There is scarcely a subject more central to the remnant church than evangelism.* It is the very reason why Christ founded the church—not only the New Testament church, but also the church in the wilderness (Acts 7: 38).** Sadly and incredibly, many believers are unaware that evangelism is the purpose the church exists. The result is that many churches are mere strongholds of the status quo and of the spiritually dead. They have the form (maybe), no power and few, if any, baptisms. Others, a little less dead, have a summer season of evangelism at which time a public evangelistic “event” (which some members actually oppose) is held with much fanfare, then they return to their annual hibernation while all around people die without a saving knowledge of the everlasting gospel.
Is evangelism merely a seasonal activity or is it the very life of the church—corporately and personally? If Christ’s mission on earth was “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19: 10), to call “sinners to repentance” (Matt. 9: 13), to preach “the glad tidings of the kingdom of God” (Luke 8: 1), and to give life “more abundantly” (John 10: 10), how can His church function differently when the church is His body, of which He is the head? (Col. 1: 18). Is not the body, any living body, led by the head?
The purpose of this article is to briefly highlight the role of evangelism in the Seventh-day Adventist Church (hereinafter referred to as SDA and the members as SDAs).
Obligation, Not Option!
Deathbed speeches or last words tend to be urgent and pointed. This is the case with the “last” words of Christ prior to His ascension. His famous “last words” are known as the Great Gospel Commission. One may just as accurately say the Great Good News Commission, or the Great Gospel Command! Failure to carry out this commission is blatant disobedience to a command of God, as verily as adultery is a violation of the seventh commandment! The disciple of Christ must understand that the commission to evangelize is not an option but a solemn life-or-death obligation.
Other than Christ, Paul probably had the clearest view of the urgent nature of evangelism. He wrote in 1 Cor 9: 16, “For if I preach the gospel, no glory is to me; for necessity is laid on me, and it is woe to me if I preach not the gospel.” Woe to me! I would be miserable. In this verse, there is neither hint nor tint of option. There is a tonnage of obligation, of responsibility. Paul had no choice: he had to preach the gospel! This is obligation!
Jeremiah wrote, “Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay” (Jer. 20: 9). This is obligation!
Peter and John replied to the Sanhedrin’s threat thusly: “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye: for we cannot [we have no choice] but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (author’s emphasis). We have neither choice nor option! This is obligation! Woe, woe, woe to those who neglect this duty! Why?
Neglect Is Murder!
Ezekiel 33:2-8 plainly outlines God’s harsh response to those who fail to evangelize. The passage says, “When I bring the sword on it, on a land, and take one man from the people of the land, their borders, and set him for a watchman to them, and when he sees the sword coming on the land, and he blows the ram’s horn and warns the people, and the hearer hearing the sound of the ram’s horn, and does not take warning, and the sword comes and takes him, his blood shall be on his own head. He heard the sound of the ram’s horn and took no warning; his blood shall be on himself. But he who took warning, he shall deliver his soul. But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the ram’s horn, and the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes a soul from them, he is taken in his iniquity. But I will require his blood from the watchman’s hand. And you, son of man, I gave you as a watchman to the house of Israel. And you shall hear the Word from My mouth and warn them from Me. When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand” (author’s emphasis).
What does God mean by, “But I will require his blood from the watchman’s hand”? The answer is simple. What did He mean by the same expression in Gen. 9:5: “And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man [will I require it]; at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man” (author’s emphasis). “To require” is to search someone out and hold him liable!
Those who take life must pay with their own lives! Ellen White is very clear on this subject: “How carefully God protects the rights of men! He has attached a penalty to willful murder. ‘Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed’ (Genesis 9:6). If one murderer were permitted to go unpunished, he would by his evil influence and cruel violence subvert others. This would result in a condition of things similar to that which existed before the Flood. God must punish murderers. He gives life, and He will take life, if that life becomes a terror and a menace” (1 Bible Commentary, 1091.3, author’s emphasis).
A refusal to preach the gospel, or to evangelize, is willful murder and, if not confessed and repented of, will be punished by death ... the second death! This is surely part of what is meant by God requiring people’s (sinners’) blood (lives) at the hand of the watchman (church) who fails to blow (proclaim, preach) the warning trumpet (life-giving gospel).
Origin of an Obligation
Enoch had a commission to preach the gospel (Jude 14-15).
The commission also came to Noah, whom the Bible calls “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Pet. 2:5).
Abraham was to be a blessing (Gen. 12:2-3) and this blessing was the gospel (Acts 3:25-26) which God preached to him (Gal. 3:8).
Jesus commanded the disciples, “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” (Matt. 28:19, 20, author’s emphasis).
Mark’s words are “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; and he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:15-16, author’s emphasis).
Luke, the beloved physician, offers this rendering, “And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem … 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 Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Luke 24:47; Acts 1: 8; author’s emphasis).
Jesus preached the gospel on earth when He said, “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). He ceremonially enacted the gospel by making and clothing Adam and Eve with coats of skin (Gen. 3:21).
