Vanguard Presbytery: Evangelists (One More Time)

            There were still a few questions some people had about last week’s article on the office of evangelist. So, I am going to try one more time to make it clear what we mean. In my articles on evangelists and in the proposed BCO for Vanguard Presbytery, I have clearly stated that evangelists are ordinarily elders. Before I write anymore about this subject, though, I want to share with you some statements from other denominations’ books of polity.

            First, the present BCO of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church has a chapter on Evangelists as follows:

Chapter VII Evangelists

1. Jesus Christ, to whom is given all power in heaven and in earth, has commanded his church to make disciples of all the nations. From the throne of his glory he sent forth the Holy Spirit, the promise of the Father, to empower the witness of the church to the gospel. While it is the calling of every believer to confess Christ before men, and while God gives particular gifts and calling to some to minister the Word, and while every minister of the Word must evangelize in the fulfillment of his calling, there are some who are particularly called by Christ and his church as evangelists. Ordinarily such men shall preach the Word free of pastoral charge in a particular flock in order that they may labor to bring in other sheep. And to those sheep whom Christ has brought in, evangelists shall administer the sacraments until a congregation shall have been regularly organized. Since the gifts and functions of evangelists are necessary until the end of the age, this ministry is permanent and not confined to the apostolic period.

2. The evangelist, in common with other ministers, is ordained to perform all the functions that belong to the sacred office of the minister. Yet distinctive to the function of the evangelist in his ministry of the gospel are the labors of (a) a missionary in a home or foreign mission field; (b) a stated supply or special preacher in churches to which he does not sustain a pastoral relation; (c) a chaplain in institutions or in military forces; (d) an administrator of an agency for preaching the gospel; and (e) an editor or similar ministry through the press and other means of communication.

            The OPC BCO has consecutive chapters on Evangelists, Pastors, Teachers, Ruling Elders, and Deacons which indicates clearly that they interpret the gift of evangelists mentioned in Ephesians 4:11, 12 to be a permanent gift. I agree.

            Second, here are various statements from the nineteenth century concerning evangelists that are found in the BCO’s of the PCUS:

PCUS 1879, IV-2-7
When a Minister is appointed to the work of the Evangelist, he is commissioned to preach the Word and administer the sacraments in foreign countries, frontier settlements, or the destitute parts of the Church; and to him may be entrusted power to organize churches, and ordain Ruling Elders and Deacons therein.

PCUS 1869, IV-2-7

The Evangelist is he whom the Church appoints to the work of preaching the Word in foreign countries, frontier settlements, and the destitute parts of the Church; and to him may be entrusted extraordinary powers to organize Congregations and ordain Presbyters.

PCUS 1867, IV-2-7

The evangelist is he whom the church doth appoint to labor in its aggressive work. The command, “Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations,” is of perpetual obligation, and makes his office permanent. He is sent into foreign countries, frontier settlements, and the destitute parts of the church, to preach the word, and set in order things that are wanting. He carries with him extraordinary powers, when the church shall confer them upon him, to organize congregations and ordain presbyters. Evangelists may also be appointed to use the press in diffusing the truth, and to superintend the work of systematic evangelization.

            Like the writer of Hebrews, I am constrained to say that “time will fail me if I tell” of all the times in the Presbyterian Churches in this country that men were ordained as evangelists and sent out to the remote parts of the country to evangelize the unbelieving. Who among us does not refer to George Whitefield, Asahel Nettleton, Daniel Baker and others as evangelists? I realize that the great John Calvin believed that evangelists were temporary and ceased with the end of the Apostolic Age. Calvin also separated pastors and teachers into two different offices and called the latter “doctors.” He felt that doctors were men especially gifted in interpreting the Scripture, but who did not have the gift of preaching. Ok, that is his view. I disagree and the great majority of the reformed churches have not followed Calvin on that point. Grammatically, Calvin’s view is not and cannot be supported by the Greek text of Ephesians 4:11. The Greek word for “some” is used four times, with the last occasion being before the words, “pastors and teachers.” Paul mentioned four different gifts in those verses, with all of them being elders as I proved last week. Paul did not list five gifts, which is Calvin’s view. There were only four times he used the word “some.”

