Growing the Body of Christ through Evangelism and Education
The human body grows in two ways: through the addition of new cells, and through the nourishing of existing cells. This is God’s plan for physical growth.
Likewise, the Body of Christ grows in two ways: through the addition of new believers to the church, and through the nourishing of existing members. Each method of growth is vital to a healthy assembly of believers. Sadly, many churches are sorely imbalanced. Some of these churches lack any sort of systematic, sound biblical teaching, while others do nothing but evangelism in their pulpits Sunday after Sunday. Each extreme is to be avoided.
Note the balance between evangelism and edification in our Lord’s Great Commission as found in Matthew 28:19 (my translation):
Having gone [as you go], make disciples of all the nations by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit [and] by teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.
Here the command to “make disciples” (which is the only explicit imperative in the Greek text) is explicated by the two modal participles that follow: “baptizing” and “teaching.”
What does Jesus mean by baptizing? In the New Testament, baptism was the “public profession of faith” of a new believer in Christ. In other words, a person who got saved got wet. Not that baptism saves. Baptism is simply the outward symbol of an inward reality. It is like my wedding ring. Wearing it does not make me “married.” It is only a symbol – though a very important one – that tells everyone that I am wedded.
Similarly, new believers were immediately baptized in the New Testament as a sign that they were now followers of Jesus Christ. At their baptism they confessed, “Jesus is Lord” (1 Cor. 12:3), and this exclusive allegiance to Jesus would now mark their lives and everything they did. So at Pentecost, the 3,000 who got saved were baptized.
Can one be genuinely saved and not be baptized? Yes, but remember that the expression “unbaptized believer” would have been an oxymoron in New Testament times. The reason is simple. At my conversion I was baptized into the universal Body of Christ. First Corinthians 12:13 says as much: “For by one Spirit we all were baptized into one body.” In other words, at my conversion I entered into Christ, and Christ entered into me. This is sometimes called the “reciprocal indwelling of the believer and Christ.” And all this took place without any physical water being present.
However, as a sign that this spiritual baptism is indeed a reality, I obeyed Christ by following His commandment to be baptized in water. And, by being water baptized, I willingly identified myself with Christ’s local “Body,” the church. Thus Paul can refer to “one Lord, faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4:5), and no one would think of asking, “Which baptism is he referring to – Spirit or water?” Paul is referring to both, for they are but different sides of the same coin. And so believers in the book of Acts were baptized in water, and this was their “profession of faith” in Christ.
Jesus goes on to state in Matthew 28:19 that baptized believers are to be taught to observe His commands. This command to observe the teachings of Jesus is what some call “The Great Omission in the Great Commission” – and for good reason. I hardly need point out the dearth of regular, systematic Bible teaching in so many of our churches. As I noted earlier, many sermons on Sunday morning are more dedicated to evangelism than edification. But the New Testament clearly states that the purpose of the gathered meeting of believers is not for evangelism, but edification (see 1 Cor. 14:26: “Let all things be done for edification”).
Note how Ephesians 4:11 reinforces this teaching of Jesus. Here Paul writes that the risen Christ “gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastor-teachers.” If we compare this verse with Ephesians 2:20 – the church is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” – it seems clear that the New Testament apostles and prophets were foundational ministries of the church. This would also imply that the two continuing ministries of the church are evangelism (“evangelists”) and edification (“pastor-teachers”). The evangelists are Gospel preachers who help add “new cells” to the Body by presenting God’s free offer of salvation by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9). The pastors (lit., “shepherds”) do everything a literal shepherd does for his flock. He feeds them, cares for them, finds them when they go astray, and protects them from their enemies. As teachers, these same pastors see to it that their flocks are fed a healthy diet of the Word of God.
In Ephesians 4:12-13, Paul shows what happens when the pastor-teachers fulfill their God-appointed tasks. The saints are equipped; these well-equipped saints do the work of the ministry; and the result is that the Body of Christ is built up. And when the Body is built up, the final goals of unity, maturity, and mutual love are realized.
This is God’s plan for building His church. Through evangelism, new members are added to the Body; and through edification, believers are built up in such a way that they observe the “all things” the risen Jesus commanded them to obey. Within this process, every believer is essential for full growth. In union with Christ, “the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself” (Eph. 4:16).
In light of this truth, I would like to ask a question: “How’s Your Hekastology?” And if you have not yet trusted in Christ as your Savior and Lord and become a part of His Body, I invite you to consider what He has done for you and to respond in faith.
January 16, 2005
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com. He is the author of Why I Stopped Listening to Rush and numerous other books.