EVANGEL HOME GROUPS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-28-84 10:50 a.m.
It is a gladness to welcome the uncounted multitudes of you who share this hour with us on radio and on television. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, bringing the message entitled Evangel Home Groups. It is a sermon that seeks to outline a new departure, a new determination, a new commitment, a new definition, a new ministry in the life of our wonderful church. The reading of the text is in Philemon; Philemon, verses 1 and 2:
Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellow laborer,
And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in thy house.
These people lived in ancient Phrygia; the Romans made it a part of the province of Asia. In ancient Anatolia, we call it today modern Asia Minor, through that great area of land there runs through the center of it a river named the Maeander. It flows into the Mediterranean at Miletus. About a hundred twenty or so miles up the Maeander, in the heart of ancient Anatolia, ancient Asia Minor runs the Lycus River. And just up the Lycus a few miles, on that side, on the north side of the river, was the ancient city of Hierapolis. Paul mentions the city in the letter to the Colossians. The great, devoted Greek father and disciple of the sainted apostle John, the Greek father Papias was the pastor of the church at Hierapolis. Just up the Lycus River a little way and on the south side was the ancient city of Laodicea. And then ten miles up the Lycus Valley from Laodicea was the ancient city of Colosse. And in Colosse lived Philemon, and Apphia his wife–that is a common Phrygian name–and Archippus, their son [Philemon 1:1-2]. And from Colossians 4:16-17, it seems that Archippus was the pastor either at Laodicea or at Colosse. He’s writing, of course, to Philemon, concerning a runaway slave that Paul had won to the Lord in his prison in Rome; and now is sending the slave back to Philemon, not as a culprit but as a brother beloved [Philemon 1:10-16]. And that occasioned the writing of the letter. In the nineteenth verse of this little beautiful appeal to Philemon, we learn that Philemon himself, who seems to have been a most affluent man with a large house, Philemon was won to the Lord in the long, effective ministry of the apostle Paul in Ephesus [Philemon 1:19].
Now what concerns us in the message this morning is the address of the apostle to Philemon, to Apphia, to Archippus, “and to the church in thy house” [Philemon 1:1-2]. You will find that frequently mentioned in the New Testament. For example:
· In the sixteenth, the last chapter of Romans, the apostle Paul will write in verse 3, “Greet Priscilla,” named first, “Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus” [Romans 16:3].
· And in verse 5, “Likewise greet the church that is in their house” [Romans 16:5].
· When I turn to the next letter in the New Testament, the letter of Paul to the Corinthians, I read in the last chapter and verse 19, “The churches of Asia,” that’s where Colossians and Philemon live, “The churches of Asia salute you. Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house” [1 Corinthians 16:19].
· I turn once again to the Book of Colossians. And in writing to Colosse, in the last chapter, verse 15, Paul writes, “Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church that is in his house” [Colossians 4:15].
· When I turn to the great Pentecostal chapter, when the outpouring of the Spirit of grace was without measure given to us in this dispensation; I read, after the great harvest and the baptizing of the three thousand converts that day [Acts 2:41], “They, continuing daily with one accord in the temple” [Acts 2:46], that’s our church edifice today, “in the temple,” the gathering of the people in the temple, “and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their food with gladness and singleness of heart” [Acts 2:46].
House to house, the people meeting in church groups in the house. That’s a very poignant thing and a dynamic revelation here in the Word of God.
When I read the life of our Lord—and I haven’t time to quote, to mention all those passages—time and again and again and again do you find our Lord teaching in the home, in the house. When He sent out the [twelve], He sent them to bring the message of good tidings in the homes of the people [Matthew 10:5-15]. When He sent out the seventy, He did the same thing: they were to go into the homes of the people, and to teach them the Word of the Lord [Luke 10:1-9]. Now that was the pattern of New Testament life for the first three hundred years. The most dynamic and effective of all of the centuries of the Christian faith, the first three centuries, they literally overwhelmed the Roman Empire with their message of Christ. There has been no period in Christian history that had the thrust, and the success, and the dynamic, and the march, and the marvelous results that we find in the first three centuries.
