Does Acts 8 Provide a Warrant for Every Member Evangelism?

An HB Classic

Door to Door EvangelismDuring his recent excellent interview with Darryl Hart, Mark Dever made reference to Acts 8 in regard to every-member evangelism (EME). The question of the nature of evangelism is a popular one on the HB. I’ve addressed the problem of hyping the great commission, of evangelistic pragmatism, (and here), the ethical problem of reducing the subjects of evangelism to objects of evangelism, and I’ve challenged the assumptions and some of the exegesis behind EME. Acts 8, however, is one of the texts to which advocates of EME frequently appeal as if it were conclusive proof for EME. It isn’t.

Usually what happens is that one quotes all or part of Acts 8:1-4:

And Saul approved of his [Stephen’s] execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word (ESV).

The key to the EME reading of this passage is the assumed reference of the noun “church” (εκκλησια), and its identity with those denominated in the verbal clause, “and they were all scattered” (παντες δε διεσπαρησαν) in (v. 1) and its assumed identity with those in v. 4, “Thus, those having been scattered (διασπαρέντες) they went (διῆλθον) preaching (εὐαγγελιζόμενοι) the Word.” Into this identity advocates of EME read very modern, democratic, egalitarian assumptions about social relations, mobility, and ministry.

I don’t doubt that all the church, except the apostles, was scattered. What’s interesting here and what gets ignored by advocates of EME is the implicit distinction between “all the church” and “the apostles” in v.1 The point of v. 1 is not to lay the groundwork for a method (a profoundly modern notion that cannot be assumed) of evangelism. The point of the narrative is to illustrate how, in the providence of God, the gospel is about to go or did go to Judea, Samaria, and thence to the uttermost parts of the earth, i.e., the ends of the Roman empire. In other words, Luke’s interest here is not in what the church was doing as much as it is in what the Spirit of the ascended (King!) Jesus is doing through his church despite the opposition of the serpent (to put it in Johannine terms).

Second, the qualifier “all” proves too much. I don’t think that even the most radically egalitarian advocates of EME think that every single member of every single congregation (infants, the infirm, the developmentally disabled?) is called to take up the task of “preaching” the gospel. The participle used for preaching refers to the authoritative, public, proclamation of the good news of Jesus’ obedience, death, and resurrection for sinners (that becomes clear enough below). Do these verses, read in their context, constitute grounds for concluding that every single member of every congregation ought to be “scattered” (don’t we have to allegorize that verb to get where EME wants to go?) and “to preach”? Is handing out tracts or pestering someone at a stop light the same thing as was done in Acts 8? I don’t think so. In truth, on the assumption of EME read into this passage, we don’t exactly know who went where or even exactly what they said thus making this verse a convenient sort of biblical carry-all for a lot of baggage.

To my mind there is a second and decisive objection to the use of this passage as a warrant for EME: In vv. 5-6 Luke tells us explicitly what he means by “dispersed” and he tells us who did the authoritative preaching of the good news. It was fellows such as Philip who.

went down to the city of Samaria and announced (ἐκήρυσσεν) to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs (σημεῖα) that he did.

We do not have to guess or fill in the blanks as to who was doing the announcing of the message. It was those who were associated with the apostles, who had apostolic authority and power. Unless the EME are willing to make every single person in “the church,” into an apostle or member of the apostolic company they must admit some distinction in office between the “all” of v. 1 and the preaching that was done. Further, it is clear in the succeeding verses that Philip isn’t just any bloke. He has authority and right to preach publicly, to baptize in the triune name, to heal, to cast out evil spirits, and he is carried about by the Holy Spirit himself. I’m sure that the advocates of EME are not also saying that we should all be carried about by the Spirit from place to place—if so they should communicate with the department of energy right away.

