I am a seminary student, and I have enjoyed your site and found you to be knowledgeable on biblical and theological concepts and ideals. I have the following question in respect to qualifications for Apostleship: In order to be considered an APOSTLE, you have to had seen the Lord Jesus in the flesh. Thus, the original 12 and the later in the book of Acts to replace Judas. My question is centered in regards to the Apostle Paul/Saul. How could he have seen the Lord Jesus in the book of Acts if in fact Jesus had risen and was seated at the side of God the Father in heaven awaiting His return for the purpose of the rapture or Kingdom Age? According to scripture, one or both of the afore-mentioned events will occur upon His return. Did Christ leave the side of God so that Saul could see Him and thus qualify as an Apostle? I do not believe in contemporary Apostles, but could see how they could argue their appointment as Apostles. Please clarify for me when time permits.
I will address your specific question, but please bear with me while
I cover some preliminary matters I feel essential to this issue. On the
topic of apostles generally, I quite agree with your overall assessment,
namely, that there are no contemporary apostles (at least not in the
sense that the vast majority of Christians and Bible readers would
That brings me to the first set of distinctions we need to make in this discussion. The Greek word apostolos is quite common in secular as well as biblical Greek, and is generally best translated as "messenger" or "one [who has been] sent" (since the noun is derived from the Greek verb, stello, meaning "to send", plus the preposition apo, meaning here "away" or "off", etc.). Indeed, apostolos is sometimes so translated in the Bible (e.g., Jn.13:16: KJV "he that is sent"; NIV "a messenger"). Why, then, have translators of the Bible chosen to translate this word in some places, but in other places to transliterate it as “apostle”? The answer is that they have felt (rightly) that in most of its occurrences in scripture it has a technical meaning. That is to say, not just anyone "sent" but someone sent with some sort of non-secular, special divine authority. Everyone who falls into this category is likely to be described in the New Testament as an "apostolos" and to the translations usually follow suit and transliterate “apostle” rather then translate as “messenger”. It is right and proper to do so in all such cases. But there still remains the question, the one I believe is at the heart of your concern, "are all apostles equal"? The answer is simple enough: not at all.
It is common in discussions of this sort to make a distinction between the "gift" of apostleship and the "office" of apostleship, but to my thinking there is a more important point to consider first. Now that we have distinguished between secular messengers and spiritual ones, the second distinction, the really crucial one (and not unrelated to the first), is the critical question of who sent the person. Because it is the authority of the person who sends that confers the powers and authorities of the one sent, exactly the principle that Jesus lays out:
"Truly, truly I tell you. A slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent (Gr. apostolos) greater than the one who sent him."
1. The Chief Apostle: Jesus is called an
"apostle" at Hebrews 3:1, a title that makes perfect sense when we
consider that He was sent into this world to accomplish all the Father's
will (Jn.4:34; 5:23-37; 6:38-34; 7:16-33; 1Jn.4:9-14; et passim in the
gospel of John; cf. Is.48:13-17).
2. The 12 Apostles of the Lamb: Just as Jesus' apostleship is superior to all others since He was sent by the Father (and so it was accompanied by more dramatic proofs of His mission in terms of miracles et al.), so the 12 are superior to any other apostles in terms of their apostleship, for they are the only ones "sent" directly by Jesus Himself. They are really the only apostles with a capital "A", so to speak. They are the only ones with both the gift and office of apostleship (to use those terms discussed above), placed into their high position of authority by the Lord Himself. As you rightly point out, they were eye-witnesses to the resurrection of our Lord and were selected personally by Him (Acts 1:8; 1:22; 1Cor.9:1; cf. Heb.2:3-4; see below on Paul). That there are only twelve such apostles (the original twelve minus Judas plus Paul) is evident from the presence of their names emblazoned on the gates of the New Jerusalem (Rev.21:12), their future role in the judgment of the twelve tribes (Lk.22:30), and the fact that when Jesus appeared in resurrection, He appeared to all of those who were truly such (i.e., the eleven: 1Cor.15:7). Along with the prophets, these twelve alone constitute the essential foundation of the Body of Christ, Jesus Himself being the Cornerstone (Eph.2:20).