Now it is amazing to us today that in those first three centuries there were no church houses, no edifices; the people met in the homes of their converts. You will see that in the very nomenclature by which we use the word “church.” In the New Testament, the word “church,” translated “church,” is “ekklēsia—ek kaleo, the called out people of the Lord—the word referred to the people. The church was the people. They had no edifice, they had no church house. The ekklēsia was the people. I’ve mentioned to you that in one of the most unusual translations that I think you’ll find in the world is Martin Luther’s translation of the Greek New Testament into German. You would think that when he came to the word “church,” “ekklēsia, he would use the word kirche—kirche, church—he never uses it. Always Martin Luther used the word, to translate ekklesia, he used the word Gemeinde, Gemeinde. Gemeinde is a German word for any kind of a group of people in a pub, in a brewery joint, in a crap game, in a den, a dive, anywhere; that’s a Gemeinde. And that’s the word that Martin Luther uses to translate the word ekklēsia; it refers to the people, the people anywhere, a gathering of the people, a Gemeinde.
Well, where in the world did we get this word “church”? What happened was, after three hundred years—when the word referred to the people of the Lord, 300 AD about—Constantine the Roman emperor was converted, and he became a Christian. And when he did, they literally baptized the whole Greco-Roman idolatrous system. They baptized the priests. You don’t have any priests in the New Testament church; they had priests, so they baptized the priests and they became priests in the church. They baptized the idols and they became Christian idols. This idol in the Greek temple of say, Jove, is now Peter; this is Simon Peter. And in the Greek temple this idol of Juno is no longer Juno, that’s the Virgin Mary. And they baptized the ritual, and they baptized the temples, all of them. All of the temples of the Greco-Roman Empire became churches. And no longer did they use the word ekklēsia, “the people,” but they used the word kuriokas, “the lordly house.” The church now is “the lordly house”; those spacious, magnificent, basilicas that were used to worship idols, they became churches under Constantine, and the word they used was kurioka. Kurios is “Lord,” oikos is church, “the lordly house.” And it was changed from the people to the house. So much so that if I asked you, “Where is the church?” Well, you would say, “Down the street four blocks there, with that spire on top of it; that’s the church.” You’d might as well say, if I ask you, “Where’s a man?” you point to a signpost, “That’s the man.” No. The church is the people, and we just meet wherever we are to meet. We can meet on a sawdust trail under a tabernacle; or we can meet at a fair; we can meet on the street; or we can meet anywhere. That’s God’s church: the people.
Now what I’m seeing from the Bible, the Holy Scriptures here, is that in the New Testament—for the first three hundred years of the Christian faith thereafter—the people met, the church was the assembly of the saints in the homes of those who had been won to the Lord. Now I would like to propose for us a going back to that New Testament pattern of church ministry. They met in the temple; we’ll meet in this great edifice. But our work actually is to be done where the people are, in the homes and houses of God’s children.
Now I’d like to call them “Evangel Groups,” evangel. In the New Testament there is a word euangelizō, and that means “to bring good tidings, to preach the gospel.” The verbal substantive, the substantive form of the verbal form is euangelion; that’s “the good news, the good tidings.” And when you take euangelion, “the good news” and spell it out in English, it’s spelled out “evangel.” Evangel means “the good news”; it means “the gospel.” It means what God has done to save us, and to bless us, and to preserve us, and to guide us, and to take us to heaven [Romans 1:16], “evangel.” And to describe in detail what I would like to include in that word “evangel,” we could call them:
· “Evangel Home Groups,”
· or “Evangel Share Groups,”
· or “Evangel Care Groups,”
· or “Evangel Prayer Groups,”
· or “Evangel Soul-winning Groups,”
· or “Evangel Discipling Groups,”
· “Evangel Fellowship Groups,”
· “Evangel Outreach Groups,”
· “Evangel Touch Groups,”
· “Evangel Friendship Groups,”
· “Evangel Companion Groups,”
· “Evangel Support Groups,”
· “Evangel Participating Groups,”
· “Evangel Involvement Groups,”
· “Evangel Witnessing Groups,”
· “Evangel Bible Groups.”
