Skip to content

Speech and salvation 1: Are all Christians commanded to evangelise?

From The Briefing:

Does God command every individual Christian to evangelise? Or is evangelism
just a job for specially gifted individuals?

If you’ve been a Christian for a while, it’s likely that these questions have popped into your head from time to time. You might remember an initial burst of enthusiasm for Jesus at some time in your life. Maybe you remember burning with a passionate desire to tell as many people as you can about the wonderful news of Jesus’ death and resurrection. After all, this news had recently rocked your world and given you hope and life and meaning; why wouldn’t you want others to know it? But by now, maybe, you’re feeling a bit jaded. Of course, you acknowledge that the ‘gospel’, the message about Jesus, is quite important. But you’ve come to realise that you’re not really the kind of person who feels comfortable talking about Jesus to other people. Maybe you just feel ill-equipped. Maybe it’s not your personality type. Maybe evangelism just feels plain weird to you. Maybe you’ve had a few bad evangelistic experiences. Awkward moments. Maybe you’ve lost friends. Maybe you’re getting fed up with that vaguely guilty feeling that nags away at you whenever preachers tell you you’re not doing enough evangelism. And so you might be asking: does God really want me to do this evangelism thing anyway? Does he actually command it anywhere?

In fact, if you go hunting in the Bible for commands to evangelise, you won’t find very much material. True, there’s the ‘great commission’ in Matthew 28:19-20. Jesus, having just risen from the dead, says to his disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,” and then adds: “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” By applying the strict rules of logic, you can reason that “everything I have commanded you” includes the command to make disciples. So that means disciple-making is a command for all disciples, right? Peter also tells Christians to “always” be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet 3:15). Paul tells the Colossians to use opportunities to speak to outsiders about ’grace’, which must have something to do with the gospel (Col 4:5-6; cf. Col 1:6).

But if you think about it further, these commands by themselves are a pretty flimsy basis to prove that God wants every individual Christian to evangelise. It’s possible, isn’t it, that ‘make disciples’ is just a general command for the church as a whole. Clearly, the church is expected to evangelise. But that doesn’t mean that I, personally, have to do it. Furthermore, the verses from Peter and Paul don’t really prove much. Being ‘ready to give an answer’ and to ‘make the most of opportunities’ seems to assume that evangelism is a passive and sporadic activity at best. When was the last time anybody asked you to give an answer for the hope that was in you? Anyway, the ’evangelist’ was a special role in the early church (Acts 21:8, Eph 4:11, 2 Tim 4:5). So these commands don’t amount to very much, do they?

But take a step back for a moment. Why are you looking for a command in the first place? Normally we look for commands when we need a reason to do something unpleasant. When I tell my kids to eat their vegetables, they want me to give them a command with exact specifications. They ask: Do I have to eat all of the vegetables? If not, how many? Does that include the ones mushed into the potatoes? But it’s a different story with chocolate. If I put chocolate in front of them, no command is required. That’s because there’s no reason not to eat chocolate. The same thing applies when we start asking whether we’re commanded to evangelise. By asking the question, we’re treating evangelism like kids treat eating vegetables. We’re saying that evangelism is technically a good thing to do, but we’d prefer not to do it unless we really have to. That should tell us that something has gone wrong somewhere.

In recent times, certain godly and gifted evangelists and writers have approached the issue in a better way. They’ve realised that it’s not enough simply to scour the Bible for individual commands. Instead, they’ve asked a broader question: what patterns of mission did the Bible writers (e.g. Paul) expect to be happening in their churches? And how can we follow the same patterns?1 This is a more helpful approach, because it helps us to think in terms of bigger principles. But in the next series of posts, I’m not going to follow that approach either. Because ultimately, it’s not enough. There’s something more fundamental; a truth that needs to grip us before we even start to think about commands or communities or church organisation or pragmatics or patterns or gifts. We need to understand the relationship between human speech and the gospel itself. According to the Bible, there is something deeply and profoundly important about human speech, especially when we come to think about the gospel. In fact, the Bible often talks about human speech and salvation in the same breath.

