“And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).
This record of the final command of the Lord to His church is not an option. While it is certainly a church command, doubtless the imperative of reaching every creature falls upon all those who are members of His assembly. The imperative is repeated in the other gospels: “Go ye . . . teach” (Matthew 28), “repentance and remission of sins should be preached” (Luke 24). The version of the Commission in John is notable: “Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained” (John 20:23). When the saints faithfully preach the gospel, men believe, and their sins are remitted them. In this sense, believers do remit the sins of the lost. Compare Jude 22-23: “of some have compassion, making a difference [distinction]: And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire.” The believer is the subject of the verb “save.” We save people in a certain sense, when we preach the gospel to them; and when we fail to fulfill our duty to do so, we retain their sins. What a responsibility Christ gives His church in John 20:23: “whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained”! They are damned because of us. We are accountable for the fact that they will suffer unspeakable, everlasting torment in unquenchable fire forever and ever. Some, “shall be tormented with fire and brimstone . . . And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night” (Revelation 14:10-11), because of us. They weep, and wail, and suffer there, because we would not remit their sins. We were afraid to speak out boldly to them. We had our reasons to not go door to door. We had something else to do, so we did not go out soulwinning—and they will writhe, and cry, and drown in the lake of fire forever because of this something else that we made a higher priority. Paul states this truth as well. Because the apostle had “taught you publickly [mass evangelism], and from house to house [canvassing every person in the area], Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ,” because he had been faithful to “testify the gospel of the grace of God,” he was “pure from the blood of all men.” (Acts 20:20-26). He was not responsible for the blood of their eternal damnation. How much better to kill a man physically, yea, to expose him to the worst of earthly torments, than to be responsible for drowning him in everlasting perdition. The physical murder will last only a few moments—his spiritual murder will last forever. Had Paul not been faithful in going house to house, and doing mass evangelism “publickly,” the blood of the lost would be on his hands. Allusion is made to Ezekiel 3:18; 33:8: “When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. . . . When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.” If I do not evangelize as God has instituted—publically, and house to house—the blood of the lost will be required at my hand! Will countless souls rise up before me at judgment, and say, as they each pass groaning away before my eyes, “You retained my sins—I am here because of you—I am going to burn forever because you skipped out on door to door that week—I am here because you left early, and did not put in the hours regularly into evangelism that you ought to have—I am here because you did not carry tracts that one time—I am here because you were not filled with the Spirit, and so did not speak as you ought to have, nor been as urgent with me as you should have, when you spoke to me—I am here because you did not know how to deal with my spiritual problem, and did not use the verses you should have—I am here because you used shallow, non-convicting tracts—I am here because you, and your church, did not follow Biblical methodology—how many lost will point at me, and with voices filled with both despair—for it is now too late for them—and just anger, give me the undeniable accusation, “I AM DAMNED, AND MY BLOOD IS ON YOUR HANDS, BECAUSE YOU, YOU FAILED TO OBEY CHRIST’S COMMAND TO REACH ME!” We rightly view the mass-murderer, the serial killer, as one of the vilest of men—what multitudes, oh my soul, have I killed, what multitudes of sins have I retained, what legions of “true worshippers” (John 4:23) have I prevented from coming to know God, and offering Him glory forever, and so what infinite quantities of glory have I robbed from Jehovah?
It is no excuse if others around me are committing the same sin likewise. It is no excuse that many who go house to house also slaughter souls by their failure to properly interpret Scripture, by practicing easy-prayerism and generating false professions, or the like. Do few faithfully fulfill their evangelistic duty in my church? Their disobedience does not justify mine. Indeed, it makes it all the more necessary that I be on my guard to not wretchedly commit soul-manslaughter. It is necessary that I stand in the gap and set the right example, and thus seek to keep my brethren in Christ from having blood on their hands, rather than giving in to general apathy and allowing that to lull me to sleep.
We are very busy. We can convince ourselves—and the flesh will delight in it—that we are really fulfilling our duty when we pass out tracts to people we come across. However, “every creature” is the command, and that requires a systematic method of seeking to reach every single person in our area, which is not possible without going house to house (as well as using the tracts, which is the “publicly” portion of Acts 20). We may even be discouraged from going because of the necessity to perform lesser, though important, goods, from doing chores, doing physical labor for the church, doing non-evangelistic but spiritual work in the church, and so on. We absolutely must not allow these things to prevent us from getting out and reaching “every creature.” The cost is far too high—the awful guilt of having on our hands the blood of lost souls!