All this is just a way to point out that the use of these verses in support of EME entails far more than advocates of EME seem to realize. These verses have nothing to do with EME but they do have everything to do with the advance of the kingdom of Christ through the foolishness of ecclesiastical ministry (Philip had an office as evangelist; Acts 21:8—Φιλίππου τοῦ εὐαγγελιστοῦ) as it existed in the apostolic age and as certified by apostolic signs and wonders. This passage has everything to do with sinners to coming to faith and the kingdom coming in the power of the Spirit in fulfillment of our Lord’s promise: Lo, I will be with you always, even to the end of the earth.

[This post was first published in August, 2009]

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.


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  1. How would you interpret Eph. 4:12. The KJV puts a comma between ‘for the perfection of the saints’ and ‘for the work of the ministry.’ Suggesting that these are two different parts of the ministry of pastors, elders, prophets, etc. Newer translations, however, such as the ESV, suggest that the work of pastors, elders, prophets, etc. is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. The Greek grammatically seems to favor the interpretation of the newer translations.

    You mentioned in one of your posts you referenced (can’t remember which one right now) that the Achille’s heel of the EME is that the NT is silent about this practice, that is, unless the ESV and other translations are correct in their interpretation. I would say that the Achille’s heel of those who say that members are not obligated to evangelize is that they say nothing about what members are called to do besides attending to the means of grace and worshipping God. Don’t misunderstand me, these things are primary, and I certainly think worship is a higher calling than evangelism, but don’t you think that members are also called to take part in the spreading of the kingdom of God through evangelism?

      • RSC: in the spirit of dispassionate interaction, I heartily agree that there is no invitation to egalitarianism in the Bible. That said, how do you understand the activity of “equipping the saints” in Eph 4.12? What does that activity involve and what is its result?

        • Hi Fowler,

          From the rest of the Pauline corpus I understand that, for Paul, people must be equipped to live the Christian life. The Christian life of dying to self and living to Christ (which includes giving witness to the the faith and ones faith) requires instruction, training etc. I don’t think. however, that every member is being trained to “do the work of (the) ministry” in the sense in which Paul uses that term there.

          • RSC: thanks.

            Clarification: is equipping, then, discipling? I’m thinking that, if it is, then the the relationship of the gifted and the saints in Eph 4.11-12 is indistinguishable from that which is summarized in the words, “everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Lk 6.40). (Strikingly, the noun in Eph 4.12 and the participle in Lk 6.40 are cognates.) In other words, the proper function of those with official gifts and calling includes being examples and instructors in faith and practice to others, as in 1 Tm 4.12-16.

            Incidentally, thanks for the reference to dying to self and living to Christ. I’m always struck anew to realize the continuities between Jesus and Paul on the doctrine of the Christian life (taking up one’s cross overlaps with dying to self).

  2. I forgot to mention, in Acts 8, I think we are given a clue as to who were spreading the gospel. Vs. 1 talks about “the church in Jerusalem” being persecuted, then it says that they, that is the Church in Jerusalem, “were all scattered.” Vs. 3 gets specific about who were being persecuted and scattered: “men and women” were hauled off to prison. Presumably these men and women were not apostles or pastors, but were the members or laymen. Vs. 4 then makes no distinction between apostles and pastors and laymen; it says “those who were scattered.” When it comes to mentioning Philip in vs. 5, it is not to suggest that only those, like Philip, who were ordained ministers were the ones spreading the gospel; rather, it merely focuses on what one man among many was doing. So I think if we follow the flow of the text from vs. 1 to vs. 4 it seems to suggest that not only were the ordained ministers spreading the gospel, but also the members were doing so as well.

    While I agree that the focus of the passage is the work of the Holy Spirit in causing the gospel to spread from Judea into Samaria, etc., I must disagree with your interpretation that it was only the ordained ministers who were spreading the gospel. Mainly the ordained ministers, yes, but only the ordained ministers, no. I think the passage does show that members were involved in the work of spreading the gospel.

