â€œBut you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.â€ (Acts 1:8)
â€œGo therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.â€(Mt 28:19-20)
The Course of Evangelism Throughout Church History
According to the Bible, it is the divine work of the church to preach the gospel to all peoples and make disciples of all nations. The Lord Jesusâ€™ commission to the disciples of the apostolic church is now the imperative responsibility of the True Jesus Church, and we must strive to accomplish this great task through constant effort and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. By examining the development of the apostolic church in its early evangelistic mission, we can see the path that we should follow as we continue that mission today.
Evangelism in the Apostolic Church
First Stage. Two thousand years ago, on the day of Pentecost, the disciples first received the Holy Spirit and established the church in Jerusalem. This was the first stage of church development. During the era of the Jerusalem church (Acts 1â€“7) the work was confined within Jerusalem, and the believers comprised only Jews. This period set the foundation for the content of the gospel, Christian ethics, the mode of worship, and church ordination and administration.
Second Stage. It was obviously not Godâ€™s will for the disciples to confine their preaching efforts to Jerusalem. He therefore allowed the church to meet with great persecution, â€œand they were scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.... Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the wordâ€ (Acts 8:1,4). This opened the way for the second stage of evangelism for the apostolic church (Acts 8â€“12). Believers took the seed of the gospel with them as they traveled and established churches in Judea, Galilee, and Samaria (Acts 9:31). Some even traveled to Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch (Acts 11:19). Yet even in these other lands, their target audience remained the Jews; only the believers at Antioch preached to the Hellenists (Acts 11:19-20). Once these new churches were established, the Jerusalem church sent workers like Peter, John, and Barnabas to pastor them (Acts 8:14-17; 11:22-24).
During this period there was no full-scale evangelism to the Gentiles, only a few activities personally directed by the Holy Spirit. For example, Philip preached to the Ethiopian eunuch, and Peter preached to Cornelius and his household. In particular, the preaching of the gospel to Cornelius was Godâ€™s marvelous preparation for the Jerusalem Council, which affirmed Godâ€™s acceptance of the Gentiles (Acts 15:6-11). It was about this time that God chose Paul to become a vessel of gentile conversion (Acts 9:1-16).
Third Stage. Acts 13:1-3 states, â€œIn the church that was at Antioch ... as they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said: â€˜Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.â€™ Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them awayâ€ (Acts 13:1-3). This marks the beginning of the third phase of evangelism in the apostolic church (Acts 13â€“28).
In their first missionary trip, Paul and Barnabas still focused on preaching to Jews living in gentile lands. Because the Jews rejected the truth, however, Paul and Barnabas redirected their efforts toward the Gentiles (Acts 13:46-49). This change in focus resulted in a debate within the church concerning the direction and content of gentile evangelism. At the Jerusalem Council, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the apostles and elders, together with Paul and Barnabas, who worked as evangelists abroad, laid down the principles of faith as guidelines for gentile Christians. All the churches adhered to the directives decided at the Council. So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in number daily (Acts 16:4-5). Thus began a new chapter in the work of gentile evangelism.
Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Paul, Silas, and Timothy ventured into such foreign lands as Macedonia, Philippi, Thessalonica, and Corinth, establishing mainly gentile churches. In addition, Paul and the other workers stayed in these newly established churches for long periods of time to teach and pastor new believers. For example, Paul stayed in the church of Corinth for one and a half years, teaching them the word of God (Acts 18:9-11). During the third missionary journey he again stayed at Ephesus for two years, propagating the gospel to both Jews and Greeks (Acts 19:8-12).
Evangelism in the True Jesus Church
The True Jesus Church, entrusted with rediscovered teachings of the apostolic church, is the church that God has raised in the last days. She has the responsibility of preaching the true gospel throughout the world before Jesusâ€™ second coming. Like the apostolic church, we understand and hold fast to the truth, experience the abundant downpour of the Holy Spirit, and receive guidance in our work. When we recall the course of evangelism of the True Jesus Church since her establishment, we are deeply thankful for Godâ€™s mighty work in our midst.
First Stage. Since 1917, when the Holy Spirit established the True Jesus Church in China, the evangelistic progress of the church has taken a course similar to that of the apostolic church. During the early stages, evangelism was centered in China before the General Assembly (GA) relocated to Taiwan. Although during this period the focus of evangelism was to the Chinese, the church also laid the foundation for future evangelistic and pastoral work, religious education, and other aspects of church organization. Today the True Jesus Church throughout the world has benefited from this solid foundation.
Second Stage. In the 1960s the Taiwan GA, as the central coordination point, together with churches in other countries established the International Assembly (IA). The aim was to strengthen the faith of every church and to strive toward the work of world evangelism. Thanks to the Lord, in the last thirty years churches have been constantly established throughout the world, particularly in the U.S., U.K., Europe, Canada, Central and South America, Australia, and New Zealand. GAs and Coordination Boards have also been set up. The seed of the gospel was sown as a result of believers immigrating to these places to study and work.
