Laymen in Evangelism
September 26th, 1976 @ 7:30 PM
LAYMEN IN EVANGELISM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-26-76 7:30 p.m.
Once again it is our gladness to share with you on KRLD and on KCBI the evening service of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Laymen – laypeople, laymen, laywomen – Laymen in Evangelism. I have been asked to deliver this address, this message, because this coming weekend our church enters forty-two intensive and glorious hours in which the entire energies of the men and women of our church will be offered to God in a reconsecration of life and in an outreach ministry inviting others to be with us in the service of the Lord. It is called "Lay Renewal." We begin Friday night, go through Sunday and the services of the next Lord’s Day.
We are going to look at some of the laypeople in the Bible just briefly, as an introduction to the message the pastor delivers this evening. First, Nehemiah: Nehemiah says in the closing verse of the first chapter of his book, "I was the king’s cupbearer," that is, he stood next to the king as he was seated on his throne. We might call him in the political parlance of the day the prime minister of the Persian Empire. He served under Artaxerxes Longimanus, one of the tremendously gifted Oriental monarchs. And for many years apparently Nehemiah was prime minister under Artaxerxes. And in the providence of God, Nehemiah was appointed governor of the district, the province of Judea; and as such he was used of God to build the wall of Jerusalem, and to build the community spirit that made possible the reestablishment of the nation. Nehemiah was a layman: he was a governmental official, he was a political figure; he loved God and was as faithful in his layman’s relationship before God as any minister who ever served at the altar.
In the Old Testament I choose another: his name is Amos. He was an herdman and a gatherer of sycamore fruit. He lived down in Tekoa, a part of the wilderness of Judea. And the Lord’s message burned in his heart; and he made his way up to Bethel, the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. And there with fervor this herdman and this gatherer of sycamore fruit witnessed to the judgments of the Lord. So powerful was his witness that Amaziah, who was the professional religionist, he was the priest serving at those golden altars of the golden calves of Israel in Bethel, so powerful was his witness that this professional prelate Amaziah went before King Jeroboam and said, "Shut up this man; for the land cannot bear his words" [Amos 7:10]. And Jeroboam said, "You shut him up." So Amaziah stood before Amos, God’s great layman, and said, "You go back where you come from, came from; you go back to your sheep, and you go back to the wilderness, and there you witness for God all that you please. But not here: for this is the king’s court, and this is the king’s chapel, and we are offended by your crude and rude and rough presentation of the witness of God." For Amos talked like a farmer. When you read his prophecy it smells like a fresh turned furrow, just out of the field. And Amos replied, "It is true that I am no prophet"; that is, "I am not a graduate of the seminary, like Millie Kohn, "I am not trained in the professional ministries of homiletics. It is true that I am no prophet. It is true that I am not even a prophet’s son. My father never went to the prophetic school, and he was not taught in the way of the professional who studies God’s Book. But the Lord God took me from following the herd, and the Lord God said unto me, Go witness" – prophesy to us has come into another meaning; it’s a far later meaning that the word "prophecy" means "to foretell." Propheteuo, prophemi, prophesy means "to speak for God, to witness for the Lord." And Amos replies to Amaziah the professional prelate, "It is true that I am no prophet, and it is true that I am no prophet’s son; but the Lord God took me from following the herd and said, Go prophesy, go witness to My people Israel" [Amos 7:14-15]. And then he said, "The lion hath roared, who will not fear? The Lord God hath spoken, who can but prophesy?" [Amos 3:8]. This is a man out of the field, out of the sheep flocks, who stands in the presence of the king himself and in the king’s court and witnesses to the judgments of Almighty God.
It’d be the same thing as if you had a senator stand on the floor of the United States Senate, or a congressman stand on the floor of the House of Representatives, and call America back to repentance and to God. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing, to have a senator like that? To have a congressman like that? To have an Amos standing in Washington, witnessing to the judgments of the Lord?