    • Steven,

      What about Luke’s rhetorical strategy here? Isn’t he using hyperbole? Isn’t this similar to Acts 11:28 where Luke says that there was a great famine over “all the world” – he’s not talking about Somalia here. It’s all the (Roman) world. Isn’t it parallel to Acts 17:6 where Jason et al were accused of “turning the world upside down.” The point here isn’t for us to fill in the blanks with modern, egalitarian assumptions that every person in the body can do everything, but rather to see the net effect of the persecution of the church. It was meant for evil but it turned out to the benefit of the kingdom. To read this passage as if it’s about EME is to read into a concern that isn’t behind or latent in it.

      Further, we don’t have to speculate about “men and women” (though they certainly gave witness to the faith and to their faith) because Luke tells us explicitly who did the preaching!

      I don’t understand why these verses get ignored except that they don’t fit the EME paradigm. Philip is an evangelist. He holds an office. There we have an unequivocal, explicit example of the sort of preaching that went on.

  3. I agree that every member of a congregation should not be going door to door or (cold witnessing). First of all every member of a congregation is not saved. In any case every saved member should be involved if they dont have the gift of evangelism they should pray for the ones that do. EVERY Christian should be prepared to share the great gift of God that is eternal life with people they know.

    • John,

      We agree. If you’ll look at the posts linked above you’ll see that I distinguish between “evangelism” as the authoritative, official proclamation of the gospel and witness. Every believer has a duty to give witness to “the faith” (the objective truths of the faith, particularly the good news) and to “their faith,” i.e. their subjective appropriation of the same.

      • Dr. Clark,

        What are the practical differences between “evangelism” as it is reckoned by advocates of EME, and that calling in which “every believer has a duty to give witness to “the faith” (the objective truths of the faith, particularly the good news) and to “their faith,” i.e. their subjective appropriation of the same”?

        If “every believer” must “give witness to the faith and their faith,” how is this in any way different than the real-world meaning of EME? Is it anyway improper for laypersons to distribute approved or personal testimonies of the Gospel?

        Interested in your thoughts,
        -Michael Spotts:.

        • Hi Michael,

          The theoretical/principled difference is a difference of office. There is a clear biblical distinction between the teaching/preaching offices and the laity. This distinction is unpopular today mostly under the influence of America’s revivalist heritage.

          “Evangelism” is the public, authoritative proclamation of the gospel as in “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim 4:5). Every member is not called to “do the work of an evangelist.” Every member is called to be a Christian. Giving witness, when called upon, is just basic Christianity.

          The practical difference is the difference between the bondage of guilt and Christian freedom. In the early church the Christians kept to themselves, lived quietly and were sometimes arrested merely for being Christians. When questioned, like the man born blind (John 9), their duty was to give witness to the faith when asked, “Are you a Christian?” They were to say, “Sum” (I am). They were to refuse to deny Christ, who did not deny his sheep. When given opportunity they were to testify to the truth of Christ.

          This duty remains. This is a little different, however, from the burden often placed on the laity by (sometimes) well meaning folk who would have every Christian button-holing people, even strangers, and hectoring them about whether they know they way to Disneyland (and regardless of the answer), “But brother, do you know the way to heaven?” and that sort of thing. If believers are equipped and able to give public witness to their faith, fine but there’s precious little biblical support for making it mandatory. There’s precious little biblical support for the claim that every lay Christian in the apostolic period did (and thus, so should we).

          • Thank you, Dr. Clark.

            I agree with what you’ve written. In the past I often felt (and contributed to) the sense that if one does not carry tracts, he is not intending to “save souls.” Certainly we should all hope for the opportunity to speak and to have such occasions blessed of God’s Spirit, but I do not see warrant for making out-of-the-way “personal work” a consuming responsibility upon all members. Rather, it seems some persons are more naturally outgoing, and others have seasons of strong impressions of the gospel which they cannot help but share. While I would encourage Christians to prepare for and look forward to opportunities, with you I cannot suppose that Christ expects a duty-driven, “Jehovah’s Witness”-esque evangelistic service of His Church. It seems right to understand gospel proclamation as the mandatory office of the elders, and one to varying degrees participated in by the lay-people in a more informal way. However, I would only add that every believer should be diligent to pray for the expansion of the Kingdom of Christ, as the Lord’s prayer teaches, and to understand this as their principle means of participation in the salvation of others.

