SUNDAY, JUNE 15, 2012.
THE MINISTER AS EVANGELIST
THE evangelist is ‘euagelion’: ‘a bearer of good tidings’. (The word appears more than 50 times in the New Testament.) He is also ‘euaggelizo’, a verb used 77 times in the New Testament. It means: ‘to preach the Gospel.’ The Greek word, ‘euaggelistes’, literally means, ‘evangelist’. Clearly, soul winning is part of the evangelist’s gift but not its sum total.
The only example of an evangelist in the New Testament is Philip. In Acts 21:8, we read, “and we entered into the house of Philip, the evangelist, which was one of the seven.”
Acts 8 records Philip’s ministry in Samaria. His preaching was evangelistic and Christ-centered. It was directed at the public. The crowds paid attention to his message because they witnessed miracles he performed. These included casting out demons and healing the palsied and lame. The people believed and were baptised. But the Holy Spirit had not fallen upon any of them. This happened when Peter and John arrived, prayed, and laid hands on them.
To his credit, Philip engaged in personal evangelism. He was snatched away by the Holy Spirit. He itinerated in cities and settled at Caesarea. He progressed from deacon to evangelist. This reminds us of 1 Timothy 3:13. The record of his ministry in Samaria leaves unanswered questions. How long was he in Samaria? Where did he preach and how often? Before Peter and John arrived, what did Philip do, if anything, to organise converts into a structured body?
References to Philip’s later life and ministry indicate he settled in Caesarea and raised a family. Acts 21 records that he lived in a house large enough to accommodate Paul and his group. Philip was there himself, and Paul and his party stayed with him ‘many days.’ The context informs us that Philip was in full fellowship with the church at Caesarea. (‘They of that place… certain of the disciples of Caesarea’.) The picture is of an evangelist, fully a part of the church at Caesarea, receiving Paul and his company into his house, and at the same time, in contact with the church. That he is still referred to as an evangelist in Acts 21:8 implies that he continued to exercise that ministry.
Today, ministers are expected to be in the mould of an evangelist, reaching out for souls in every nook and cranny as the Spirit directs. There is no doubt that souls are yearning for return to the shelter of the Lord’s house. Persons, truly called to do the work of an evangelist, must detach themselves from their comfort zones and be involved on the mission field. St Paul had this to say of Timothy: ‘Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears. And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry’ (2 Tim. 4v2-5).
Apostle Paul foresaw that the love of many would grow cold and there was need for Timothy to do the work of an evangelist by stirring and awakening the people of God. He was required to reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and sound doctrine. This is the way to keep people of God on track.
Unfortunately, this aspect of stirring God’s people with sound doctrine is nose-diving in many church congregations. Part of the reason is that some ministers who should be evangelists are contented with preaching of a prosperity gospel. There are some others who don’t want to spend and be spent for the gospel. Some go to the extent of avoiding rural ministry, like a plague, and hardly preach in buses, open air or market squares. This, to a large extent, has affected witnessing. An evangelist should confront men with the authentic gospel, in season and out of season. He is to ensure that perishing souls return to the shelter of the Lord’s house. Someone must reach out so sinners can turn to the Lord. The Bible says of the Ethiopian Eunuch, ‘and he said, how can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him’ (Acts 8v31). You wonder: do the evangelists we have today witness selectively? Are they city centred alone? Something must be done.
A minister, worth his salt, should be used by God to perform miracles and cast out demons, and through these, strengthen the faith of those who listen to his message as sign that he is in touch with the God. Jesus’ statement will be fulfilled in him: ‘And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover’ (Mark 16v17-18).
But caution must be placed especially in an era where people follow signs and wonders without a relationship with Jesus as Lord and personal Saviour. The evangelist should ensure that he is not the point of attraction but a mere instrument through which miracles are performed in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
There is need therefore for a minister who is an evangelist to ensure that men and women who offer themselves for this aspect of ministry are filled with the spirit of God. Such persons are also to be guided on assisting the minister in furtherance of the gospel. The minister needs to rely on the leading of the Holy Spirit for discernment so that charlatans will not be brought on board, and these, in turn, wreck the faith of young believers.Ven. Ernest Onuoha Rector, Ibru International Ecumenical Centre, Agbarha-Otor, Delta State.