Summary: This is a chapter of a book I am writing as a devotional on Ephesians. It has to do with Ephesians 4:11 and the office of the evangelist.
As we continue to study the five-fold ministry gifts of Ephesians 4:11, one important ministry office comes into focus at this point – the evangelist. Normally when people think of the word “evangelist,” the mental picture is of a sweat-soaked man with big hair preaching in a tent and slapping people on the head making them fall down. Or they think of some equally flamboyant character on TV who asks for money 50 minutes of a program and spouts a Bible verse about why he’s asking for it the other 10 minutes of the hourly allotment of his time. In the secular mindset of today’s society, where religious faith is more and more an object of scorn than of respect, these negative stereotypes prevail and are often satirized on late-night TV comedy shows. Growing up in a fairly traditional Appalachian Pentecostal environment as I did, I attended many meetings with my folks where a preacher called an evangelist would come to a local church in our town and hold a week-long meeting called a revival. God moved a lot in some of those services, and people were converted and came to Christ in those meetings, and in themselves there was nothing wrong or bad about such meetings. However, there is an important fact to note here – those old-time revival services I grew up around, and similar meetings today, did not have as their primary purpose the evangelization of souls. Rather, their purpose was to renew and revitalize the faithful, who may have gotten a little cold in their faith and needed to recommit themselves to Christ. That is not a bad thing at all, and indeed we need times of refreshing, as life’s challenges can often get our spiritual lives out of focus. Such meetings are also important in that they renew and empower the faithful to be more evangelistic. Like the other ministry gifts, the office of evangelist is both a specific office – that is, there are people called to the vocation full-time – and a general mandate; we are all called to evangelize because we are all to be witnesses of Christ to the world around us. To put it in Eastern Christian terms, our calling to be “living icons” of Christ to those around us is evangelistic. Saint John Climacus, in his classic work The Ladder of Divine Ascent, alludes to this as a calling we should all strive toward in our pilgrimage toward what we as Eastern Christians call Theosis. Christianity, in its many forms, is an evangelistic faith. We share with others what Christ done for us, for as John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that WHOSOEVER believeth in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” Christ, in His Passion, died for us all (Mel Gibson’s recent movie graphically illustrates the profundity of that in such a way that it stretched the human senses to their fullest comprehension), and we are responsible to share that message with others. Evangelism, then, is about showing Christ to others and in that respect every true Christian is called to it. However, there is a more specific function as well of one who holds the evangelistic office – it is a special calling that requires the whole life of the called, and it is this which Ephesians 4:11 deals with.
The word for evangelist is derived from the Greek word evangelion, which literally translates as “herald of good tidings.” The evangelist, in a specifically spiritual sense then, is charged with bringing the best news mankind can receive – we can be delivered from the depths of damnation and receive eternal life. God provided a way for this to be possible, and we as Christians know that Way is Jesus Christ, the ultimate Passover Lamb, which the lamb sacrificed in the Jewish Passover of old foreshadowed. That is one major reason why Easter is called Paska in the Eastern Christian traditions, and why in the households of many Eastern Orthodox and Eastern-rite Catholics (including my own) roast lamb is served on that day. The sole task of one called to the office of evangelist is to convey that message to all possible in a way that can relate to them.
Please understand, however, that this has nothing to do whatsoever with something floating around in Evangelical and charismatic Protestant circles today called “seeker-sensitive Christianity.” What that abhorrent philosophy essentially says is that we supposedly bring “Christ to the culture,” but in reality what it truly does is water down the Gospel message to make it more “appealing” to the masses (i.e. – “dumbing down” the Gospel). No amount of meaningless and spiritually-irreverent activities, such as skateboard clubs, shopping malls in “churches,” and mass-market strategies, rock-and-roll “worship services,” and pop psychology like so many of these so-called “seeker-sensitive” proponents advocate will ever replace the true Gospel message of holiness and consecration to Christ. The focus of evangelization, in short, is not to conform the Church to culture, but rather to transform people to Christ. Evangelization, in its truest sense, is NOT “seeker-sensitive”: it is Truth-proclaiming!! For one called into the five-fold evangelist calling, it involves using the individuality God gifted all of us with to reach who God leads us to reach. As individuals, we do it by reflection – our lifestyles and attitude are to reflect Christ to the world, as we are “living icons” of Christ. The evangelist with the five-fold calling goes a step further in using things like the media, etc., to proclaim the truth of Christ. The office of evangelist is not on the personal level that many of us are in our day-to-day lifestyles, but with the tools God provides, this person can be very effective. That is why all the spiritual gifts are relevant for today, for Christ died not only to save our souls, but also to renew our spirits, heal our bodies, and deliver us from those things that vex us and place us into bondage. The blood of Christ is key here, for as the old hymn goes, there is “Power in the Blood”! Of course, some caught up in the “seeker-sensitive” mentality think now that the Blood is offensive, and in that they are deceiving people. However, we as Catholic and Orthodox Christians are reminded of it every week, as we experience the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Mystery of the Eucharist. However, even in our Churches, people take that for granted – the Blood is not taught as it should be, and even priests are celebrating the Eucharist without even believing in its power. This is a sad commentary on American Christianity, for in the Cup of Salvation there is life, healing, and peace. Jesus died that we might live, and the Holy Eucharist is there to bring that to life for us. The greatest evangelist will always preach the Blood; one in the Church will always proclaim the power of the Holy Eucharist and its importance in our pilgrimage of salvation. The Blood is the antidote for our sins, of which all of us are stained by. The task of the evangelist is to proclaim that to the world, both as a living truth and as part of his own testimony.