I turn now to the New Testament; these laypeople in the Bible. Now I’m going to read you one of the most unusual passages that you will find in the Book. In the fourth chapter of the Book of Acts, it says, "And when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; then they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus" [Acts 4:13]. I want to quote for you the Greek of that: "When they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were agrammatoi kai idiotai men." Now when I just say that as Luke wrote it in the Greek language, agrammatoi kai idiotai, agrammatoi, they’re speech was untrained and untaught; kai idiotai – you know you take that word in English, "idiots," idiots – well, it doesn’t quite mean "idiots" in Greek, but it certainly means they were private, and untrained, and uneducated, and unschooled men.
Agrammatoi kai idiotai, they were men who were not of the schools; they were not from Gamaliel’s rabbinical convocation or even Hillel’s or Shammai’s or anybody’s. The only thing those rude, crude fishermen had was a knowledge of Jesus; that is all. But wasn’t that enough? What better education could a man have than to sit at the feet of Jesus? And how much more could a man ask for the power in the witness to the Lord than that he repeats the words of the Lord Jesus? That is the way this great movement began.
And it continued. Over here in the eighth chapter of the Book of Acts and the eighth verse, it says that, "There arose a tremendous persecution that followed the death of Stephen. And they were scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles." I wish somebody who was smart would stand up and expound on that. In the fierce persecution that arose around Stephen, they harried every one of them out of the city and out of the land, except the apostles [Acts 8:1]. Now I can’t help but make a simple and plain and ordinary deduction, and it is this: they looked upon those apostles as so anemic and so worthless and so without power to affect the change of events, that they didn’t bother them. But those hot-headed and zealous laymen, they harried out of the country. That’s exactly what you can say; there’s nothing else to suppose from that, there’s no other deduction to draw from that. They never bothered the apostles, they just let them go on in the land, let them stay in the city, because they weren’t doing any harm. But those Hellenists, like Stephen, and like Barnabas, those firebrands, those laymen, those deacons, they were turning the whole world upside down or right side up. You can’t have any other deduction than that.
You know, when laymen get a hold of the truth of God and it burns in their hearts, it is a marvel what happens. And so some of these laymen who were being persecuted and harried out of the land and pushed out of the city, some of them from Cyprus and Cyrene went as far as Antioch, and there they witnessed to downright idolatrous Greeks. First time it ever happened. Heretofore the gospel had always been preached to a proselyte, to a man who was a Jew, either a Jew by birth or a Jew by being proselyted, a Jew by conversion. But these hot-headed laymen, these Hellenists, these Greek-speaking ones, they went to Antioch and witnessed to idolaters, to Greeks: and the hand of the Lord was with them, and they came immediately out of their Greek idolatry into the marvelous Christian faith of the Lord Jesus Christ. "And the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch" [Acts 11:26]. It was a new thing; and it was a lay movement.
And when you have the story of Lydia at Philippi, who was a merchant woman selling purple piece goods from Thyatira in Asia, you have a typical instance of the spread of the gospel over the Roman Empire [Acts 16:11-15]. The Roman Empire became subject to the inroads and the bombardments and the witnessing of the Christian faith because of laywomen and laymen; carried out by soldiers, and by merchantmen, and by sailors, and by farmers and herdsmen. It was a layman’s religion; started that way.
John the Baptist there in the Jordan River pointed out the Lord Jesus Christ, and a fisherman named John and a fisherman named Andrew heard him, and they followed the Lord Jesus and spent the day with Him. And John found his brother James, and Andrew found his brother Peter, Simon Peter; then Jesus saw Philip, and Philip found Nathanael [John 1:29-46]. And as Jesus continued on His ministry, the woman at Sychar went back to her village and said, "I have found the Messiah! He is outside the town at the well of Jacob" [John 4:28-29]; and the whole town was won to the faith, listening to the testimony of that laywoman. And it continued on and on and on through the whole gamut and circumference of the Greco-Mediterranean world.
Christianity is a lay movement; it’s men and women testifying to the faith of the Lord.
