Evangelism is a Corporate Responsibility

And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 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 alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen. — Matthew 28:18

With this commission, followed by Pentecost, Christ authorized His church to proclaim the gospel, and that is what we are to be about. But we have misunderstood this verse.

Along these lines, AW Pink writes

our Lord’s words to Peter and Andrew, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19) do not apply to the rank and file of His disciples, but only unto those whom He calls into and qualifies for the ministry. That is evident from the fact that in none of the Epistles, where both the privileges and the duties of the saints are specifically defined, is there any such precept or promise. Thus, on the one hand, we must ever beware of unwarrantable restricting the scope of a verse; and, on the other hand, be constantly on our guard against making general what is manifestly particular.

I believe we have generalized the “Great Commission”, to our hurt. The commission Christ gave was to the church corporately, not Christians individually. It is a specific commission to the apostles, pastors, and teachers. It is not a grant of authority to, or a responsibility of, individual “rank and file” Christians.

The Great Commission is “teach and baptize”. If Jesus meant by this to bestow the authority and responsibility for evangelism on individual Christians, He must have also bestowed authority and responsibility for performing baptisms on individual Christians. We cannot separate His commission into “evangelism”, “baptism”, and “discipleship”, and insist that we all have a right and responsibility for the first, but the duty of the second and third part is somehow restricted.

I suppose there are some who would think it proper for individual Christians to perform baptisms. At least they are being consistent. But I think a more typical view is to realize that there are restrictions on who can baptize. It’s a responsibility of the corporate church, and falls to the elders. Similarly, we know that discipleship is a function of the church corporately, and is carried out as the elders, and those who they authorize, carry out the work of preaching and teaching.

This is also supported by Ephesians 4:11: “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;” Evangelist, just like preacher or teacher, is a distinct office and gifting. It is not a general gift or calling.

Matthew Henry wrote about the “Great Commission”:

This commission is given, (1.) To the apostles primarily, the chief ministers of state in Christ’s kingdom, the architects that laid the foundation of the church. … (2.) It is given to their successors, the ministers of the gospel, whose business it is to transmit the gospel from age to age, to the end of the world in time, as it was theirs to transmit it from nation to nation, to the end of the world in place, and no less necessary. … Christ, at his ascension, gave not only apostles and prophets, but pastors and teachers, Eph. 4:11.

John Gill asserts “though there might be so large a number as before observed, yet the following words were only spoken to the apostles“.

There are ways in which we are all called to some form of proclaiming the gospel and even discipleship. Fathers are to disciple their children (Ephesians 6:4). We’re all to be ready to tell others about Christ when it’s appropriate (Colossians 4:5-6, 1 Peter 3:15, Acts 8:4). But this does not, and cannot, mean that the “Great Commission” was given to us individually. Taking the gospel to the lost is a corporate responsibility for the church, not an individual responsibility.

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3 Responses to Evangelism is a Corporate Responsibility

  1. RIcky says:

    I just found your blog after doing a search for Wild at Heart studies. Just thought I’d drop a note and let you know I’ve enjoyed reading ya so far.

  2. C.W. says:

    From the last paragraph, what is the distinction between “tell[ing] others about Christ when it’s appropriate” (which you say is commanded of all believers) & “taking the gospel to the lost” (which you say is not individually commanded of all believers, but of the church corporately)?

    I ask because I currently see no distinction, and so would say that your last paragraph is internally inconsistent.

    Can you clarify your thinking for me?

  3. Robert says:

    CW,

    Sorry for the slow response. I’ve been up to my ears in work for the last week.

    If I am in a conversation with a co-worker and the subject comes up, I should share the gospel as appropriate.

    But I do not have a personal responsibility, as far as I can tell from the Bible, to be passing out tracts, knocking on doors, or – to get more to the point – engaging in “relationship evangelism.” I don’t have to be friends with pagans, watch their movies, listen to their music, engage in their social activities, etc., in the name of evangelism. Maybe some people do, but not all of us do.

    Most of us are called to simply live Christian lives, preaching the gospel through our good works, and always being ready to give an account of the hope we have.

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