            Thank you for your time.

  4. Dr. Clark,

    For what it’s worth, the Syriac Peshitta has the equivalent of a ‘comma’ between all the prepositional phrases in Ephesians 4:12. It’s not inspired, but it is pretty early testimony as to how the Eastern church was grouping the words together. They saw equipping and for the work of the ministry as two separate functions of the pastor.

    I could also see why the editors have placed no comma between “for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry.” The noun καταρτισμον is a verbal abstract noun, which could be modified by the following prepositional phrase very nicely. And usually “equipping” is done for a purpose. Thus it makes sense to punctuate it as the GNT has done.

  5. Laypeople need to see that one of their chief responsiblities concering evangelism is to invite others to church to hear the gospel proclaimed. The pastor cannot exercise his gifts well if the people are not bringing him unbelievers to teach.

    • Thanks Todd. I appreciate this. This approach is often ridiculed, but I suspect that an inadequate view of the church drives the ridicule. If Christ instituted offices and if he commissioned them to do the work of (the) ministry, to make official proclamations on his behalf based on his self-disclosure in the Word, then why wouldn’t we bring folk to hear Christ’s messengers? If a king or a president sent an ambassador to represent him to a foreign country, wouldn’t we bring foreigners to hear the authorized representative of the king? Why would we take it upon ourselves to represent the king officially? The other underlying assumption behind scoffing at such a view is American egalitarianism. Since the 1820s this country has become increasingly and radically egalitarian. I’ve seen the change in my lifetime. The internet is both symbol and facility of that process. We need to try to stand outside our culture and to criticize it from a Biblical pov. We shouldn’t just assimilate Scripture to the culture as is too often done by American evangelicals.

  6. IMHO folks who are gifted in certain areas tend to think that their area of giftedness ought to be what the rest of the body is doing. This is likely a result of our wanting to justify ourselves by our works rather than the works of Christ. It is a case of the foot saying to the hand “I have no need of your work and you really ought to be doing the walking too.”

    Thank you Dr. Clark for this article – it was most helpful in beginning to lift the heavy burden laid upon me for the past 35 years. I am one of those who am eager to serve and ready to give an answer (and often do), but am painfully shy about doing this with strangers. It doesn’t help that the methods of modern “evangelism” are often done with false pretense (e.g. “We’re doing a survey”) and false enthusiasm (the weak in faith are guilt-goaded into “sharing” their “faith” even if they have little to no comfort in it).

    Also… the term “Sharing your faith” makes no Biblical sense when you consider that faith, the means of salvation, is a gift of God that comes through preaching the gospel. You’re not sharing your faith, as if it’s a trite story… the gospel *creates* faith – it doesn’t share it. The term completely loses its meaning when used this way…

    I’m so done with American evangelicalism. So glad to have finally found the cross.

  7. Dr. Clark,
    Hello! I’ll be complaining to you in person soon! JK. But I think the danger in what you wrote, albeit that semantics for good and bad reasons were played. Is that you only mention the negative, ‘not preach the gospel” speaking of the laity. And then dont emphasize that they are to be a ‘witness’ for the gospel. I think this kind of un-eaven teaching leaves people a bit helpless when they are called to be ‘witnesses’ and it puts too much pressure upon the pastors to do the evangelism. And if pastors are really called to do evangelism, ‘Do the work of an evangelist’ (somewhere in timothy) then why dont we see it? I have yet to see people care about that at WSC. Im just saying the argument you bring, is only half focused. It boils down to telling the people, ‘No, dont do that, you pay your tithes for a professional to do evangelism.’ And then dont tell them they are to be a witness. Just give us both sides of the coin. (I guess Im playing semantics now huh?)

