3. What Covid-19 Can Teach Us About EvangelismRelated Media
When I read the Book of Acts and attempt to explain the rapid growth of the church the closest analogy I can think of is the current spread of the Covid-19 virus.
I know of a missionary who has been privileged to play a significant role in the explosive expansion of the gospel in a distant land. Because he has witnessed amazing success in evangelism, a number of mission agencies have asked him to come and share the secret to his success. He refuses to take any credit for what he knows is a powerful manifestation of God’s saving grace. Because of his experience, he has come to a whole new way of looking at the Book of Acts. He does not see the great number of conversions to the faith in Acts as the outcome of a strategic plan and program, planned, and executed by the apostles who led the charge. Instead, he sees it as a great and mighty work of God, with the apostles trying to keep up with what God was doing. Now, as I read the Book of Acts, I tend to see it the same way.
Think about this for a moment. At Pentecost thousands suddenly came to faith. Even though the Holy Spirit had given birth to a flourishing church in Jerusalem, the apostles did not form a missions committee to strategize how they would reach the rest of the world for Jesus. That was, after all, the command which our Lord had given them:
Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20, NET).
The expansion of the church was not initiated by a missions committee or a missions conference. It was brought about by the persecution of the church, triggered by the death of Stephen (Acts 6:8—8:1; 11:19-21). Most of the church scattered abroad, with the apostles staying behind in Jerusalem (8:1). It was not the apostles who initiated the evangelistic thrust among the Gentiles, but some unknown and unnamed individuals who didn’t know how to keep the gospel to themselves:
19 Now those who had been scattered because of the persecution that took place over Stephen went as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, speaking the message to no one but Jews. 20 But there were some men from Cyprus and Cyrene among them who came to Antioch and began to speak to the Greeks too, proclaiming the good news of the Lord Jesus. 21 The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord (Acts 11:19-21, emphasis mine).
The distressing fact is that the original 11 apostles were not aggressive in taking the gospel to the Gentiles. In fact, they drug their feet in this matter. Peter was reluctant to go to the home of Cornelius (Acts 10:9-16), but when he did and the Gentiles there came to faith, his fellow-apostles called him on the carpet for going:
1 Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles too had accepted the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers took issue with him, 3 saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and shared a meal with them” (Acts 11:1-3).
Even though Peter’s explanation was compelling, and his fellow-apostles had to recognize that God had chosen to save Gentiles, as well as Jews, their profession and their practice were not consistent:
When they heard this, they ceased their objections and praised God, saying, “So then, God has granted the repentance that leads to life even to the Gentiles” (Acts 11:18).
It was Paul, and men like Barnabas and Silas, Timothy, and Luke who became the frontrunners in taking the gospel to the Gentiles.
So, what does all this have to do with Covid-19 and evangelism? Simply this. Think of how the Covid-19 virus is being spread today. People do not deliberately go out, seeking to spread the virus to many others. They simply go about their lives as usual, and when they come into contact with others, the virus is unknowingly spread abroad. There are no classes, teaching people how to spread the virus. This is no need for them. The virus has a life of its own, and is spread by social contact as people go about their lives as normal.
Ideally – and certainly as we see it in the Book of Acts – the gospel was quickly spread abroad by people who went about, living their lives in contact with other people. These saints did not begrudgingly spread the gospel, nor was their evangelism the execution of a particular plan or script. (Mind you, I’m not saying that these methodologies and strategies are wrong, but they are not ideal, in my opinion.) I believe that Christians went about, filled with the Holy Spirit, and living in joyful fellowship with other believers. Their joy simply overflowed, and because their new-found salvation was so life-transforming they just couldn’t help but tell others about it. For them, evangelism was the result of the overflow of joy and praise to God that others observed, and “caught.”
44 All who believed were together and held everything in common, 45 and they began selling their property and possessions and distributing the proceeds to everyone, as anyone had need. 46 Every day they continued to gather together by common consent in the temple courts, breaking bread from house to house, sharing their food with glad and humble hearts, 47 praising God and having the good will of all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number every day those who were being saved (Acts 2:44-47).
The joy-filled faith of new believers overflowed in unity, and in generosity toward those in need:
32 The group of those who believed were of one heart and mind, and no one said that any of his possessions was his own, but everything was held in common. 33 With great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was on them all. 34 For there was no one needy among them, because those who were owners of land or houses were selling them and bringing the proceeds from the sales 35 and placing them at the apostles’ feet. The proceeds were distributed to each, as anyone had need (Acts 4:32-35).
It is now common to hear or read of some video that has “gone viral.” I believe that the gospel went viral in the Book of Acts. And I pray that the gospel will once again go viral, making a global impact, because Spirit-filled Christians cannot be silenced, or their faith concealed. May it be so, to the glory of God and the salvation of many. Will you intentionally be a part of sharing the gospel and helping make disciples of Jesus as God has commanded (Matthew 28:19-20)?