Saturday, May 7, 2011

“Is it wrong to be critical of Evangelism ministries based on their gospel Presentation?” – A study of the ministry of Apollos (Acts 18)


   Those who frequent this blog will know that one of my personal issues of concern and conviction is the purity of the Biblical Gospel – specifically, how it is preached and presented within the context of evangelism. While all believers in Christ Jesus are called to follow his commission to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20  teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20), how this has manifested within the 21st-century church has taken many forms – some in line with scripture, others not.

   In pointing out the errors of modern evangelism – namely easy-believism, the hurt of life-enhancement preaching – I personally have not been without encounters with opposition. Rarely has there ever been a purely scriptural objection given, most of the time it has been ad hominim in nature. But even so, the common thread is the charge that “You’re being too critical!”
   But is it really “too critical” to point out such errors? Especially if and when the nature of the gospel is at stake?
   In my reading of scripture, I sought to find out if there is indeed any truth to the idea that one should not put those who claim the mantle of “evangelist” under scrutiny based on what such people say and do. The evidence in favor was scarce to say the least. However, in looking for evidence against, there was indeed one incident within scripture that definitely stood out.  

A Church-Planter’s dream come true

24 Now a Jew named hApollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, icompetent in the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in jthe way of the Lord. And kbeing fervent in spirit,3 he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only lthe baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when mPriscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him nthe way of God more accurately. 27 And when he wished to cross to oAchaia, pthe brothers encouraged him and qwrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, rhe greatly helped those who through grace had believed, 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures sthat the Christ was Jesus.
Acts 18:24-28

   Let’s look at the scene: Christianity had made a significant impact upon the city of Ephesus thanks to the efforts of Aquilla, his wife Priscilla; along with Silas and Timothy, who was to become the pastor of the Ephesians church. Previously this team under the leadership of the Apostle Paul had ministered in Corinth.
   Also present at Ephesus is Apollos. He was a native of Alexandria in Egypt, which held a respectable Jewish population. He was highly educated in the Scriptures - not the New Testament, but the Old, that is, the Law, the Prophets, the Psalms, the Histories and the Wisdom literature. Luke describes him as being "an eloquent man, icompetent in the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in jthe way of the Lord. And kbeing fervent in spirit,3 he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus". These things considered, why then, did Aquilla and Priscilla  "took him and explained to him nthe way of God more accurately"? If Apollos had all of these noble traits, why did he need to be corrected?

   Let's consider what Apollos taught:          

25 He had been instructed in jthe way of the Lord. And kbeing fervent in spirit,3 he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only lthe baptism of John.

   The text is not exactly 100% clear as to what Apollos taught, let alone what Aquilla and Priscilla instructed him in to bring him up to speed. Though there are definitely clues. He had sufficient knowledge of the scriptures to engage the Jews within the synagogue; he knew who Jesus was. Though his teaching was retracted to "The baptism of John".
   What is the Baptism of John? The answer is given the first seven verses of Acts 19:

1 And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples.
2 And he said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" And they said, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit."
3 And he said, "Into what then were you baptized?" They said, "Into John's baptism."
4 And Paul said, "John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus."
5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
6 And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.
7 There were about twelve men in all.
Acts 19:1-7

It would seem that Apollos and these twelve men's knowledge of Jesus' teaching was restricted to what Jesus and John the Baptist taught prior to the resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the believers on the day of Pentecost. Jesus teaching during his 3-year earthly ministry - as he instructed his disciples to ales preach within the Palestine region - was the coming kingdom. John the Baptist taught repentance from Sin as the Messiah was coming:

7 He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
8 Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.
9 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."
Luke 3:7-9

   While John rightly preached the eternal consequences of sin and the need for repentance as the Messiah was coming which would bring in a new era in man's relationship with God, what he did not preach was how exactly man may be justified - made right with God - and one lives accordingly through the power of the Holy Spirit; such a revelation would not be clearly taught until the Apostles did so later on. (This is not to say of course that one can extrapolate the full gospel as preached by the apostles based on Jesus’ words within the Gospel accounts if one were to consider the texts systematically).

   Now that Apollos has been equipped with what the church has been given as far as knowledge of the gospel and the Holy Spirit, he is immediately welcomed into the ranks of the early church not just as a fellow brother in Christ, but as a recognised teacher. This was someone knowledgable in the Scriptures, eloquent in speech, teachable, open to correction when need be, and able to not just preach the gospel to his fellow Jews, but debate and prove without a shadow of a doubt that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah.
   For the Ephesian Apostolic team, in the battle for souls the church had just recruited a knight in shining armour coming in on a white horse.

