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Chapter 7: The New Testament Pattern for Evangelism

Following the example of Jesus, the Apostles went to places where the people were and presented the Good News to them.

The Jesus ministry by the lake, in the towns and villages, in the synagogue, at the Temple, and in Solomon's Portico (which may have been just outside the Temple) attracted very large crowds of people - on several occasions the numbers amounted to many thousands. In all probability, the Apostles' ministry was but a shadow of what the Lord had achieved, in terms of numbers. St. Paul with his little group may well have hardly been noticed by the crowds in the bustling cities - magnificent classical marble metropolae with business on a large scale in shops and market areas. Dominated by vast marble temples, representing pagan religions (some involving obscene practices) the Gospel was usually most unwelcome. Powerful local priests, anxious to preserve lucrative and prestigious positions in the community, offered a dangerous threat to anyone presenting a new message.

In the early chapters of Acts, Peter is preaching to very large crowds at numbers of meetings in and around the Temple area where people would normally gather. Other parts of the city were characterised by very narrow streets, and in any event, rabbinical expositions / seminars would be natural and expected in the area of the Temple. These meetings were to become gatherings of the early Church, and in a short time were attracting people from far and wide. Acts reads very much like a Mission Report, and there is no doubt that it is a factual and accurate account of historic events taking place over a fairly substantial period of time. For all these reasons it is of necessity selective. What is clear is that in those very early days several thousand people had already joined the Church. Many of them were from other parts of the empire, visiting Jerusalem for the Passover, and these would have been the first missionaries to their own countries on their return home.

Their greatest need was for a reliable written account of the Lord whom they sought to serve, and the demand for the original disciples to produce the Gospels would have been immediate and very great. The idea that they were not written until late in the first Century is absurd to anyone who has been in a situation like this. The Gospels were undoubtedly co-existent with a much larger body of oral tradition which for the first few hundred years would have supplemented the written records. Dr. J. A. T. Robinson sees the whole of the New Testament as completed by April or May AD64. James' Epistle may have been written in AD34 or 35 and the author was almost certainly the Lord's brother. Dr. J. I. Packer told me he thought Mark was most likely written by AD40. O.A.C. Staff working in countries with no Christian tradition, dealing with numbers of converts from their street ministry, find the most urgent need to be Gospels written in the local language. In all probability, Mark's Gospel at least would have been written within 2-3 months of the Crucifixion, which if Graham Ogg is correct, most likely took place in AD33 when the Lord would have been 40 years old (born 6-7 BC).

One of the major problems faced by scholars who write about this earliest period of Church history, is that none of them have ever been in a similar situation. Those earliest converts of course needed follow-up and good teaching. For many of them the absence of either led to a really quite remarkable diversity in doctrinal beliefs, which resulted in several hundred years of schism before the great Councils of the Christian Church at Nicaea and elsewhere were to more or less resolve the major issues. The freedoms enjoyed by the early Christians to minister and preach produced exponential growth.

Stephen's message to the Sanhedrin (Acts 8:1-25) which resulted in his martyrdom, was instrumental in the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. Even in a profoundly hostile environment, the preaching of the Gospel always has positive results.

The mission to the city of Samaria begins in John, Chapter 4, with Jesus' ministry to the Samaritan Woman: in Acts 8:1-25, we find Philip, Peter and John all involved in evangelising the city. Preaching the Gospel there produced tremendous results, "almost the whole city was baptised".

This long term local ministry which took place over several months underlines the value of being available to a specific, identifiable group.

Philip gives us a wonderful example of a Divine Appointment as he finds himself on the Gaza road, which was the main coastal trunk route to Egypt and would have been very busy indeed. Somehow he makes contact with this Ethiopian official who only needs a simple explanation to come to faith and be baptised. This seems to have been part of a preaching tour along the coast, which touched a number of cities. Read Acts 8:26-40.

