The purpose of evangelism (as commanded in Mk. 16:15) can be understood only as seen in the light of the commission to make disciples in every nation of the world (Matt.28:19). This is the whole plan of God for the unconverted.
The convert must be made into a disciple. Unfortunately today, even the so-called convert is not often a true convert, for in many cases he has not repented properly. In the evangelistic meeting, he was told only to believe, without even a word being mentioned about repentance. Most of today’s converts are therefore like premature babies, pulled out by impatient midwives (‘evangelists’) in their lust for statistics, when the babies were not yet ready to be born. These premature babies then either die, or live as problem cases for the rest of their lives. The angels rejoice over sinners who repent, not over sinners who merely believe (Lk. 15:7,10).
But even where there has been a thorough repentance, and a person has been truly converted, he must then be led on to discipleship, to fulfill God’s will for him. Evangelism that does not lead on to discipleship is an incomplete job. Often, it is the evangelist’s desire to build his own kingdom that prevents him from working together with those who can make his ‘converts’ into disciples. We do not have to judge such preachers, for we are told not to judge. But they will certainly have to answer to the Lord for hindering their converts from becoming disciples.
Let us look at the commission in Mk. 16:15 along with the one in Matt. 28:19,20, and try and understand the whole purpose of God.
The first step of leading people to repentance and faith must culminate in water baptism (as Jesus made plain in Mk. 16:16). Those evangelists who do not preach water baptism for fear of offending unconverted bishops, etc., are not preaching the way Peter preached it on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38).
Further, in Matthew 28:19, the Lord commands us to make disciples. This involves leading these converts to be detached from an inordinate love for their relatives that hinders them from following the Lord (Lk. 14:26), to be detached from material possessions (Lk. 14:33), and leading them to take up the cross daily for the rest of their lives (Lk. 14:27). These are the three minimum requirements for becoming a disciple.
Matt. 28:19 then repeats the necessity of water baptism. Although baptism is repeated in both commissions, it is rare indeed to find an evangelist today who has the courage to preach it. They fear men more than they fear God; preferring to be interdenominational and thus great in the eyes of men, rather than preach the whole counsel of God and be great in His eyes.
Matt. 28:20 goes on to say that this disciple must then be taught every single thing that Jesus commanded – and not only that, but be taught to obey and practice every single command of Jesus. One has to only look through Matthew chapters 5, 6 and 7 to see some of the things that Jesus commanded – which most believers do not even bother to obey.
So we see what a tremendous task it is to fulfill both commissions together. The need now is for those who have been gripped by the necessity of proclaiming the whole counsel of God, and who are wholeheartedly obedient themselves (as far as they have light) to all that Jesus commanded, and who passionately desire to build the body of Christ.
Jesus said that His disciples would be identified by one mark – their love for one another. Mark that! It is not by large numbers that the disciples are identified, or by their wealth; but by their fervent mutual love. The evangelistic healing meeting that draw thousands to hear the message must lead on to the establishment of a local church in that locality, where the disciples love one another.
Yet, the sad thing is that in the places where repeated evangelistic, healing crusades are held year after year, it is difficult to find even one church about which it can be said that the members therein do not fight with one another or backbite against one another, etc., leave alone love one another. One can understand if the new converts are still unable to live a victorious life. But what shall we say if strife and immaturity characterize even the elders of the churches in our land?
This is the clearest indication that the great commission of Matt. 28:19,20 – discipleship and total obedience to the commandments of Jesus – has been totally ignored. The commission of Mk. 16:15 (faith and water baptism) alone is obeyed, and that too in many cases only partially (water baptism being left out).
In Mk. 16:15-20, the emphasis is on evangelism, the message being confirmed by signs and wonders done by the Lord. In Matt. 28:19,20, the emphasis is on discipleship, the disciple’s life being manifested by total obedience to Jesus’ commandments. Multitudes of Christians are taken up with the former; very, very few with the latter. Yet the former without the latter is as incomplete and worthless as half a human body. But who has eyes to see this?
In Jesus’ ministry, we read that great multitudes followed Him, because of His evangelistic, healing ministry. He immediately turned around and taught them about discipleship (Lk. 14:25,26). Would that today’s evangelists would do the same, either themselves or along with apostles, prophets, teachers and shepherds who can complete the work they have begun.
When Jesus preached discipleship to the multitudes, it soon dwindled down to a handful of eleven disciples (Compare Jn. 6:2 with Jn. 6:70). The remaining folk found the message too hard, and left (Jn. 6:60,66). But it was with those eleven disciples that God accomplished His purposes in the world and carried on the work that Jesus began.
Today we are to carry on the same ministry as His Body on earth. After the evangelist has gathered the multitude, we are to lead the converts to discipleship and obedience. Thus and thus alone will the body of Christ be built.