Preachers have a responsibility to ensure that the gospel gets a hearing. Paul says, ‘For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe’ (1 Corinthians 1:21).
It is by hearing the gospel that sinners are brought, by the Holy Spirit, to faith in Jesus Christ. There is no need to add to or subtract from the gospel before sinners are saved, and there is no need to include other methods than hearing it.
We must depend on the gospel alone to save souls, but we must ensure that it is heard by those who need it. This is emphasised in Romans 10: ‘How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?
‘And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: how beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things … so then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God’ (vv. 14,15,17).
Many or few
In practice, this means seeking people out and getting them to listen. In Acts, we find Paul constantly seeking out people to hear the gospel. He would preach to many, but also to few — as seen in the conversion of Lydia and the Philippian jailer (Acts 16).
Philip the evangelist preached to many in Samaria, but also to one — the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8). The Lord Jesus preached to one, the Samaritan woman, and then to the many who came to him, led by that woman (John 4). He preached to the crowds who thronged to hear him, but also singled out Zacchaeus (Luke 19).
Merely inviting contacts to come to church or visiting people without the gospel being conveyed is not in itself the essence of gospel outreach. We must proclaim the gospel in the hearing of the people.
Another important principle is involved here, namely that the gathering of people together to hear the Word is highly valued by the Lord. In Matthew 18:20, he says, ‘For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there in the midst of them’.
Often outreach can be done by two or three believers visiting one or more non-believers. The Lord sent out his disciples two by two. Paul had others travelling with him, although there were times when he was alone (Acts 17:2-5; 18:4-11). Peter similarly travelled with others for gospel ministry (1 Corinthians 9:5; Acts 10:23).
But the important point to note is that there should be face-to-face verbal communication of the gospel. This is not to say that other, supplementary means cannot be used. In fact, we strongly advocate the use of such supplementary materials as tracts, books and power-point presentations. But all these must not supplant the primary means of face-to-face, verbal, communication of the gospel.
Another thing to note in New Testament practice was that often the same places were visited and the same people preached to until there were conversions or the preachers were rejected. In Mark 6:6, the Lord ‘went about the villages in a circuit teaching’, implying that the route was planned and that it was going to be covered again.
In his missionary journeys, Paul was in the habit of revisiting places he had already been to. He said to Barnabas, ‘Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing’ (Acts 15:36).
Paul, in Ephesus, taught ‘publicly and from house to house, testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Acts 20:20-21).
In practice, this means that a ‘touch-and-go’ method where the gospel is spread thinly over, just once, to as many people as possible is not the best approach.
We acknowledge that there will be many occasions on which we can proclaim the gospel to people only once, due to circumstances. However, the deliberate strategy of going to the same people continually, to teach the gospel from all the Scriptures, need to be adopted, if we are serious in carrying out the Great Commission of ‘making disciples’ from all nations.
Boon Sing Pooh
The author is pastor of Damansara Reformed Baptist Church, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia