Dear Pastor Laning,
Greetings in the Lord Jesus Christ our Savior,
First and foremost I am very thankful to God for the introduction of the new rubric “The Reader Asks” to our Beacon Lights Christian magazine.
My first question I would like to ask you is on evangelism. During the early church time, there were only two types of evangelism: mass and personal evangelism. Occasionally multitudes assembled to hear one of those Christians speak—especially where some outstanding miracles had occurred. As the people throng to see the miracle happening, the apostles embrace the opportunity by scattering the seed of the Gospel.
Today mass evangelism is done through conventions and radio broadcasts, as miracles have ceased and, moreover we have the complete word of God. But scarcely now would one hear of personal evangelism or “door to door” evangelism as it is usually called. It is true that we all cannot be preachers, meaning that one cannot be a preacher as well as the other, but it is also true that all Christians are witnesses. God has made the work of the ministry a distinct office from another, just as each of the members of our bodies its own distinct work, the eyes to see and the nose to smell.
But the question is who is supposed to be doing the work of personal evangelism? Why is nobody doing it? When I asked a couple of Christians why they would not go out on a door-to-door witnessing, they quoted Romans 10:14-15, and they even added the great commission of the Lord is for pastors and not for us. Yes I see that, but what I am talking about here is witnessing. Do I need a missionary call before I can win souls? Is it sin to even go abroad without a “call” to tell the gospel?
Why is the church not encouraged to go out on door-to-door evangelism? Christ commands us to “go out into the highways and the hedges and compel them to come in that my fathers house may be filled.” (Luke 14:23) Is every Christian a witness? Then why are we not encouraged to go on personal witnessing? You do well in saying we can witness through our actions as well as our speech, but the question is why is the door-to-door witnessing fading out of the system? As you consider to answer these questions I would also like you to look at the following passages: Luke 15:1-10, Acts 20:20.
“The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise” (Proverbs 11:30).
Ghana Mission of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America
It is a joy to receive a letter from a brother in Ghana, and to hear of your desire to witness to others concerning what you have come to know to be the truth of the Word of God.
Your main question has to do with why so few of us Reformed believers are out there going from door to door witnessing to others. This is an understandable question. When we know that we really do believe the truth, and that so many people walk in darkness, one might think that we should daily be going from house to house, telling others about the truth of the gospel. To support your idea that we should be doing this, you cite and ask me to comment on Acts 20:20, where Paul says to the Ephesians that he “kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house.”
It is certainly true that as Christians we are all called to witness to others, and to do this not only by our outward actions, but also by our confession of the truth. We are to look for opportunities to bring the Word of God to others, and we certainly rejoice when we see that God uses this to bring some of His people to repentance. The Luke 15 passage that you cite refers to this great joy. Although none of us can say that we witness to others as faithfully and as frequently as we ought, God does grant us the grace to do this more and more as we grow and mature in the faith.
But is door-to-door witnessing something that God commands? When we look at Acts 20:20, it is important to note that Paul is speaking to those who have already believed the Word that he has brought to them. It was to them that he preached not only publicly, but also from house to house. This going “from house to house” practice is still carried out today by faithful Reformed churches. For example, in the congregation where I am a member, all of the families, including my own, are visited by a committee of two elders once every year. During this visit God’s Word is taught and applied to the people of God, with specific applications being made to each family. We refer to this practice as “family visitation” or “house visitation,” and it is an example of the teaching from house to house of which Paul speaks.
But God in Scripture does not command His people to go from house to house among the people of the world in general. You are right that in Luke 14:23, we read of a lord saying to his servant, “Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.” But we must remember that this is a parable in which an earthly relationship is set forth which pictures a heavenly and spiritual relationship. One who did not see this, might conclude that we are supposed to find people in the streets and use physical force to compel them to come into the church. We must consider the spiritual principle of the kingdom of heaven that is being set forth in this earthly illustration.
In this parable, God is setting forth the truth that the call of the gospel first went to many who rejected it, and then went elsewhere to others. This refers to how this call first came to the Jews, many of which rejected it, and that after that it began to go to the Gentiles, referred to here as those in “the highways and hedges.” That these people are “compelled” to come in, does not mean that they are compelled outwardly, but inwardly, by the irresistible power of God’s grace. On the one hand, it is true that God draws us unto Himself in such a way that we come willingly. But here in this parable it is emphasized that God will certainly gather every one of His people by the mighty and irresistible power of His grace, so that His house will be full.
In our zeal for God and our desire to witness to others, we must remember this. God will certainly gather His people, and He will do it in the way that He has set forth in His Word. This means He will do it centrally by the official preaching of the gospel by the church, but that He will also make use of the personal witnessing of the members of His church. God calls each of us to be busy each day doing the work that He has given us to do. While we are doing this, we are to look for opportunities to witness to others, without forcing it. God controls every event of history, and will open these doors as He sees fit. Each day we should begin by seeking the grace of God in prayer to be a faithful witness, so that by our words and works His name may be glorified and His people may be gathered.
I thank you again for your letter, and hope to hear again from you and some of our other brothers and sisters in Ghana. We want you to know that we frequently remember you and the other saints in Ghana in our prayers.