During the course of their growth, these newly established churches were strengthened by the continual pastoral visits of IA ministers. The nature of the work during this period was similar to the second phase of the work of the apostolic church. In the early days the apostolic believers were mainly of the same race, but God was at the same time preparing the future entry of other races. This period precedes the last and most important phase of the True Jesus Church, namely, preaching to all nations and peoples.
Third Stageâ€”the Present and the Future. From the 1970s to the 1990s, the True Jesus Churchâ€™s evangelistic activities progressed to India, the Philippines, and Africa. The major difference is that converts are now mainly the indigenous peoples of the respective countries. Through the sacrifice and labor of workers and the offerings and zeal of believers, churches in these newly developed areas have been established under Godâ€™s protection and mercy. Yet work in these newly developed areas is limited to short-term pastoral visits, due to the lack of IA workers. Unfortunately, we cannot expect believers who have just heard the truth and are unfamiliar with the essence, faith, history, and organization of our church to be rooted in faith purely through such short-term pastoral visits.
Facing the impending second coming of the Lord, we desperately need a meeting like that conducted in the Jerusalem church, in which the entire body of workers is united under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to formulate a plan for evangelism. We must also emulate Paulâ€™s method of preaching to the Gentiles by sending workers as pioneers to new areas. We need to conduct long-term pastoral and evangelistic programs in order to accomplish our goal of preaching the precious gospel to all nations.
Strategies and Prospects for World Evangelism
Guidelines for Evangelism
â€œFor it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these...â€ (Acts 15:28).
The content of the gospel is the truth, and the aim of the gospel is salvation. In global evangelism, we must uphold the truth and aim to present every person as perfect in Jesus Christ. If any local custom or lifestyle is against biblical teachings and leads one into sin, resulting in the loss of salvation, then it must be forbidden (similar to the resolution of the Jerusalem Council).
With regard to differences in lifestyle and cultural backgrounds, however, we must accommodate and accept one another. We preach Godâ€™s saving grace for humankind. This truth is universal and available to all. It is unchangeable; it is not something that can be altered by the traditions of an individual nation or people.
With hearts filled with tolerance and compassion, church ministers, preachers, workers, and the entire body of believers of the True Jesus Church must have the mind of Christ. They must bear these responsibilities with great conviction and without any racial prejudice. Yet while we may sow and water the seed, it is God who gives the growth.
The entire church has to be unanimous in her understanding and attitude toward nonbelievers. Only then will God guide us to set foot into â€œgentileâ€ lands, just as He guided Paul, Silas, and Timothy into Macedonia after the Jerusalem Council.
Sending Appropriate Workers
â€œNow separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called themâ€ (Acts 13:2).
Initially, the Jerusalem church sent Barnabas to pastor the flock in Antioch. Yet the Holy Spirit revealed that he was to accompany Paul, prepared by God to be the â€œapostle to the Gentiles,â€ on Paulâ€™s first missionary journey. Silas, a leader and a prophet in the Jerusalem church, was also chosen by God to accompany Paul on his second missionary journey. Even though the work of preaching to all peoples started from Antioch, participating workers came from both Jerusalem and Antioch.
Even more marvelous was the election of Timothy, a young believer of mixed parental heritage, having a Jewish mother and a Greek father. Very likely, he was familiar with the language, culture, and customs of both nationalities. Paul chose him at a time when Paul himself didnâ€™t even realize that the path of evangelism would take him to Macedonia.
But the direction of evangelism rests in the hands of God. He chose Timothy in order to prepare him for the future direction of the church, just as He guided the early workersâ€™ footsteps in their pioneering journeys to gentile lands. Timothy used his gifts and carried out his responsibilities in gentile churches like Thessalonica and Corinth (1 Thess 3:1-10; 1 Cor 16:10-11).
Formation of Evangelism Groups
Using the apostolic church as a model, the True Jesus Church can establish some principles for sending workers to undertake pioneering work today. In evangelistic work our target is global, and the work is continuous. It requires concerted efforts in terms of manpower and financial support. It is not something that can be accomplished through the labors of just a few preachers.
To promote the pioneering work, IA workers together with GA workers gifted in evangelism should form evangelistic groups designated for specific areas, i.e., each GA can select from among her own preachers and church workers those who are fervent and gifted in evangelizing to form an evangelistic group. Ministers from IA would then work together with each of these groups to plan and carry out the pioneering and pastoral work of the respective regions.
The IA ministers could also concentrate their efforts on the pioneering aspects, and once a church is established in the new area, the respective GA or Coordination Board can provide the long-term and continuous pastoring care needed until this new congregation becomes rooted in faith.