A champion arises

   Apollos proved to be a valuable asset to Paul's ministry team - perhaps too valuable. In the 1st letter to the Corinthians, Paul praises Apollos' assistance in starting the Corinthian Church, while simultaneously rebuking the Corinthians for selecting favourites among prominent church leaders:

12 What I mean is that each one of you says, "I follow Paul," or "I follow Apollos," or "I follow Cephas," or "I follow Christ."
13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius,
15 so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name.
16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)
17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
1 Corinthians 1:12-17

1 But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.
2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready,
3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?
4 For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not being merely human?
5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.
6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.
7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.
8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.
9 For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building.
1 Corinthians 3:1-9

6 I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favour of one against another.
7 For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?
8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you!
9 For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men.
10 We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honour, but we in disrepute.
1 Corinthians 4:6-10

   Paul clearly embraces Apollos as an equal alongside himself and Cephas (Peter). While Paul ultimately credits himself as the founder and spiritual father of the Corinthian church, he also gives credit to the gifts and devotion of Peter and Apollos, going as far as to say that Apollos held to the same standards of integrity and accountability as Paul himself sought to model.

  The Corinthians in response, definitely looked up to Apollos, some even developing as bias towards him. These things considered, one cannot help but explore the strong possibility that the early church counted Apollos as being an apostle - as far as role as church-planter, if not in spiritual authority.

A full-Gospel Minister

   Considering the teachings, ministry and influence of Apollos, it begs the question of what would have happened hypothetically if he had not been open to the correction from Aquilla and Priscilla and instead remained content to confine his preaching to "John's Baptism". In such a scenario, the results would have been catastrophic for the first century church.
   Without the revelation of Justification by Faith and life by the Holy Spirit as taught by the Apostles, Apollos' preaching had the potential to cause serious problems within the early church's controversy over the role of the Jewish Law  in the life of the Christian as evident in the Galatian controversy.

6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-
7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.
8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.
9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
Galatians 1:6-10

Apollos' knowledge of the Old Testament scriptures, coupled with his eloquence and polemical skills, could have potentially given the Judaizers a favourable vote had word got out that there was a preacher active within Ephesus who was preaching Jesus from the confines of an Old Testament framework.
   Such a theology would have allowed for legalism to spread like a wild-fire within the early church had the Ephesian apostolic team not intervened there and then.

A problem for modern-day ministers

   For those who say that it is to have a critical spirit when one scrutinises a popular evangelist or preacher, the thought of approaching an open-air street evangelist and correcting what they say and do would seem appalling. It's one thing to do it via written media such as books, articles and blogs, but actually in public, face-to-face?

   When examining the encounter between Apollos, Aquilla and Priscilla, the critics must be willing to look at Acts 18 - as well as Paul's subsequent correction of John's disciples and them receiving the Baptism of the Holy Spirit in Acts 19 - and concede that Aquilla, Priscilla and Paul are completely wrong in what they're doing. But If one wants to affirm that the Acts of the Apostles forms a model from which 21st century believers are to follow, the latter cannot possibly be true in any shape or form.

   Still, it begs the question, what is with this carefree attitude towards the gospel that contemporary "evangelicals" are embracing that frowns upon the need to contend for the purity of the gospel?
   If such people honestly believe that it is wrong to point out and correct evangelists and preachers who teach a faulty gospel presentation, what does such ultimately say about their own convictions regarding the nature of the gospel? If they themselves have partaken of the gospel by coming to that point of repentance where they see that faith in Christ and Him crucified is the only possible hope of salvation, and in turn they have received from God a call to ministry which has been confirmed by godly counsel, why on earth should such people not be concerned?
   Either such people have lost their "first love" to the point that Jesus and the Gospel he died to give is no longer that precious treasure they found in a field which proved to be so valuable that they were willing to give away everything they had just to get a hold of it, or worse, deep down they never truly knew it. They may have known it conceptually to the point that they could make a habit of telling others, but has it really sunk deep enough that at the sound of even the slightest hint of a tangent, they stand up to voice protest and concern?
   The bottom line is that you cannot preach what you don't know.

Marks of an authentic Evangelistic ministry

So how can we tell if any evangelistic ministry is authentic? I would like to outline possible tests:

1. What do they teach?

8 Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward.
9 Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.
10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting,
11 for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.
2 John 1:8-11

What does the "evangelist" say and do, and how does it stack up against the precedents set forth by scripture? What do they have to say about the nature of sin, Christ's work on the cross, repentance and how one responds to the gospel?
   I actually recall an occasion where I was speaking with an "evangelist" whose itinerary included an international healing ministry. This person was trying to convince me that the study of soteriology (salvation theology) was a waste of time. I responded by asking a few questions about what this person believed about salvation. The questions made the "evangelist" uneasy to say the least. I finally asked "can you please explain how man is made right with God through Christ?"
   The evangelist stumbled, "We are saved by grace... Apart from works..."
   "Do we owe any part of salvation to ourselves?"
   "We have to play our part in it..."
   "So it's not just grace alone then, is that what you believe?"
   I was honestly disturbed that though this man had been released into an international ministry that supposedly has seen hundred of people "saved", this individual could not explain the nature of salvation itself when asked upfront.
   Don't be afraid to ask some probing questions; God-willing if their ministry is genuine, they should prove humble and willing to speak in kind. If they come across as resistant, haughty and cavalier, then you have reason to be suspicious.

