Friday, December 03, 2010

The Biblical Mandate for House to House Evangelism, part 3

Commentaries support the concept of house to house visitation in Acts 5:42 and 20:20, rather than church meetings in houses:[i]

“Every day, with great constancy and assiduity, both publicly and privately; in the temple, the place of public worship, where the Jews resorted on that account; and in each of their private houses . . . they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.” (An Exposition of the Old and New Testament, by John Gill, Acts 5:42)

“The apostles taught and preached not only publicly in the temple, but ‘from house to house.’ In this they give an example to the ministry of all ages, which is well worthy of imitation. Private instruction and admonition bring the teacher and the taught into closer contact, and secure an individuality of effect not attainable in a public assembly. It can not, therefore, be well dispensed with; but he who employs it most diligently will, other things being equal, employ his energies most successfully.” (Commentaries and Topical Studies by J. W. McGarvey, Acts 5:42)

“Though Paul preached in public, and though his time was much occupied in manual labour for his own support, Ac 20:34, yet he did not esteem his public preaching to be all that was required of him; nor his daily occupation to be an excuse for not visiting from house to house. We may observe here . . . that Paul’s example is a warrant and an implied injunction for family visitation by a pastor. If proper in Ephesus, it is proper still. If practicable in that city, it is in other cities. If it was useful there, it will be elsewhere. If it furnished to him consolation in the retrospect when he came to look over his ministry, and if it was one of the things which enabled him to say, ‘I am pure from the blood of all men,’ it will be so in other cases. . . . His aim was to show the way of salvation, and to teach in private what he taught in public. . . . while public preaching is the main, the prime, the leading business of a minister, and while his first efforts should be directed to preparation for that, he may and should find time to enforce his public instructions by going from house to house; and often he will find that his most immediate and apparent success will result from such family instructions.” (Barnes’ Notes, Acts 20:20)

“It is worth noting that this greatest of preachers preached from house to house.” (Robertson’s Word Pictures, Acts 20:20)

“Did an apostle, whose functions were of so wide a range, not feel satisfied without private as well as public ministrations? How then must pastors feel?” (Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, Acts 20:20)

From house to house. Else he had not been pure from their blood. For even an apostle could not discharge his duty by public preaching only. How much less can an ordinary pastor!” (Notes on the Old and New Testaments, John Wesley, Acts 20:20).

The specific illustrations in the book of Acts, given for the saints’ examples and admonition, in addition to the general exhortations found throughout the Bible, including the Old Testament (Proverbs 11:30, Daniel 12:3, etc.), to give the gospel to every creature, and the logical necessity, for those with a Christ-like love for the unconverted (John 3:16; cf. Romans 9:1-3), for aggressive evangelism because of the fact that all without Christ are headed to eternal torment, renders inexcusable the churches and all Christians not bedridden and crippled that do not go house to house in nations such as the United States, where the chances of imprisonment or martyrdom for such a labor of love are essentially non-existent—first century Rome heavily persecuted believers, yet house to house evangelism was still practiced by all members. Saints who do not aggressively evangelize grievously sin against God, hinder the sort of revival found in Acts, and apparently do not esteem the blood of Christ highly enough to simply inform others, in line with the Savior’s command, of the great salvation their professed Lord had to leave heaven and suffer infinitely to make possible.


Exegetical Endnote:

[i] Commentators from Protestant denominations may believe that ministers can celebrate the “sacraments” private with only a few members of their “churches” present, but Baptists recognize that, as the church is the assembly, “private” meetings where baptism and the Lord’s supper are distributed to only a select few who are invited, are unbiblical, and corporate worship is something meet for the whole church. “House to house” does not, then, refer to “cell groups” or meetings of the ekklesia, the church, the assembly, where the members do not actually assemble.

Furthermore, Protestants that believe that only ministers were given the Great Commission and are responsible to preach the gospel may affirm that these text indicate that ministers should go house to house, and may try to explain the plainly evangelistic nature of the texts in question and the command to go to “every” house as a command to bring to salvation those, often essentially an entire community, baptized in infancy and thus part of their “church,” who are, despite this, plainly unconverted; Baptists, who maintain a regenerate church membership distinct from the community and the priesthood of every believer, and who properly recognize the Commission was given to the church and is the responsibility of her members as a whole, will learn from these texts that all church members should go “house to house” to “every house.” Acts 8:1, 4 indicate that all church members—not just the apostles or other leaders—were going out “every where” preaching the word (euangelidzo, evangelizing). Every member of the Lord’s church, unless paralyzed, etc., is responsible to go house to house. Speaking to friends, coworkers, and neighbors simply is not the teaching of Acts 8:4; 5:42; 20:20.