Now, as time went on, and as the days multiplied, more and more there came to be a separation between the clergy and the laity: they became two different people; a clergyman and a layman. And finally, in order to set himself apart and different from the people, the clergyman began to dress in a different way. He put on his collar in a different way; he put on his tie, if he wore one, in a different way. He had a different kind of a dress from the rest of the people. And then as time went on, he began to separate himself from the people in the church; and he put a rail around him, between him and the people. Then as time went on, the rail was raised, and became a little wall. And then as time passed the wall grew higher and higher and higher; and as time kept on passing, that wall reached clear to the ceiling! And the clergyman worshipped and served and ministered before the Lord back of a wall; and the people stood out in the front of the wall, and the minister, the priest, on the back side.
I went to a Russian Orthodox service in Moscow. And I stood outside in the nave of the great church; I stood outside with the people, outside the wall, facing a wall covered with icons, images that they worship, painted on the wall. And the ministering priests were back of the wall on the inside, that you couldn’t see, separated from us. Then at the conclusion of the service, a door burst open in the middle of the wall and out came the officiating priests with their chalice and the wafers, and then the people were called forward to accept the communion from their priestly hands. Can you imagine? The separation between the clergy and the laity, with a wall clear to the ceiling between the officiating priest and the people who were there to worship God; what do you think of that? It is just the opposite of what I find in the Bible. For in the Holy Scriptures, the pastor of the church, the elders of the congregation, the ministers of the gospel of Christ were fellow servants of Jesus. They dressed alike, they witnessed alike, they served God alike, and the only difference lay in this: that for the most part – Paul is an exception in some parts of his life – for the most part the pastor of the church gave himself completely to a ministry among the people. But outside of that, he didn’t look any different, didn’t talk any different, didn’t walk any different, live any different from the people of the congregation. They were all servants and ministers of Jesus alike.
Now we’re going to take it in modern history for just a moment, and look at some of the great laypeople of this world, that you never think of as being laymen. And I’ve chosen one on the continent of Africa, I’ve chosen one on the continent of Europe, in England, and I’ve chosen one on the continent of America. First, the continent of Africa. In the last century, there was a great man of God, a tremendous man of God, who captured the imagination of the whole Christian world; and his name was Dr. David Livingstone – a lay missionary. Dr. Livingstone went to the medical school in Glasgow, Scotland. While he was there, he was marvelously converted, had a deep experience with the Lord; and so loved God that with the church mission society, the Anglican missionary organization, he went to Africa. But after a while, after just a little while in Africa, he was supported by the Royal Geographic Society. He became a British consul, and as an explorer and as an employee of the Royal Geographic Society, David Livingstone explored the center of Africa and opened it up to the white man.
David Livingstone won the hearts of the people, first by his own love for those natives, and by his medicinal and pharmaceutical ministries. He was a doctor, and he labored among the people as such – just as Rebecca Naylor does in our Baptist hospital in Bangalore, India. And Dr. David Livingstone explored the great Zambezi River; discovered Victoria Falls, discovered Lake Malawi, used to be called Lake Niasa; found Lake Tanganyika; was seeking the sources of the Nile, and one of the ironies of history, he died having never discovered the source of the Nile. As you know, it’s Lake Victoria.
I had an unusual feeling in my heart when I stood there at Lake Victoria, and on the northern side saw the Nile pour out of it, the beginning of the great Nile River. Livingstone never found it; he never discovered it. But David Livingstone was God’s lay missionary, and did more to open up the heart of Africa to the evangelization of the people than any man who ever lived or will live. And he was a lay doctor missionary.
My second one is in England, and his name is Charles Haddon Spurgeon. As an older teenager, walking down a street, seeking God with a heavy heart, a snowstorm came, and he turned into a little chapel, a Primitive Methodist chapel. And in the little handful of people who had gathered, evidently the weather too hard for the preacher to come, the minister to come, the pastor to come, there was a layman up there. And he had taken a text, this layman, Isaiah 45:22: "Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all ye ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none other." And that Methodist layman was up there expounding the best that a layman could on that text, "Look unto Me, and be ye saved." And in his words that layman said, "We’re not to look to the church, we’re not to look to the ordinances, we’re not to look to others, we’re not to look to ourselves, but we’re to look to God, we’re to look to God." And then because there was just a handful of people there in the chapel, young Spurgeon was seated under the balcony; the layman stopped, and pointed to young Spurgeon, and said, "Young man, you look so miserable! Young man, look to Jesus. Look to Jesus!" And the great Spurgeon said, "And that night I looked and I lived." He was converted as an older teenager that night in the appeal of a Methodist layman.
