Monday, November 08, 2010

The Biblical Mandate for House to House Evangelism, part 1

The book of Acts clearly teaches and models by example aggressive evangelism for every church member; all should go “every where preaching the word” (Acts 8:4), with the goal of preaching to “every creature which is under heaven” (Ephesians 1:23; Mark 16:15), that is, giving clear presentations of the gospel[i] to every single person on the face of the earth. House to house evangelism is the explicit pattern of the book of Acts.[ii] In Acts 5:42 the apostles “daily in the temple, and in every house, [] ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.”[iii] The preaching was persistent (5:42, “daily”) and sought to reach every single person, “every creature” (Mark 16:15), in an area (Acts 21:28). They sought, successfully, to make sure that “all they which dwelt” in the local area would “hear the word of the Lord Jesus” (19:10), something possible only if particular efforts were made to systematically reach every household; if church members only witnessed to their friends, neighbors, coworkers, and whoever else just came along the way as they pursued other matters, having “all” in an area hear would never happen. They did not evangelize in public forums and go house to house only a few weeks a year to advertise Vacation Bible School or a special meeting, but consistently and continually.

Nor did New Testament evangelism rest satisfied if a person made some kind of decision that did not lead to evidence of repentance and a new heart; in Acts, people who made salvation decisions were baptized and continued in the faith even under persecution, so that those who were “saved” were also “added to the church” (Acts 2:41-47). The kind of preaching of repentance and faith (Mark 1:15; Acts 20:21) found in Scripture leads to converts that stick. The modern practice of leading countless people to make spurious decisions actually is doing the work of the devil in inoculating people to the true gospel. In the New Testament, numbers of stand-alone professions were not counted, but numbers added to the church roll through baptism and enduring faithfully in sound doctrine and practice (Acts 1:15; 2:4; 4:4, 32; 16:5). The Holy Spirit works in the saved to join the church by baptism and continue in holiness and true doctrine (Acts 2:47; Matthew 10:22; Mark 4:17, 20; 1 John 2:19). The apostles considered someone who made a decision but did not continue as “labour in vain” (Galatians 4:11; 1 Thessalonians 3:5), in which they followed the practice of the Lord Jesus (John 8:31-32).[iv] They were not considered genuine converts who just never followed their “Lord.” When Paul’s own converts were baptized church members who were themselves “holding forth the word of life” (Philippians 2:16) and by this means “shin[ing] as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15),[v] then the apostle had confidence that he could “rejoice in the day of Christ, that [he] had not run in vain, neither labored in vain” (Philippians 2:16). The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) is to see people born again or made disciples, baptized into the church, and taught everything in Scripture, including the necessity of winning converts themselves and working to see established churches grow and new churches planted. Only when a convert has come to the point where he is himself making disciples has the Comission been fulfilled, and this, not some sort of “decision for Christ” that does not lead to baptism and a changed and consistent Christian life, must be the goal of Biblical house to house evangelism.


Exegetical Endnotes:

[i] Many modern gospel tracts are extremely shallow and contain little information, a stark contrast to the more Biblical evangelistic methodology of earlier centuries. The most important matter in a written gospel presentation is that the message is clearly and carefully communicated. Having glossy paper or nice pictures does not hurt, but a lost person needs to hear the message itself clearly, and have it pointedly applied to his heart and mind. Thus, a good gospel tract will tend to follow the model of preaching in Acts and proclaim “YOU are a sinner, deserve hell, have a Redeemer offered you, and need to repent and believe” rather that “We are all sinners, need to believe, or we will have a problem.” It will boldly and specifically deal with the sins and spiritual strongholds of the unconverted person (cf. Acts 2:23; 4:10; Ephesians 6:17) and plainly preach both repentance (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 5:31; 11:18; 17:30; 26:20) and faith (Acts 10:43; 16:31). A good tract will not make its highest priority preventing a wicked person from being offended, but will strive to boldly and pointedly preach the truth so that the reader will be awakened, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to see his wretched and lost condition and need of the Savior. When people heard apostolic preaching, they were either “pricked in their heart” and brought to conversion (Acts 2:37-38) or “cut to the heart” and determined to kill the preachers and even gnash on them with their teeth (Acts 5:33; 7:54). An unconverted person who reads a good gospel tract will not be unmoved—either he will be convicted and awakened, and thus come to repentance or at least see his need to seek for Christ, or he will be convicted, angry, offended, and hardened. Nor should a tract be overly concerned about having “too much” content. A lost person needs to “strive to enter” into the kingdom of God (Luke 13:24), and must seek and find the narrow gate that leads to life (Matthew 7:13-14). The fact that salvation is not by works does not exclude the Biblical fact that an unconverted person must make, by God’s enabling grace, certain responses of listening and accepting the Word of God if he is going to be converted (John 5:39; Romans 10:14). If a sinner is not willing to even read a tract with a lot of verses, he is obviously not seeking or striving to enter into the kingdom. Furthermore, if he will not listen to the Word, he would not be saved even if a dead person came out of hell to warn him (Luke 16:31), for “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). If even a dead person coming from hell to give a personal warning has no converting power in comparison to the Word, why would pictures, glossy paper, and stories, but few verses, be superior in gospel tracts or lead more to genuine conversions than careful and detailed presentations with much Scripture? Tracts do not need to be designed so that every single person who receives one will read the entire thing. The Lord Jesus Himself hid the truth from those who were not willing to listen so that their hearts would not grow even harder (Matthew 13:13). A good tract will have enough information for that minority of lost people who are seeking the truth to clearly understand what they must do to be saved, and will be pointed enough so that such seekers, and those who are careless but willing to listen to written preaching, will be awakened to their sinfulness and need of Christ.