2. Test the fruits

15 "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?
17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.
18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.
19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
21 "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
22 On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?'
23 And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'
Matthew 7:15-22

Are there discrepancies between the "evangelist's" public ministry and private life? Is the person they are at home behind close coleus the same person who steps up to the pulpit or the soapbox to preach the gospel?
   Some may object, "Is their personal life any of our business?" Yet Jesus made it clear that the fruits of one's living is indeed the yardstick as to the validity of one's ministry as opposed to declarations of "did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?"

3. Relationship with the local church

23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.
24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,
25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Hebrews 10:23-25

   While the above text refers to the need for believers to come together in fellowship for the purpose of encouragement and strengthening each other, the same is true and applicable to God's minister - especially those that may serve in an itinerant context.
   I cannot count the number of times I have walked through Brisbane city and saw someone doing street evangelism, and upon approaching them to introduce myself I would ask which church they belong to, to which they would openly attack me for suggesting the idea of being affiliated with any local church.
   Sad as it may be, many of the "evangelists" who operate within our cities are actually nomads who operate without approval or covering from any local churches. Consider the following clip from James White:

   Some may object by asking "What about para-church ministries?" e.g., Campus Crusade? Para-Church ministries are excellent in that they can provide resources and training when a local church may not necessarily be able to provide in addition to bringing members of local churches together under a single cause. But such ministries dare not to serve as a substitute for the local church, much less as a haven and sanctuary for professing Christians who want nothing to do with the covering and submission to godly authority that a local church would rightly provide.

4. Can they equip others?

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,
12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,
14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
Ephesians 4:11-14

As is the case with the other offices of the five-fold ministry, the task of the evangelist is not to just evangelists in of itself, but rather to equip the Body of Christ - that is, to show others how to do it. One of the tell-tale fruits that a ministry is genuine is not just individual success alone, but that the ministry can reproduce so that others may carry the torch and take it further wherever God may lead.
   In that regard, there is a call upon office-bearers of the five-fold ministry not just to hold onto their title as though it were a mantle of status, but rather to lead - not so much in the sense of governing, as such has been tasked to the Pastors and Teachers within a local church, but rather the evangelist is to both set an example and serve as a master who takes others under his wing and apprentices them in the necessary practices to carry the mission further.
   If on the other hand a person in content to be an "evangelizer" and shows no interest in helping other believers or equipping others so that they may "earnestly contend for the faith" (Jude 3), they're not an "evangelist".


   Contrary to what critics may say, one cannot claim that it is wrong, or that it is a sin, to put under scrutiny those who while being prominent as persons, nonetheless preach a false gospel. The Apostle Paul warned:

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.
Galatians 1:8

   The Apostle John went as far as to say

10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting,
11 for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.
2 John 1:8-11

   John makes it clear that if you welcome into your fellowship a false teacher, and you are actually aware that their doctrine goes against the revelation of Christ, you are aiding an act of deception as though you were teaching such blasphemies yourself.
   While this speaks of false teachers, there is a much greater word of caution levelled at false evangelists as such men are described as anathema - that is, abandoned without hope of redemption. To welcome the influence, teachings and ministry of a false evangelist with knowledge in advance that his teachings are erroneous is to bring his anathema not upon yourself, but to place it over your church as well.

   At the end of the day, the reason why we would want to raise any concern if at all should first and foremost stem from our love for God and our love for the lost. Our love for God and those that are yet to know him should cause to swell within us a concern and desire that the message of salvation be preached accurately, properly and responsibly within and under accountability.
   As much as we want to see people get saved, when it comes to involving our unsaved friends and loved ones in an evangelization endeavor (whether it be inviting them to church, relationship building, one-to-one conversation), do we have the assurance that the gospel message will be preached properly?
   How will we describe sin; in abstract or in specifics?
   Are we going to measure “salvations” on the basis of people being emotionally coerced to walk down the aisle to recite a man-made prayer OR on the basis that the fruit they bear afterwards marks the obvious signs of a life-changing encounter with God?
   Are we going to encourage people to concentrate on the benefits, or will we tell people upfront the truth about the cost of discipleship; that becoming a Christian won’t necessarily make this easy, rather things may more likely get harder (e..g., cutting ties to unyoked relationships, distancing by unsaved friends and family, trials, tribulations, spiritual warfare)?   
   Are we going to preach the gospel of humanism or the gospel of holiness?
   If we are going to involve people in these things, I personally don’t  think it’s too much to ask that there at least be some degree of accountability in this as we do not want to betray the trust of those we want to see enter a relationship with Christ.