Structured for Revival
Do the work of an evangelist (2 Timothy 4:5) . . . speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) . . . through love serve one another (Galatians 5:13).
The year 1735 was a remarkable one in the western world.1 In January, while her husband Jonathan was off preaching in other places, the Spirit of God fell mightily upon the preaching of Samuel Buell, and Sarah Edwards was moved powerfully in her soul.2 At least three hundred were converted in the next six months in Northampton, MA, through Edwards’ preaching ministry. Meanwhile, in England, while a student at Oxford, George Whitefield was in the throes of profound conviction for his sin. He had been so weakened spiritually and emotionally that his own physical health was in jeopardy. He came to peace with God around Easter.3 In Wales a lukewarm Anglican preacher named Daniel Rowland was converted through the preaching of Griffith Jones.4 At the same time, in the nearby town of Llandeilo a school teacher named Howell Harris was also regenerated. A few weeks later Harris experienced a profound moving of the Holy Spirit upon his life.5 The result in England, Wales, Scotland, and Colonial America was the beginning of a great revival, the so-called Great Awakening that brought upwards of 300,000 into the kingdom of God in America alone, between 1742-45.6
In every instance the work of mighty evangelists brought forth the need for pastoral care and diaconal ministry. Whitefield’s preaching in Savannah, Georgia led him to raise money for the Bethesda Home,7 an orphanage still in operation and still faithful to its evangelical roots. The preaching of Harris and Rowland brought so many into the kingdom of Christ that men by the hundreds were needed to shepherd these new converts in what they called Societies.8 The evangelists moved from town to town preaching evangelistic sermons, often in the open fields; while the ‘Exhorters’ remained behind and taught the new converts the basics of Christian living.
There is a clear ecclesiastical structure in Scripture, ordained by God, which needs to be observed if we are to see a mighty revival return to the western world. There are three levels to that structure. On the ground floor, as it were, all believers in the Lord Jesus, every one of his blood bought children, are to engage in three activities – all are to evangelize, all are to speak the truth of God in love, and all are to serve others. And God gives three offices in the church which are to oversee the work of the children of God – the offices of Evangelist, Elder, and Deacon. Every believer is to serve as a foot soldier in Christ’s army, while the officers are the Captains who oversee their deployment into the field of battle. And then God has gifted people in three general ways – evangelism, teaching, and serving.9 Those recognized with these gifts in the church serve as the Lieutenants who propel the foot soldiers, under the leadership of the three offices of Evangelist, Elder, and Deacon, into the world with the gospel of grace.
Let’s look at each of these three levels in some detail so that we may see how God equips his church for the work of revival. Every believer is called by God to evangelize. Paul the Apostle commends the church at Rome for their faithfulness, that their faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world (Rom. 1:8). He tells the Thessalonians that he has no need to say anything because the word of the Lord has sounded forth from them in every place where their faith has already gone, telling others of the glory of the saving work of Christ (1 Thess. 1:8). On the day of Pentecost the clear indication is that all one hundred and twenty who had been praying in the Upper Room, not simply the Apostles, were filled with the Spirit, speaking of the mighty things of God in other languages. In Acts 4:31, after Peter and John had been imprisoned and threatened by the Sanhedrin, believers were gathered, filled with the Holy Spirit, and the place where they were assembled was shaken and they spoke the word of God with boldness. And in Acts 8:4ff, the believers were dispersed from Jerusalem in the midst of persecution, and went about evangelizing, sharing the good news of Jesus to all who would listen. Mighty revival praying and preaching brings mighty grass roots evangelism. When the Holy Spirit falls with Pentecostal power the children of God open their mouths and cannot stop speaking what they have seen and heard (Acts 4:20). The bottom line is this – every Christian is to bear witness of his faith in the Lord Jesus, to tell others of what God has done for his soul. To fail here is to disobey God!
