The 1939 film adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz portrays the fantasy tale of Dorothy Gale’s journey to the Emerald City in order to inquire of its wizard the way home from Oz to Kansas. While on the yellow brick road to the city, she encounters and subsequently enlists a brainless Scarecrow, a hollow-chested Tin Man, and a cowardly Lion. In addition to Dorothy’s wish to go home, the Scarecrow desires a thinking brain; the Tin Man, a beating heart; and the Lion, ferocious courage.
Arriving at the Emerald City, Dorothy and her band of misfits present themselves before the great and powerful Oz, who knows what they want before they even ask. He agrees to grant their requests providing they can defeat the Wicked Witch of the West and bring him her broomstick. So, Dorothy leads her mindless, heartless and fearful army to undertake a mission impossible to achieve without brains, heart and bravery.
In a reality that mirrors fantasy, Jesus assembled an unlikely group consisting of fishermen, a tax collector, and a Zealot in an assault on the god (2 Corinthians 4:4) and ruler of this world (John 12:31) by proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. In fact, one time, when 70 of them returned to Him after preaching the Gospel, He told them, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning” (Luke 10:18).
What was the secret of their success? Did all of them possess “the gift of evangelism”? No, they did not. Those who heard them preach perceived them as untrained and uneducated men (Acts 4:13a). How, then, did the followers of Jesus who preached the Gospel “turn the world upside down” (Acts 17:6, ESV)? They did it through their Gospel preaching because of the time they spent with Jesus (Acts 4:13b) and because they had received the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4, 18).
The belief that the Holy Spirit bestows a “gift of evangelism” upon a select, exclusive group of believers to carry out the work of evangelism is gaining increasing acceptance today. Some believers convince themselves that only those who possess “the gift of evangelism” have a responsibility to evangelize. Other believers accept the responsibility to fulfill the Great Commission through evangelism but conceive that those not “gifted” in evangelism can practice it more passively and occasionally than those they believe have “the gift of evangelism.”
The Bible never mentions “a gift of evangelism.” Paul does identify grace-gifted “evangelists” (Ephesians 4:11) whom he explains equip all saints for ministry along with the grace-gifted apostles, prophets, pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:12-13). In the contemporary era, Christ continues to equip believers for ministry through evangelists, pastors and teachers. As such, all believers are responsible to be equipped for ministry, which includes being equipped by grace-gifted evangelists to evangelize. Rather than describe a spiritual “gift of evangelism” bestowed upon a select few, Scripture presents evangelism as a spiritual discipline to be practiced by all believers intentionally and consistently.
However, what would it mean for Christ’s evangelistic enterprise if such a “gift of evangelism” did exist? A number of problems would arise. Consider the following:
1. If evangelism were a spiritual gift, then additional spiritual gifts would exist outside those identified in the New Testament. The New Testament spiritual gift inventory can be found in Romans 12:4-8; 1 Corinthians 12:1-31; Ephesians 4:7, 11-13; and 1 Peter 4:10-11. The following comprises the Bible’s list of spiritual grace gifts: a word of wisdom, a word of knowledge, faith, healing, effecting of miracles, prophecy, distinguishing of spirits, speaking in tongues, interpreting tongues, administration, service, exhortation, giving, leadership, mercy, apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. This list verifies, as mentioned earlier, that the Bible never references “a gift of evangelism.” If the Holy Spirit does endow some believers with a “gift of evangelism,” then it follows that additional grace gifts of the Spirit exist outside those provided in Scripture. How can the existence of additional spiritual gifts not mentioned in Scripture be verified? What prevents someone else from asserting a “gift of reading the Bible” or a “gift of prayer” as a reason why he does not have the responsibility to read the Bible or pray either consistently or at all?
2. If evangelism were a spiritual gift, then the beneficiaries of spiritual gifts would need to be reconsidered. The New Testament’s inventory and explanation of spiritual grace gifts demonstrate that the purpose of every spiritual gift is to unite differently gifted believers in the body of Christ (Romans 12:5); to benefit the common good of the body (1 Corinthians 12:7); to equip the saints for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:12); and to serve one another (1 Peter 4:10). Generally speaking, all the spiritual gifts are given to serve the body of Christ, not unbelievers. Specifically, Ephesians 4 states that Christ gave evangelists to equip the saints, not to be the only ones who evangelize sinners. Rather than do the work of evangelism for the saints, grace-gifted evangelists equip and encourage the saints to do evangelism.
3. If evangelism were a spiritual gift, then fewer unbelievers would hear the Gospel. The world-wide, evangelistic mission cannot be achieved by evangelism practiced only by believers supposedly endowed with “a gift of evangelism.” A couple of reasons for this assertion include that 1) God has ordained that all, not a select few, believers evangelize all creation (Mark 16:15); and 2) these so-called “gifted” evangelists will never have access to as many unbelievers in their spheres of influence to evangelize all creation as all believers do. Nowhere in the Gospels did the Lord appoint only spiritually gifted evangelists to fulfill the Great Commission on their own. If He had, not all of those first disciples who received the Great Commission would have evangelized others; neither would they have encouraged those who became His disciples, through their evangelism, to evangelize. Their example remains a model for today’s believers.
4. If evangelism were a spiritual gift, then the Great Commission, as well as the promise of Jesus’ presence, would be reserved only for evangelists. In An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens, William Carey confronted those in his day who argued that the Great Commission was not binding on the English Baptists. He described the position many believers during his day held concerning the Great Commission when he wrote the following:
[B]ut the work has not been taken up, or prosecuted of late years (except by a few individuals) with the zeal and perseverance with which the primitive Christians went about it. It seems as if many thought the commission was sufficiently put in execution by what the apostles and others have done; that we have enough to do to attend to the salvation of our own countrymen; and that, if God intends the salvation of the heathen, he will some way or the other bring them to the gospel, or the gospel to them. It is thus that multitudes sit at ease, and give themselves no concern about the far greater part of their fellow-sinners, who to this day, are lost in ignorance and idolatry. There seems also to be an opinion existing in the minds of some, that because the apostles were extraordinary officers and have no proper successors, and because many things which were right for them to do would be utterly unwarrantable for us, therefore it may not be immediately binding on us to execute the commission, though it was so upon them.
Nevertheless, Carey contended that all believers of all ages have a duty to obey the Great Commission of our Lord. Among other things, he exposed the fallacy in their logic by arguing that if Jesus’ commission to make disciples were no longer binding upon him and his contemporaries, then the promise of His presence always to be with them by means of the Holy Spirit would no longer be binding (Matt. 28:20). Carey rejected this erroneous idea and maintained that believers of all ages are promised Jesus’ presence just as they are also obligated to make disciples through evangelism.
In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion returned triumphantly to the wizard with the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West. The wizard rewarded the Scarecrow with a Doctor of Thinkology diploma, the Tin Man with a ticking heart clock, and the Cowardly Lion with the Triple Cross Medal of Courage. He explained to them, however, that by virtue of the way they defeated the Wicked Witch, the brainless Scarecrow had been able to think all along, the heartless Tin Man had been able to love all along, and the Cowardly Lion had been courageous all along!
Similarly, believers abound who have convinced themselves that because they have not been endowed with a “gift of evangelism,” they do not possess enough knowledge, love and/or courage to evangelize. However, God’s people do not require a “gift of evangelism” in order to evangelize; they already have what—or, more specifically, Who—they need in order to evangelize intentionally and consistently. God does endow believers with a Gift to evangelize, but it is not a “gift of evangelism” … it is His Holy Spirit!
William Carey, An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens (Leicester: n.p., 1792), 8.