I’d love to call them “Evangel Love Groups,” but I wouldn’t dare do that. That’s because of the halting, stammering form of our English language: I could do it in Greek; can’t do it in English because “love” is such an impossible word in the English language.
Here’ll be a boy trying to seduce a girl, and he’ll say to her, “If you love me, you’d go all the way with me.” He means by that to seduce her; and ten thousand times ten thousand girls will fall for that seduction, “If you love me, you would go all the way with me.” Well, you use the same word “love” when we sing, “The love of God is greater far than tongue or pen could ever tell.” That’s English. You wouldn’t do that in Greek. The Greek word for sexual intimacy is erōs, erōs. Never one time is the word eros used in the New Testament, never!
They use the word agapē, “God’s love”: God is agapē. And they use the word philos, the friendship, the gracious kindly remembrance of God. Now if I were in Greek, why, we’d call them “evangel agapē,” or “evangel philos” groups; but I can’t do that in English. Man, if I were to say “Evangel Love Groups” were meeting over there in the house, they’d say “Boy, let’s go to that love-in for sure!” So we have to use the word “evangel” and then you can call them “Evangel Share Groups,” “Evangel Prayer Groups,” “Evangel Care Groups,” “Evangel Soul-winning Groups,” but they meet in the homes of the people, and it is God’s assembly; “The church in thy house” [Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:9].
The organization of it will be very simple. There will be an Evangel leader. There will be an Evangel assistant leader getting ready when the group grows to divide, and he will lead the new group. There will be a Bible teacher. And there will be a secretary to report to the pastor and to the church. Now may I say a word about what they are not, and what they are?
First, what they are not: they are not Bible classes. They are not prayer meetings. They are not fellowship dinners. What they are, they are Evangel Groups, they are soul-winning groups. What they are: they are care groups, caring for each other. What they are: they are testimony groups, they are witnessing groups. They are outreach arms of the Sunday school and of the church. Then in the services are all the rest of the things that I have mentioned. There’ll be a Bible lesson brought. There’ll be prayer. There will be praise, participation. But the great thrust of it is an Evangel witnessing, soul-saving ministry.
Now let me speak of that for just a moment: first, concerning the involvement of the people in the Evangel Group. If there is any one tremendous weakness that I see in our modern church life it is this: that our people, having been won to the Lord, are not involved. For example, a man said, “You know, when I was lost, the church paid far more attention to me then than they do now. When I was lost, they cared for me, and sought for me, and prayed for me. Now that I am a Christian and been baptized and [am a] member of the church, nobody pays any attention to me. That’s a tragedy! When we are saved, when we are born into the kingdom of our Lord [John 3:3, 7, 14-18], we are just then beginning to grow in the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus.
This, yesterday, I had a wedding over there in the beautiful chapel on the other side of the street in that building there. And when I walked into the building, there was a young father. He had in his arms a little baby; that baby could not have been more than a few days old, a little thing about twice as big as my fist. And that father was cuddling that little baby; seated there in a chair, he was cuddling that little baby and just looking at it with love and adoration. And as I looked at it, I thought, “That is a picture of the whole kingdom of God.” These young converts, these new converts, these who have been won to the Lord, oh! how much care, and how much love, and how much direction, and how much effort is to be poured into their lives. We have just begun when we have won somebody to the Lord Jesus.
Another thing: the involvement of our people in the service itself. As I stand here—as I have for these now forty and beyond years—there’d be no opportunity that I could ever think of, or suggest, whereby we could all share in the hour. You couldn’t do it. So the preacher prays, and he studies, and he pores over the Word of God, and he prepares the message. And then our people will enter into a worship service: read the Bible, bow in prayer, listen to the choir, sing ourselves. But as for any one of us having any real part in the hour, it’d be impossible; you couldn’t do it. That doesn’t mean we ought not. Because we cannot, here in the public temple worship, is by no means an interdiction to the fact that we ought to witness, we ought to testify, we ought to tell of the grace of God in our souls and in our hearts.