Paul's ministry in the synagogues in Damascus (Acts 9:20 ff) has some of the hallmarks of the delightful enthusiasm of the new convert. Often people converted through our street ministry in Europe will want to be part of the street team next week, seeking an opportunity to make their stand for Christ by sharing their personal testimony. People who make their life on the street, like gypsies, are often bursting to do this and may give their testimony at any time, with or without invitation! Paul's preaching with his great learning in Judaism had a profound impact: the report states "The Jews were confounded." The feeling you get from reading Acts is of Paul's great burden to share the Gospel so that his own people should have an opportunity to respond to Christ - you sense particular confidence and assurance as he speaks to Jews. It may be that speaking to the Gentiles initially would have closed the doors of the synagogue to him - but I think he went to the Jews first because he was most at home amongst them. He spoke their language; he understood their thought processes; he of all people could get through to them - and he did. Paul then engages in church ministry for a year and is involved in welfare work (Chapter 11). Both these activities flow naturally from successful evangelistic campaigns.

Acts 13 and 14 have Paul and Barnabas setting out on their first missionary journey, through Salamis, Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Derbe and Lystra. The last two are most interesting because the report states that they preached outside the city gates: in a Jewish city, the city Council met at the city gates. However, in the Graeco Roman cities that Paul knew, outside the city gates were where the "Park and Walk" pens were situated. Hundreds of camels were held in huge pens by their drivers awaiting or discharging loads and/or passengers. Camels were not allowed in the city because their droppings indelibly marked the white marble pavements (what's dung cannot be un-dung...) so Paul preached to the crowd of travellers, merchants, camel-drivers etc. We are not told of the results of this mission.

Acts 14:22 ff and 15:40-41. Paul and Barnabas, then Paul and Silas, are involved in a follow-up programme. Chapter 16 is particularly interesting because it describes the recruitment of Timothy and the system of guidance that Paul and his team relied on. The whole team agree after much prayer and heart-searching that Bythinia was the place they should go to next. However, Paul has a dream in which he is invited to Macedonia by a man in national costume. Unquestioningly, they agree that this is the leading of the Holy Spirit even though it was not their logical choice. Logic directed them to Bithynia to pursue their call to evangelise Asia Minor: Macedonia was in a sense going off at a tangent. In those days, travellers had great reluctance to put to sea at any time, and to a Jew in particular it was the abode of demons and equated with hell... but they went.

Philippi was an immense city - walking over the site today, you wonder how this little group of perhaps four or five people must have felt, facing such a huge challenge. The temples there were amongst the largest in the world, and the municipal buildings and the general lay-out of the city were magnificent - all white marble. However, down by the river was a prayer site used by those who sought God, and on preaching to them a business-woman called Lydia was converted. As a result, much personal evangelism took place and a church was established.

The latter part of Acts from Chapter 17 onwards finds the evangelism team travelling from Thessaloniki through Veria, Athens, Corinth and Ephesus, with the many famous accounts of the synagogue visits, the daily preaching in the market places, preaching to the religious freaks on Mars Hill, and the great days of debate in the Hall of Tyrannus in Ephesus, which went on daily for two years. In Corinth we are told that the whole region heard the Gospel - but it appears that the results were small in terms of converts. Apparently many Gentiles believed in each of the cities, but we do not read of a church being established in Athens, for example. In Veria today one can still visit the site where it is alleged St. Paul stood when he preached the Gospel there. Veria is one of the most wonderful places to preach the Gospel as it is attractively situated on top of an escarpment overlooking the Macedonian plain, on which stands the ruins of the palace of Philip of Macedon and his son, Alexander the Great. It is an historic city full of bars frequented by thousands of young men and women, very open to the preaching of the Christian message. On occasion we have been able to put on a Christian show in a bar packed with young people, for a whole evening.

The day to day ministry of the early evangelists to so many thousands of people on such a wide scale in so many places was instrumental in the Gospel spreading far and wide throughout the world.

There were many different channels, Jews hearing the message and going back to the Diaspora, Gentile traders travelling the caravan routes (particularly to East, West and North). Paul's missionary journeys encountered others involved in similar evangelistic activity, such as Apollos, who was also gifted with outstanding eloquence. The task facing them was impossibly big so they sought the leading of the Holy Spirit as they proceeded. Living on the edge, as they were, they depended on each other and also on their ability to support themselves. Totally focussed on sharing the Good News with as many people as possible, most of the practical and strategic concerns which frustrate evangelism and mission today, were unknown to them. They just got on with the job.

