LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–The major change in Article 11 of the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message is in the final sentence of the article: “It is the duty of every child of God to seek constantly to win the lost to Christ by verbal witness undergirded by a Christian lifestyle, and by other methods in harmony with the gospel of Christ.”
The words “verbal witness” were added to the 2000 statement. These two words were absolutely needed, and they added a component to the mandate of missions and evangelism that was conspicuously absent in previous statements.
Perhaps a current illustration can illuminate the importance of a verbal witness in the evangelistic mandate. I recently provided a brief consultation with a denominational group outside of the Southern Baptist Convention. My assignment was to offer counsel and provide insight into the reasons the regional denominational group was declining.
In the course of my research, I asked if the group provided any evangelistic training for their churches. The key leaders proudly showed me how they had developed a series of training modules which had been eagerly accepted and utilized by a majority of their churches.
My next step was to examine the evangelism training provided by the denominational group. The material was well done. Teaching units were available to the churches on CD or videocassette. The quality of the audio/video material was excellent.
But one aspect of the training concerned me. I could find no material which provided training on how to present a verbal witness for Christ. Thinking that I must have missed something, I asked the leaders what type of verbal witness training they provided. Their answer was a curt and succinct, “we don’t.”
Seeing the perplexed look on my face, they explained that it was their role to provide lifestyle evangelism training. But, they insisted that it was not their place to train others to tell about Jesus. Such an approach, they told me, presumed that Christians had a monopoly on truth.
And such a presumption from their point of view reeked of arrogance. They would be happy to train people in a Christian lifestyle. And if others inquired of their members, they could certainly tell them about Christ. But they would never be so narrow-minded as to insist that others hear the gospel message.
Such is the danger of speaking about missions and evangelism without explicitly mentioning the mandate to tell the good news. A Christian lifestyle witness is imperative. It provides the foundation from which a verbal witness can be heard with credibility.
But a lifestyle witness alone is insufficient. The Apostle Paul was clear on this issue when he wrote the church at Rome: “How then will they believe in Him whom they have not heard” (Romans 10:14a). As Paul admonished Timothy, we are to do the work of an evangelist, clearly speaking the good news of Christ.
The key changes in Article 11 of the 2000 BF&M are the additions of “verbal witness” and “the preaching of the gospel to all nations.” Both changes rightly correct earlier statements’ omissions of any type of explicit verbal proclamation of Christ. And both changes are much more consistent with the biblical teachings which command us to tell the good news to everyone.
Rainer is the dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
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Full text of Article 11: Evangelism and Missions
It is the duty and privilege of every follower of Christ and of every church of the Lord Jesus Christ to endeavor to make disciples of all nations. The new birth of man’s spirit by God’s Holy Spirit means the birth of love for others. Missionary effort on the part of all rests thus upon a spiritual necessity of the regenerate life, and is expressly and repeatedly commanded in the teachings of Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ has commanded the preaching of the gospel to all nations. It is the duty of every child of God to seek constantly to win the lost to Christ by verbal witness undergirded by a Christian lifestyle, and by other methods in harmony with the gospel of Christ.
Genesis 12:1-3; Exodus 19:5-6; Isaiah 6:1-8; Matthew 9:37-38; 10:5-15; 13:18-30, 37-43; 16:19; 22:9-10; 24:14; 28:18-20; Luke 10:1-18; 24:46-53; John 14:11-12; 15:7-8,16; 17:15; 20:21; Acts 1:8; 2; 8:26-40; 10:42-48; 13:2-3; Romans 10:13-15; Ephesians 3:1-11; 1 Thessalonians 1:8; 2 Timothy 4:5; Hebrews 2:1-3; 11:39-12:2; 1 Peter 2:4-10; Revelation 22:17.
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