    Side note: with the noetic effects of sin, do you think we should stop making excuses to ‘not be a witness’ and start making excuses to be more active in our witness? It seems like there are a 1000(allegorical) reasons to not actively seek a witness.

    Im probobly wrong, but thats what Im thinking about this.

    I guess I’d just like to see some of my teachers, one of whose selling points of WSC is that they are pastors, street preach like we hear of VanTill did. Maybe thats not exactly, ‘doing the work of an evangelist’ but it seems close.

    • Well Nic,

      As I said above, I have spent plenty of time in the streets doing evangelism. To borrow from Paul, I must be out my mind to talk like this but I’m a certified EE trainer. I was doing street evangelism when you were in diapers. There’s a reason I don’t do it any more. It might have been emotionally satisfying but it didn’t produce much visible fruit for the visible church. Further, the culture has changed rather markedly since then. I’m not saying that no one should do it but I would certainly say that there’s no moral obligation for us to be “on the streets.”

      Relative to strategy, I think it’s much wiser for God’s people to be concentrating, as it were, on those with whom they actually have a relationship.

      As to ministers, I will be happy if they will simply preach Christ every week instead of trying to take back the culture for Christ or instead of preaching 10 steps to a fulfilled life or whatever. That’s what I mean by evangelism: ministers announcing the good news in the pulpit. That’s not a great burden; it’s a great joy!

      You might say: but that’s not very effective and I will repy: that’s the point. There’s a reason Paul calls the preaching of the gospel foolishness. Yes, it’s a horribly ineffective method from the point of view of modern, entrepreneurial, evangelicalism but Jesus isn’t apparently very interested in numbers or success or as we define those things. He passed by people and never healed them. Should we remonstrate with God the Son for his lack of compassion. Did he drive out every single demon? Did he leave some folk in the grave? How “effective” was that? What sort of way is that for Jesus to bring his kingdom? I don’t know. I guess we’ll have to trust that the King knows what he’s doing.

      He gave the keys to the visible institutional church. Full stop. That’s the great truth with which the modern revivialist movement has not grasped.

    • Nic and Dr. Clark,

      It is important to make the distinction between the duties of the Minister and laity. The laity is not to perform most of the minister’s duties. Like Nic I too am concerned about the apathy among the Reformed to be a witness to Christ in society. I see more of a willingness to debate theology to no end and to read to no end (not bad in themsleves), but part of the practical outworkings (of reading & debating—& being a Christian) is also to be a witness for Christ. Dr. David Murray, minister of the Free Church of Scotland (Cont.) and professor at Puritan Theological Seminary was the keynote speaker at 1st RPCNA of Grand Rapids, MI’s Evangelism Conference. His three addresses convered: Motive, Method, Message. I invite all to listen to them. Street preaching is also spoken about. (One of our ministers does this (street preaching) in Greenville, SC every Friday in front of the Court House…fruits? People are hearing the Gospel, including the Mayor, Justices, and Reps of the city).

      Sometimes the fruit is this…people hear the Gospel who would never had…remember Paul at Mars Hill.


  8. No matter what doctrine we’re talking about we are always prone to slip into over-fencing obedience, which is legality, or the other direction of giving ourselves permission to sin. Just because this danger exists, doesn’t prove a doctrine right or wrong.

    To put it another way, just because I might be tempted to never ever speak the gospel while wrongly applying what Dr. Clark said above, it does not make what he’s saying unbiblical.

    I’d put the Campus Crusade method (one that I’m quite familiar with) into the category of over-fencing. This portion of the Law they have added to and given primary importance to, to the detriment of other Laws so that Christians can sort of look down on others that don’t measure up and feel good about their position before God (wrongly). This has the effect of creating legalists on the one hand and broken reads on the other. Where they to join another legalist sect like the exclusivist Plymouth Brethren they’d find that they’d have to emphasize a different set of rules (some biblical, some not).

