believers were called from death unto life.

Evangelism in and by the church should be a normal part of the church's life, and the church should not leave this to outside societies, evangelistic associa­tions, crusades or missions which are not under the discipline of the church. These organisations are often made up of people with differing forms of doctrine and practice, and can produce unsound and confused pilgrims. Take the appeal which often follows the spoken message in these crusades, calling for decisions — this is 'decisional regeneration'; this is the evangelist seeking to do the work of the Holy Spirit. It is absolutely vital that the appeal must be inside the sermon, as a part of the entire preaching of the Word, and not an afterthought.

In January 1811, Dr. Henry Cooke, who saved the Irish Presbyterian Church from being submerged into Unitarianism, preached his first 'communion ser­mon' in the Donegore, Co. Antrim, Presbyterian Church, and closed the communion sermon with the following words which should be our guide to preaching in the 21st century:

A minister of the Gospel is commanded to preach Christ, but he cannot convert one sinner. This is not the work of man, but of God. God alone can breathe life into a dead soul. All that sinners need must come from God. Repentance is the gift of God, faith is the gift of God, even obedience is the gift of God. Peace of mind is the gift of God, the Spirit of prayer and supplication is the gift of God. Acceptance of the divine will is the gift of God. The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.5

All these are the Lord's gifts and His only. Our title to these gifts, says Dr. Cooke, is in Emmanuel's blood and the result of them is joy in life, triumph in death, and glory in heaven itself.6

'To leave the Bible out of the Great Commission, is the "great omission" which so many are doing today'.7The Word of God among all nations' is still our evangelistic task. May the Lord so bless us as we return to our homes and our churches, to continue to the glory of the Triune God teaching, preaching and witnessing, for the extension of Christ's kingdom, the edification of His people, and the salvation of precious souls.

To the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, the God whom we adore, be glory, as it was, is now, and shall be evermore. Amen.


  1. ^ Martin Luther, Table Talk, Fount Classics (London: Harper Collins, 1995), p. 9.
  2. ^ Marlyn Lloyd-Jones, The Presentation of the Gospel, in Knowing the Times: Addresses Delivered on Various Occasions 1942-1977 (Edinburgh, Scotland: Banner of Truth Trust, 1989), pp. 5-6.
  3. ^ Remembered as coming from Dr. J. I. Packer in his earlier and better days.
  4. ^ E.g., 'How pleased and blest was I' in Congregational Praise, which is regrettably now out of print. It is also found in William Gadsby, A Selection of Hymns for Public Worship (London: C. J. Farncombe & Sons, Ltd., 1919), no. 362.
  5. ^  J. L. Porter, The Life and Times of Henry Cooke (Belfast, NI: Ambassador Publications, 1999), p. 36.
  6. ^ Ibid.
  7. ^ A quote from Richard lley of Christian Witness to Israel, seven or eight years ago. The source is not exactly remembered, but the words are memorable.

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