What is an Evangelist?
In my lifetime, Billy Graham was the epitomy of this office. The grand crusade with thousands attending and a well reasoned and well presented sermon delivered in his resonating voice, with a seemingly endless stream of humanity answering the altar call.
That is a rather intimidating image when you hear the Voice of the Lord saying, “I’m calling you to be an evangelist. Come and follow me.” Especially when you have the public speaking abilities of Helen Keller.
But is that image the biblical one? What does the Bible have to say about the office of the Evangelist?
The truth is, not much.
Philip the Evangelist
There is only one clearly identified Evangelist in the Bible and that is Philip. What is known about Philip is that he was one of the seven deacons chosen in Acts 6 to oversee the daily distribution of food to the widows. His name is Greek rather than Hebrew, so it is likely that he came into the church following Pentecost. There is no indication that he was a follower of Jesus during Jesus’ earthly ministry. He was known to be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. He was presented to the apostles who prayed and laid their hands on him (Acts 6:1-6).
The next time we encounter Phillip is following the dispertion that took place after the stoning of Stephen, another deacon. Philip went to a city in Samaria and proclaimed Christ. He was heard by the Samaritans because of the miraculous signs he did. Demons came out and many paralytics and cripples were healed (Acts 8:5-7).
Mirculous signs? Deliverance? Healings? Wait a minute. When did that become part of the job description?
Greek Words and Definitions
Here’s a little bit of information on the Greek behind the term “evangelist.”
The relevant Greek words are evangelizo, used 55 times, evangelion, used 77 times, and evangelistes, used 3 times. In Greek, eu means “good” and angelos (nearly always translated “angel”) means “messenger,” “one who is sent in order to announce, teach, or perform anything” (E.W. Bullinger Lexicon). The idea conveyed by the evangelizo word group is that of proclaiming a good message, or good news. In the KJV, the verb evangelizo is translated “preach,” “preach the gospel,” “bring good tidings,” “show the glad tidings,” “addressed with the gospel,” and “declared.” Bullinger’s Lexicon says it is “to bring someone into relation with the divine glad message of salvation.” The noun evangelion is always translated “gospel,” and the noun evangelistes is transliterated into “evangelist.” http://www.truthortradition.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=145
That’s more in keeping with the comfortable definitions I’m familiar with. However, there’s more.
Interestingly, a corresponding Old Testament Hebrew word was often used of a messenger coming from a place of battle and proclaiming victory over the enemy. In Greek literature, evangelizo was also used of liberation from enemies, as well as deliverance from demonic power. http://www.truthortradition.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=145
There’s that pesky supernatural element again.
Evangelizo is “not just speaking and preaching; it is proclamation with full authority and power. Signs and wonders accompany the evangelical message. They belong together, for the Word is powerful and effective. The proclamation of the age of grace…creates a healthy state in every respect. Bodily disorders are healed and man’s relation to God is set right. Joy reigns where this Word is proclaimed.” (Excerpts from Kittels’ Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Vol. 2))
Full authority and power?
Equipping the Saints
Ephesians 4:11 lists the offices that Jesus gave to His Church: Apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher. Nowhere in scripture is there a definitive job description given.
Albert Barnes said of the word evangelist in this passage:
The word does not elsewhere occur in the New Testament. What was the precise office of the evangelist in the primitive church it is now impossible to determine. The evangelist may have been one whose main business was preaching, and who was not particularly engaged in the government of the church. The word properly means, “a messenger of good tidings;” and Robinson (Lex.) supposes that it denotes a minister of the gospel who was not located in any place, but who travelled as a missionary to preach the gospel, and to found churches. The word is so used now by many Christians; but it cannot be proved that it is so used in the New Testament
Did the Supernatual Cease?
Both Matthew Henry and John Wesley refer to the office as “extraordinary,” along with that of apostle and prophet. Both seem to think that all three of these offices no longer exist in the church.
Ephesians 4:12-13, however, seems to throw quite a stumbling block in front of that line of reasoning. These offices are to equip the saints for the work of the ministry until we attain “to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” You really can’t start picking and choosing which of these ministries still exist and which ones don’t. They are a group. Either they all exist or none of them exist.
The problem, of course, is a cessationist theology. If God no longer does miraculous works through His people, then you cannot have ministries that have the supernatural as part of the job description. This would mean that Jesus Christ is NOT the same yesterday, today and forever. The Bible is not true and God is not who He has revealed Himself to be. That is not a place I am willing to go. Scripture is clear on these points.
So it is clear that healing, deliverance and miracles are part of the job description of the Evangelist based on the scriptural evidence. What implication does this have?
We’ll begin to look at this in Part 2.