Evangelism and missions are ways by which the message of the saving work of God is propagated throughout the world. They are manifestations of the activity of God’s Word and Spirit. In both the Old and New Testaments, God calls believers to participate in advancing the message of the gospel among the nations. Although the gospel is the focal point of all evangelism, evangelism involves making and maturing disciples through the ministry of the Word of God. Scripture sets out the God-ordained means, method, and end of evangelism and missions. Far from diminishing the need to evangelize, God’s sovereignty fuels the church’s evangelistic labors. Related to evangelism is God’s command for the church to carry the gospel to the nations. Missionaries, empowered by the Holy Spirit and sent out by Jesus (Acts 1:8), cross geographical, cultural, and linguistic boundaries for the spread of the gospel and the salvation of the elect.
Evangelism and missions originated in the eternal council of the triune God and commenced upon the fall of our first parents. Having rebelled against God, Adam and Eve hid themselves from His presence (Gen. 3:8). Scripture teaches that the physical act of hiding from God was representative of the spiritual condition of all mankind after the fall. All who descend from Adam and Eve by ordinary generation (see Westminster Confession of Faith 6.3) are born spiritually dead in sins and trespasses, under the influence of the devil and under the wrath of God (Eph. 2:1–3). In love and mercy, God condescends to seek and save sinners through the saving work of Jesus Christ—the last Adam and Savior of sinners. After calling Adam and Eve out of hiding, God proclaimed the gospel to them (Gen. 3:15). Theologians have referred to the first preaching of the gospel as the protoevangelium. The message of God’s gracious work in Christ includes the defeat of the devil, deliverance into God’s kingdom, atonement for sin, and the destruction of death. In the first preaching of the gospel, we discover the divine initiative and gracious nature of the message of salvation.
In redemptive history, God carried on His missionary purpose by calling Abraham and forming the nation of Israel. Israel was set apart by God to be a light to the nations. If the people of Israel had lived distinctively consecrated lives to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—in the hope of the coming Redeemer—they would have been the instrument of the evangelization of the world. However, by their perpetual disobedience and idolatry, Israel forfeited its role. Jesus came as the true Israel of God, who bears the curse on Israel and on Adam’s chosen descendants for their disobedience in order to secure the Abrahamic blessing for the nations (Gen. 12:1–3; Gal. 3:13–14). During His earthly ministry, Jesus sent His disciples to proclaim the good news throughout Israel. After His resurrection and ascension, He commissioned the Apostles to bear worldwide witness to Him in “Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Jesus gave the Great Commission to the church for the purpose of gathering a community of worldwide worshipers. When sinners are reconciled to God through the preaching of Christ, God adds worshipers to His church. The church carries out evangelism in two major ways: ministers and congregants carry the gospel to their loved ones, neighbors, and coworkers; and parents diligently teach their children Scripture and the doctrines and practices of the Christian faith. Evangelism is the central aspect of outreach in local churches with respect to the unbelieving members of the surrounding community. The doctrinal and catechetical instruction of professing believers and their children may also properly be included in the definition of evangelism.
In missions, individual believers carry the gospel to areas of the world in which biblical local churches do not exist. Jesus is the great missionary—the One sent by His Father to bring good news to this lost and perishing world. In the Apostolic age, evangelism and missions were virtually inseparable. The book of Acts focuses on the unique ministry of the Apostle Paul—the first missionary to the gentile nations. Since God is a missionary God, He calls His church to be a missionary church.
Since the days of the Apostles, God has raised up several key individuals to carry the gospel to the nations. Among the most renowned are Patrick for his missionary labors in carrying the gospel to Ireland, Columba in bringing the gospel to Scotland, Augustine of Canterbury in taking the gospel to the English, and Boniface in seeking to Christianize the pagan nations of Europe.
The Reformation fueled a new missionary enterprise, as the Reformers sought to re-Christianize Europe with the pure preaching of the Word of God and the planting of Reformed churches. Between 1555 and 1562, John Calvin led a church-planting movement—overseeing over two thousand new churches in France. In 1556, he sent two missionaries and twelve laypeople to a Genevan trading company in Brazil to carry the Reformation to the native Indians. Although the latter effort never materialized, it reveals Calvin’s commitment to involve himself in world missions.
