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The Biblical Evangelist

Posted by Matt Postiff April 21, 2015 on Matt Postiff's Blog under Missions 

During an interactive Sunday school class on the topic of evangelism last weekend, a question came up about the gift or office of evangelist. The question was about the nature of the spiritual gift and how can it be "measured." Does an evangelist do what all Christians do, just with a higher "batting average" or number of converts?

One of the main points of the class was that there is a sense in which all Christians are evangelists. We are ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:19-20). We must be involved in the Great Commission. We are not excused from that duty because there exist "specialized" evangelists with extra abilities from God to proclaim the gospel.

In short, the gift of "evangelism" is the ability imparted by the Holy Spirit in a person that enables him to be able to communicate the truth of the gospel clearly and persuasively. The gift is not measured by quantity of converts.

An evangelist has this special ability and a corresponding burden to preach the gospel to lost people and see them gathered into churches, whether on a far-away mission field or in the community where there is already a local church.

The evangelist (Acts 21:8, Eph 4:11, 2 Tim 4:5) is what we today call a missionary church planter. A man who is gifted as an evangelist preaches the gospel to unbelievers and gathers converts into churches. There will be a variety of levels of "success" among those gifted as evangelists because of differences in personal ability (gifting) and also the condition of the field to which he has been called.

The term evangelist is used in fundamentalist circles as a shorthand for an itinerant revival preacher who equips the saints and preaches the gospel. But such a minister is really an exhorter, someone gifted in exhortation (Rom 12:8). His function in the church is valid and helpful, but I would not call him an evangelist.

There is a question about whether evangelist is an office or a gift. In other words, someone may ask of the Eph 4:11 passage, "are these offices, or gifts?" as if there is a big difference between the two. I do not believe that we have to make a hard distinction between the gifts and the gifted men indicated there who may hold offices in the church. I take it that certain men fill the roles or functions listed, and that these functions required gifted ability. Both the functions themselves and the men that carry them out are gifts to the church.

I do not see anywhere in the New Testament that requires an office of evangelist in every local church. Nor can it be sustained from Scripture that the evangelist has a priority over the pastor or teacher in the church. Our Lord taught us not to think like unbelievers regarding authority structures (Mark 10:42-45).

A helpful article on this subject was written a number of years ago by Dr. William Combs of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary.

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