In the churchâ€™s current global evangelistic efforts, the GAs and Coordination Boards responsible for pioneering areas are as follows:
- Australia and New Zealand Coordination Board: Pacific region
- Continental Europe Evangelical Group: Russia, Eastern European countries, Africa.
- Malaysia/Singapore GA: India (also assisting Southeast Asia)
- Sabah GA: The Philippines (also assisting Southeast Asia)
- Taiwan GA: East Asia, Thailand
- United Kingdom GA: Africa, parts of Europe
- United States GA: Central and South America (also assisting Africa)
- IA preachers: all areas, including Vietnam and Myanmar
Training and Cultivating Young Workers
Timothy was chosen for the ministry to the Gentiles. Mark continued with Barnabas in the work of evangelism. They subsequently became important workers in the early church.
When we look at the True Jesus Church today, we can see that God has also prepared many youths for the work of His church. He has guided them to receive education and language training in various countries, and He has exposed them to many different cultures. Our youths today should have multiple channels to participate in global evangelism. Just as Paul took Timothy as an assistant in holy work, so the IA and GAs should encourage youths to assist preachers in pastoring believers and to help in religious education in the newly established areas.
In motivating and counseling young workers, we should adopt a more positive mode of active invitation and encouragement. Even though Mark was weak at one stage, Barnabas insisted on inviting him to join in the work. As a result, a valuable future worker was strengthened. Thus, in the course of the youthsâ€™ participation, we have to actively help them to overcome their difficulties. For example, each GA and local church can assist them with expenses to cover their volunteering services.
â€œPaul continued there [Corinth] a year and six months, teaching the word of God among themâ€ (Acts 18:11).
The work of preaching the gospel and saving souls does not consist only of evangelizing and baptizing. We must progress from preaching the gospel to leading truthseekers to repent, believe in the Lord, accept water baptism, receive the Holy Spirit, keep the Word, be sanctified, and serve God until they complete their journey in this life and obtain salvation. Short-term and intermittent evangelism and pastoral work cannot achieve in-depth guidance and cultivation. Thus, even though there are converts in newly pioneered areas and churches are established there, they are not able to take root, strengthen, and grow in terms of the truth, faith, and organization.
We desperately need to rethink our current strategies for sending workers to pioneering areas. The IAâ€™s â€œOverseas Missionary Trainingâ€ program is for the purpose of cultivating preachers who can then be stationed in pioneering areas on a long-term basis. Only when preachers live among believers for a prolonged period of time can they understand the problems that believers face in their faith and daily lives, and thereby provide appropriate counseling and biblical knowledge. With long-term pastoral care, the preachers can systematically establish the foundation of the church and the faith of believers.
Currently, the GAs of each country may not be able to send resident workers to the pioneering areas under their care. But if preachers belonging to the evangelistic group of the GA can be sent on a rotating basis and stay for two to three months each time to pastor believers, the newly established churches will be greatly stabilized. The growth of the churches in India, through the support and assistance of the Malaysia/Singapore GA, shows the effectiveness of such a program.
Choosing and Utilizing Local Workers
â€œ[Paul] sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church...â€ (Acts 20:17).
Paul was convinced that chains and tribulation awaited him in Jerusalem, and he knew that he would not see the believers in Ephesus again. Knowing that he needed to entrust the holy work to others, he met with the elders of the Ephesus church and instructed them, â€œtake heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of Godâ€ (Acts 20:28). Paul considered the elders of the Ephesus church worthy to have work entrusted to them because â€œPaul lived in Ephesus for three years, and he did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tearsâ€ (Acts 20:31).
A key indicator of the stability of a newly established church is whether the local committee members have strong faith and serve the Lord faithfully. Such workers can only be fostered through long-term observation, cultivation, and training by preachers. Presently in the True Jesus Church, the ordination of preachers, elders, and deacons requires three to five years of religious training. This method is suitable for established churches with a long history, but it limits the number of workers available for new areas.
Establishing sufficient numbers of workers in new areas requires different methods. First, they need to be observed and fully trained by IA preachers or the responsible GA, but at the same time, they need to be utilized to assist in the local holy work within a short timeframe. The method adopted by the East Asia churches is the â€œordination of divine work,â€ rather than the â€œordination of divine office.â€ This is a good strategy for the immediate use of local workers in new areas.
In promoting the divine work of spreading the gospel throughout the world, we need to establish a solid foundation and progress steadily toward our goal. When new challenges arise, we must be flexible and adaptable in order to meet them. Yet we should always remember to rely on God: â€œExcept that the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build itâ€ (Ps 127:1). Although there are many geographical and cultural barriers to overcome, through our concrete efforts and our prayers we can be sure that the glorious body of Christ will be completely established, accomplishing the Lordâ€™s will soon.