3. The Apostle Paul: Paul constitutes a unique case. As far as we know, he never laid eyes on Jesus until his epiphany on the road to Damascus (and was, in any case, an unbeliever until that moment). However, it is clear from his description of this event that he did, in fact, see Jesus with his own eyes:
And having fallen to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" And he said, "Who are you, Lord?" Then He said, "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting".
Acts 9:4-5 (cf. Acts 22:6-11; 26:14-18).
Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?
1st Corinthians 9:1
And last of all, as if to one who had been aborted rather than properly born, [Jesus] appeared also to me.
1st Corinthians 15:8
Further, scripture is in any case very clear about the fact that Paul was an apostle in the same sense as Peter and the others, having been appointed such by our Lord Himself (Gal.3:1; 2:8 Rom.1:5; 1Cor.1:17):
Then the Lord said to him, "Go. For he is My vessel, chosen to carry My Name before nations, and kings, and the sons of Israel."
But your question is very well taken. Jesus does not return until the Second Advent (see the link: "Tribulational Security"). How, then, was it possible for Paul to see Jesus when Jesus was in heaven, seated at the right hand of the Father until the future time when all His enemies would be made the footstool for His feet (Ps.110)? The answer, I would suggest, is that, in divine terms, things are possible which in human terms are not. Our understanding of the limitations and possibilities of physics are laughable to God. We know, for example, that "a certain man" (most likely Paul), saw things in the third heaven where Jesus now is, things not permissible to speak about (2Cor.12:1-6), but did that person actually go physically to the third heaven? We are not only flesh and blood, but we are sinful in our present flesh, and it is no small part of the reason for the hidden presence of God that He in His holiness cannot have direct contact with such pollution. Thus the Father will not return until the heavens and earth have been made new apart from sin (Rev.21-22). We know that John also saw many things in the third heaven, in the very presence of God - but this was also "in the Spirit" rather than an actual, physical departure from here to there:
After this I looked and, behold, a door was standing open in heaven. And the voice which I had heard before (sounding to me like a trumpet) was saying, "Come up here, and I will show you what must happen after these things!" Immediately I came to be in the Spirit, and, behold, a throne had been placed in the [third] heaven, and [some] One was sitting [upon it]. And the One sitting [on the throne was] similar in appearance to a gemstone of jasper or sardius. And there was a rainbow around the throne similar in appearance to [something] made of emerald.
Therefore, while in our limited human understanding of things, the distance between the third heaven and us seems incalculably large (and so in one sense it is), God certainly has to the ability to peel back the curtain, the veil of the heavens, at any time and show a person, as He did John, and as He did Paul, a glimpse of what lies beyond. So while the distance is mammoth in physical terms, in theological terms it is as only as close or as far as God would have it to be (see the chart, The Heavenly Throne). For these reasons I believe that Paul did see Jesus in the flesh, but that he neither left earth nor did Jesus leave heaven, and I find this, again under God's control of the physical universe, not only possible but also precedented. We have another example of His appearing from heaven to someone on earth in the case of Stephen just before his martyrdom:
But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
Acts 7:55-56 NIV
4. Other "apostles": Finally, it is
true that some others beyond the twelve are called apostles in scripture
from time to time. But once again, the key here is who is doing the
"sending". Paul says that he sent certain individuals on his behalf
(e.g., 2Cor.12:17; 2Tim.4:12), and we also know that some of the
churches "sent out" empowered emissaries as well (e.g., Phil.2:25). In
the former case, the "apostle" would operate under Paul's authority
directly, and, in the latter, under that of the local church. Since the
twelve are no longer with us, the only form of "apostleship" currently
in operation in the Church today is that of individuals who are "sent
out" on specific "missions" (the Latin equivalent of the Greek
apostole is missio from which we get "missionary" et al.). I
suppose we could call them "apostles", but "missionaries" works
perfectly well, and is very much less misleading, absent a very long
discussion (such as this one!).
You will find more of what I have written about this at the following links:
Are there apostles in the Church today?
Matthias and the Numbering of the Twelve Apostles
In our Lord whom may we see face to face in our flesh very soon.
I've heard some people say that they think Paul replaced Judas.
However, I would like to examine this from a biblical perspective. The
twelve apostles were sent to preach the kingdom of heaven to the twelve
tribes of Israel:
Matt. 10:5 These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: 6 But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Matthew 19:28 And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
OK. So twelve apostles, twelve thrones, twelve tribes. It would make
sense that since Judas was not saved he would need to be replaced. I
have heard some negate Matthias being chosen in Acts
1. They say that Paul is the twelfth. However, the Bible does not agree with this. First, what nation of Israel was Paul sent to?
Romans 11:13 For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office:
He was not sent to Israel. He was sent to the Gentiles. He also did not include himself with the 12 apostles:
1 Cor. 15:5 And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: 6 After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. 7 After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. 8 And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.
Did either Paul or Judas see Christ resurrected prior to him being seen of the 500? No. Judas was dead by that time. And Paul says he was the last to see the resurrected Christ in vs 8. But Matthais did see the resurrected Christ with the other 11. Paul was an apostle. But he was not of the twelve. He was not an apostle to the twelve tribes of Israel. He was the apostle to the Gentiles. Matthais was a necessary and scriptural replacement and fulfilled scriptures by the NT church at Jerusalem doing what they did in Acts 1. So twelve Apostles for the twelve tribes of Israel. One Apostle for the Gentiles.
I think you make this argument about as well as it can be made,
however, I have to demur: I am definitely one of those who believes that
Paul is the 12th apostle (see the link:
"Matthias and the
Numbering of the Twelve Apostles."). To begin, I would have to say
that the fact that Paul mentions the original twelve in 1Corinthians
15:5ff. does not at all necessarily mean that he had not by then become
one of the current (and eternal) twelve any more than his mentioning of
the twelve there means that Judas was still one of the twelve (remember
that at that point Judas was dead and Matthias yet to be "elected",
since Paul is talking about the period before Jesus' ascension). Also,
Paul's unique status of "apostle to the gentiles" does not mean ipso
facto that he did not have any ministry to the Jews or that the other
apostles had no ministry to the gentiles. Peter's being summoned to
Cornelius and his household through the Spirit is ample evidence that
the other members of the twelve were indeed meant to minister to
gentiles too (Acts 10), and wherever Paul went, he always began
ministering to the Jews first, and always had some Jewish converts (cf.
Acts 18:4 et passim in Acts; cf. Rom.1:16; 2:9-10). This last point is
true even in the context of Paul calling himself the "apostle to the
I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them.
Romans 11:13-14 NIV
It is, of course, true that the 12 were originally sent to Israel exclusively. But of course, their mission during Christ's first advent and many aspects of it would change after the cross and after Pentecost, as our Lord made very clear to them Himself:
Then Jesus asked them, "When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?" "Nothing," they answered. He said to them, "But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one."
Luke 22:35-36 NIV
One of the largest changes was that the ministry of announcement of
the Messiah to Israel would now change to a ministry of salvation to all
Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in (Greek, “into”) the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
Matthew 28:18-20 NIV
Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."
Luke 24:45-49 NIV
He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
Acts 1:7-8 NIV
It is also true, of course, that the apostles of the Lamb will judge the 12 tribes of Israel, but in my interpretation of scripture the distinction often made between Israel and the gentiles which sees these two as separate groups in eternity is an assumption that is entirely misguided. The Church is based upon Israel and becomes one with Israel in the resurrection - it is not a separate entity from it but an integral part of the Bride of Christ along with it (see the links: "The Uniqueness of Israel"; "The Church"; "The Mystery of Christ"; "The Bride"; "The Revelation").
So remember that you were once gentiles in the flesh, called "un-circumcised" by those of the so-called circumcision which is fleshly and man-made. Remember that you were without Christ, alienated from the polity of Israel and strangers to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now, in Christ Jesus, you who were once far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, for He has made both [Jews and gentiles] one, and has broken down the middle wall of partition, that is, the enmity between us, by discharging the Law of the commandments and its requirements with His [own] body, so that He might re-create the two into one new Man by making [this] peace, and might reconcile both in one Body to God through His cross, having by means of it abolished the enmity [between God and mankind]. For when He had come [1st advent], He proclaimed the gospel of peace to you who were far away [from God], and peace to those who were near. For it is through Him that we both have our access to the Father by means of one Spirit. So then, you are no longer strangers and hangers-on, but you are fellow citizens and fellow members of the household of God, established upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Himself the cornerstone, in whom the entire structure is in the process of being riveted together and is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you too are being built up into a dwelling place of God by the Spirit.
The unity of Jew and gentile in the Church of Christ is really the
main point I should wish to make and the main reason I felt it necessary
to reply at length. Unless this point is understood, many points of
scripture become problematic and open to various abuse. But the
essential points being made about both the apostles and the composition
of the Church can be seen clearly enough from Revelation 21:10-14:
One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, "Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb. And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
Revelation 21:9-14 NIV
The New Jerusalem is, of course, where all believers will dwell with
Jesus forevermore, and it is called here "the bride, the wife of the
Lamb" (i.e., the Church of which we are all, Jew and gentile alike,
equal parts). We see here that there are 12 apostles of the Lamb (and
twelve only) and twelve gates to enter the city (and only twelve), with
each bearing the name of a tribe of Israel (and yet we gentiles have
every confidence of entering). Some people wrongly understand Israel as
having been replaced by the Church; others see Israel here with no
gentiles. The truth lies between these extremes as we gentiles have been
grafted into the natural olive tree (Rom.11), and while our unity is
perhaps not so obvious here now in the flesh on this ephemeral earth,
yet in the spirit and in the resurrection of the flesh we shall all be
one as the Lamb's bride, making whatever earthly distinction may seem to
exist between Israel and the gentiles in the Church of Christ here in
this world a temporary phenomenon of no lasting spiritual significance:
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Galatians 3:26-29 NIV
In anticipation of that glorious day when we shall receive the
promise together in the presence of our dear Lord and Savior Jesus
Hello again Dr. Luginbill - I hope you are well. I was wondering if
you might be able to help me understand something that another JW
brought up. It is the Jewish principle of Agency (Shaliach?). All
I can find is a definition of the word as “a representative or
emissary”. But the JWs first say that as a shaliach, the person
is to be received as the one who sent him (to which I replied, 'then why
do you not accept Christ as God?'), then they say 'The shaliach
principle states that you receive the person as their representative
legally (only). We, therefore, receive Christ as God's legal
representative, not (personally) as God Himself.' Any help you can offer
or resource you can point me to would be very much appreciated. Do you
know of any biblical examples of such a principle? I can see Christ in
that role, but not as a mere man.
The idea of the Messiah (lit., “the anointed One”) is always closely
related in scripture to His "being sent"
by the Father. Compare Hebrews 3:1 where Jesus is called
“the Apostle and High Priest whom we confess” (i.e., put our faith in
for salvation)! As far as scripture is concerned, this concept of being
specially sent by the Father and under His authority (with the stamp of
that authority being His special “anointing” with the Spirit =
Meshiach-Messiah “anointed One”) is unique to the Messiah and can't
really be divorced from the idea of Messiah-ship. There is nothing about
any other specific office or institution in this regard - at least in
the Bible (either in the Hebrew language or in OT doctrines). I have
never heard of any "Jewish principle of Agency", and while it might
possibly exist in latter Jewish tradition (and I'm skeptical that even
if it does it means anything like what this group claims), 1) it is
certainly not a biblical concept, and 2) it has the ring
of the terminology that this group is wont to invent and then use as if
the rest of the world ought to be conversant with it. This, by the way,
is a favorite trick of cults, because they rightly understand that if
they use enough sophisticated technical jargon their victims will assume
that they really “know something” and that there is at least some fire
there behind all that smoke.
