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What is an Evangelist? Part 2

July 30, 2007

It became clear as we looked at the Biblical information regarding the office of Evangelist that there was much more involved in this office than simply presenting an intellectual discourse on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The understanding that came from the evidence presented in Part 1 of this study was that the evangelist presented the Gospel message with “full authority” and with the authentication of the message through healing, deliverance and miracles.

Cessationism

This has never been the understanding that Western Christianity had of this office. We have done our absolute best to remove every aspect of the supernatural from the modern church. We have somehow come to believe that we are too sophisticated, too intellectual to believe in myths. Somehow we have accepted the belief that a book is superior to having the Presence.

Let me explain.

There is a teaching that is accepted in much of the church that the miraculous ceased with the death of the last apostle. This belief system holds that the purpose of the miraculous was to give credibility to the message that Jesus and the apostles preached, and that once the message was accepted, the need for miracles ceased. Once we had the completed cannon of scripture, the 66 books of the Bible, the need for miracles ended. We now have the stories of the miracles and that’s all we need.

I defy you to defend that teaching scripturally. It isn’t possible. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that the gifts, the offices or the miraculous will end in this life. The places where the Bible does talk about the ending of these things all point to “when perfection comes” or “when we all attain the unity of the faith.” I don’t know about you, but I have seen neither of those things in my lifetime.

This teaching also conveniently ignores the fact that miracles occurred before the time of the New Testament and after. Church history is riddled with stories of the miraculous. Even in modern times, healings, deliverance and miracles have taken place.

I believe that God has been restoring the biblical office of the evangelist and the church has been fighting him on it tooth and nail, because we lacked the understanding of what that office truly is.

The Great Awakening

The Great Awakening is an example of this. Men like George Whitfield were in fact evangelists, but the church didn’t know what to do with them. Benjamin Franklin went to hear him preach and, being Ben Franklin, conducted an experiment. He documented that he could clearly hear Whitfield’s voice at a distance of a mile. There was no amplification. He was in an open field as there were no facilities large enough to hold the crowds who wanted to hear him.

Jonathan Edwards, although he was a pastor, did the work of an evangelist. His famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” triggered what we would consider a revival. There were many “unusual” occurrences during that time. People would be overcome with some type of religious experience and have to be carried from meetings.

John Wesley noted in his Journal on July 7, 1739:

I had an opportunity to talk with him [Whitfield] of those outward signs which had so often accompanied the inward work of God. I found his objections were chiefly grounded on gross misrepresentations of matter of fact. But the next day he had an opportunity of informing himself better: for no sooner had he begun (in the application of his sermon) to invite all sinners to believe in Christ, than four persons sunk down close to him, almost in the same moment. One of them lay without either sense or motion; a second trembled exceeding; the third had strong convulsions all over his body, but made no noise, unless by groans; the fourth, equally convulsed, called upon God, with strong cries and tears. From this time, I trust, we shall all suffer God to carry on His own work in the way that pleaseth Him.

Wesley also noted occurrences of uncontrolled laughter in meetings and instances of individuals being caught up in trances:

[Monday, August 6, 1759] I talked largely with Ann Thorn and two others, who had been several times in trances. What they all agreed in was: (1) that when they went away, as they termed it, it was always at the time they were fullest of the love of God; (2) that it came upon them in a moment, without any previous notice, and took away all their sense and strength; (3) that there were some exceptions, but in general, from that moment they were in another world, knowing nothing of what was done or said by all that were round about them. . . .

Deliverance and healing were also present during this time as well:

In the evening the Mayor [of Grimsby] and all the gentry of the town were present; and so was our Lord, in an uncommon manner. Some dropped down as dead, but after a while rejoiced with joy unspeakable. One was carried away in violent fits. I went to her after the service: she was strongly convulsed from head to foot, and shrieked out in a dreadful manner. The unclean spirit did tear her indeed; but his reign was not long. In the morning both her soul and body were healed, and she acknowledged both the justice and mercy of God (April 4, 1764).