            I am a Presbyterian and Reformed minister today because I was given a little book called, A Compend of Calvin’s Institutes, by a Methodist college professor in 1970. I read it and it changed my whole theological system. I love Calvin, but he is not always right. I disagree with him on Ephesians 4:11 and others do also.

            Now, the 18th and 19th and early 20th century Presbyterians in this country, especially those who were spiritual descendants of the New Light Presbyterians, believed in evangelists. The OPC still does. The PCA BCO has several references to evangelists.

            My dear friend, Al Baker, has been working with me concerning Vanguard from the very beginning. I am a pastor and teacher by giftedness. He is an evangelist by giftedness. Anyone who knows both of us can clearly see that difference between us. I love to evangelize. He has been a pastor and teacher. We both have made numerous mission trips. He has been to Uganda over 30 times and several other countries as well, including India. I have made over 30 mission trips to Russia and other trips to Uganda, India, Portugal, and Myanmar. Yet, I am still primarily a pastor and teacher. Al is still primarily an evangelist.

            Yes, every pastor and teacher should also be an evangelist and evangelize. Yet, the Lord does not parcel out His gifts to each of us in exactly the same measure. One is given one gift. Another is given a different gift. Every Christian is supposed to be a witness for Christ. John Murray was once asked by a student if there was any verse that said every Christian should be a witness. The next day, Murray came to class with a long list of verses that teach that truth. Yet, not every Christian does a very good job at being an open witness for Christ. Few Christians are trained to evangelize the lost or are too reticent to at least say what the woman at the well said, “Come see a man who told me all the things I have done. This is not the Christ, is it?”

            The Great Commission requires two great things from the Church. First, we must evangelize the lost. Second, we must teach them to observe what Christ has commanded us. Pastors and teachers can do the latter. We need evangelists to do the former. Certainly, others can also evangelize and should, but all of church history proves that there must be evangelists sent out to carry the gospel to the lost. That was certainly true in the first planting of Christianity in pagan countries by the Apostles and their helpers. The British Isles were evangelized by 40 missionaries sent from Rome in 597 AD under the leadership of a Benedictine monk named Augustine (not the Bishop of Hippo). Similar stories have been played out throughout history. People do not generally come to Christ spontaneously. They come to Christ as they are evangelized. What Venerable Bede said about the British Isles is true elsewhere, “all that were fore-ordained to eternal life believed” and were baptized.

            The greatness of America has been owing to the Great Awakening in the 1740’s and no person was more responsible for that revival on both sides of the Atlantic than George Whitefield, an itinerant evangelist who was not ashamed to preach in the open air to the poor coal miners at Moorfield in England. As he preached, tears ran down the blackened cheeks of the miners who were leaving the coal mines after another hard day of work. With those tears, came a repentance not to be repented of, a repentance unto life. America today is a post-Christian society. America needs to be evangelized again. Nothing but a revival can save this country now. We need pastors and teachers to teach the new converts, but we need evangelists to go out into the fields white unto harvest and gather in new believers.

            Now, no church in Vanguard Presbytery will be required to hire an evangelist as a staff member or elect someone to the office just to have a slot filled. But there already are teaching elders in Vanguard Presbytery who have been received as evangelists. We will continue to receive and appoint teaching elders as evangelists because we believe with the PCUS BCO of 1867 that “the command, “Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations,” is of perpetual obligation, and makes his office permanent.”   

            Vanguard Presbytery is following the example of the whole history of the church, and of the New Light Presbyterians in the 1740’s and 1750’s, and of the PCUS from 1867 to the early 1900’s, and of the OPC, and even the statements found in the PCA BCO. Yet, Vanguard will actually have evangelists. The word will not be just a nice word used in various parts of our BCO.

            But here are the questions I would ask of anyone who still is troubled by Vanguard having evangelists. Where is the harm in sending out evangelists to proclaim the eternal gospel? Where is the harm in commissioning certain ones to do the heavy lifting of evangelism? These evangelists are going to be itinerant ministers who do not serve a particular congregation.

            I hope this satisfies everyone who is interested. Next week, I will deal with a different subject matter. Blessings to you all.

Dewey Roberts, Pastor at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Destin, FL

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