    I think Dr. Clark is right on… The fact that there is danger to slip down one or another wrong direction is because we are evil, not because Biblical doctrine is evil.

  9. This entry has been very beneficial to me and and further confirmed some thoughts I have had on this issue.

    If we just engaged with the secular world and performed our vocations, we would have opportunities to explain our faith. When we live differently from the world, we shine like light in darkness, and unbelievers become curious as to why we act or behave a certain way.

  10. Scott,

    You may have covered this elsewhere, but do you see the possibility of the gift of teaching (the Bible) belonging to non-officers?

    • It would depend on how one defines “gift” and “teaching.”

      Are there examples of non-ordained people doing unofficial teaching in the NT? Sure. Aquila and Priscilla come to mind. There are older women teaching younger women.

      If by “gift” and “teaching” one means a special endowment by the Spirit for use in the visible church in the public ministry of the Word, that’s another matter.

  11. Dr. Clark,

    In regards to cross-culture missionary work, do we apply the same principal? In other words, the Matt. 28 commission hangs in space, partially accomplished, and we the Church are the “goers.” I ask because right here in my city, there are thousands of Middle-Easterners of Muslim faith who work our inner-city grocery stores and shops.

    I recently made my way to one of these stores for the express purpose of engaging young Muslim men in conversation about religion and doctrine, and the response was surprisingly positive. It seems to me that with 20M+ Christless people in Northern Yemen, and not a church in sight, that if we might by grace reveal Christ to someone here in our city, that they could be trained up to go home and bring the gospel of Christ to their barren land.

    I think the other part of this question is, should every overseas missionary be a qualified, ordained minister?



    • Hi Justin,

      As I understand Matt 28 the commission (the mission) is given to the church as an institution represented by officers. The whole church, including the laity, has a role but those roles are not the same.

      If we look at the apostolic pattern it was cross-cultural but there is very little evidence of EME. The church is a mission where ever it is. The mission, as I understand it, is to plant churches where the gospel is to be preached and the sacraments and discipline administered.

      The laity should give witness to the faith (the objective truth) and their faith (their subjective appropriation of Christ) whenever they have opportunity.

      We need to do better at church planting. Unfortunately a lot of energy and resources go to para-church organizations that are competing with the visible church and making it more difficult for the church to fulfill her mission. In my view, the answer is not to say, “Well, the church isn’t doing her job so….” That would be to perpetuate the mistake we’re making now.

      If we go back and look at the Reformation example of Geneva, they trained young men to go and plant churches in hostile territory. It cost some of them their lives! They planted underground congregations in the Lowlands (Belgium) who met in houses and in hedge rows so it’s not as if there are no patterns. The early church did much the same thing in the 2nd century AD.

      The lack of congregations in Yemen (and other places) is a great cause of sorrow. We need both, witness by laity, where God opens a door, and the establishment of congregations and official ministry but we should prioritize the visible, institutional church.

      Check out the posts linked above and the category “evangelism.”

      • I’m amazed. I have always been a “street evangelism” kind of fellow, but I always wondered what to do with the people who responded to the gospel. Let them find their own church? Heaven help us, in a land where 95+% of the churches are a shell of the biblical ideal. It’s such a puzzler – desperate need in the inner cities for gospel/sacrament churches, but I see (at least in my city) very little progress in that direction.

        I’ll follow the links – thank you for your response.

  12. I’m a fan of the distinction between Evangelism (preaching of the Gospel by ordained ministers from the pulpit) and Bearing witness (every Christian going out into the world in their ordinary, daily lives bearing witness to the Gospel and inviting people to come and hear the formal Evangelism of the Word at church).

    This is the distinction I’ve been teaching the Christians in the church I’m serving. I’ve found that when people understand this distinction properly a huge weight of legalism is lifted off their shoulders.