Now in the Home Evangel Group we can talk to one another, we can speak of God’s grace to us, we can recount a wonderful remembrance and blessing and benediction of God from heaven. We need to do that; we will grow doing that. It will be such a strength and encouragement to us to share in what God has done.
Another thing about it—and this arises, I suppose, out of the years and the years that I was in the country—for the first ten years, the most malleable years of my life as a young preacher, I was in the country. I was single, and I lived with the people. I prayed with them, I read the Bible with them; I would visit day after day, just loving the people, caring for the people, interceding for the people. What happens to us now here in this big city? Rarely would I ever have opportunity to go into the home of any member of our church. And it would be unthinkable if I set before me that I’m going into the home of all of the people of our church. I just find myself overwhelmed by the vastness of the city. It’s so different from my little country congregation; it’s another world. Well, what happens to me is, I still have the same response in my heart to the work now as I had then. There’s no difference at all. I’m asked ten thousand times a thousand times, “How do you feel being pastor of that big church there in Dallas?” I answer, “Honestly, I don’t feel any different now than I did when I was pastor of my little congregation of eighteen.” I don’t feel a bit different. I prayed, I tried, I did everything I could to guide those people in the road to heaven then; I do the same thing now. I don’t feel anything different at all, none at all. Well, what bothers me is these people.
Let’s take the forty years that I have been an undershepherd here. I have seen the people in those decades, I’ve seen them grow old, and I’ve seen them disappear from the congregation. I wonder what has happened to them? Are they sick? Are they old? Have they come upon financial difficulty and adversity? Have they lost their homes? Have they been put out on the street? Are they brokenhearted? I think of that all the time; these people, what happens to them? I think in our little Evangel Groups, we would know each other intimately, personally, vitally, and we could pray for each other and help each other. I would be brokenhearted to think that somebody came upon financial adversity in the church and needed, and we never even proposed to help, wouldn’t even occur to us to help. Just what are we for? Or, there came upon a family a great tragedy, and we never even, we never even bothered to inquire or to ask, much less to pray or to intercede. A caring group, a sharing group, a praying group; I would love to think of our church as being a place where everybody is somebody, dear and precious in the sight of God, I don’t care who they are.
Well, one other thing about it. I would love to see us give ourselves as a people to soulwinning, to sharing the grace of God that reached down in mercy and lifted us up toward the Lord [Titus 3:5]. That means that in the Evangel Group we would learn how to witness for our Savior and how to invite others to the Lord. And we’re not talking about a deep theological training course; we’re talking about a simple thing. Dear people, if the Lord made it intricate and devious and difficult to find the way of salvation, most of us would never find it. I wasn’t saved as a theologian; I was saved when I was ten years old. And what would a ten year old boy know about theology, or the depths of all of those discussions in the theological world? I didn’t even know they existed at the time. But I was taught as a simple child, a simple plan of salvation; and that’s the heart of the gospel message.
Let me give you an example. Suppose we were to say, “All of us are going to learn the Roman Road of salvation; the Roman Road of salvation”; and we would memorize a few key verses, such as, Romans 3:23, “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” That means I am a sinner; all of us have sinned. All right, the next one: Romans 5:8, “But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” And then the next one: Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death,” death. It’s not a matter of “if,” it’s just a matter of when. I am a dying man, and the day will come when I will surely die. I am a sinner. “The wages of sin is death.” I die two ways: my body dies and is buried in the ground, my soul dies and is separated from God. That’s called “the second death,” or “hell” [Revelation 20:14-15]. But hell is such a curse word, it’s lost its spiritual meaning. The sentence and the judgment of death is in my members; I am a dying man! “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” [Romans 6:23]. That’s our hope, that’s our heaven, that’s our promise. Then the great appeal in Romans 10:9-10:
If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in thine heart that God raised Him from the dead, that He lives, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart one believeth unto a God kind of righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
And the thirteenth verse, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” [Romans 10:13]. That’s God’s Word and God’s promise. Then to follow it in Romans 6:3-5, we are buried with the Lord in the likeness of His death by baptism, and we are raised out of that watery grave in the likeness of His resurrection to live a new life in Him. This is a simple word in which all of us can share.