As far as what scripture does say about God's "sending" of His One and only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, there is quite a lot:
(4) But when the fullness of time came, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, (5) in order that He might redeem those under the Law, in order that we might receive the adoption. (6) And since you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, “Abba, Father!”.
In this God's love has been revealed in us, that He sent His only Son into the world that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atonement for our sins.
1st John 4:9-10
(1) Jesus said these things and having lifted up His eyes to heaven said, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, so that your Son may glorify you, (2) just as You gave Him power over all flesh, so that everything you have given Him might have eternal life. (3) And this is the eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and [Him] whom you sent, Jesus Christ. (4) I have glorified You on the earth, having completed the work you have given Me to do. (5) And now glorify Me, Father, in your presence with the glory which I had in your presence before the world existed.”
(20) And I do not ask concerning these only [Father], but also concerning all of those who believe in Me through their word, (21) so that all [of them] may be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I also am in You, so that they also themselves may be one in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. (22) And I have given them the glory You have given Me, so that they may be one as We are one.
Anointing speaks of the sign of the commission which Christ (whose
name means "anointed one") received to come into the world to die for
us, while "sending" speaks of the mission itself on which He is sent
(see also: Jn.3:16; 3:34; Jn.17:18; Rom.8:3; Heb.3:1; cf. Gen.49:10;
Is.8:6; Zech.2:9; 2:11; 4:9; 6:15). Nothing in any of these passages
suggests that there is some sort of restriction to "legal"
representation (whatever that might mean in biblical terms!). As often
is the case, cults develop their own special doctrinal language,
terminology, translations, and stock interpretations, making it very
difficult to carry on conversations with them except on their own terms
(which is the whole point of such exercises in the first place). And as
I say, this practice also has a certain attractiveness for those who
have rejected the truth of the gospel (as the long and convoluted
history of Gnosticism makes clear).
Best wishes in your continuing efforts to win hearts for Jesus! Please feel free to write me back about this or anything else.
In our Lord.
I've been thinking a lot about the way we evangelize in this country:
who does it, why we do it, how do we do it, and how do we get huge
masses of unchurched, unconcerned people to be concerned about their
eternal destiny. This is a real problem: pastors and churches have been
trying to do this for 2000+ years. Meaningfully reaching the unchurched
on a large scale, though easier today through mass media, is still
elusive. On the WEB I found that George Barna had some interesting
statistics. I'm not sure of my accuracy here, but I think this is one of
them: Almost all conversion to Christ occurs in the teen and pre-teen
years. The best time to win someone to Jesus is before age 19. Beyond
age 19, there is only a 6% chance of a person accepting Christ if he has
not already done so! This ties into what you said before about treating
our soldiers as adults and the fact that they might never come to
Christ, no matter how long they might live! With these odds, I'll
consider myself blessed to see perhaps 1 or 2 people come to Christ on
the floor where I work!
Is the great curse on this nation its success? There are so many self-made 30 to 50 somethings with advanced degrees who have worked hard, made good money, and are climbing the corporate ladder. They feel self-sufficient (the type who could work for Donald Trump). Sin, salvation and accountability to God have no relevance whatsoever to them! Nobody, including God, is going to make rules and tell them how to live! Are the only ways for God to get our individual attention personal crises, or our national attention through disasters like the Twin Towers and Hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans? The Old Testament seems to say that it many cases, yes! When the Israelites prospered, they forgot God. When the tables turned against them, they would repent for a season.
That Christmas poem I shared with you, I geared to the receptivity of the people I work with when I e-mailed it to some of them. I can usually tell who is receptive to spiritual things and who is not. If I were to try to preach the Bible plan of salvation to my co-workers, many of them would be turned off, or might think I was creating a hostile work environment. But a poem such as the one I wrote is more likely to be read and accepted this season of the year. It did not lay out the plan of salvation but at least called attention to the unique Person of Jesus Christ at a time the world celebrates His birth. I'm trusting the Spirit to show me who is open to go beyond the general theme of that poem to specifics about a relationship with Jesus.
