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The call to evangelism

Posted by on in General Secretary's Blog
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The church should not delegate its evangelistic mandate to gifted individuals in its ranks. Nor should it assign this responsibility to agencies established by, but separated from, the church. Evangelism is the responsibility of the whole church whose members the Holy Spirit gifts and calls for the work of evangelism.

This was one of the declarations of the Fifth Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC). The theme of that assembly, which took place in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1975, was Jesus Christ Frees and Unites.

From its earliest years, in one way or another, the WCC has affirmed the importance of evangelism. The report of Section 2 of the preparatory study commission on the theme for the inaugural WCC assembly, Man's Disorder and God's Design, identified as the sign that the church had “recaptured the spirit of the apostolic age" when the believers “went everywhere preaching the word.” The report adds, “The work of God requires that every member of the Church, ordained and lay, be an active witness.”

One of the papers in Section 2 of the preparatory ecumenical study on the assembly subtheme, The Church's Witness to God's Design, contains the following assertion:  

If a [person] is a true Christian, he does not need to be stimulated to win others for Christ, though his zeal may need to be corrected by the wider experience of those who have gone further then he on the Christian way. Every true Christian understands from within the meaning of St. Paul's “Woe is me, if I preach not the Gospel.” The treasure he has found hidden in the field is so immense that it is impossible for him to keep it to himself. The lay apostolate is the hope of the Church in the modern world.

Today, 60 years after that WCC Assembly, many Christians, including Baptists, are comfortable identifying with, and participating in, the social or diaconal ministry of the church – a ministry that is one expression of the Good News of the love of God. They are less interested in bearing direct oral witness to the love of God that makes salvation possible.

The International Congress on World Evangelization issued a memorable statement when it met in Manila, the Philippines, in 1989. The Manila Manifesto called “the whole church to take the whole Gospel to the whole world. ... All the people of God are called to share in the evangelistic task. ... God the evangelist gives ... people the privilege of being ... fellow workers.” This Lausanne II report asserted that “the local church bears a primary responsibility for the spread of the Gospel.”

Over the last 10 years, I have resisted the temptation to issue many editorials on social issues – a task for which my training in Ethics has prepared me. Instead, I have deliberately chosen to focus more on theology, mission and evangelism. I am convinced that the times call for this emphasis and, therefore, the task of commenting on social concerns has remained largely ignored on these pages. So many others attend to that task; it has not needed my added voice.

I strongly affirm the validity, even urgency, of the call for a return to what used to be called “personal evangelism.” Whatever other obligations God has assigned both to every local congregation and to every single Christian, one is never to be forgotten, namely, the obligation to share the Gospel with a view to human beings coming into an awareness of God's grace and experiencing the miracle of salvation.

May the church and each believer rediscover the joy of sharing the Gospel with those we meet!

Neville George Callam, a Jamaican, has been serving as general secretary and chief executive officer of the Baptist World Alliance since his election in Accra, Ghana in 2007.


  • Guest
    Peder Martin Idsoee Liland, Norway Wednesday, 01 November 2017

    Encouraging reflection. Let me add shortly: The call to evangelism is not a call to bring about a type of religious slavery under an ism. What I prefer to underline, is the matter of GOD calling US, calling us to repentance and redemption from sin, and calling us into a service of liberation in the deepest sense of the word. As we are doing that, we are also praying for coming of the Lord, since this call is too great for us to bring about - succesfully, unless he is with us.

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