An Ancient Origin
But Christ did not ad lib as He spoke in Genesis 3:15 nor improvise as He acted in verse 21. The details of the gospel were in place ages before sin blighted the world. Scripture calls this the everlasting covenant (Psa. 105:7-10; Heb. 13:20). It provided an all-sufficient atoning sacrifice, forgiveness of sins, regeneration of the heart, power to obey the broken law, the total removal of sin from the universe, and the restoration of all things to their Edenic splendor—even greater!
The existence of the gospel prior to sin is clear in scripture. Revelation 13:8 describes Christ as “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” Titus 1:2 and 2 Timothy 1:9 say, “before the world began.” Romans 16:25 speaks of “the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began.” 1 Peter 1:20 says, “Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world.” This everlasting gospel Christ entrusted to the disciples just before His ascension.
What and Where
Two points stand out in this commission/command—the message and the scope of its proclamation. The message is the gospel or good news, and the scope is the world. There is a message God gave to Christ and that Christ gave to His disciples to be preached to the entire world. Carrying out this commission is called evangelism and is the clearest command the risen Christ gave to His infant church. It must be done before His return. Indeed, His return hinges upon the completion of this work (Matt. 24:14). Christ Himself obeyed this divine commission when He preached the gospel (Mark 1:14, 15) and when He sent the disciples on localized, pre-ascension preaching missions (Matt. 10; Mark 6:7-13; Luke 10:1-20).
Why is proclaiming the gospel (evangelism) such a heavy obligation? Why must the gospel be preached to the entire world? Why is neglect of the gospel a criminal act in the sight of God? Because the gospel is the life-saving good news this lost world needs urgently and has always needed since Adam sinned!
A brief explanation of the word evangelism (the spreading of the everlasting gospel) is called for now. The word evangelism derives from the Greek word (euangelion) which means “good message.” Euangelion is itself a compound word combining ‘eu’ (good) and (I bring a message). Euangelion is the word used overwhelmingly in the New Testament to translate the word “gospel.” The gospel, therefore, is good news, or a good message. And those who proclaim this good news or good message are called evangelists, while the act of spreading the gospel is called evangelism. The word for the phrase “to preach the gospel” is (euaggelizō). The church is commanded to proclaim glad tidings (Isa. 52:7; 61:1; Luke 2:10; 8:1) to the world. The world needs the life bound up in these tidings! There is no other source of life.
What Is This Good News?
The angel Gabriel told the shepherds, “I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10, 11, author’s emphasis). The expression “bring you good tidings” is translated by the same Greek word for “to preach the gospel.” The good news or glad tidings is that a way of escape from sin and all its effects and consequences has been provided. That way is God Himself! God with us! Emmanuel! (Matt. 1:23). Through faith in Him, all may be saved. This message of life is for the world and it is to be proclaimed by those to whom it has been entrusted in its endtime fullness!
In his great treatise on justification by faith, Paul writes in Galatians 3:8, “And the scripture, forseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.” The great blessing was justification by faith and all the privileges bound up in that blessing. To justify someone is to declare that person innocent, or just, or in a right relation with God—which is a right relation to His great law.
Peter agrees with Paul by very clearly identifying justification by faith as the great blessing of the gospel … it is the gospel. He writes, “Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning everyone of you from his iniquities” (Acts 3:26).
The good news to humanity, and indeed the affected universe, is that the gracious God has provided an effective way to remedy the curse of sin, personally and universally, and to reunite the cosmos under the banner of His law of love as expressed in the Ten Commandments. The basis of all of this is the sacrifice of Christ. The world is dying for lack of this good news! The world is not dying for lack of preaching, it is dying for lack of the everlasting gospel!
The Gospel True and False
There is the gospel of Christ (Rom. 1:16; 2 Cor. 4:4) and there is the gospel of Satan (Gal. 1:8-9). These two gospels are similar and can be differentiated only by examining them through the prism of present truth. This is the solemn duty of SDAs!
The heart and soul of present truth lie in Daniel 8:14; Revelation 14:6-12; and Revelation 18:1-5. Therein lies the endtime fullness of the gospel: a fullness no one had, not even the Old Testament prophets nor the more enlightened New Testament evangelists! Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, etc., did not even understand what they wrote (Dan. 8:27; 12:4, 8; and 1 Pet. 1:10-12). But the Bible predicts that there will be a people in the end time described as wise (having understanding of deep things, able to instruct in these things) who will turn many to righteousness! (Dan. 12:3, 10).