Second, every believer in the Lord Jesus is to speak the truth of God in love (Eph. 4:15). We are to encourage one another, day after day, as long as it is still called today, lest any of us be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:13). We are to stir up one another to love and good works (Heb. 10:24-25). Speaking the truth in love can mean we need to rebuke a brother or sister in sin (Matt. 18:15), or it can mean we comfort one in the midst of sorrow (Isa. 40:1ff). Jonathan proved a wonderful encouragement to young David while being persecuted by King Saul (1 Sam. 18). Nathan was used powerfully to bring King David to repentance for his adultery and murder (2 Sam. 12:1-13).
Perhaps our tendency is to not want to rock the boat with someone, to remain silent when we see a brother mistreating his wife or children. I remember years ago observing a Christian brother being far too friendly with a woman who was not his wife. I said nothing, and the man later fell into marital infidelity. I have long regretted my guilty silence. We may observe a father or mother failing properly to discipline their children, coddling them, refusing to use the rod of discipline and we may think it is ‘none of our business’, and we remain silent. All of us are commanded to speak the truth to brothers or sisters in Christ when we have a relationship with them, when we deem their values or actions as unbiblical.
And all believers are to serve one another. The New Testament is replete with so called reciprocal commands which clearly call all who name the name of Christ actively to engage in helping one another.10 The believers in Acts give up what they have to help the needy. The church in Macedonia gives out of her poverty to help those in need in Jerusalem 2 Cor. 8:2). In the movie Witness, the Amish community is shown doing a barn raising for a young couple. All chipped in and built the barn in one day. That’s the kind of thing in which all believers, regardless of spiritual gifts or office in the church, are to participate. What would happen if the professing community of believers in your town actually engaged in these three commands – to witness their faith, to speak the truth in love, and to serve the brethren!
However there must be a church structure to these everyday acts of God’s people. God has ordained three offices that are vital to this church structure. The first is the office of Evangelist. Most churches and denominations do not recognize this office, and therein rests one of our major problems. The Presbyterian Church in America recognizes the title of Evangelist11 but it is held by a Teaching Elder who ministers in another country or a so called destitute region of our country, where he is given power to receive members without the benefit of oversight of the Presbytery or a local church Session. However the office of Evangelist is non-existent in the PCA and most other denominations. We read, however, in Ephesians 4:11 that God gave some as Apostles, some as Prophets, some as as Evangelists. The first two offices of Apostle and Prophet are no longer needed, no longer in operation because these were tied to the canonization of Holy Scripture. Once the Word of God was given in its entirety there was no need for the office of Apostle or Prophet. However Evangelists are still very much needed, and churches are remiss in not recognizing this, in not making room for the ordained office of Evangelist, an office that governs the work of Evangelism in the local church. The Church of Uganda, in each of her Dioceses, has a Director of Evangelism who oversees all the work of evangelistic outreach within that Diocese.
The second office in the church is that of Elder (see Acts 15:4ff; 20:17ff, 1 Tim. 3:1ff, Titus 1:5ff). Elders are men who are gifted by God to shepherd the flock of God and to rule over them (1 Pet. 5:1-4). They are to meet clear Biblical qualifications (1 Tim. 3:2ff, Titus 1:6ff). Among other things, they must be godly, have believing children, and live above reproach among those in the world and church. They must know sound doctrine, be able to teach it, and be able to refute those who contradict it. There seems to be a division of labour with Elders. Some work hard at preaching and teaching and thus are to be held in double honour (1 Tim. 5:17), while others merely shepherd the flock of God. This is where some denominations derive the distinction between Teaching and Ruling elders.
And third, there is an office of Deacon (Acts 6:1ff) which came about when the Hellenistic Jews were being discriminated against in the distribution of food in the early church. Their ‘lowly position’ caused some leaders to neglect their physical needs. The Apostles asked for the office of Deacon to be established to address this physical need, allowing the Elders and Apostles to remain faithful to their calling of prayer and the ministry of the Word. The Deacons are to oversee the distribution of monies and other tangible help to those within and without the local congregation (Acts 11:27-30).
If the foot soldiers, the regular members of the church, are to evangelize, speak the truth in love, and serve one another, and if ordained men are to oversee these aspects of ministry through the offices of Evangelist, Elder, and Deacon, then the presence of these three spiritual gifts within a local congregation ought to be expected, fostered, and developed with a great care.12 Gifts of Evangelism, Teaching, and Serving are to be used by those who possess them in order to propel the foot soldiers into the world and church. Every church needs men and women gifted as evangelists. Evangelists bring new life into the church, much like the birth of a baby into a family. And just as a baby brings huge demands upon a family, so does the presence of new believers. They must be taught how to live as believers, to walk in a manner worthy of their calling (Eph. 4:1ff, Col. 2:6-10). There are two types of speaking gifts. Some speakers are teachers and others are exhorters. A teacher is one who takes the great truths of Scripture and makes them simple and compelling to the congregation. A teacher is not necessarily an ordained man or woman. He or she may not hold a church office but is recognized by the body of believers as one who is effective at building up the body of Christ so that believers are not led astray into false doctrine (Eph. 4:14-15). Then a church needs those with speaking gifts in the form of exhortation. We find Paul exhorting and encouraging believers to present their bodies a living and holy sacrifice (Rom. 12:1-2), to put off the old man, to be renewed in the spirit of their mind, and to put on the new man (Eph. 4:22-24). While a teacher explains the Word of God, what God wants us to know and why, the exhorter, in turn, calls people to act upon what they hear. I am not suggesting that a teacher does not engage in both teaching and exhorting, for surely he does. I am suggesting, however, that he is more gifted in one or the other. He is more at home with one or the other. He is more effective at one or the other.
And then God also gifts some as servants, those who carry out diaconal ministry. Barnabas seems to be such a man. He gave all he had to serve the needy within the church, and he fetched Paul from Tarsus to come and help him in his ministry (Acts 11:25). He also wanted to give John Mark another chance at ministry when he had earlier deserted him and Paul at Pamphylia (Acts 13:13). New converts, coming into the kingdom through Evangelists, who are taught and exhorted by those with speaking gifts, are very often in need of practical and temporal help. When the Spirit of God moved mightily in Irian Jaya in the 1960’s, converting many in many villages and tribes, all three gifts were evident and very much at work.13 If a church has one with the gift of evangelism, then she needs two teachers and three deacons, just to keep up with the demands of that ministry.
But how do you know if you have any of these gifts, and if so, which one? No doubt one’s effectiveness is a way of knowing his or her gifts, and certainly others will tell you if they see evidence of one of these gifts in your life. However the greatest way to know if you have a gift of evangelism, speaking, or service is to engage heavily in all three aspects of ministry and see which ‘rises to the surface.’ I once thought I had the gift of evangelism until I realized that I must force myself to engage in personal evangelism. I do so out of obedience, and I always enjoy it while sharing the gospel with others. However I am not inwardly motivated to evangelize. It is not the driving force in my life and ministry. Neither is serving in diaconal or mercy ministry. Again, I must do both of these in obedience to God’s call on me, just as we must all engage in evangelizing, speaking the truth in love, and serving one another. However, I came to realize I have a speaking gift because I love to preach and teach. I could do it for hours, every day. I love the preparation, the reading, the meditation, the time in prayer preparing to preach or teach.
One with the gift of evangelism is unstoppable. He never grows weary of it. He has an uncommon boldness, efficacy, and joy in preaching and one-on-one evangelistic outreach. He fears not rejection nor is he discouraged by lack of a positive response. One with the gift of mercy never grows weary of helping others in concrete, specific ways. He generally has a deep compassion for those who suffer hardship. He or she is unstoppable in such service. And the same is true with the teaching gift. He could preach all day, every day. An exhorter is one who seems inclined to speak the hard things to a congregation, to urge them to do what God says. A teacher, on the other hand, seems content simply to give them information they may find helpful.
As a teacher, I certainly seek to exhort, to move people to specific action in every sermon, but I am inwardly content when I have delivered a sermon. The exhorter, on the other hand, is not content with merely giving information. He is motivated to see people act upon what they hear. Therefore many exhorters seem to have ministries where a great deal of conflict is present. People tend to come for a while and then leave for another ministry.
