Evangelism and Experience

  If it is OK to say that the church is on a mission, the mission is surely to glorify God by proclaiming the gospel to Christians (to build them up) and to unbelievers (to rescue them from darkness).  J. Gresham Machen has a good word on evangelism and experience. 

“Let us not deceive ourselves, my friends – Christian experience is necessary to evangelism, but evangelism does not consist merely in the rehearsal of what has happened in the evangelist’s own soul.  We shall, indeed, be but poor witnesses for Christ if we can tell only what Christ has done for the world or the church and cannot tell what he has done personally for us.”

“But we shall also be poor witnesses if we recount only the experiences of our own lives.  Christian evangelism does not consist merely in a man’s going about the word saying, ‘Look at me, what a wonderful experience I have, how happy I am, what wonderful Christian virtues I exhibit; you can all be as good and happy as I am if you will just make a complete surrender of your wills in obedience to what I say.’  That is what many religious workers seem to think evangelism is.  We can preach the gospel, they tell us, by our lives, and do not need to preach it by our words.”

“But they are wrong.  Men are not saved by the exhibition of our glorious Christian virtues; they are not saved by the contagion of our experiences.  We cannot be the instruments of God in saving them if we preach to them thus only ourselves.  No, we must preach to them the Lord Jesus Christ, for it is only through the gospel which sets him forth that they can be saved.”

Great way to put it…here’s more:

“If you want health for your souls, and if you want to be the instruments of bringing health to others, do not turn your gaze forever within, as though you could find Christ there.  No, turn your gaze away from your own miserable experiences, away from your own sin, to the Lord Jesus Christ as he is offered to us in the gospel.  ‘As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.’  Only when we turn away from ourselves to that uplifted Savior shall we have healing for our deadly hurt.”

Later Machen expresses an awesome cry:

“Oh, that men would turn for salvation from their own experience to the cross of Christ; oh, that they would turn from the phenomena of religion to the living God! …Let us above all things know the Word.  Let us study it with all our minds and cherish it with all our hearts.  Then let us try, very humbly, to bring it to the unsaved.  Let us pray that God may honor not the messengers but the message, that despite our unworthiness he may make his Word upon our unworthy lips to be a message of life.”

Let us pray and think that way indeed!

(Quotes from “Christian Scholarship and Evangelism” in Machen’s Shorter Writings)

shane lems

sunnyside wa

2 Replies to “Evangelism and Experience”

  1. A few years ago, a young evangelist moved into an area in Asia famous for its violent resistance to Jesus. The radical religious opposition immediately came to his apartment, making their intentions clear: “We’ll kill you if you stay here and preach!” The evangelist only smiled. “I came to die,” he replied. Today his church has 200 members.


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