Well, what became of Spurgeon? Did he go to college? No. Did he go to the seminary? No. Did he go anywhere? No. As a layman he began to witness for Jesus. He began to teach a Sunday school class. He began to visit people and tell them what God had done for him. And so marvelous was the witness of that boy that they asked him to preach at the church; and then finally, when he was about twenty years of age, to come and to speak in the Crystal Palace in London, where more than twenty thousand people would gather to listen to that boy tell about Jesus. All of his life he was Mr. Charles Haddon Spurgeon! He was a layman up there in the pulpit, declaring the good news of Jesus Christ. He was never ordained, he was never licensed, he was never consecrated as a preacher. He was a Mr. Charles Haddon Spurgeon. And the people that were won to Christ by that layman were thousands and thousands.
When David Livingstone died, as you know, he was kneeling by the side of his bed. When his faithful servants found him the next morning on his knees, dead, there was a sermon by Charles Haddon Spurgeon in the top of his hat – Mr. Spurgeon all the days of his life.
One other, so briefly, in Boston, in a shoe store worked a clerk. He was in a Sunday school class; a man by the name of Kimball teaching the class. And the boy was lost. Mr. Kimball made his way to such and such street in the heart of Boston, to that store; asked where the young man was, and the manager said, "He’s in the back. He’s working in the stockroom." So Mr. Kimball went back, and there the young fellow was on the top of a ladder, working with the stockroom in the shoe store. Mr. Kimball invited him to come down, and he told him about Jesus. And he won the boy to the Lord. And Dwight L. Moody, that young man, began to tell others about Jesus, what the Lord had done for him. He began to teach a Sunday school class, and they came to listen to him tell about Jesus in the Sunday school class. And then others came, and others came, and others came, and others came, and finally thousands came! And Mr. Dwight L. Moody – he never went to school – if you were to read one of his uncorrected sermons you wouldn’t believe a man would talk like that. And those who listened to him would say, "You can’t believe a man would pronounce words like that." He never went to school, never went to college, never went to seminary; he was never ordained, he was never consecrated as a minister, he was never licensed. He was Mr. Dwight L. Moody all the days of his life! He was a layman. But the people thronged to listen to that layman tell about Jesus.
That is the faith! That is the Christian religion! It is not something peculiarly, miraculously endowed in the hands of a so-called minister or so-called priest or so-called pastor; but it’s a message, it’s a testimony that is shared by all of God’s people alike. If you love the Lord, you can be a minister and a witness to the saving grace of the blessed Jesus: a layman, a laywoman, a teenager, a youth, speaking good words for Jesus, and God blesses it. You, me, the church, all of us alike; you have a mission and a calling and an assignment just as I do. We share it together, out of the fullness of our souls, in the love of God.
Our time is much passed. In a moment we stand to sing our appeal, and while we sing it, a couple, a family, or just one somebody you giving your heart to Jesus tonight, coming into the fellowship of the church; maybe you’re a layperson, a layman, a laywoman, and you’d just like to give your life all over again and anew to the witness of the Lord, come; and the Holy Spirit welcome you in the way as you come. As God shall make the appeal, make the decision now in your heart to answer with your life, and in a moment when we stand to sing, stand walking down one of these stairways, coming down one of these aisles, "Here I am, pastor, I’m on the way." God bless you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.
LAYMEN IN EVANGELISM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. Evangelism is the Old Testament
1. Nehemiah 1:1
2. Amos 7:14; 3:8
II. Evangelism in the New Testament
1. Acts 4:13
2. Acts 8:1; faithful scattered except the apostles
3. Antioch – first called Christian
4. Lydia, soldiers Acts 16:14
III. Gradual separation of clergy and laity
1. Revelation 2:6 Nicolaitans
2. Different dress, collars
3. Wall around churches to separate
IV. God’s purpose in evangelism
1. All are witnesses from John the Baptist to John to Andrew to James, etc to the Samaritan woman
2. To all continents