by Mans Ramstad
Christians have often assumed that evangelism means verbally sharing the entire saving gospel message with a person. But reading the Book of Acts, one finds that Paul used many methods to share the gospel with people.
Christians have often assumed that evangelism means verbally sharing the entire saving gospel message with a person. But reading the Book of Acts, one finds that Paul used many methods to share the gospel with people. In this article I have organized every evangelistic teaching or encounter in Acts into the following types of evangelism. May it be an inspiration for those of us working in China and elsewhere who often bemoan the fact that we can’t engage in aggressive, public evangelism.
1. Explain how to be saved and persuade the person to be saved. This is what we often assume evangelism means. A good example of this is Peter’s preaching after Pentecost (2:37-40). Peter said, "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins." And with many other words he solemnly told them, "Be saved from this perverse generation!" And 3,000 people were saved that day.
Another example is found in Acts 17:14, where Paul reasoned from the Scriptures with the people of Thessalonica. Some were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, founding the church of Thessalonica.
While studying Chinese in the early 1990s, I studied the Bible with a friend named Shao. One day we read Mark 7: 18-23, which says man’s behavior is an outflow of his heart: "It is not what is outside a man which makes him unclean, but what comes out from within his heart which makes him unclean." Seeing his own experience confirmed, immediately Shao heard the Holy Spirit speak to him. I explained how to be saved and persuaded him to be saved, and the next day he was saved. Soon he was baptized. This is not the norm in my ministry, but it is often seen as the norm for evangelism.
Hearts need to be prepared before they can accept the gospel. For example, in Acts 17:1-4 several days of preaching occurred before the Thessalonian Jews believed, and they were faithful Jews with a strong foundation of Bible knowledge.
Other texts: 8:4-13; 8:18-25 (Simon); 9:22 (Saul);14:14-18; 18:4; 19:26; 28:17-31 (Saul).
2. Merely explain how to be saved. In Acts 16 we see two examples. First, in verses 13-15 we learn that Paul and Luke met some women at the river, among whom was Lydia, a fabric seller. The Lord opened Lydia’s heart to respond. There was no need to persuade. Explaining the gospel was enough for her. Second, in verses 29-33, Paul and Silas were in jail. An earthquake shook the jail apart, and the jailer, fearing the prisoners had escaped, prepared to take his own life. Upon learning that Paul and Silas were still there, he fell down before them and asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" With that he was saved.
Shaw Pun was our first friend in the city we moved to in 1991. We became fast friends, traveling together, each of us helping the other through the death of a family member, and sharing our lives together. I told her how to be saved many times, but out of respect for her age and situation, I never pressed it upon her. Other Christian friends also shared their testimonies and the gospel with her. Only six years later did she make a decision for Christ, and this was after moving to a far away city.
People need to be told how to be saved, and if the Holy Spirit is working (even if it takes six years), they will respond without heavy pressure.
Other texts: 5:42; 13:1-42 (synagogue); 17:16-34 (Athens)
3. Explain the basics of the Christian faith. In Acts 24 we learn of an encounter between Paul and Felix, governor of Judea, who was trying Paul’s case. In verse 24 we learn that Felix and his wife Drusilla sent for Paul and invited him to speak of the Christian faith. Paul discussed with them righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, and then Felix terminated the conversation. For two years these discussions continued. During that time Paul remained in prison, and to our knowledge, Felix never became a Christian.
Likewise, in Acts 10, Peter respectfully explained the gospel to Cornelius, a curious Gentile. Cornelius had invited Peter to come and speak to him, so he told him what he knew.
This is probably the most common form of evangelism I do. Recently we hiked up a mountain to a famous Catholic temple with a Chinese friend and her son. They were not Catholic and not even religious, but hiking along with thousands of religious devotees allowed us to discuss spiritual things naturally. All the way up the mountain I explained the basics of the Christian faith to them, in particular pointing out the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism. Nine months later, the son informed me that he had decided to become a Christian. Whether he understands yet what he has said, I don’t know, so I am still following up. Regardless, a spiritual process has begun in his life.
Other texts: 2:143-6 (explain Pentecost); 5:27-33; 7 (Stephen); 8:28-40 (Philip and the eunuch), 13:1-42; 17:16-34 (Athens);28:17-31.
4. Speak to their specific Issues to show how Jesus meets their needs. In Acts 3:1-7 we read about Peter and John going up to the temple to pray. On the way a lame man began begging for alms. Peter replied, "I do not have silver or gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth-walk!" With that the man was healed.
Too often we rely on our own wisdom or resources to help people, when they really need Jesus to meet their deepest needs. He is able to best meet these needs through the mercy of human vessels like us. We must be available to people. Peter did not ignore this irritating beggar. We also need to be in step with the Spirit so that we can discern how Jesus intends to meet the person’s needs.
