Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, my family and those whom God loves:
Evangelism, witness, outreach… We often hear these words used in the Church, but are they the same or different and what is their relationship?
Evangelism is a noun defined by the Oxford online dictionary as “the spreading of the Christian gospel by public preaching or personal witness.” However, this word “evangelism” is not found in any English translation of the Bible. The closest one gets are three passages which speak of an evangelist or evangelists (Acts 21:8; Ephesians 4:11; 2 Timothy 4:5) who were men designated to be messengers bringing or announcing the Good News or Gospel. The root of the word “evangelism” though, is the Greek word euangélion (εὐαγγέλιον) or “evangel,” which is translated as “the Gospel.” This word is used over seventy times throughout the New Testament. The Bible defines the Gospel most clearly as the saving acts of God due to the work of Jesus on the cross and Jesus’ resurrection from the dead which bring reconciliation between people and God (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). The Gospel is the message of what God has done for all and for you through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. “Evangelism” therefore, is to be onside or in support of the “evangel” – the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Witness is also a noun that is defined by the Oxford online dictionary as “a person who sees an event take place.” The English word “witness” is used over one hundred and sixty times throughout the Bible and in the New Testament it is a translation of the Greek word martus (martuß). The definition of martus is dependent upon the context and can mean: a legal witness; a historical witness; or an ethical witness (a martyr). The nature of the witness can also be defined by what one has seen (eye-witness) and/or heard (ear-witness). Those early disciples would have been witnesses to what they had seen and heard (Acts 22:15). On the other hand, Christians today who have been born of water and the Spirit (John 3:5) can only be witnesses to the truth of Jesus Christ to which the Spirit bears witness through them.
Outreach is another noun that the Oxford dictionary defines as “the extent or length of reaching out as in an organization’s involvement with or activity in the community, especially in the context of social welfare.” This word is rather modern and is not used in any form in the Bible. The closest reference to it might be the diaconal work done by those chosen to serve the physical needs of people early in the life of the Church (Acts 6:1-7).
So what is the relationship of these words for the life of the Church and congregations today? The Church, its congregation and its members (Christians) have been called and gathered by Holy Spirit through the Gospel – the “evangel” (euangélion) which is the reconciling work that God has done for sinners through Christ’s life, death and resurrection. The primary purpose and mission of the Church, its congregations and its members (Christians) is to bear witness to the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This witness begins in worship through the proclamation of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments and in our homes as we devote time to mediating on the saving work of Christ in God’s Word. This witness is then taken out into the world through the vocations of God’s people and as they collectively reach out to their neighbours in love. In this way, outreach becomes like a bridge by which the witness to the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is carried over into the lives of people in need of the forgiveness, life and salvation God provides freely.
Grace be with you,