Righteousness is the very opposite of sin (Gen. 18:23; Deut. 25:1); righteousness is obedience to God’s commandments (Deut. 6:25); righteousness is the only means of salvation (Gen. 3:21; Phil. 3:9); righteousness is the only protection from condemnation/destruction (Gen. 7:1; 2 Pet. 2:7, 8); righteousness is revealed in the gospel (Rom. 1:16, 17); righteousness is the law (Psa. 119:142, 44); Christ is our Righteousness (Jer. 23:6); and the new world will be a world of righteousness (2 Pet. 3:13). Then there must be a people in the last days, as required by prophecy (Dan. 12:3, 8), who proclaim a gospel of righteousness by faith in the righteous Christ who indwells the regenerated sinner so fully that that person chooses to live a righteous life, the genuineness of which is confirmed by the righteous law written on his heart (Isa. 51:7) the same way it was written on the heart of the incarnate Christ! (Psa. 40:8).
Who are these wise people who will understand what no one else understands? Who are these wise people who will turn many to righteousness (by faith)? Who are these wise people who will warn “many peoples and nations and tongues and kings” (Rev. 10:11) of a false gospel?
They are Seventh-day Adventists!
Seventh-day Adventists: Then and Now
God called Abraham to be a blessing; his seed (the Israelites) were to be this same blessing; the Jewish nation should have been that blessing; the apostolic church was that blessing; the church in the wilderness was that blessing; and the remnant church, theological descendants of the apostolic church, is to be that blessing today.
The gospel was to be preached to the world but it was first given or entrusted to a small select group. We repeat and enlarge: the gospel has always been given or entrusted to a small group but for the purpose of proclaiming it to the whole world. If the whole world had it there would be no need to proclaim it to the world; but the fact that the whole world needs the gospel preached to it proves that the whole world does not have the gospel. A small group today has what the whole world needs—the life-giving gospel in its endtime fullness!
Jesus told the infant church, “Ye are the salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13) and “Ye are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14, author’s emphasis). He did not say ye and the multitude, even though the multitude was nearby and overheard His sermon to the disciples. Jesus taught His disciples (Matt. 5:1, 2). He said also, “Ye shall be witnesses unto me” (Acts 1:8, author’s emphasis). If they were to be witnesses for Christ they must have been witnesses to someone else. That someone else was the world!
Noah was called to preach to the world. The world needed what he had. Thus it is today! The world needs what has been entrusted to a small group—the SDA Church. Ellen White writes, “God has called His church in this day, as He called ancient Israel, to stand as a light in the earth. By the mighty cleaver of truth, the messages of the first, second, and third angels, He has separated them from the churches and from the world to bring them into a sacred nearness to Himself” (5 Testimonies, 455.2).
The SDA Church stands today in precisely the same position as Abraham stood relative to the heathen, as Israel stood relative to the surrounding heathen nations, and as the Jews stood relative to the Gentiles.
This is a stupendous honor with grave responsibilities, neglect of which carries frightening consequences. No people in any age have been given so much light as have SDAs. Ellen White elaborates, “Seventh-day Adventists have been chosen by God as a peculiar people, separate from the world. By the great cleaver of truth He has cut them out from the quarry of the world and brought them into connection with Himself. He has made them His representatives and has called them to be ambassadors for Him in the last work of salvation. The greatest wealth of truth ever entrusted to mortals, the most solemn and fearful warnings ever sent by God to man, have been committed to them to be given to the world (Last Day Events, 45.2, author’s emphasis).
The seriousness of this statement intensifies in the light of Luke 12:48, “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.” The exalted privilege of the gospel is linked to the solemn burden of responsibility. The everlasting gospel, righteousness by faith, the third angel’s message “in verity”: this is the treasure entrusted to the steward (SDA Church) to be given to others (the world).
No one else can do this work because no one else has been called and equipped to do it! Christ came into this world with virtually no one knowing because those chosen to prepare the world for this event neglected their duty, and so the world did not know. Like the Jews of old, SDAs have been chosen to prepare the world for the second coming of Christ. They must do it, not others, because God has never had two chosen people … always one!
Many are satisfied to leave evangelism to others. They feel no personal urgency to lead someone to Christ. They should carefully consider the following insight: “There will be no one saved in heaven with a starless crown. If you enter, there will be some soul in the courts of glory that has found an entrance there through your instrumentality” (Last Day Events, 282.3). Simply put, evangelism is the way to save one’s soul! Paul told Timothy, “Take heed unto thyself, and to the doctrine; continue you in them: for in so doing thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” (1 Tim. 4:16). The person you lead to Christ is your “entrance ticket” to the kingdom, so to speak! None can enter alone! Dear reader, let us decide now to awake from our slumber and save ourselves and them that hear us! How? Evangelism!
In these waning hours of earth’s history God’s church must remember that heaven is waiting on it to do its duty in order that Christ may come to initiate the eschatological events connected to the final eradication of sin! For the church to delay this cosmic event through ignorance and/or neglect of evangelism is a disservice to heaven and earth. It is criminal behavior!
*”Evangelism” refers to all forms of proclaiming the gospel: one-to-one Bible studies, health lectures, tent meetings, radio, TV, Internet, etc. The method with which evangelism is most closely associated is public preaching.
**All texts are from the Authorized King James Version unless otherwise stated.