As reformation had paved the way for the re-Christianization of Europe, the Reformers influenced generations of pastors who would later bring the gospel to the inhabitants of the New World. In the eighteenth century, the evangelistic labors of Jonathan Edwards and David Brainerd among the Indians of New Jersey and New York encouraged evangelistic zeal across the Atlantic. Edwards wrote An Humble Attempt in order to call ministers in North America and Britain to unite in fervent prayer for the conversion of the nations. Additionally, he published Brainerd’s *Diary—*which recounts his unprecedented missionary labors among the Indians. In turn, Edwards and Brainerd influenced the modern missionary movement that began with William Carey—“the father of modern missions.” Concerning the influence of Brainerd on foreign missions, Carey wrote, “Let us often look at Brainerd in the woods of America, pouring out, his very soul before God for the perishing heathen, without whose salvation nothing could make him happy. Prayer, secret, fervent, believing prayer, lies at the root of all personal godliness.”
In the eighteenth-century, missionary societies and organizations emerged with the express purpose of advancing foreign missions. The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG) was an Anglican voluntary society that served the British Atlantic world. Founded in 1701 by Thomas Bray, this society was composed of a small group of lay and clerical members who sent chaplains and religious literature to the British colonies. Additionally, the Moravian missionary movement was carried out by the followers of Nicolaus von Zinzendorf, the leader of a group of Christians in Saxony, Germany.
However important these organizations and movements were, none of them rose to the level of influence of William Carey. An evangelical Calvinistic Baptist, Carey served as one of the founders of the Baptist Missionary Society (BMS). In 1773, Captain James Cook published a record of his voyages and discoveries in the South Pacific. Many years later, Carey said of this volume: “Reading Cook’s Voyages was the first thing that engaged my mind to think of missions.” On account of Cook’s Voyages, Carey’s eyes were opened to wider horizons than the fields of England. Carey determined to carry the gospel to the unreached peoples of India. After he settled in Serampore, India, in 1800, Carey’s life work finally began to come to fruition.
Among the many well-known evangelical missionaries of the modern missionary movement are Adoniram Judson, Hudson Taylor, George Lisle, William Chalmers Burns, David Livingstone, George Müller, Amy Carmichael, Horace Grant Underwood, John G. Paton, Lottie Moon, Jim Elliot, Elisabeth Elliot, and Nate Saint.
Evangelism isn’t the end but a means to the end, which is God’s glorious rescue of His people to know Him truly, worship Him purely, enjoy Him fully, and glorify Him eternally. We evangelize in order that God might gather for Himself worshipers from every tribe, tongue, and nation for His glory. Evangelism is a temporary necessity, but worship abides forever. Although we certainly need to be discipled in our knowledge of the gospel and equipped to proclaim the gospel, we must not forget that gospel proclamation isn’t first and foremost a program, it’s a way of life. It’s not something we only do on a particular day of the week when our schedules allow it; it’s something we do every day of our lives.
The so-called ‘10-40 window’ of northern Africa, the Middle East, central Asia, India, and southeast Asia still remains largely unevangelized. In this area, containing almost half the earth’s population, the Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist religions present a formidable obstacle to the Gospel. In addition to the religious obstacle, most governments of these countries actively oppose or even make illegal the proclamation of the Gospel. How then should we respond to this daunting challenge to the fulfillment of the Great Commission? Historically, the church has responded by recruitment of more missionaries, together with prayer and financial support for them. This is good, and we should continue this practice. However, there is something more we can do, and it is something every believer can and should be involved in. That is to pray fervently for the fulfillment of the Great Commission itself. This type of prayer goes beyond prayer for our missionaries and their various ministries. It is actually calling on God to fulfill His promise and His prophecies. It is earnestly asking Him to accomplish that which He says in Revelation 7:9 will happen.