We don't know how the Gospel came to England initially. What we do know is that houses of the 3rd and 4th Century occasionally exhibit Christian symbols. The voluble Bede writing in the 7th Century gives a few fragmentary details of the ministry of Aidan, who with his travelling team, brought the Gospel to various parts of England. An English preacher called Patrick evangelised much of Ireland. The early Christians did not build ecclesiastical meeting places, as far as we know, until the early 6th Century - which is about the date of construction of the earliest stone churches still extant. What we do know is that travelling preachers proclaimed the Gospel at meeting places marked by stone crosses mounted on raised stone platforms. Erected sometimes at crossroads, or on village greens, each week on a set day local people would gather there to be taught the next instalment of the Christian Message. Many of these crosses can still be seen in various parts of England and Ireland, some covered in runic inscriptions and diagrams of Bible scenes. In some of our earliest churches, one sometimes finds very early pictures of scenes from the Gospel narratives painted up fresco style on the walls. These must have been an enormous help to people attending services, who would in the main have been quite unable to read or write. Much later when Augustine arrived there was a flourishing and fairly widespread Church in England. The sites of the crosses became venerated to the point where, when church buildings came to be erected, they enclosed the cross.

In mediaeval times, the history of the Church is very much bound up with power politics and the Reformation really did not change this. As a consequence, the public proclamation of the Gospel at different times led to conflict between the religious authorities and those who felt called to preach to the lost.

The Gospel that Paul had preached was regarded by the established Church as an alien message, and those who preached it as part of an alien ministry.

By the early 1700's the Church had become largely discredited in the eyes of the great mass of the people who were by then falling victim to very low moral standards. In our theatres, acts of shocking indecency were common, and the clergy (who at that time seem to have been inadequately equipped for their ministry) were sometimes objects of ridicule. Novels written by Jane Austen and others rather later than this period describe the situation in the country well. Religious observance had definitely taken the place of Gospel preaching. In town and country the poor in particular endured a great deal of suffering and there was little or no medical care. There was a huge crime problem, dreadful prison conditions prevailed, and the treatment of the insane was awful. England suffered a deep sense of spiritual hunger.

Then in May 1739 the Bishop of Bristol licensed a young Mr. George Whitefield to preach in the city: George had been born in Gloucester where his mother ran the Bell Inn, his father having died soon after his birth. Brought up in the profane world of the public house, he nevertheless did well at school and had a fine speaking voice, which meant that he often read poetry at school functions. He went up to Oxford in 1732 and was to become a fine Greek scholar with a profound comprehension of the Gospel. In 1735 he had been marvellously converted at the age of 21 accepting the salvation of Christ by grace. He enjoyed a real assurance in his salvation. Being unusually shy, he found it very difficult to talk about his personal experience. Temporary Chaplain at the Tower of London, his startling sermons began to attract wide attention in London society so that packed churches could be guaranteed whenever he was advertised to preach.

Arriving in Bristol, Whitefield visited the dreadful shanty towns of the brick-workers and coal-miners in Kingswood and Hanham, where few dared to venture because of the violence and profanity of the inhabitants. Standing in the road he would preach to very large crowds, sometimes for 3 hours; he preached in the brickyards of Warmley, and the huge claypit there, where 9,000 workers, knee deep in mud, stood to listen to him. The doors of the churches in Bristol were locked against him because of the jealousy of local clergy who objected to "this new doctrine", so he preached in churchyards, standing on a tomb, so that those leaving church could hear the Gospel! He is said to have preached to 30,000 on College Green outside the Cathedral in the centre of Bristol, and to 50,000 miners in Hanham, sitting in tiers above him in a huge quarry. His journals at the time noted the white streaks on the black faces of the miners as the tears of repentance poured down.

On leaving to start a preaching ministry in America, George advertised that the open air preacher on the following Sunday would be John Wesley. Wesley was furious! He did not like the idea at all, not being an open air preacher - but Whitefield's response was to say "Well, if you don't turn up, you'll look pretty silly, won't you?" Compelled to preach, Wesley thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

The remarkable public preaching ministries of Whitefield and Wesley led to many thousands finding faith in Christ around the middle of the 18th Century.