Several years ago our best friends were discussing getting a divorce. Lin’s husband had had an affair, and she was inconsolable. We spent many hours trying to help her understand forgiveness, and assuring her that she would only further hurt herself if she left him. We shared many Bible passages with her, which gave her much comfort. By God’s mercy, they stayed together, and today are happy again. One weekend Lin was here with another friend (neither of them are Christians), and as we were sharing our testimonies with this friend, Lin commented, "I prefer Christians. I like these kind of people." She hasn’t been saved yet, but the Holy Spirit is working on her. I believe the Holy Spirit continues to use God’s word to draw her to its truths and ultimately to God himself.
I remember another friend, Ren, coming over one evening to talk. She was distraught. She had been serving for a short time as department head in her hospital. Other department heads were embezzling money, abusing their expense accounts, and fabricating medical records; and yet they were praised and rewarded by the hospital director. Ren wept as I read Psalm 73, about how the unjust always seem to prosper. I believe Jesus wants to meet the needs even of pagans and will use this general mercy to ultimately win some of them to himself.
Other texts: 7 (Stephen); 8:4-13 (Philip healing); 8:28-40 (Philip and the eunuch).
5. Correct any misunderstanding. In Acts 3:12-26, Peter corrects a misunderstanding about how a crippled beggar had been healed. He let the onlookers know that Jesus had worked through him and John. In 14:11-18, Paul healed a lame man. The multitudes saw it and said, "The gods have become like men and have come down to us." And they began calling Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, and attempted to offer sacrifices to them. After restraining the crowds, Paul preached the gospel. But Jews present won them over, and together they stoned Paul and left him for dead.
Probably the strongest example of this type of evangelism is found in Acts 18:24 28, where we learn about Apollos, the devout Jew. He was sincere in what he said, but he was wrong. So one day when he was speaking out in the synagogue, Priscilla and Aquila clarified his understanding. He accepted their correction and went on to be a powerful witness for Christ (27-28).
In our medical work in China, people see our good deeds and assume we’re communists or humanists, or that all foreigners behave this way. I am constantly called the "modern Dr. Norman Bethune," a Canadian communist who gave his life for the communist revolution in China. This gives us an opportunity to explain the Christian impetus for our work.
I consistently find Chinese authorities entirely ignorant about the gospel and the church. In fact, I believe that they oppress and intimidate Christians in part because they don’t understand what the gospel is and feel threatened by it. For example, when I first moved to my current home, the local police pulled me aside and warned me that I was not allowed to evangelize Chinese people or take on Chinese Christians as my disciples. In fact, they said, "There have never been any Christians here, never have been, and never will be." Immediately I explained to them that I would still need the freedom to live a "normal Christian life," or I could not live here. Curious, the man asked, "And what is the normal Christian life?" So I explained daily Bible reading and prayer, fellowship, Sunday morning worship, and prayer for those in need. To my amazement, the police officer replied, "That sounds reasonable."
For several years I have been building on that understanding, expanding the parameters within which they will allow us to enjoy a normal Christian life and minister to others, and allaying their fears about Christianity. And I have seen 31 people come to know Christ and be baptized.
Other texts: 8:18-25 (Simon); 10 (Cornelius).
6. Explain the basics of the Christian faith to defend one’s behavior or to prepare for future plans. In Acts 4:7-16 Peter and John are on the hot seat for healing a sick man. Demanding to know by what power they had done it, the leaders threaten them. Peter boldly explains that they healed in the name of Jesus, adding, "There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved." Peter evangelizes these officials by simply telling the truth. Eventually the leaders warn them not to preach any more, but in verses 7-21 we read of Peter and John, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard."
I try to be clear and honest with local police, not only to correct misunderstandings, but to illustrate my convictions. If I run into problems because of my Christian life in the future, I have prepared a context, or a frame of understanding, within which the local officials can interpret my behavior. They will not be threatened when they learn, for example, that you have given Bibles away, because you have already told them that your work is based on the Bible. For example, we have a fund to provide financial assistance to poor patients. When these patients receive a Bible along with financial help, the local people do not see it as subversive, for they know that both acts are from the same Christian conviction and done respectfully and appropriately.
In Acts, of course, the evangelists were citizens of the country in which they were evangelizing. It was impossible for them to be "kicked out." For tentmakers, however, certain types of behavior may lead to our expulsion. We need to think and pray about what this means for our ministry today.
Psalm 119:46 says, "I will also speak of Thy testimonies before kings, and shall not be ashamed." And verse 161 reads, "Princes persecute me without cause, but my heart stands in awe of Thy words." There seems to be no precedent in Acts for being a clandestine Christian, and nothing in the current climate in China calls for it, either. By being clear and bold, we defend our behavior, help local officials better understand the truth about the Christian church, and perhaps win an audience for the gospel.
Other texts: 5:27-33; 22; 24 (Felix); 26 (Agrippa).
We must be careful not to compromise our effectiveness by bemoaning that we cannot engage in large-scale public evangelism. All the while, we could be missing out on untold, very effective opportunities for ministry. May the six types of evangelism I have described from Acts help unleash more people for positive and effective witness.
Mans Ramstad (pseudonym) is a veteran tentmaker in China. He works with an organization providing professional services to various agencies in China.
EMQ, Vol. 36, No. 2, pp. 200-204. Copyright © 2000 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.