We cannot force the Gospel on those who do not want to hear it. This could even harden them against it further. We are really dependent on God to create conviction in the hearts of the hearer and a sense of their need for forgiveness. Apart from our prayers and the witness of our lives, we must wait for an open door (apt moment) to verbally share the Gospel. That's not just an excuse, but a real fact. Jesus Himself did not want all His miracles shared immediately, but only at the proper time. I told a co-worker yesterday that our skill depended on 3 things; the computer model skill, the person's skill, and the Sovereignty of God! That's the kind of opportunity I look for in everyday conversation.
As far as getting people concerned goes, I can
remember when I first got really interested in the Word of God, I
thought, "if only I can get person X to read this or see this or hear
this, then surely person X will become just as enthusiastic as I am for
the Word of God!" This was a naive point of view, to say the least. For
it turns out that the human heart can be the hardest substance in the
universe, having been made that way by its owner in every case and by
its owner's deliberate free will. Further, I have since come to consider
that if God has not been able to make certain people responsive (short
of violating their free will), the chances are very good that my efforts
will also fall short. Naturally, that does not mean that we should stop
evangelizing - far from it. God's purpose in the case of person X
may very well have always been for us to show up at just the right time,
at the precise instance when the Lord has, through various and sundry
means, prepared the heart of person X to receive the truth, and He may
be planning to give you (or me) that opportunity to share the truth to
this now receptive person because you (or I) have been faithful in our
attitude, approach, and preparation. I often feel deficient in of these
respects – most likely with good reason in many cases – but here too it
is important to remember the grace and wonder of our Lord. I am
convinced that He is not going to let anyone be lost because we are not
up to the task.
So in discussions of this sort what I find to be the truly important dynamic is the pre-salvation relationship between God and person X. Has person X been marked out for salvation, selected on the basis of a foreknown desire to embrace Jesus Christ and sanctified by the Spirit for protection for this very moment (1Pet.1:2)? If so, then our role is blessed but not decisive. The key thing is the person's free will responding to God's divine will. If we are blessed to provide the truth in this process, then that is indeed a wonderful privilege (and we ought not to prove insufficient), but we are not "making it happen" in any sense of the word, nor could we ever "make it happen". Make no mistake, it is of critical importance that there be those who present the Word (cf. Rom.10:14-15). But raising the volume on our part isn't going to change this essential equation (especially if we are trying to make up for past failures by getting out in front of the Lord now).
Our evaluation of these things is a dicey prospect too. For on the one hand we don't want to assume even for a moment that our efforts are leading to the salvation of others, but on the other hand we cannot allow our understanding of the reality of the wisdom and power of God to slow us down even for a moment in doing all that we have been called to do in the implementation of His plan. In military terms, I counsel every believer to pay careful attention to tactics but to leave strategy to God. That is to say, He will take care of the big picture (and there is plenty in His Word to keep us informed about that big picture); we are responsible for our own small part of the battlefield, and for doing the best sort of job we can do personally. One last thought on this part: sometimes just "showing the flag" is important. When I think of the great believers of the Bible, perhaps the majority of them had largely abysmal responses to their teaching, witnessing, prophesying, but they were still great believers for all that. "Lord, who has believed our report" is a common complaint among the great. Even Jesus faced the greatest sort of apathy and lack of appreciation. Except for His miracles, how many would have paid Him any regard whatsoever? And as soon as He was arrested, it became clear how thin the loyalty of most was as they called for His crucifixion. Sometimes – and especially I would argue as we approach the end times – merely our consistent and resolute proclamation of the truth is accomplishing what our Lord would wish. We should avoid at all costs evaluating our ministries by the visible response we receive (for that sort of approach inevitable leads to us chasing perceived results instead of pursuing the truth).
I want to commend you for your continued dedication to the Word of God and to sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. From what you have shared with me, your approach seems to me to be exactly the right one: ever looking for an open door and making legitimate efforts to open doors that otherwise seemed closed. I do believe that the Lord wants us to be zealous, and as long a person takes such an approach with the proper care and circumspection which you are employing, it seems to me that every legitimate opportunity will be seized without at the same time negatively prejudicing those who might otherwise be receptive.