Now that calls for one other thing: how would you get people who are lost to come to an Evangel Group in your house, in your home? And if they came one time, how would it be that they’d come back again? That’s why the sermon next Sunday morning on Prayer and Fasting. God has to help us, God’s Spirit must work with us. I don’t hide the fact that the youngest, smallest little child coming up to me—wanting to know, to be saved—I am helpless before that child. I can’t save or convert the heart even of a little child; God has to do that. God has to do that. All I can do is to point the little child to the Lord Jesus, and then pray that the Spirit of God will come into the heart of the child and convert him, make him anew, the conversion experience. All of this is in God’s purview, in His prerogative; it’s in His wisdom and grace and power and choice. We can’t convert anybody; God has to do that. It’s the work of the Lord. And that’s why, next Sunday morning I’m calling our people to fasting and praying. We’re going to pray and to fast. We’re going to pray and not eat. We’re going to fast and pray. And we’re going to ask God to bless us with His presence, His grace, His saving power, to move mightily among us. “Please God, do it,” we’re going to pray; we’re going to ask the Lord.
Then what I’m hoping for, praying for, hoping for, asking for, is that when we assemble here in the temple and God’s people come together, that when the invitation is made, down the aisle, down the aisle, down the stairway will come our people. “Pastor, this is a family that we have won to the Lord; the whole home is now a Christian home,” and to see that, to me, would be like heaven itself. Doesn’t the Scripture say that? “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one somebody that turns to Jesus” [Luke 15:10]. That’s heaven to me. And to have our convocation here in this holy place, and to see people down that aisle, down that aisle, down that stairway, coming to the Lord, I just think my heart would break with joy and gladness.
Lord, grant it. Please, Lord, grant it.
We’re going now to sing our song of invitation. And a family you, in the balcony round, down one of these stairways, “Pastor, this is God’s day for us.” Or out of this press of people on the lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, God has spoken to my heart, and I’m answering with my life.” Some to come accepting the Lord as Savior; some to be baptized into the fellowship of God’s people; some to put their lives here in this dear church; some answering an especial call of the Spirit in your heart and life, as God shall say the word, shall make the appeal, on the first note of that first stanza, come. No one will leave, even think of leaving, we’ll be praying. We will be waiting just for you; then after the appeal, why, anyone who would like to can go.
But now, Lord, Lord, do something wonderful again. Save somebody. Add to the family of the Lord’s redeemed people, and make us glad in Thee.
Come and welcome, while we stand and while we sing. “This is God’s time for me, and I’m coming.”
region of Ancient Phrygia
Philemon won by Paul at Ephesus; his wife named Apphia
Their son Archippus pastor at Colosse or at Laocdicea(Colossians 4:16-17)
writes to Philemon concerning runaway slave that he had won to the Lord, and
was now sending him back
“The church in your house”(Philemon 2)
mentioned in the New Testament (Romans 16:3, 5,
1 Corinthians 16:19, Colossians 4:15, Acts 2:41-46)
Christ taught in the house, and sent disciples to the house(Matthew 10:11-13, Luke 10:5-7)
There was no church house for first three hundred years of the faith
a. Ekklesia –
the called out people of the Lord
“church” – began to be used after conversion of Constantine
II. New Testament pattern for church
“the good news”; spelled out in English is “evangel”
in the homes of the people to share, care, for prayer, soul-winning, discipleship,
An Evangel assistant leader, preparing to lead the next group
Secretary to report to the pastor and the church
are not Bible classes, prayer meetings or fellowship dinners
are soul-winning groups, care groups, testimony and witnessing groups – the
outreach arms of the Sunday school and the church
III. Concerning the work of the Evangel
of all our members
member said, “When I was lost the church paid far more attention to meâ€¦”
of our people in the service itself
this big city I rarely have opportunity to be in the homes of our people
and ministering to the flock
– invitation to friends, neighbors
Learning the plan of salvation that we might share it(Romans 3:23, 5:8, 6:3-5, 23, 10:9-10, 13, 20:14-15)
call to pray
Growth in the Spirit