Furthermore, not having an organized soulwinning program in a church, with specific listed days and times to go out and preach the gospel, is a very bad idea. It makes many more people guilty of this terrible sin of soul manslaughter. This brings the judgment of God upon the congregation and the individuals guilty of this, instead of His blessing. Since Scripture declares that “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise,” and “they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever” (Proverbs 11:30; Daniel 12:3), it also deprives people of immeasurable eternal reward. One learns how to deal with people’s souls by doing it, so not doing it also prevents parents from knowing how to effectively deal with their own children, making them more likely to bring their offspring to false conversion, and having them lost to the world. It also prevents saved young people—and adults—from developing the spiritual toughness, tenacity, and boldness that comes from having to take a stand for Christ at doors and speak to people there. It is easier to take a stand against the world in other areas when one is regularly taking a stand against it by preaching the gospel to it. Churches that do not go soulwinning should, therefore, expect to lose more, likely many more, young people to the world and to neo-evangelicalism. People are also deprived of ability to do ministry; fulfilling the Great Commission really is the definition of what ministry is (cf. Philippians 2:22; 4:3). Church unity is weakened by not having soulwinning; the saints are bound closer together when they participate in evangelism together, communally face the opposition of the world, and experience their Savior’s consolation in their obedience. It makes it easier for someone who does not want to follow God to feel comfortable in church every week, which is a bad thing. It brings the loss of the power of the Spirit, for He empowers for the purpose of producing boldness in evangelism (Acts 1:8). Revival should not be expected. Fewer prayers are answered. How can men lift up “holy hands, without wrath and doubting” (1 Timothy 2:8) when those uplifted hands are dripping with the blood of damned souls (Ezekiel 33:8; Acts 20:26)? It reproduces a bad model for ministry, as young people who are future preachers and leaders do not learn how to properly win souls, and so will fail to lead churches they will pastor or otherwise lead in the future to obey God in this area, so disobedience and all the ruin it causes will multiply over time. Conviction in soulwinning does not develop in a vacuum—the flesh very easily slips away from obedience in this matter, and pastors very rarely have pressure from the congregation to go door to door—the pressure is almost always to drop or decrease or minimize it, so if passion for reaching every household in a community is not deeply ingrained in young people, they will not do it later. A wrong view of church growth methodology also results—when we do not follow Scripture by reaching “every creature” in the world by going “publicly and house to house,” we adopt a system where inviting visitors becomes the main focus, and church services are changed from being for the purpose of edifying the saints who will them themselves go out into the world to do ministry—the Biblical pattern, Eph 4:11-12 (the pastor/teacher is given to perfect the saints, and the saints do ministry), to a model where church services are designed to evangelize the lost instead of edifying the saved. (Of course, it is not bad for the lost to come to church, nor to evangelize the lost that do come, but that is not the focus in Scripture for the assembly of the saints.) This inviting-the-lost-in model, versus the go-out-and-preach model of the Bible, is the root of the “seeker sensitive” megachurch, Rick Warren, neo-evangelical model that has destroyed many formerly sound churches. Indeed, the distinguishing marks of the two churches in Revelation 2-3 that were not going bad were evangelism and the reciept of persecution (Revelation 2:8-11; 3:7-13)—and the latter tends to come with the former, 2 Timothy 3:12; cf. Acts 7:59; 28:20. In short, when we don’t have organized, aggressive soulwinning going out to reach “every creature,” where we don’t strongly preach that everyone should be going door to door, as well as speaking to neighbors, friends, etc. (and we will be much less effective with the neighbors and friends without the experience from speaking to others), God is not properly glorified, saints lose out on eternal reward, saints do not grow on earth as they should, and the lost are not saved as they could be—it is an unutterable tragedy.
What can we do? First, we must constantly make sure that we as individuals do not become apathetic, and that we put the time into reaching the lost that is requisite to be fully obedient to God. We should not let a week go by without getting out there and putting serious time into that final, great command Christ gave us before He ascended to heaven. Second, we should try to bring as many people along with us, and strive to convey to them a passion for evangelism, as we can. If we are in a leadership position, we can, indeed, we must, make sure that organized efforts for weekly house to house evangelism are going on, must preach strongly the necessity of participating in soulwinning, and must set the example of passionate obedience in this area ourselves. We must make sure we have the love of Christ for the lost in us, the love that led Him to even suffer the horrors of infinite wrath (Matthew 27:46) to save them, and that will move us to do our part to reach them, and convey it to others. If we have “great heaviness and continual sorrow in [our] heart” over the unconverted so that we “could wish that [we] were accursed from Christ” to save them (Romans 9:2-3), we will go out and preach to them. Third, we should fervently pray for, be deeply concerned about, troubled in spirit concerning, and passionately desire a return to and an increase of obedience to the Great Commission in our church and in the kingdom of Christ on earth at large.