May the Lord continue to grant you both wisdom and courage, and may He bless your efforts with success.
In Him who is the Savior of all mankind, and especially of believers, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
A while back we often had revivals and as a result people would get right and accept the Lord into their hearts. There would be people with tears streaming down their faces and going out and telling everybody. There was a time when people such as Pastors and church leaders would have revivals that would stir whole regions. Now, I haven't been to a church that even would let an evangelist step in their pulpit. Why is this? and what's going on?
I find the word "revival" a bit of a misnomer if the topic is
evangelism. The purpose of evangelism is to
reach unbelievers for Jesus Christ. When one thinks of phenomena such as
"The Great Awakening" or "The Second Great
Awakening", for example, these events could, I suppose, be called
"revivals" inasmuch as they brought wayward believers back into the fold
of the church-going as well as attracting the attention of unbelievers
and leading many to Christ.
Evangelism is both a personal responsibility of all believers and a unique spiritual gift possessed by a few members of the Body (Eph.4:11; 2Tim.4:5). If there seems to be a negativity to evangelists and their role in the Church today I would say that stems from a number of sources. First, just as few pastors are truly prepared to study and teach the Word of God and fewer still interested, inclined, or in many cases even gifted to do so (they may be fine speakers but that is different from having the gift of teaching), so it would seem that this is the case with everyone else in the Church generally and with evangelists in particular. Today, an "evangelist" has to have some organization behind him to be taken seriously, which means money, celebrity and hooplah. Doing it God's way (preparing diligently and ministering without fanfare) is likely to put a person even farther beyond the pale – although there are some noble Christians out there who are doing the hard work of the kingdom of God without publicity. Additionally, responsiveness on the part of the potential audience is also likely to be a factor. Just because you present the truth, doesn't mean that people are going to be interested or that they are going to respond (this is a hard lesson that those of us who truly are dedicated to the Lord have to learn). The nature of the church visible today is far different than it was in the 19th century. We are in the last generation of the Church, and apathy is a hallmark of this "Age of Laodicea". I would also hasten to add that, as you have no doubt have picked up by now, I'm not big on emotional displays. It is not uncommon to see people with tears streaming down their face on Sunday morning and back to their old tricks by Tuesday afternoon (on a good week). Real change comes from the inside out and that requires genuine commitment responding to substantive truth. If we have an unprepared "evangelist" appealing to the emotions of hard-hearted people whose response is only going to be temporary, I'm not sure what we have accomplished. If we really want to follow Jesus, we have to get serious about starting, and we have to be consistent day by day right down to the finish line. If I have a criticism of what has passed for evangelism in the past half century or so it is that true response to the message was generally not followed up by substantive teaching leading to growth. The misguided notion of "once saved always saved" has contributed to the erroneous idea that if we just save somebody by getting them to come down to the front of the church, our work is done, even if they do not grow very much later. In fact, the reality is that it takes forward progress in most cases to allay backsliding (which in its extreme form can lead to loss of salvation altogether). So even if we do invite the world to hear the evangelist we have brought in, and even if he does it right, and even if the world responds, are we, as a local church, really prepared to feed the "new mouths" that God has brought in? If not, it is understandable if He doesn't bring them to us in the first place.
There is also the fact too that in this country things are so different today culturally than they were just a few decades ago and changing so fast that in my opinion using 19th or even 20th century methods of evangelism is probably a waste of time in many cases. Given the information flow and information overload in this country the number of people who haven't heard about Jesus before they turn 21 has got to be very, very small (although of course they may not have heard the real truth about Him, and that really is a critical distinction). Not only that, but sin and sinfulness and the opportunities for it on a gross level by the very young have never been higher or more dangerous. I do not have the gift of evangelism, but if I did, I don't think that I would be inclined to waste my primary efforts on a demographic the vast majority of whom had long ago in truth made up their minds and chosen the master they wish to serve. I think I would be more inclined to find a way to reach those whose hearts had not yet been hardened by the secular propaganda and lascivious cultural influences with which our society has been so inundated.