Quite a number felt burdened to do what they could to change the state of society, among them William Wilberforce who fought to abolish slavery, Robert Raikes who established schools in the West Country, Charles Kingsley who campaigned for children's rights, and Helen Christians in many of our poorer cities and a group of Christian businessmen in Clapham (who became known as the Clapham Sect) founded the Church Missionary Society. The public preaching the Gospel did so much to change British society in the 18th Century that many historians believe it prevented a revolution taking place in England along the lines of that in France in 1789.

In the United States a similar tradition of fundamentalist Gospel preaching, through men such as Charles G. Finney and much later D. L. Moody and others, had a profound effect on that country also. The Roman Catholic scholar, K. S. Latourette, asserts that the Bible-based, fundamentalist Bible preachers were the greatest influence on the Protestant church in the 18th and 19th Centuries.

Late in the 19th Century William Booth's street preaching ministry in the East End of London led to the establishment of the Salvation Army as a separate denomination. Not understanding the opposition of local churches to the work he was doing, I had always been rather critical of him for establishing a separate church organisation: however, when you come to read books on the events of the period, you understand that the people who were being saved were not those who would easily be assimilated by the middle classes who attended church at that time - nor would ritualistic observances mean much to those with such pressing needs. Meeting those needs became the aspect of their ministry for which the Army was to become most famous (after World War II they did a marvellous job repatriating prisoners of war from P.O.W. camps in South East Asia and elsewhere - they found my Uncle Frank for us).

"Stone's Justices' Manual" is a 2-volume tome in which we find the Case Law on which Magistrates and Justices base their decisions. It contains most inspiring accounts of prosecutions of Salvation Army officers by the police as the evangelists fought for the right to take the Gospel on to the streets. Involved in a few similar battles myself, it has been an inspiration to me to be able to rely on precedents won by the Army.

The Billy Graham Crusade in 1953 at Harringay was extensively reported nightly on B.B.C. news programmes. Stories of the amazing conversions and the things that the Evangelist had said, would be carried in the centre spread of some newspapers almost every day - as were photographs of Billy Graham jogging in Hyde Park. It is difficult for people to realise today the enormous impact he had on society. Absolutely everybody was talking about him! Going into town on the bus, I was struck how the passengers would be discussing what he had said the previous evening; the Crusade, which went on for several months to packed audiences of around 10,000 a night, resulted in great curiosity and a desire by very large numbers of people to go and see and hear for themselves - even people like my parents, who were really unimpressed by the Church. They went to hear him once, and during that evening in an astonishing way they felt they knew him and he was their pastor. His message really did address how they felt as unbelievers and ever afterwards they would seek every opportunity to hear him on the radio. He was the one person they trusted and admired, and they accepted his message wholeheartedly. Probably it was their liking of him as a person which went a long way towards making his message acceptable. Most commentators agree that Billy Graham and his ministry to England have had far and away the greatest impact on society in the 20th Century. His message of course was a very direct presentation of the Gospel.

The public preaching of God's Message, as commanded by Moses, put into effect by the prophets, by Jesus himself, the Apostles, and throughout subsequent history, and commanded of us in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20), should still be our first concern as we enter the 21st Century

...but evidently it is not.

Today the Church seems to have a much higher regard for academic achievement than for a call to serve, and those who preach the Gospel are often regarded as inadequate and their message as superficial. So - an evangelist coming back from a brilliant open air preaching and training programme in, say, Poland, can be told by his church Elders "You have no ministry. We will not support you." They are more anxious about their own small concerns than with the urgent need to take the Message out to the people wherever they can be found. The evangelist I have in mind, on a campaign with me in Plymouth once, stood up and started to speak beside a beer garden full of young people with their boyfriends and girlfriends and their pints of beer. On hearing him they turned the juke box off(!) and all listened with great interest as he presented the Gospel in his usual highly engaging way. Many of them wanted to talk to us afterwards and actually sat and read our counselling leaflets - and this is a man with no ministry?

