“Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).
And he said unto them, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15).
The first command that Jesus the risen Christ makes to all of His disciples in Matthew and Mark is to “go.” The success of the Kingdom of God entirely depended on it. The original disciples had been fortunate to be eyewitnesses to the great work of God that He had promised to accomplish since the foundation of the world. They had seen Jesus teach and work, die on the cross, and raised in power. But now the time had come to go and take this message to the people.
Just under twenty centuries have passed since this command was uttered and yet the imperative to go out with the message of the Gospel is no less critical. The success of the Kingdom of God today is just as predicated on taking the message out to the people as it was in the first century!
Nevertheless, many believers have contented themselves with an adapted plan. Whereas Jesus said to “go,” “preach the Gospel,” and “make disciples,” they now build facilities and expect people to come to them to learn of God. The idea of going out with the Gospel message seems quaint and old-fashioned– not practical for the “post-Christian” twenty-first century. These statements are made despite the fact that we find no command in the Bible to build a facility and to expect people to come to us, no example of such a thing in Scripture, nor even a passage that would infer any of this. Instead, time and time again, we see Christians going out and taking the message to the people. Jesus commanded it (Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:15). Peter and John went to the Temple (Acts 3:1ff). Paul went to Asia Minor, Greece, and Rome (Acts 13:1-2, 13; 16:9-10; 28:12-16). Nevertheless, far more are ready to stay and wait than to go out with the Gospel message.
Excuses and rationalizations abound. “People are no longer interested in spiritual things,” they will say. “No one is interested in the truth.” When various means of taking the Gospel out into the community are suggested, resistance is plentiful. Door knocking? “Ineffective and invasive,” they say. Handing out tracts or literature? “A relic of an earlier time.” Handing out free Bibles? “People already have Bibles.” Setting up Bible correspondence courses? “Time consuming and ineffective.” Engaging in debates or other forms of refutation of false doctrines? “No one cares anymore.” No matter what method is discussed, there are always objections and difficulties raised.
It is granted that not every method of evangelism will work in every location. In some areas, door knocking may provide some results; in others, it may not. Debates and the need for refutation of false doctrines will be different based on the prevalence of various religions in various places. The important thing is to try to get the message out into the community and learn from experience what is effective and what is ineffective, and not to be guilty of prejudging the soil!
After all, the Apostles could have made the same types of justifications and rationalizations as many do today. They perceived the hardness of heart of the Jews (cf. Romans 10:21)– would they really be interested in Jesus of Nazareth? All of those Gentiles were living in sin and separated from God (Romans 1:18-32, Ephesians 2:12)– how could they be restored to repentance? Whatever we may believe of the twenty-first century would have its first-century parallel– many superstitious people, many people tired of religion, many people living in sin. The Apostles took the message of the Gospel to them anyway. And many were saved!
No doubt there are many who will protest. “We have tried evangelism,” they will say. “We did not get many results.” This is wrong-headed thinking. Consider Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23 and 1 Corinthians 3:5-8, 15:58. Our job is to promote the Gospel– to sow the seed. From then on out the responsibility is on the person who heard the message and upon God. We plant the seed, and we may even water the plant, but God is the One who provides the increase. To judge evangelism initiatives on the basis of numbers of contacts, studies, and/or conversions is carnal and misguided. Evangelism initiatives must be judged on the basis of the quality of the presentation of the Gospel and the number of people to whom it was presented, and we ought to leave the rest to God!
Going and taking the message of the Gospel out into our communities is not a nice suggestion– it is a command. We have a Biblical mandate to take that message out (Matthew 28:19)!. That is the only way that the Kingdom will truly grow. A congregation waiting for a preacher to come and work with them, elders to come shepherd them, and/or already baptized Christians to move into their town in order to grow will fail and die. Local congregations are dying throughout the country because there is more concern about maintaining what has already been gained than there is about going out to bring in more. We never get the impression from the New Testament that there is a point at which a local congregation should stop growing and only focus on those within. We are either growing or we are dying!
The advantages to going out into the community with the Gospel message are many, while staying put and expecting people to come to us is unloving and hurtful to Christ’s cause. When we go out into the community, we show the people of the community that we are concerned enough about their souls to bring God’s message to them (Romans 13:8). By staying put, we tell the community that we are indifferent to their plight before God. When we go out into the community, we show that we want to represent the Body of Christ in that community and that we want to make an impact in the community (2 Corinthians 5:20). By staying put, we tell the community that we want no share in them, and we are content to remain isolated from the whole. If a large proportion of the people of the community do not know that a congregation of the Lord’s people are in their midst, that church is failing to be that city set on a hill (Matthew 5:14)! If our actions tell the people around us that we do not care, how can we really expect them to come to us?
There are always plenty of excuses that can be made, but in the end, staying put and expecting people to come to us is inexcusable. Let us cease being disobedient to God’s clear command, and let us go out and take the Gospel of Christ into our communities. The future of the Kingdom on earth depends on it!