Several decades ago, I was a French teacher (“master,” a British custom) at St George’s college, in Harare (previously Salisbury) in Zimbabwe. During one of my free periods I went into the students’ ablutions block because it was much nearer than the one for staff. I was washing my hands when one of the Jesuit masters entered the block and walked down the row of toilets in a bent position searching for feet below the cut-off door. The sound of a flushing toilet made the job easier. A rat-tat- tat on the offending door was followed by a clipped “Have you got permission.” I didn’t wait to find out.
In Matthew’s Gospel (28:18-20), Jesus tells his 11 disciples,
“…All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”
The question is: Does this directive of Jesus apply to all believers? Aren’t all believers disciples. I deal with this question here.
“A few weeks ago, writes Matt Redmond, I heard someone say something to the effect of, “You cannot/shouldn’t consider yourself a Christian if you are not sharing your faith/practicing evangelism.” And it really got me to thinking. Something felt wrong about it. But I couldn’t put my finger on it.
“On one level this sounded right. It accorded with almost all I had ever heard growing up in the midst of evangelicalism. So it sounded right. Or at least familiar. But something about the statement just ‘felt’ really wrong. It felt wrong as a fact. (Like saying the capital of Alabama is Birmingham.) And it felt wrong morally. (You should look down on everyone who does not live in Birmingham.)
“So I quickly went through Paul’s letters to the churches in my mind as much as I could. Could I think of a place where he commands the members of these churches to share the gospel – to tell unbelievers about the gospel? I was pretty shocked to not be able to think of any place where he does anything like this.”
I suppose, the reason why Paul kept mum was because he didn’t have permission to say anything on the issue.
Lewis Johnson, my favourite Bible teacher relates the following story in one of his teachings on Matthew’s Gospel:
“Some years ago, I read a story about a man who lived in the Highlands of Scotland. His
name was John Cameron. He was marvelously used by God in the salvation of many in that part of Scotland, and a preacher by the name of Oswald Chambers was a friend of his. Mr. Chambers has told the story of how he visited him one summer. And John Cameron said to him, as they began their visit together, “If you get permission to talk to my ploughman, talk to him about his soul.” And Mr. Chambers said, “I did probably what you would do, I said, ‘Why don’t you talk to him yourself?’” And he said, “John Cameron said to me, ‘Didn’t I say, if you get permission?’ If you don’t know anything about getting permission, you don’t know anything about the Holy Ghost. Do you think I talk to everyone I meet? If I did, I would make God a liar. No, I have to get permission before I talk to a soul.”
“He’d been a great soul-winner in that part of the land. And that ploughman had been with John Cameron for three years, and John had never yet spoken to him. Everyday they were together. They went over the hills of Scotland. They worked the sheep. Never once did John Cameron, known for his soul-winning, speak to his ploughman. Until finally one day, as they were together, after three years, the ploughman burst out and said, “For God’s sake, John, talk to me about my soul or I’ll be in hell!” And so he talked to him and the man was converted to the Lord Jesus.
“And then he asked John Cameron why he had not spoken to him about his soul, because
they’d often been in the presence of other people, and John had spoken to other people, and they had been converted. He said, “Well, probably you know better than I, I was not given permission to speak to you.”
“And then Ploughman said, “When you feed me (that’s good Scottish for when you employed me), when you feed me, I knew you are religious man, and I said to some of my mates, ‘If ol’ John talks to me about my soul, I’ll let him know what he’s doing.’” And so for three years, the Holy Spirit never gave him permission to speak to that man about his soul until finally, the Holy Spirit had prepared his heart, and it was so simple to lead him to the knowledge of Jesus Christ as it is to reach up and pick an orange off of an orange tree.
“So the administering of the Word of God is not ministering where we think it is needed. The Word has to be sown in living touch with the Lord of the Harvest, the Holy Spirit.
“Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation [which includes witnessing/evangelising] in fear and trembling. 13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13).
Some leave out verse 13, which is no good for our peace in Christ. Others leave out the last half of verse 13, “both to will and to do of his good pleasure,” perhaps because there’s too much to remember. A pity because it neglects what John Cameron, above, pointed out. So, next time you feel guilty about not traipsing the streets of your neighbourhood, or doing something less ambitious like talking to your children or parents or friend, always consult with the Saviour, “Now, Lord?”
To return to “Have you got permission to evangelise. John Piper has a different view to the one expressed above. Before his sermon ”How the Offspring of Isaac Blesses the Sons of Ishmael”, Piper gives the following advice to his audience. Piper’s focus is on the mission fields. (I summarise): Everybody is called to evangelise. This should be your attitude: you assume that God has called you to be a missionary, and if you don’t hear from God to the contary, go ahead. I would rather say with Andrew Bonar, in his Biography of Robert Mccheyne, “All who find Christ for themselves are impelled, by the holy necessity of constraining love, to seek the salvation of others.” And some of these become missionaries, that is, full-timers at it.