Here’s a practical example of how this works in a congregation. At our church in West Hartford, I preach and make known God’s Word, doing my best to lift up Christ and to call our people to do what God is commanding from the particular text I am preaching. To add to this, however, I often urge our Ruling Elders to stand up after I finish preaching, and exhort the congregation to do what the Scripture is calling them to do. Not only does this enhance my teaching gift, but it also enables our Ruling Elders to deploy their gift of exhortation. Another practical benefit is that this protects me from undue criticism. The Ruling Elders stand beside me in the ministry of the Word. We give a united front to the congregation in what God is calling us to do.
All three of these gifts are necessary in every church. A church with an evangelist as a pastor will be prone toward shallowness. His great desire is evangelism and the messages he tends to preach are for the lost, limited to evangelistic outreach. But a church with a teacher, while perhaps growing rapidly, will eventually level off and even decline, especially after he leaves for another church. How many times have we all seen this happen! A church without an evangelist prominent in leadership, active in ministry, will eventually die. And a church with a pastor who has diaconal gifts in the forefront, will also die and even more rapidly. It will also move away from a strong emphasis on preaching Christ crucified. That’s because the compassion of the pastor begins to override the doctrinal content necessary to keep the church on the right track, and the absence of evangelism strips mercy ministry of its very core.
So, if we are to see revival in our day, not only must we repent of our sin, not only must we pray earnestly, but we must also restructure our churches according to the biblical model. We must all share the gospel, speak the truth in love, and serve one another. We must recognize and deploy the three offices of Evangelist, Elder, and Deacon. And we must deploy those with gifts of evangelism, teaching, and serving so that the entire congregation can be propelled and directed effectively into the world to affect the change we so desperately want and need.
- For more details see my essay entitled ‘1735’ in Seeking a Revival Culture, published by Wipf and Stock.
- Jonathan Edwards, A Life, by George Marsden, page 242. [Editorial Note: According to Dwight’s ‘Memoirs of Jonathan Edwards’ in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 1 (1834; Banner of Truth reprint 1974), this experience of Sarah Edwards occurred in 1742 – described in her own words on pages lxii – lxvii. See also Iain H. Murray, Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography (Banner of Truth, 1987), pp. 171-172 and 194-196. However, during the Northampton revival of 1735 she did experience ‘a degree of spiritual joy not previously known’ (Murray, p. 193), but this was not associated with the preaching of Samuel Buell.]
- Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield, Volume 1 (Banner of Truth, 1970), pp. 72-77.
- John Morgan Jones & William Morgan, The Calvinistic Methodist Fathers of Wales, Volume 1 (Banner of Truth, 2008), pp. 62-63.
- Ibid., pp. 111-114.
- See Erroll Hulse’s Give Him No Rest, published by Evangelical Press, page 25. New England saw at least 50,000 saved during this time period.
- Dallimore, op. cit., pp. 445ff.
- For a full report of God’s work through these Societies see The Calvinistic Methodist Fathers of Wales, published by Banner of Truth in two volumes.
- The gifts listed in Scripture are far more extensive than this, but these are the ones God uses to move the laity into grassroots ministry.
- Pray for one another (James 5:16), forgive one another (Col. 3:13), love one another (1 John 4:11) are only a few examples.
- See Book of Church Order 8:6 for a detailed description of this title.
- I realize many more gifts are mentioned in several places (1 Cor. 12-14, Eph. 4:11, Rom. 12:4-8, and 1 Pet. 4:10).
- See Peace Child by Don Richardson and Torches of Joy by John Dekker for amazing examples of God’s transforming power among animistic tribal peoples.
Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut. [Notes 3-5 & 7 added.]
Abiding in Christ: Initial Pruning March 19, 2019
This excerpt is taken from chapter three of Maturity by Sinclair B. Ferguson, a new release from the Banner of Truth Trust. * * * In the early years of a plant’s life, the basic function of pruning is not to produce fruit immediately, but to prepare for future fruit. Good pruning helps create the proper form […]
How to Do Good to Others March 14, 2019
To do good to others, is an honour that comes from God only. The very desire is Christ-like; and those that are Christ’s have both the desire and the power. If you have lived without Christ, you have done nothing either for God or man in the past. If you would now take Christ, what […]