Vanguard Presbytery’s view of evangelists receives more questions from people that anything else we believe. Thus, I want to take this opportunity to address some of the questions that come to us.
1. Q. On what basis can Vanguard Presbytery hold to the office of evangelist since evangelists are only mentioned in three places in the New Testament?
A. First, there are only two passages in the Scripture which mention deacons, but no one would deny the office of deacon for that reason. Neither should evangelists be denied. They meet the requirement of Christ that every fact shall be confirmed by two or three witnesses. Second, Scripture is not intended to be a book of polity and to give exhaustive definitions of all church government matters. Scripture is about the gospel.
2. Q. How can Vanguard assert that the office of evangelist continues since Calvin and other Reformed ministers hold that it ceased with the Apostles? A. First, Ephesians 4:11 mentions four gifts that Christ gave to the church—apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers. Those four gifts have to be assumed to be permanent unless there are good and necessary reasons that they have ceased. Ephesians 2:20 makes the case for the cessation of apostles and prophets—“having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone.” That verse indicates that the primary purpose of the apostles and prophets was to lay the foundation of the church on Christ Jesus. The apostles and prophets had revelatory gifts which ceased when revelation of Scripture was completed. Thus, the apostles and prophets also ceased at that time. Second, evangelists are not part of the foundation of the church. Evangelists are part of the building up of the church. That work of building up the church continues from age to age. The more dire the circumstances of the church the more necessary are evangelists. Third, Calvin wrote the following about the four gifts to the church in Ephesians 4:11—“It should be observed also, that, of the offices which Paul enumerates, only the last two are perpetual. For God adorned His Church with apostles, evangelists, and prophets, only for a time, except that, where religion has broken down, He raises up evangelists apart from Church order, to restore the pure doctrine to its lost position.” Calvin clearly teaches that evangelists, unlike apostles and prophets, can still be raised up. Calvin also says that evangelists fill an office in the church. Vanguard goes beyond Calvin and says that evangelists have not ceased because the Great Commission has not ceased. But the point is that Calvin is not as opposed to evangelists as many modern-day Calvinists are. Moreover, there are many witnesses to the continued office among reformed ministers—Charles Hodge; the New Light Presbyterians of the 18th century; the books of polity of the old PCUS, the PCA, and the OPC. Indeed, Calvin himself sent out about 60 “evangelists” to France and other places. The OPC’s BCO is very similar to the position of Vanguard Presbytery. I have covered several of these points in other articles. The onus is on those who deny the office of evangelist to show from Scripture that the office has ceased to exist.
3. Q. Isn’t Vanguard’s view of evangelists a novel view?
A. Going back at least 40 years and earlier, it was very common in all Protestant denominations to have ministers who were evangelists. About 1980 things changed in the US and American Protestantism. Evangelistic services came almost to a halt. Ministers being ordained as evangelists became a rarity. How has that worked out? Not very well in our opinion. The first American denomination to ordain ministers as evangelists was the New Light Presbyterian branch in the 1740’s. The New Castle Presbytery ordained and commissioned evangelists to go to Virginia and other remote parts of the church. They had the powers of an evangelist to perform the sacraments in those destitute parts of the church. When Samuel Davies became a minister at Hanover, Virginia he was visiting a remote part of the colony and was going to have the sacrament of communion. A land surveyor and his wife who were members of the Anglican Church came to Davies before the service and asked to take communion that day. Davies talked to them for a few minutes and gave them a communion token which they could use to receive the elements. Davies made that decision with the powers of an evangelist apart from the action of a session. That man was Little Joe Morton, the ancestor of Dr. Morton Howison Smith. When I started a church in Beaumont, Texas in 1981, I was given the powers of an evangelist to perform the Lord’s Supper. Missionaries in other centuries were sent out with the powers of an evangelist to establish the church in those countries where they would labor. It is more correct to say that the office of evangelist is much neglected today, but it cannot be truthfully maintained that Vanguard’s position is novel. The novelty since at least the mid-1700’s in America is to not have evangelists.
