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Written by John R. Respess   



What is an evangelist? An evangelist is defined to be a Christian teacher who is not fixed to any particular spot, but who travels for the purpose of pro­pagating the gospel. In Ephesians iv. 11, evangelists are distinguished from pastors and teachers as a separate class of ministers. The points of difference seem to be that evangelists are itinerant, and pastors stationary.

Evangelists were employed in introducing the Gospel where it was before unknown, while the business of pastors was to confirm and instruct the church statedly and permanently.

But whether they were apostles, prophets, pastors and teachers or evangelists, the object of their ministry was one and the same; it was— “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a per feet man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: so that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning of craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive,” etc.—Eph. iv.

Within the last twenty-five years there has arisen among us ministers who do not serve churches, but who travel and preach from church to church—churches that are supplied with pastors and teachers. They claim to be evangelists. Many look upon it as a new thing and do not favor it, while others regard it as a good work. It is, therefore, a matter requiring investigation for the peace of the church.

These traveling ministers are impressed to do this work and therefore they do it. As far as I am acquainted with them, they are sound ministers; and I have no doubt they have prayerfully tried their impressions by the word of God, as we are taught to do in 1 John iv. There is no other way of trying the spirit we are under, but by the word; and if we are impressed to do a work not author­ized by the word, we have no warrant that it is of the Spirit. We dare not be governed by the spirit or impressions only so far as they agree with the word. The word is the test. There are many spirits, but the true Spirit accords with the word, and the word is one. There is danger of doing something under a spirit that we may feel to be right and yet a thing in violation of God’s word.

But to return more directly to the subject: Of these traveling ministers, Eld. J. H. Purifoy stands among the foremost; he is a minister of ability, and, what is better, a man of irreproachable private character; and he has made the subject a special study, and his views are therefore entitled to consideration. It is his opinion that Barnabas and Paul were ordained by the church at Antioch to the special work of evangelists. That they were ordained to a special work to which the other teachers in the church of Antioch were not called, is certain, let the work be what it may have been. The other ministers in Antioch church were impressed by the Spirit that Barnabas and Paul were called to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. I have conjectured—it is but a conjecture—that each of those teachers had it upon his mind before they ever uttered it to each other, that Paul and Barnabas were called to preach to the Gentiles; and they kept it each to himself, because it contravened the prejudices and education of even Chris­tian Jews to associate religiously with the Gentiles, and therefore it would subject them to persecution. Peter, himself, after having preached to Cornelius, the Gentile, dissembled about it. But when these teachers minis­tered to the Lord, they found that each of them had the same impressions and were confirmed, and the church also, that it was the Spirit’s work; and Paul and Barnabas were, therefore, sent forth to the work by church authority.

Now, we know what the work of Barnabas and Paul was; that it was the work of preaching the gospel to the heathens, and planting churches among them; and if that sort of work is the work of evangelists, then the work of our traveling ministers cannot, as yet, be called the work of evangelists. Because the work of our traveling ministers is confined to preaching to churches only, whilst Paul and Barnabas traveled and preached where there were no churches. Paul made five or more tours in his work, staying many months at times in one place, and each time, generally extending his work fur­ther and further, as he was enlarged or enabled to do so by the churches he had already constituted. Now, here is the hitch, in my mind, about the work of our traveling ministers, in this day, being in accordance with the Scriptures. Are they yet, even if impressed of the Lord, doing the work of evangelists. If Paul and Barnabas were evangelists, Mark, Silas and Timothy were evangelists also; for they at times, if not at all times, traveled with them.

If our traveling ministers preached generally in des­titute places, and even where the gospel had not been preached, it would seem to be more scriptural. In last MESSENGER there is a letter from Bro. David John, of Bissell, Penn., in which is given a gloomy account of church destitution. There is not what we call a gospel minister in all that region; churches have died out, and only one seems to have survived, and it has preaching only twice a year. Are none impressed to visit such destitute places? There seems to be a famine there, while other places have plenty and to spare, and even seem to fare sumptuously every day, and these poor brethren lying, so to speak, at our gate. But it may be that there are no more of the Lord’s people there, and if not, then it is not likely that the Holy Ghost will send a minister there. But there are a few there now, and they are crying for help; and how dwells the love of God in our hearts when seeing our brethren have need and we shut up the bowels of our compassion from them f—i John iii. 17. They suffer for the bread of life, and we heed it not; but if they were suffering for natural bread we would help them at once. If these brethren are unable to pay the way of one of our min­isters to them, would it not be my privilege, and your privilege to aid a God called minister to go? Of course it would. And might not a traveling minister stay months with them, if the Spirit so instructed him, and labor among them for his own support whilst with them, and constitute churches, if necessary? Would not this be the Lord’s making the wilderness and the solitary places glad, and making the desert rejoice and blossom as the rose to blossom abundantly and rejoice even with joy and singing; and be strengthening the weak hands and confirming the feeble knees? Would not the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing, and waters break out in the wilderness and streams in the desert; and the parched ground become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water?——Isa. xxxv. I should delight to see such a work! And there are many just such destitute places in our country—more than enough to occupy most of the time of all our travel­ing ministers.

If it is right to aid our brethren in a famine of natural food, it certainly would not be wrong to do it in a famine of spiritual food. When Agabus signified by the spirit that there would he a great dearth throughout the world, the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judah; which also they did, and sent it to the elders by Barnabas and Paul—Acts xi.

There was, in olden days, such a thing as “fullness of bread and abundance of idleness,” when the “hands of the poor and needy were not strengthened.”—Ezek xvi. And may it not be that something of the sort in this day is the root of so much fussing among us? If we should scatter our bread more, and even, cast it upon the waters, we should perhaps gather that again which we now waste. We should feed the hungry with the sur­plus which now, in all probability, we should do better without. If we have a surplus of preaching at any one or more places, it must be that other places are desti­tute and suffering. For there is nothing given us to waste; the fragments are to be gathered up that nothing be lost.

It seems to me that if a church should have a minis­ter or teacher whose work seemed to be of the evangelist order, and the Holy Ghost so impressed her, that it would not be wrong for her to let him go forth to that work, giving him a certificate of good private character and soundness in the faith. We have no account of Antioch having consulted with the church at Jerusalem about this matter. They made no Board to sustain Paul and Barnabas in their work, but committed them to God, who called them. None of the other apostles made any complaint about the work of Paul and Bar­nabas, as if they were doing too much, though they— the other apostles—did not do it because God had not called them to it.

This article is written more to elicit the views of other brethren, and to call attention to the subject, than for any other purpose; for I confess that my mind is not clear on the subject.—R.

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