The Assembly and the Evangelist

An evangelist is the servant of Christ, not of the assembly; but wherever he may be he is of the church himself. If there is no assembly gathered where he is there he is alone, but if there is an assembly he is of it. And the first thing in him is to gather to Christ. Say that I go to Galatia, and the Lord converts fifty, they are gathered to Christ, not to the assembly I had come from. An evangelist would be for the edifying of the body of Christ, inasmuch as he brings the souls in and adds them. How could you build a church up without people, without bricks (or scripturally, I should say, "stones")? I should in this connection be jealous of two things exceedingly: of a person separating himself in spirit from the saints, or of the assembly thinking his work was their affair. I think it is of great importance that the workman should be clearly Christ's servant; but if he works in any spirit of separation from the saints, I could not go with it. An evangelist may not necessarily gather to anything that was there but to Christ, with a full knowledge of redemption; and having Christ and a full knowledge of redemption, they could not go on with anything else. J. N. Darby.

To the Editor of the "Christian Friend."

Dear Mr Editor,

One of your correspondents has suggested a Saturday evening meeting as a means of promoting fellowship between the assembly and the evangelist, the latter to mention the service that he expects to undertake through the ensuing week.

Upon the face of it, this would exclude all mention of much that an evangelist is called to do. Could Philip, for instance, have informed the brethren in Samaria beforehand of his journey into the desert?

But a more serious objection to this plan lies in the fact that, if an evangelist made it his practice to lay his work before his brethren, for a certainty there would be the expression of divers opinions, and the tendering of sundry advice. And is it not often the case that those who are loudest in saying how they think that things should be done are the ones who have had the least experience in the work of winning souls?

The evangelist could hardly help being influenced, and perhaps fettered, by such opinions and advice, and it is not difficult to see what unhappy results might ensue from the proposed plan.

On the other hand, is it not true that an evangelist who is quietly doing the work the Lord has given him, without expecting to receive attention from his brethren, almost invariably does receive the hearty and thorough fellowship that is so desirable?

I think those who are most active in the work of the gospel will agree with me when I say that the Lord's people, on the whole, are thoroughly in sympathy with the preachers of the glad tidings, and that, when there is friction between them and an evangelist, it is often due to the latter placing his service before the fellowship.

Surely, in days like these, when there is so little real fellowship, everything that tends to promote it should be fostered, even at the cost of abstaining from things which are perfectly right.

This may not always be possible. There were legally-minded saints in Jerusalem, long ago, who even criticized the actions of the apostle Paul. (Acts 21:20-22.) But it has been pointed out that he was so desirous of avoiding anything like a breach of fellowship, that he took considerable pains to satisfy their prejudices.

Perhaps a little less legality on the part of some, and a little more grace on the part of the evangelist, would go a long way towards producing such sweet accord that it would never occur to us to raise the question of how fellowship can be best promoted between an assembly and an evangelist. Yours in our Lord, H. P. B. Feb., 1898.

"The relation of the assembly to the evangelist" was, in early days, of the happiest kind. There was neither jar nor friction, but, on the other hand, full and hearty fellowship. And if so then, why not now?

If we look, for instance, first at the work of Philip in Samaria (see Acts 8), we find Peter and John going down from the parent assembly at Jerusalem, and throwing themselves most heartily into the work, adding to and developing it according to their measure as apostles. A happy seal was thus placed upon the evangelistic work of Philip, and a spiritual link was formed between Jerusalem and Samaria.

Again, if we turn to the mission of Peter to the company of Gentiles, with Cornelius (Acts 10, 11), we find that, after explanation given by him and the immediate breaking down of national prejudices, the assembly at Jerusalem glorified God, saying, "Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life." How happy the fellowship!

Again, when they which were scattered abroad, upon the persecution that arose about Stephen, "… spake to the Grecians, the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord." Accordingly, Barnabas was sent down from Jerusalem, and - dear, warm-hearted servant of God as he was - he "was glad," and freely contributed to the gracious work of the Lord in Antioch by words as confirmatory as they were genuine and simple.