4. Q. Are you saying that evangelists are an American church idea?
A. No, we are not saying that evangelists are an American church idea only. There is precedent in the whole history of the Church for evangelists. The apostles who went to foreign countries were evangelists. There were evangelists who preached the gospel in Great Britain when it was first planted there. Calvin sent out evangelists to France. John Bunyan referred to the evangelist in Pilgrim’s Progress. Foreign missionaries were originally given the powers of an evangelist. But the New Light Presbyterian contribution to church history, among other things, was that they “rediscovered” this much neglected truth from Scripture. In fact, the Great Awakening was a spiritual revival that was carried on primarily through evangelists and that movement influenced American Christianity for nearly 300 years. Justification by faith was rediscovered in the 16th century by the Reformers. The new birth was rediscovered by the Puritans in the 17th century. And the office of evangelist was rediscovered by the New Light Presbyterians in the 18th century. Those three hang together and fall together. Where evangelism and evangelists are neglected, there will also be the neglect of the new birth and the preaching of justification by faith alone. Is this not the chief problem with American Christianity at the present time? The doctrine of the new birth is being denied by all these false movements—Federal Vision, same-sex attraction, BLM, CRT, social justice, etc. Justification by faith alone is next. That is what happens when you neglect evangelistic preaching for 40 years.
5. Q. What are the ordination requirements for an evangelist?
A. The ordination requirements are the same as what is required of an elder. That is the Scriptural approach. An elder is the basic officer of the New Testament. The apostles were also elders. Prophets were elders. Evangelists were/are elders. So, 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 give us the qualifications for evangelists; as well as pastor-teachers; as well as ruling elders.
6. Q. Does every church in Vanguard Presbytery have to have an evangelist?
A. It would be great if every congregation had an evangelist, but there is no requirement for any congregation to have one. The office of evangelist is a gift from Christ. No ordination can make someone an evangelist where the requisite gifts for that office are missing. Christ will raise up His evangelists and we will know them by their gifts. The Lord has to raise up and equip evangelists.
7. Q. What are the ways that evangelists or the powers of an evangelist might be used in Vanguard?
A. First, the most important use of evangelists is to communicate the gospel to sinners through preaching, house-to-house visitation, street preaching, foreign missions, military and civilian chaplaincy, and other means. There needs to be a revival of evangelistic preaching before there will be any revival in this country. Evangelists are central to the recovery of such. Second, in addition to the proclamation of the gospel, courts of the church can give members the powers of an evangelist to execute actions that have already been approved by the court. Normally such actions are committed to an administrative commission (but not a judicial commission) which carries out the decisions that have previously been approved by the court, such as the ordination or installation of a pastor, etc. In such instances, commissions really are just the minimum quorum of a court meeting. The duties of such a commission are really perfunctory because the court has already taken the action. Those duties can be given to one or two members of the court (instead of a quorum) with the powers of an evangelist or evangelists. In the present circumstances of Vanguard Presbytery, that would be both wise and cost-effective. The action would still be in the name of the Church and not in the name of the evangelist. Third, ministers may be given the powers of an evangelist to perform the sacraments in congregations or mission churches where there is no session.
8. Q. Why is the office of an evangelist so important to Vanguard Presbytery?
A. One of the greatest revivals in the history of the church coincided with the rediscovery of the office of evangelist in the 18th century. That was not just a coincidence. The other two great periods of revival were: the spread of the gospel under the Apostles and the Protestant Reformation. In each of those instances, evangelists (whether called such or not) were instrumental. The Puritan period of the 17th century was a period of great purification of the Church, but it was not a time of great revival. For the most part, the Puritans did not believe in the office of evangelist. I consider myself deeply indebted to the Puritans, but I would choose either the 16th or 18th centuries over the Puritan period if I had to choose. I think the Puritans were wrong on their view of the office of evangelist. The great Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones told me in his living room in 1977 that the 18th century was his personal favorite period of church history, particularly with respect to the Puritan period. The purity of the church is important but not at the expense of the fulfillment of the Great Commission. I have spent most of my adult life studying the 18th century Presbyterians and especially the Great Awakening. America has been a great nation as a result of that revival more than any other reason. America is losing that greatness today and that fact just happens to coincide with the modern-day rejection of the office of evangelist. Once again, that is not a coincidence. What we believe effects our practice. So to answer the question of why the office of evangelist is so important to Vanguard Presbytery, here it is. It is because evangelism is important to Vanguard Presbytery. It is because revival is important to Vanguard Presbytery. It is because the Church is important to Vanguard Presbytery. The greatest revivals have happened when evangelists were in the forefront like flying angels preaching an eternal gospel. The greatest droughts of true Christianity have happened during the many long periods when the Church has cast aside the office of evangelist. It is just that simple.
Dewey Roberts, Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Destin, FL and Moderator of Vanguard Presbytery
P. S. Much of our Presbytery meeting on Friday, January 29, 2021 will be live-streamed. I will send you a link so that you can follow our proceedings if you like. The meeting will start at 9 AM EST and will run to 5 PM with a break for lunch.
P. S. S. If you would like to contribute to Vanguard Presbytery, please send your check to: PO Box 1862, Destin, FL 32540.