Of course, the fact that these passages teach that church members are to go house to house evangelizing the lost does not mean that they should not as well go to the homes of their fellow believers to strengthen them when they have needs, for discipleship Bible studies, etc.


Colin Maxwell said...

Hi Kent,

Can you quote any of the Protestant commentators who believe that "only ministers were given the Great Commission and are responsible to preach the gospel?" I accept that there are many Protestant denominations who will only allow ordained men into their pulpits to preach, but I have never come across any who have limited evangelism (taking preaching in the widest sense of the word) nor the Great Commission only to those who are formally designated ministers. Who do you have in mind?


Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Colon,

Thomas Ross wrote this (he also writes now on What is Truth), so I'll let him answer it, but it is a very good question. I'll look forward with you for his answer.

Liam O'Brian said...

I have this question, and just for clarity - in some places, such as China, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, etc, or even in Israel, evangelising is prohibited. However, missionaries in those countries - particularly in China - have found a way to get around those laws, namely by teaching the Bible as ESL (English as a Second Language) or with history, science etc. that the Bible contains. Would men in those countries be "not showing a Christ-like love for the unconverted" or "hindering revival?" (see Duncan Campbell's definition on the differences between revival and successful evangelism).


Thomas Ross said...

Dear Colin,

I put the footnote in because it is evident that some of the Protestant commentators who I cited speak of ministers going door to door in those texts, and a variety of Protestants speak of ordination as being ordained to preach the gospel. I would be surprised if they officially stated that they were against evangelism by their members; that would be very difficult to defend, of course. I can't remember which Puritan writer said it, but in some Puritan book that I looked at in the past they speak of God sending forth ministers to preach the gospel to every creature, speaking of Matthew 28.

Here is Matthew Henry on Matthew 28:19:

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. Now those that had followed Christ in the regeneration, were set on thrones (Lu 22:30); Go ye. It is not only a word of command, like that, Son, go work, but a word of encouragement, Go, and fear not, have I not sent you? Go, and make a business of this work. They must not take state, and issue out summons to the nations to attend upon them; but they must go, and bring the gospel to their doors, Go ye. They had doted on Christ's bodily presence, and hung upon that, and built all their joys and hopes upon that; but now Christ discharges them from further attendance on his person, and sends them abroad about other work. As an eagle stirs up her nest, flutters over her young, to excite them to fly (De 32:11), so Christ stirs up his disciples, to disperse themselves over all the world.

(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. The Old Testament promise of a gospel ministry is made to a succession (Isa 59:21); and this must be so understood, otherwise how could Christ be with them always to the consummation of the world? Christ, at his ascension, gave not only apostles and prophets, but pastors and teachers, Eph 4:11.

Matthew Henry (erroneously) states here that the Great Commission is given to ministers, when it is given to the assembly of immersed believers.

Thomas Ross said...


It is Biblical to not risk one's life unnecessarily; the Lord Jesus said to flee when people are going to try to kill you (Matthew 10:23). When, therefore, one is in a communist country, the BIblical pattern of house to house evangelism does not override the Biblical mandate to not throw your life away, so you don't need to go knock on the door of the police chief who will shoot you as soon as you tell him why you are there.

Liam O'Brian said...

I appreciate the answer - very informative. There are some other reasons I asked it, which are as follows:

1. too many churches - especially Baptists - erroneously believe that what one does for Christ is his spirituality or communion. Therefore, the more one does, the deeper his walk with God in comparison to others who do less. However, Song of Solomon 1 speaks the opposite with the Shulamite having kept the vineyards of others and in doing so neglected her own - also the account of Mary and Martha would come to mind, and the words of the Lord to Laodicea's church - known for works but not for spirituality.
2. There have been numerous examples throughout history of godly men, women, and children who never knocked on a single door, yet were godly, were used to bring revival, etc. Duncan Campbell gives a good account of the difference that Christians should put between even successful evangelism and true revival. Chief among the examples that I can cite is James Lainge, who never knocked on a single door, yet was a godly young man and an example of Christ's grace to the children of Dundee, Scotland.
3. Much as we dislike to admit it, most churches who press for their people to be knocking on doors in their communities anymore are plagued with carnality. The answer might be seen in Moule's "To My Younger Brethren".

Again, appreciate the answer.


Thomas Ross said...

Dear Liam,

You are right that what one does is not a marker that one certainly has genuine spirituality; however, one who has genuine spirituality will be obedient. Love for Christ will make us keep His commandments, John 14:15, and if one is not in a situation where death or the like is going to occur because of going house to house, churches and individuals should go house to house. By the way, the works of the church in the city of Laodicea were not the greatest, just as their insides were not the greatest.