[ii]The pattern in Scripture is going out two by two to evangelize (Mark 6:7; Luke 10:1; Acts 4:13; 13:2, 43; 16:19; 17:10; Revelation 11:3), often with one “chief speaker” (Acts 14:12). There were still converts when Paul, out of necessity (Acts 17:14-15), evangelized on his own without a partner, but not as many (Acts 17:34). Aggressive preaching to the lost everywhere is also the model of other parts of Scripture; “Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city . . . go out into the highways and hedges” and, by powerfully preaching the gospel, “compel [men] to come in” to the kingdom of God (Luke 14:21-23) is hardly fulfilled by churches or saints who refuse to go to “every creature” (Mark 16:15) in their area, but only witness to friends, neighbors, acquaintances, and coworkers. Nor is it acceptable to only occasionally go house to house, or have anything less than a passionate and zealous desire and commitment to very regularly (and would that not be at least weekly?) go to “cold” contacts and preach the gospel; the command is not just “go,” whenever there is nothing else to do, but “go out quickly” (v. 21), and continue to go out until the Lord’s “house is filled” (Luke 14:21, 23).

[iii] Of course, house to house is not the only means of giving out the gospel mentioned in Acts; in addition to evangelistic preaching outside of church meetings (Ac 2:14-40, 3:12-26, etc., a great variety of methods of giving out the gospel appear: see Ac 5:42, 8:26-40, 13:7-12, 16:13-14, 31-32, 20:20-21, etc.). Note as well that to “teach and preach Jesus Christ . . . in every house” implies more than simply seeking to win a man to Christ at his doorstep and then leaving him there, whether he responds or not. A series of home Bible studies which preach the gospel and then disciple converts, in addition to attempts to see conversion “cold” at the door, are at least implied through the inclusion of “teach” with “preach” (cf. Matthew 28:18-20). Acts 17:17 indicates that Paul took inquirers, those who were seeking for salvation and were open to the gospel, and “met . . . daily with them,” a specific basis for repeated and careful contact with the lost in the manner of evangelistic Bible studies. In Acts 19:8 Paul dealt with a lost group for three months, with the result that souls were saved (19:9). He only stopped preaching the gospel to them when those who were still unconverted were evidently hardened and openly antagonistic (19:9). Those who only speak to the lost at their doorsteps often cease to deal thoroughly enough with them, giving up on them or failing to provide them with enough detail before they are clearly hardened, with the result that fewer of them are saved than could be with a fully Biblical methodology.

Churches today that offer evangelistic Bible studies today tend to have much higher percentages of salvation decisions that lead to baptism and church membership (and so are not spurious) than churches that solely seek to lead men to Christ at their doorstep without such a foundation for more in-depth instruction. The five session evangelistic Bible study written available for download at is one recommended for use; study #1 covers the naure of Scripture, #2 the nature of God, #3 God’s Law and the consequences for disobedience to it, #4 the gospel, Christ’s saving work; and #5, repentance and faith; two follow up studies are also available, #6, which covers eternal security and assurance, and #7 which deals with the church—with God’s blessing, after study #5 a seeker will be converted, after #6 he will have assurance, and after #7 will be a Baptist. The four week “Salvation Bible Basics” course by Pastor Doug Hammett of the Lehigh Valley Baptist Church in Emmaus, PA ( is also good. Pastor Kent Brandenburg of Bethel Baptist in El Sobrante, CA ( has also written a series of discipleship studies, Disciplines for Disciples of Christ, which are good for grounding new converts. Personal discipleship Bible studies subsequent to conversion are not just a natural implication of the verses in Scripture here discussed, and clear mandate of the Great Commission, but also unquestionably simply the part of wisdom.