You might have noticed already that I don’t like the title of my own post, ”Are all Christians commanded to evangelise?” I don’t like the word ‘command.’ But actually, I don’t like the word ‘evangelise’ either. It’s too rubbery, and means different things to different people. What popped into your head when you read the word, ‘evangelise’? If I asked this question of ten different people, I’d probably get eleven different answers. From now on, I’m going to erase the word ‘evangelism’ from this series of posts. Instead, I’m going to use the more useful, albeit more clunky, phrase ‘gospel speech’. That will help us to get to the heart of the issue: What does the Bible say about how human beings use words to speak the gospel—to whomever, however, whenever?

Of course, that means we need to talk more about the gospel itself. And we will. In the following posts, we’ll look at what the gospel has to say about various questions or objections to gospel speech:

  • I’m not good enough.
  • I’m not gifted enough.
  • I’m not really a ‘speaking’ Christian.
  • I can promote the gospel better by my good works.
  • I’m not the mouth in Christ’s body.
  • I’m more comfortable speaking the gospel to insiders rather than outsiders.
  • I can’t do what they’re doing.

Here are some more academic books about Paul’s expectations for his
churches, again with different perspectives:


Comments at The Briefing.

Published inThe Briefing

Publications by Lionel Windsor:

  • Lift Your Eyes: Reflections on Ephesians

Recent blog posts

  • Photo by Ben White on UnsplashThe gospel for criminals (Ephesians 4:28)
    Paul preaches the gospel to thieves. God’s grace gives us a new identity. That means we have work to do: not so we can take, but so we can give.
  • Sun setting on ruinsGrace and anger (Ephesians 4:26–27)
    Whether our anger is right or wrong, we can’t deny it’s there. But because we belong to Christ, we must make it a priority to deal with anger. How?
  • Is God Green? By Lionel WindsorIs God Green? Audio/video links
    Here are some links to audio and video for events I've spoken at recently based on my book: Is God Green?
  • Donald Robinson Selected Works volumes 3 and 4Donald Robinson on the Origins of the Anglican Church League
    History matters. It makes us question things we take for granted, it helps us to understand who we are, and it gives us a broader perspective on the issues we face today. One example – relevant for evangelical Anglicans, especially in Sydney – is an essay in Donald Robinson Selected Works, volume 4 (recently published by the Australian Church Record and Moore College). The essay is called “The Origins of the Anglican Church League” (pp. 125–52). It’s a republication of a paper given in 1976 by Donald Robinson (1922–2018), former Moore College Vice-Principal and later Archbishop of Sydney. In the paper, Robinson traces some of the currents and issues that led to the formation of the Anglican Church League in the early twentieth century. The essay is classic Donald Robinson: full of surprises, yet definitely still worth reading today to help us gain perspective on issues for evangelical Anglicans past and present.
  • Busts with shadowsTelling the truth (Ephesians 4:25)
    Truth is a rare commodity in our world. But Christians are people of the truth. The gospel of Christ demands that we value and speak the truth in every situation.
  • Boy reaching for the sky. Photo by Samuel Zeller on UnsplashBecome who you are (Ephesians 4:22–24)
    The gospel teaches us to change—to put off the old and put on the new. This change doesn’t save us, but it matters. It’s all about becoming who we are.
  • Ducks learning in a circleLearning Christ (Ephesians 4:20–21)
    Christian communities are places of learning and teaching. This isn’t just about transmitting information: Christians are people who “learn Christ”.
  • Ampelmann, BerlinTurn around and walk the other way (Ephesians 4:17–19)
    Darkness, futility, and desire: this is the way the world walks. Paul doesn’t write these things so that we can gloat or judge. He writes so we can repent, and live.
  • Photo by Kira auf der Heide on UnsplashPlaying your part (Ephesians 4:16)
    Paul’s vision for Christ’s body is unity in diversity. It’s not just flat uniformity, nor is it just diversity for the sake of diversity. It’s diversity for a common purpose.
  • Photo by Ben White on UnsplashThe truth in love: A key principle for church growth (Ephesians 4:14–15)
    Paul’s principle for the growth of Christ’s body isn’t about presentation or organisation. It’s more fundamental: “speaking the truth in love”.

On this site

All content copyright Lionel Windsor