    • Interesting post & follow-up comments.

      The Great Commission is necessarily the job/responsibility of the church as church, not just individual believers. The church (officers, Word & Sacrament, etc.) is to make disciples of all the nations. That entails baptizing & instructing believers to observe/obey everything Christ has commanded.

      I think part of our problem is that we somehow seem to divorce “evangelism” (telling the good news to others) from that process, or maybe even that we conflate the two (i.e. the idea that if I share the gospel, I have fulfilled the Great Commission/made disciples).

      I guess I see it as a both/and situation. Evangelism (properly understood) cannot be divorced from the church. (It is not *just* the task of individual believers.) But I do believe that evangelism (bearing witness to the good news of Jesus Christ to unbelievers) is the job of individual believers as well.

      While evangelism is far MORE than the task of individual believers in sharing the gospel, it is NOT LESS than that either.

      And I do think that Acts 8 (as well as Acts 11:19-21) clearly depicts more than just the big boys (i.e. Stephen, Phillip, etc.) doing the work of evangelism. “All” may *not* literally mean every single individual believer, but it sure would seem to mean much more than a handful of especially gifted men or officers.

      – Andy

      • Andy,

        I don’t want to argue about terms. The substance of what I want is to distinguish between that which belongs to the special offices and that which belongs to the general office of believer (the laity). Witness belongs to all but proclamation (as I understand “evangelism”) belongs to the official ministry.

        A close reading of Acts 11 seems to confirm this approach. As in Acts 8, there is a scattering but who is scattered? Who is in view? We cannot simply assume that the laity are in view. Does Luke think about the laity much? We do, but we’re the product of several egalitarian/democratizing movements in modern history and especially in America. We make assumptions as Americans post 1820s that were almost impossible for a 1st century person to make. Thus, we cannot read our assumptions into their world.

        In Acts 11 we’ve just seen “rise, kill, and eat” and the outpouring of the Spirit. In 11:19, those who were dispersed, spoke the Word. Who were those speaking the Word? Is there any clues in the text that leads one to think that these are laity and not officers? At best it’s unclear. We certainly can’t just assume that Luke has laity in view. In that case the appeal to 11:19ff illustrates the weakness of the EME case. At best it’s an inference and, it seems to me, isn’t very strong. In v 20 the men who were scattered were “evangelizing” (εὐαγγελιζόμενοι) or preaching the good news re Jesus.

        Luke uses these verbs of the apostolic company. If we say that laity were the one’s preaching then the picture of ministry in the apostolic period changes rather sharply but is there warrant for that? If we go back to Luke 9, where we see the same participle, it’s the disciples. In Acts 5:39, it’s the apostles. We’ll set aside Acts 8:4 since it’s treated in the post. In 14:5-7, it’s the apostles who are doing the evangelizing/preaching (these are the same participles right through). In 14:15, Paul uses it to describe his preaching and that of the apostolic company. Finally, Acts 15:35 uses it of Paul and Barnabas. In that context, I want strong evidence to include the laity in the function of “preaching the good news” since everywhere else it is an official act.

  13. Thanks again, Ryan, for the link to Dr. Gordon’s article. To me, his exegesis of Ephesians 4:11-13 is utterly convincing. It may indeed be the egalitarian impulse that drives translators to “ministry” rather than “service” in v. 12. Much “conventional wisdom” just doesn’t hold up under close scrutiny.

  14. Thanks for the reply.

    You said, “Witness belongs to all but proclamation (as I understand “evangelism”) belongs to the official ministry.”

    So would there then be no clear examples of such “witness” by the laity in the book of Acts? (That would seem strange, wouldn’t it?)

    I’m certainly not discounting the evangelism that happens in the pulpit every Lord’s day, but I am having difficulty seeing the total exclusion of the laity’s witness in the accounts in Acts 8 & 11. That may (as you say) be due in part to me being a product of my environment.