In England, those of us in front line preaching ministries are often surprised at how the widely reported statements of people like David Jenkins (the former Bishop of Durham) really do influence the nation's thinking. He seems to be a sort of built-in handicap to church growth - obviously a delightful chap and a very open and honest one at that, but he does not accept the Gospels as historical documents. These views attract surprisingly wide acceptance even though they fly in the face of any well-researched view of the events they report - particularly in the light of contemporary culture in Palestine. People are simply not aware that the views he holds in no way represent the views of the Church or the vast majority of reputable scholarship - much of which would classify him as rather quaint. That such people, who do not embrace mainstream Christian beliefs, and therefore by definition cannot possibly subscribe to the 39 Articles of the Church of England, should nevertheless be appointed to any position of authority in the Church is ABSOLUTELY EXTRAORDINARY! On quite a number of occasions preaching to students in our teaching establishments, such as groups of Sixth Formers or University students, I find that many will regard us as naive and gullible to hold the beliefs that we do. That so many of our leaders - many of them Bishops - do not subscribe to fundamental Christian morality greatly weakens the Church's witness to the new life towards which Christ seeks to lead us. The current desire to adapt "to modern ways of thinking" in the frantic rush to make church-going popular, clearly emasculates any attempt to reach out to godliness or holiness. The exhortation from Archbishop George Carey last year to his troops to cut sermons down to 10 minutes and try and present a more friendly face to the world smacks more of a damage limitation exercise than an inspiring call to battle for the King of Kings. Never ever in his ministry did our Lord remove one jot or tittle from God's laws. George Whitefield often said "Those who eat the Church's bread should subscribe to her Articles of belief."

In a situation like this the Church does not appear to have very much to offer to thinking men and women with great ideals and aspirations who long to be inspired and offered the leadership they need: they deserve better than what the Church is offering. The Church should be offering the Gospel and all that follows, rather than platitudes. So-called "seeker-friendly" messages are not the message we are called to preach which is quite uncompromising. Unfortunately those who do have this ministry are unlikely to be called upon to speak for fear they will "rock the boat" and upset someone. If in those sort of fellowships the Gospel will rock the boat then it's high time it was preached!

David Cullimore was one of the finest young men Anni and I ever had the privilege of knowing. He came down from the University of Sunderland with a First in Gas Turbine Engineering and went straight to an apprenticeship with Rolls Royce in Bristol. His great friend David M. came with him, having qualified as a Pharmacist. Both had a call to evangelism and straight away joined our street preaching team in Broadmead, Bristol. To differentiate between the two, we always addressed Cullimore as Dave, Culli, or Rolls Royce. His sartorial elegance was rather jeopardised by a tendency to long hair, a sloppy jersey, ancient jeans and trainers (which were new then, and lasted him many years!). Our attempts to smarten him up were never more than very partially successful... Dave and his brothers were superb musicians and Dave constructed his own guitar which sounded marvellous (his brother, a professional musician with a group called the Housemartins in the Midlands, always said Dave was the best musician he'd ever heard). He worked all week at Rolls Royce to the point where he was within two and a half years of a Doctorate in Turbine Engineering (he worked as a development engineer on the Concorde engines) but his life was evangelism. Dave and Ken Barrett (who had qualified as a Barrister at Bristol) produced an endless succession of superb open air messages which inspired us all. They always attracted a good crowd who thoroughly enjoyed listening to them.

Dave came on all the summer campaigns as a leader and could always be found sitting in the middle of a group of teenagers in a High Street somewhere, talking about Jesus. He never owned more possessions than he could carry at one time, rode an old bicycle, lived in a single room in Bedminster, and gave most of his salary to world mission. At Christmas he earned huge sums of money as night watchman in a local factory, as this enabled him to give more away, and spent the long hours walking round the factory praying. He would also read books and was always "redeeming the time" somehow or other. On nights during the week he assisted the Cyrenians as they brought hot soup etc. to the down and outs on the streets. He spent a lot of time with us as a family and was always enormous fun for the children.