One common modern methodology for evangelism, that of gimmicking the lost to visit church services by giving them material things such as candy or toys, is entirely absent from Scripture; in Acts, apart from those who wanted Christ for who He was, “durst no man join himself to them [Christians in church services]” (Acts 5:13). This was in accordance with the practice of the Lord Jesus, who did not want people to come listen to Him preach because they received food or other material benefits, but because they wanted to follow Him because of who He was (John 6:26, 66-69). Many bus ministries keep children and others coming to visit services because of material goods that are continually provided week after week, but the Lord Jesus refused to provide worldly benefits to keep people coming to listen to Him preach (John 6:29-33, 66). The apostles likewise did not use a “cloke of covetousness” in evangelism (1 Thessalonians 2:5); they did not trick people (“cloke”) to come to church by appealing to materialism (“covetousness”), then reverse themselves and call upon them to repent of materialism, covetousness, and all other sin to surrender to Christ (Mark 8:34-36). This is carnal weaponry (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:4)—the only Biblical weapon to bring the lost to Christ is the Word of God as empowered by the omnipotent Spirit (Ephesians 6:17). Furthermore, it presents a false view of God to those who are convinced by marketing techniques and give-aways to come to church meetings. It makes it appear like candy or various other material goods are of more value than knowledge of Him and fellowship with Him. By presenting a false view of God, and thus leading men to not glorify Him as God (Romans 1:21), so far are marketing and promotion techniques from leading to more genuine conversions that they are the root, along with unthankfulness, of the horrific cycle of apostasy and evil that is described in Romans 1:21-32. Romans one demonstrates that the misrepresentation of God involved in “evangelistic” marketing techniques is the root sin that leads to idolatry, sodomy, and other sins worthy of death, and of God’s giving men, churches, and societies over to reprobation and their lusts.

[iv] If the Lord Jesus Himself, who knew that He was speaking to true converts (John 8:30-31), gave them assurance based on the evidence of the new birth and new nature (John 8:31—a certainty in every truly converted person, John 17:17), how much the more should His people, who do not know infallibly what has gone on within a professed convert, not tell everyone who claims conversion but manifest no change in life that they have been saved! Nor can John 8:31-32 be used to establish that some sort of higher Christian life as a disciple is in view, rather than a distinction between the saved and the lost; those who do not continue and are not “disciples indeed” do not “know the truth” and are not “free.” All believers know the truth, and no unbelievers know the truth (John 1:17; 14:6, 17; 17:17, 19; and this knowledge leads to a changed life its certain result: “Every one that is of the truth heareth [Christ’s] voice,” John 18:37, and consequently becomes a true worshipper (John 4:23-24), follows Christ (John 10:27), and “doeth truth . . . that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God” (John 3:21). Furthermore, in the immediate context of John 8:31-32 (namely, in v. 36), and everywhere else in the New Testament, being made “free” is an event that takes place at the moment of regeneration (John 8:32, 36; Romans 6:18, 22; 8:2, 21; Galatians 5:1). While the believer is to renew his discipleship daily (Luke 9:23), the call of the Lord Jesus, “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34) is a call to repentance and faith, to conversion: “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it [eternally in hell]; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake [repent of his sin and his own life and way] and the gospel’s, the same shall save it [will go to heaven]” (Mark 8:35). Those who do not become disciples lose their own souls eternally in the lake of fire (Mark 8:36). While there can certainly be false or unsaved disciples (John 8:31; 6:66) just like there can be false believers (John 2:23-25; cf. 3:1-21), every true believer is a true disciple, and every true disciple is a true believer.

[v] Note that hold forth (epechontes) in v. 16 a participle of means indicating how the verb to shine in v. 15 (phainesthe) takes place.

1 comment:

Kent Brandenburg said...

I'm 100% with Thomas Ross on this one. I'm starting a series in 1 Corinthians right now and did some background in Acts 18, since it is written to the church of God which is at Corinth. The church at Corinth started when Paul started at the synagogue, and when he was kicked out, went to the very next house, next to the synagogue. That is the pattern we see with Jesus and the apostles.