There was much controversy regarding what was occurring in the church duirng that period of time. The bottom line was that the revivalists of that time were preaching justification by faith in Christ alone and it made a profound impact. The church at that time did not insist on, nor did much of it believe in, an actual conversion. The doctrine of election was taught such that the common man did not believe it was possible to know if you were part of the elect and so it didn’t matter how you lived. If you were the elect of God, you would go to heaven. If you weren’t, you went to hell and there was nothing you could do about it, so why bother with religion at all? The evangelists taught that you could know you were indeed saved and that it was possible to have an inner witness of that fact.

The Second Great Awakening

The Second Great Awakening continued this. Charles Finney was the primary figure of that movement. Finney’s own conversion was surrounded by the miraculous. In his MEMOIRS (New York: A. S. Barnes & Co., 1876), pp. 20-21, he provides an extensive account of his experiences at this time, including the following:

There was no fire, and no light, in the room; nevertheless it appeared to me as if it were perfectly light. As I went in and shut the door after me, it seemed as if I met the Lord Jesus Christ face to face. It did not occur to me then, nor did it for some time afterward, that it was wholly a mental state. On the contrary it seemed to me that I saw Him as I would see any other man. He said nothing, but looked at me in such a manner as to break me right down at his feet. I have always since regarded this as a most remarkable state of mind; for it seemed to me a reality, that He stood before me, and I fell down at his feet and poured out my soul to Him. I wept aloud like a child, and made such confessions as I could with my choked utterance. It seemed to me that I bathed His feet with my tears; and yet I had no distinct impression that I touched Him, that I recollect.

 

I must have continued in this state for a good while; but my mind was too much absorbed with the interview to recollect anything that I said. But I know, as soon as my mind became calm enough to break off from the interview, I returned to the front office, and found that the fire that I had made of large wood was nearly burned out. But as I turned and was about to take a seat by the fire, I received a mighty baptism of the Holy Ghost. Without any expectation of it, without ever having the thought in my mind that there was any such thing for me, without any recollection that I had ever heard the thing mentioned by any person in the world, the Holy Spirit descended upon me in a manner that seemed to go through me, body and soul. I could feel the impression, like a wave of electricity, going through and through me. Indeed it seemed to come in waves and waves of liquid love; for I could not express it in any other way. It seemed like the very breath of God. I can recollect distinctly that it seemed to fan me, like immense wings. No words can express the wonderful love that was shed abroad in my heart. I wept aloud with joy and love; and I do not know but I should say, I literally bellowed out the unutterable gushings of my heart. These waves came over me, and over me, and over me, one after the other, until I recollect I cried out, “I shall die if these waves continue to pass over me.” I said, “Lord, I cannot bear any more;” yet I had no fear of death.

 

How long I continued in this state, with this baptism continuing to roll over me and go through me, I do not know. But I know it was late in the evening when a member of my choir–for I was the leader of the choir–came into the office to see me. He was a member of the church. He found me in this state of loud weeping, and said to me, “Mr. Finney, what ails you?” I could make him no answer for some time. He then said, “Are you in pain?” I gathered myself up as best I could, and replied, “No, but so happy that I cannot live.”

 

He turned and left the office, and in a few minutes returned with one of the elders of the church, whose shop was nearly across the way from our office. This elder was a very serious man; and in my presence had been very watchful, and I had scarcely ever seen him laugh. When he came in, I was very much in the state in which I was when the young man went out to call him. He asked me how I felt, and I began to tell him. Instead of saying anything, he fell into a most spasmodic laugher. It seemed as if it was impossible for him to keep from laughing from the very bottom of his heart.

Finney’s ministry and affect on American religious life was profound. Hundreds of thousands of people were converted under his ministry. In one six week period of time in upstate New York, 500,000 people became Chrsitians under his ministry. Newspapers of the day closely followed his ministry because he was newsworthy. They followed up on the people converted in these revivals and reported years later that 80% of the people converted in this particular revival remained true to their profession of faith. To put that in perspective, The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association reports a 5% retention rate; that is, 5% of the people who answer an altar call in their crusades remain Christians.

These men and events laid the groundwork for what I believe was the true restoration of the office of Evangelist in the United States. I believe that that occurred during the period known as the Healing Revival.

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