    And if the “scattering” spoken of in Acts was relegated mostly to (for lack of a better term) church officers (excluding the Apostles), it would seem to be a pretty small scattering, wouldn’t it?

    The persecution of Saul included “men and women” (8:3), and women certainly weren’t church officers, so why wouldn’t the scattering include a lot of non-officer-types as well?

    Thank you for your time. I have been preaching through Acts, so I appreciate your input/feedback. (I have Acts on the brain right now.) 🙂

    – Andy

    • Andy,

      The bigger question is “What is Luke’s narrative?” Once we have established what he’s about we can answer the question of lay evangelism. Luke’s narrative, as I understand it, is to show the continuing and powerful work of Christ in history by the Holy Spirit through the apostles. In that sense, the role of the laity is chiefly to illustrate the effect of the Spirit’s work through the Apostles. They function literarily to illustrate the efficacy of the Spirit’s work. If that account of Luke is near right then the absence of lay evangelism isn’t a problem since it isn’t expected.

  15. I definitely appreciate the desire of many of the comments above to be biblically accurate. That’s always an encouragement.

    I have read many positions on “personal evangelism” or “witnessing.” Those who espouse T. David Gordon’s position and others. In light of all that I have read, including the scriptures, I have concluded that all Christians should bear witness about Christ. Indeed, not every Christian is a missionary and not every Christian is an evangelist (I believe those offices are for called ministers), but again, Christians should bear witness. In fact, the OPC church planting manual, ch. 4, highlights the same conclusion.

    “Reaching out to the unsaved is not just the responsibility of a pastor or a Christian leader. It is the responsibility of every believer to bear witness to the grace of Jesus Christ. So let your [the church planting pastor] example serve to encourage others to do the same. Make clear to your people that not everyone in the church is called or gifted to be an evangelist, but that is not what this is about. Show them through your example the significance of being salt and light, and stress the importance of faithfulness rather than success.”

    Also, after a lengthy exegetical analysis of some portions of Romans, Philippians, and 1 Corinthians, NT Scholar P.T. O’Brien, in his book Gospel and Mission in the Writings of Paul: An Exegetical and Theological Analysis, page 107, writes:

    “Paul called on his readers to follow his example as he followed that of Christ. He had made himself a slave as had Jesus Christ who had humbled himself to death; he had lived in conformity with this dominical model and thus showed a truly Christian lifestyle. The apostle’s goal of saving many was an essential element in the servant pattern he adopted (‘I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win as many as possible’) and should have been the Corinthians’ objective as well as his own. He expected them, therefore, to be committed to evangelism just as he was. Paul’s ambitions were to be theirs. And what is more they should be ours!”

    In context, O’Brien uses the term “evangelism” as this post uses the term “witness.” O’Brien concludes that it is every Christian’s duty to bear witness about Christ. And it’s not just sitting around expecting someone to ask you a question, but to actively pursue bearing witness about Christ. O’Brien comes out more strongly in other portions of his book to make this claim.

    I believe O’Brien does an amazing job distinguishing between the duties of a called apostle (Paul) and the duty of laity. He makes that clear throughout and he does not take the position that all that Paul did is all that Christians should do today, particularly as it relates to Paul’s missionary endeavors.

    My conclusions regarding Christians bearing witness to Christ are the same as O’Brien and the OPC church planting manual.

  16. This Lord’s Day at 2512 Sunset Lane Missoula MT, one of the laity will demonstrate her share in Christ’s anointing with form number 1 in the back of the Blue Psalter. This will be the only time consistory binds her to a public proclamation but I do hope she spreads the word and might any of you who know people in Missoula!

  17. “Where words are many, sin is not absent.” What about “34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life[b] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.’” (MK 8:34-37). Quite a test.

  18. I believe the disciples sat over the command of our Lord in Mark 16:15 – by continuing to stay in Jerusalem area, so He allowed the persecution to happen and the disciples were scattered and wherever they went they preached or “gossiped” the gospel

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