Why should we do evangelism relationally? Acts suggests several reasons:
• to have fellowship (Acts 9:19, 26-28);
• to have companionship (18:18; 19:29; 20:34; 27:1-2; 28:15);
• to have protection (9:30; 17:15; 20:2-4);
• to have encouragement (28:15);
• to form an official delegation to attend the Jerusalem Council (15:2) and
• to deliver famine relief (11:30; 20:4);
• to provide for material needs (18:1-3;19 24:23; 27:3; 28:14);
• to engage in the ministry of edification (11:25-26; 14:21-23; 15:35; 15:40-41; 16:4-5; 19:9; 20:6-38);
• and to engage in the ministry of proclamation (9:28-30; 13:1-5, 13-16, 44-46; 14:1, 7, 20-21, 25; 17:1-15; 18:5-8).
And in the context of Acts, what does the “diversity of gifts serving one purpose” look like? Not only did Paul’s group evangelize together, but –as listed here- they also engaged in a team ministry of “edification”. This archaic-sounding term includes the cooperation of gifts of encouragement, teaching, hospitality, financial giving, with others too. Paul operated in this way with Barnabas in Antioch (11:25-26); with Barnabas in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch (14:21-23); with Barnabas again in Antioch (15:35); with Silas in Syria and Cilicia (15:41); with Silas and Timothy in Lystra and Iconium (16:4-5), and with Luke and several others in Troas and Miletus (20:6-38).
From this brief survey of Paul’s activities recorded in Acts, we note that: (a) Paul lived and worked closely with others. He seldom ministered alone. (b) On numerous occasions he engaged in team evangelism. (c) There would also appear to be a divine mandate for this style of evangelism. In Acts 13:2 and in 16:10, Luke wrote that God called Paul with his companions to evangelize together. On their first missionary journey Paul and Barnabas told the people God was the one who commanded them to “bring salvation to the end of the earth” (13:47). And twice Paul and his fellow workers reported back to the church everything God had done through them (14:27; 15:4). Evangelism –the point is clearly made- is invariably a corporate affair.
The third way that Acts characterizes evangelism Is this, that the development of the kingdom is necessarily a crossing of frontiers. This would seem to follow from the principle that the “kingdoms of the world become the kingdoms of the Christ.” These frontiers may be social or class, cultural or racial, religious or doctrinal. That is to say, we are not monocultural or stuck in one way of doing things. Kingdom development is organic and ultimately relationship is more important than doctrine. Or rather, relationship IS the doctrine. It is relationship that builds bridges between different people, and in Christ there is neither slave nor free, Jew or Gentile, male nor female… we are one in Christ.
Much debate has transpired in recent years over certain events in the Book of Acts. Is the tongues-speaking miracle of Pentecost an event for Christians to expect today? Is it exceptional or normative? Should the “signs and wonders” prevalent in Acts accompany our modern-day evangelistic efforts? Is Christian initiation a two-stage event, with conversion and water baptism followed by the baptism of the Holy Spirit?
These are a few of the points that have created controversy in recent years. My emphasis here, however, is somewhat different. It is that Luke characterizes evangelism –the announcement of kingdom Good News- as of primary importance. It is so important, in fact, that the questions in the previous paragraph become secondary. Their contemporary notoriety has overshadowed the absolute essentials of relationship. Though modern Christian writers undoubtedly recognize that prayer is indispensable, for example, it is often understated that it is the key ingredient of relationship. Luke would not have us miss the priority of prayer in the growth and expansion of the early church.
Stott comments that following Jesus’ ascension, the prayers of the disciples had two characteristics which “are two essentials of true prayer, namely that they persevered, and were of one mind.” The principle of unified prayer, or prayer with one mind and purpose, is the note of committed relationship: relationship to God is demonstrated by relationship with each other (and vice versa, of course). It is a thread that runs throughout the text. Luke’s initial description of the 120 (1:15) shows that they followed Christ’s command to wait for the Holy Spirit by obediently praying as a group with one mind. The power of “prayer in agreement” again is established when the Sanhedrin threatened the followers with punitive action if they continued to speak about the “name” (4:18). The impulse to share was too great, however, and a meeting of unified prayer sent the early Christians to new levels of boldness (4:31). “Having been bold in witness, they were equally bold in prayer.” Again, when Herod plots to destroy the evangelistic impetus through persecution, the church unites in prayer (12:5): Here then were two communities, the world and the church, pitted against one another, with their characteristic weapons: the power of the sword versus the power of prayer.