Dave in Liverpool
Dave built up a wide ministry in Bristol particularly leading school assemblies whenever he could. For years afterwards children and teachers would ask after him. He and David M. spent 6 months on a kibbutz in Israel where they succeeded in learning Hebrew well enough to speak about the Lord. In Liverpool the next summer Dave asked a lad on a bench in the city centre what he thought of the open air message just preached: he replied "I don't understand. I am from Israel." Dave then shared the Gospel with him in Hebrew and in fact conversed with him for over an hour. My photograph of this event shown here (Dave is on the left) is one of my treasured possessions.

Dave felt that God was calling him to full time service as a missionary in Africa. His firm tried terribly hard to keep him but he knew what his life was to be. Turbine technology not being much help in a Third World country, he set about learning agricultural engineering with a view to going to Uganda as a missionary, helping to rebuild after the disastrous regime of Idi Amin. Full of excitement he spent 18 months at the Royal Agricultural College at Silsoe in Bedfordshire, living in a caravan, and succeeded in securing three First Class Post-graduate Degrees - each of which should have taken three years. Every weekend he would come down by train to London to join in the O.A.C. Leicester Square outreach, after which he would go back to Plaistow to pray into the small hours with his pastor there - Patrick Sookhdeo.

Dave's street messages were very unusual and depended a great deal on humour - he liked to preach about parrots - in fact he was very interested in parrots! I remember him preaching about a parrot that wanted to go to heaven, but St. Peter wouldn't let him in, saying "It's no good, you're a parrot!" Whatever the parrot did, he couldn't stop being a parrot: saying all the right words didn't impress St. Peter at all. Dave was able to mimic a parrot brilliantly, and the crowd would be in stitches - but of course he was able to tell them how they needed to be born again and become a new person. By then the crowd absolutely loved him, they liked the way he could draw the crazy expression on the parrot's face with a few strokes of the brush on his sketch board - his parrots always looked slightly mad! Everybody could see what a smashing chap he was and would stand around and talk with him for ages.

One Friday evening after the open air meetings in Leicester Square Dave went out to dinner with some of his friends and his new fiancee Rivka. At the prayer meeting soon afterwards, Dave collapsed and had to be taken to hospital, where he died of acute viral pneumonia only a few hours later. None of us could believe it. I was asked to preach at his funeral. Arriving at Patrick's church twenty minutes late because of the traffic, I walked straight into the pulpit and was astonished to find the church was packed with around 500 people whose lives had all been deeply affected by him. There wasn't a spare seat anywhere. Many came up afterwards to share how Dave had either brought them to faith or greatly deepened their experience of Christ. I think we all felt we had been in the presence of a very great man indeed. He was twenty-eight years old.

Obviously during the seven years he was one of our team leaders in Bristol, although he was only able to be with us on a part time basis because of his career, Dave's life had a great impact on all of us. Looking back on it now, it seems quite extraordinary that neither his fellowship nor any other in Bristol ever invited him to preach. For most of those years his own church attracted a good number of University students and I thought at the time what a tragedy it was that he was never permitted to become a role model for them. He had been a very inspiring speaker at one or two student house parties when invited to do so by the Polytechnic Christian Union, as indeed had Ken Barrett, but I felt a lot more could have been done with Dave to inspire the young men and women in his fellowship to a deeper commitment to Christ - and maybe a call to Christian service.

So many lost opportunities ... by an Eldership more concerned with what was going on in their own very small world.

The Gospel is being preached today, by people whom God has raised up for the purpose. They are men and women of all ages with the very clear vision that Christ must be presented to the lost. They come in all shapes and sizes and from all different mainstream Christian denominations. Usually the vision they have is caught by seeing a role model at work. The general pattern today is that they will have to support themselves financially and exercise their ministry on a part time basis; their own fellowships will not recognise their ministry because of the limited outlook of the church managers, who may even see their work as a threat to their own positions. They benefit greatly from fellowship with other evangelists with similar ministries in organisations like O.A.C. who can provide a great deal of help in the form of proper training for the kind of work to which they are called.

This is the day for ordinary men and women to exercise their ministries in the field of evangelism and play the most significant role in building the Kingdom of God.