Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ephesians 4:11 - Is Evangelism a Gift?

Many Christians, even respected Evangelical leaders, would call Evangelism a spiritual gift (see post from The Resurgence). I would like to challenge that notion, or at the very least show that not having the gift of evangelism doesn't exempt a Christian from the call.

Commentators seem to point to Ephesians 4:11 as their understanding for calling evangelism a gift, "And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ." There is a direct parallel between this passage and Romans 12 (v6-­7), "Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching." Paul clearly calls prophecy and teaching spiritual gifts, so even though it's not explicitly mentioned in Ephesians 4, the link shows that being an apostle, a prophet, an evangelist, a shepherd or a teacher is a spiritual gift. So it's not strictly wrong to call evangelism a spiritual gift.

However, take another look at the list from Ephesians: apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd and teacher. You either have to play the game One of These Things is Not Like the Other, or acknowledge that Paul groups evangelist within the rank of teacher. Paul is consistent in at least one other place in pairing evangelist with teacher, for he exhorts Timothy to "do the work of an evangelist" (2 Timothy 4:5). If the spiritual gift of evangelism is understood in this context, then it appears that it refers to a teacher's ability to train others in evangelism (“to equip the saints for the work of ministry”).

Even with this understanding, though, that does not mean someone can't be a gifted evangelist! God has given all of us his Holy Spirit, he has gifted us in different ways to complement each other and build up the body. I believe that my wife's ability to play piano for church is just as much a spiritual gift as Paul's mention of an "utterance of wisdom" or “speaking in tongues.” "To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good" (1 Cor 12:7), and those manifestations can work themselves out in natural talent or miraculous ways. So, I'm not saying that people cannot be gifted in evangelism, but I believe that the “spiritual gift of evangelism” as Paul mentions it is a leadership gift.

Too many have used "not having the gift of evangelism" as their excuse for never evangelizing. According to Barna, that number is growing over time, and roughly (or less than) ten percent of professing Christians participate in evangelism! Our biblical responsibility to make disciples is very clear. Even beyond the Great Commission of Matthew 28 are a few exhortations to share our faith: Acts 1:8, 1 Peter 3:15. The message becomes clearer with an inductive study of the entire New Testament. The apostles simply have no context for not sharing the gospel-­-it is a treasure of too much value to keep to one's self. I hope we grow a heart and all become more gifted in sharing the precious news of salvation through Jesus Christ.

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