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Written by W.M. Mitchell   


The Gospel Messenger—May 1891

In the MESSENGER of February, ‘91, on pages 74 and 80, the work of evangelists is brought before us for investigation, by Elds. Purifoy and Respess, and it is hoped that such interest will be taken in it by our people that such light may be thrown upon the subject as to result in more uniformity of understanding of it.

There does not appear to be any question among brethren as to the gift of evangelists to the church, as a gift in some respects distinct from that of pastors, teachers and other gifts mentioned in Eph. iv. 12; but the question for investigation now seems to be as to the appropriate work of evangelists? That they are God’s gift to the church and in the church, and to be subject to the discipline, authority and control of the church as other gifts are, we presume none will deny; and that they should preach the gospel all will admit. But still the question comes up as to wherein their work differs from that of apostles, pastors, teachers and exhorters!

One distinction generally supposed to be between the work of evangelists and pastors and teachers is, that they are to travel and preach, and never to have any settled care of churches as pastors and home teachers do. This may be correct, but the church is to be the judge in every case, and she will be far more likely to discern what the gift is, and to what place to assign it, than the brother will himself.

It is evidently a bad sign when brethren and sisters of the church never feel the weight of a brother’s gift, or have any strong and prayerful exercises of mind about it till he has to tell them how powerfully he is wrought upon to preach, whether at home or abroad. And it does not appear that this would be in harmony with the pattern given in Acts xiii. 1, for we do not find anything there, or in that connection indicating that Paul and Barnabas, who were to be separated and sent forth to the work to which God had called them, ever once mentioned to the church at Antioch how powerfully they were impressed to go as evangelists, nor did they have to first bring the subject to the consideration of their brethren; but instead of this, the Holy Ghost or Spirit of God and spirit of truth, spoke in their hearts and impressed their mind to such extent that by fasting and prayer to God they laid hands upon Barnabas and Paul, (or as we would now call it—ordained them) to go forth and preach the gospel among the Gentiles and Jews, as the credentials given by a church now generally says: “Preach the gospel and administer its ordinances wherever God in his providence shall cast their lot.” We may have been mistaken all our life upon this matter, but whether from tradition or otherwise, we never have regarded it as a good indication that the Lord had called a brother to preach, either at home or to travel abroad, if he had first to mention it to his church and urge upon them to liberate him to the work. True we have heard of some few such cases of late years, even among Primitive Baptists, but it has been so contrary to our feelings, views and understanding of this subject, that we never have felt that our sanction could be given as one of a presbytery to ordain and give credentials to any brother who was so forward to press his claim for such distinction.

Elder Purifoy argues that “evangelists are compelled” to travel and preach, and that the “backwardness and slowness of our people to believe this, adds greatly to the hardships and distress of the evangelists.” He thinks brethren may “say or do what they will against evangelists, refuse to invite or recognize them as evangelists—give them the cold shoulder—call them money-hunters, gleaners, or self-appointed evangelists, it will make no difference with them so far as stopping is concerned.”

Now we may not fully understand our brother in the above remarks in his letter, but we will say that it has not been our experience, nor our understanding of the Scriptures, from our first effort in the ministry till this present hour, that let brethren say what they would against, and refuse to recognize or invite us that we were compelled to thrust our poor services upon them. Nor have we knowingly ever done so, and if the good Lord has required it, then we confess that we have been entirely remiss in that part of our duty. And we know that elders among the churches are exhorted by the apostle to take the oversight of the flock or church of God, “willingly and of a ready mind; but not by constraint or compulsion, nor for filthy lucre, or to lord it over God’s heritage.—I Pet. v. 2.

That gospel ministers are compelled to preach,, and that necessity is laid upon them, is certainly true, both from the experience of gospel preachers and from the written word of God; but this compulsion is not independent of church authority, or whether their brethren will or not. One of the marks given by inspiration as warning to the church to know who is unfit to be set apart as a gospel minister is that he is “self-willed.”— Titus i. 7.

In citing the action of the church at Antioch as recorded in xiii chapter of Acts, Elds. Purifoy and Respess are agreed that church authority is necessary for sending forth evangelists by ordination to travel abroad and preach; but their conclusions as to what particular localities they should go, may possibly differ. Eld. Purifoy says: “Our church will be compelled sooner or later, for their own protection and the good of the cause in general, to come to some understanding as to whom they will recognize as evangelists and support as such. The matter can very easily be settled if they will take the action of the church at Antioch as a pattern—which indeed it is, in my opinion, and let the home church of the evangelist set him specially apart to such work, and give him credentials to that effect?”

If then the proceedings of the church at Antioch is the pattern, as both these brethren correctly agree that it is, for sending forth evangelists, we doubt whether any of our traveling preachers who are engaged exclusively in that way, could show that they had ever been set apart to that kind of work.

And again it is evident, as shown by Eld. Respess, that the work of our modern evangelists, or traveling preachers, differs greatly from that of Paul and Barnabas, who went mostly among the destitute, preaching and establishing churches; whereas our traveling preachers, as a rule, go among what are considered the largest, best supplied, and most acceptable churches, already established in the faith and order of the gospel. Have we then, all things considered, any Scriptural evangelists among us, with any other credentials from the church than such as are usually given to go forth and preach the gospel and administer its ordinances wherever their lot is cast?

W. M. M.

Last Updated ( Friday, 22 September 2006 )
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