The Expository Files

The Local Church And Evangelism

New Testament Church Series #10

As we look at the passages recording the work of first century local churches in the area of evangelism, we will be able to draw a number of conclusions. First the passages, then the conclusions.

Acts 11:22 -- And the report concerning them came to the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas as far as Antioch: The congregation at Jerusalem sent Barnabas to preach at Antioch.

Acts 13:3 -- Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. The saints in Antioch send Paul and Barnabas on the first preaching tour. Antioch was evidently very interested in the spread of the gospel, as Paul began all his tours here (13:1-3; 15:30-f; 18:23) and ended the first two here (14:26; 18:22).

Acts 15:3 -- They therefore, being brought on their way by the church, passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren. Antioch again; this time sending Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem due to the controversy created by those seeking to bind circumcision.

1 Corinthians 9:14 -- Even so do the Lord ordain that they that proclaim the gospel should live of the gospel. In this context (vss. 1-14), Paul affirms that a man has the right to receive financial support from a congregation while he is working with them in the gospel.

2 Corinthians 11:8-9 -- 8 I robbed other churches, taking wages (of them) that I might minister unto you; 9 and when I was present with you and was in want, I was not a burden on any man; for the brethren, when they came from Macedonia, supplied the measure of my want; and in everything I kept myself from being burdensome unto you, and (so) will I keep (myself). Paul tells about various congregations in Macedonia sending him financial support while he labored in Corinth.

Philippians 1:3-5; 4:14-18 -- 3 I thank my God upon all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every supplication of mine on behalf of you all making my supplication with joy, 5 for your fellowship in furtherance of the gospel from the first day until now;...4:14 Howbeit ye did well that ye had fellowship with my affliction. 15 And ye yourselves also know, ye Philippians, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church had fellowship with me in the matter of giving and receiving but ye only; 16 for even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my need. Paul acknowledges that Philippi had had fellowship with him for an extended period of time---"from the first day until now" (1:5).

Five conclusions regarding first century churches and evangelism seem to be very obvious as we read these verses:

Not only were individual Christians busy preaching the gospel (Acts 8:4), we see that local congregations were also concerned about spreading the good news regarding Jesus Christ. By what reasoning is it, then, that local congregations today (when they have the resources) ignore the opportunities available to them, as well as the fine examples of 1st century churches such as Antioch and Philippi, and disregard the appeals of worthy evangelists who are willing to make sacrifices in order to preach and teach? It is strange that some brethren will be quick to criticize those engaged in unscriptural methods of evangelization but will not themselves do it in the proper manner.

No church received or solicited funds from another church in order to provide for evangelism. In other words there were no "sponsoring" church arrangements. Nothing in any of the above verses even remotely suggests such a setup. Churches sent to churches when there was a benevolent need that the receiving church could not take care of by itself. But this was never done for evangelistic purposes. When Paul "robbed" other churches it was just that: the obtaining of his needs from a plurality of congregations, not from some central agency through which the churches funneled their funds. If a local church can send some of its money to another church to do its work of evangelism, why couldn't that same local congregation send all of its funds to another church in order to enable the receiving church to do all of its work?

There were no collectives of Christians other than a local church that were formed to preach the gospel. There were no "missionary societies" -- or similar arrangements -- in the first century. None were needed. None are authorized. God gave to the local congregation a mission and an organization that was sufficient to accomplish that mission.

There were no collectives of churches. A pooling of resources (whether of individuals or churches) to do a work would require some form of oversight in order to engage in the undertaking. We read about a collective of Christians in a local church (1 Cor. 1:2). And, there is oversight provided for the collective action of Christians (elders, 1 Pet. 5:1-3; Acts 20:28). But we read nowhere about either a collective of churches or oversight provided for the collective action of churches. If churches can form a collective on a temporary basis to do the work of evangelism (or any other work), why can't they maintain that structure, as well as the oversight, on a permanent basis?

This method was very effective. Paul spoke of "the gospel which ye heard, which was preached in all creation under heaven...", Col. 1:23, and this was written within a generation of Pentecost.

The New Testament information about churches and evangelism gives us a pattern that is very simple and extremely effective. Each church did its own work in accordance with its ability and opportunity and these collective efforts, along with individual activity, spread the gospel to "all creation under heaven" in 30-35 years from the time of Peter's sermon on Pentecost. Adhering to this pattern today will have the same results.

By David Smitherman
From Expository Files 5.10; October 1998