Then off he went to seek for Saul, and, no doubt, stirred the soul of that devoted man by the tidings he bore; for we find that "when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch." A grand moral origin for the name "Christians"! "The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch." What fellowship!

Lastly, in chapter 13, we have the journey of Saul and Barnabas throughout Cyprus and over a good deal of Asia Minor. (A famous Asiatic mission was this, and sealed with abundant fruit.) Well, when they were come hack to Antioch, they gathered the Church together (no doubt the Church was delighted to come), and rehearsed all that God had done with them, and "how He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles"; and, again, in the next chapter, "they declared the conversion of the Gentiles, and caused great joy unto all the brethren."

That will he a good point at which to stop - "great joy unto all the brethren."

What happy relations between the evangelists and all the brethren! Ah, those bright early days!

How the rich tide of God's saving grace flowed on! How its sweetness and charm caused the critics not only to "glorify God," but also to "hold their peace." (Chap. 11:18.)

What grand reversals of thought and feeling! What divine victories!

How was friction prevented? By the principle and practice of partnership. The work was one, the profit mutual, the joy common. It was a service of fellowship. "Master and servant" did not exist in their work, saving the Lord and the vessels He deigned to use. Otherwise it was a responsibility of common interests; and the evangelist, while gladly acting in harmony with the assembly, was responsible to the Lord. He "served the Lord with all humility of mind, and many tears." (Acts 20:19.)

And the same Lord may still be served thus today; and, spite of eighteen centuries of failure, the fellowship of the assembly may still be granted and enjoyed. J. W. S.

Dear Mr Editor,

The letters in your April number upon the assembly and evangelist have produced in me the desire to add a word. Both of these letters, I believe, have touched the proper chord.

It is not Saturday night arrangements or any other thing of the kind that can promote free action between the assembly and evangelists, but that true large-heartedness which will everywhere characterize a work of the Holy Ghost. The entente cordiale will then be freely kept up. I think both letters admirable.

Recent events, I think, have shown that even in evangelization we need to be kept from going down to worldly ways and means; but I believe that we cannot be too careful to allow free play to God's action. "There are diversities of operations," and I have no doubt that in Christendom many committees and centres have hampered the work of evangelists by prescribing rules and regulations which cut the wings of the one who finds himself in active service: just as (to take a human analogy) the red-tape regulations of the War Office have often hampered generals in the field.

Should we expect exactly the same kind of preaching in London as in some village, say, in Sicily or South Italy, or in a mud hut on the Nile? The work of God is the same, but must not the means be adapted to circumstances? Catholics are nearly always converted through reading the Scriptures.

I shall never forget a grave discussion made by some very true-hearted brethren in a city in England upon work in a far-off country where they had never been. A man was present amongst them who had been there engaged in fairly active service, and his feeling was much that of Hannibal at the court of Antiochus the Great, when a refugee from the Romans. A Greek philosopher came over to Antioch and read a treatise on war before the court; many after the reading, which had been much applauded, asked Hannibal (who was incognito) what he thought of it. The great Punic commander replied that he had heard great nonsense during his life, but never such rubbish as this!

So might some committee theorize upon evangelization, whilst the evangelist himself knows what it is.

The true remedy for any want of fellowship has been shown clearly by H. P. B. and J. W. S., and, thank God, the distrust and fear that has often come to hinder His blessed work is surely in great measure cleared away, and will be more and more diminished as each servant goes on quietly with his own work, and the assembly, recognizing that which is of God, is led out in further praise and in prayer for those who are actually in the field.

I think that evangelization does not consist merely in preaching, but in spreading the excellent name of Christ in various ways amongst those who have not yet received Him.

Forward, everyone who is led on in this glorious battle! May J. W. S.'s wish be fully granted (his last clause); and if I might add a word to it, I should say, Let the excellency of the name of Christ on the one hand, and the need of souls on the other, be the bond between assembly and evangelist.

Believe me, dear Mr. Editor, Yours, with true esteem, E. L. B.

Ambrosian Library, Milan, April 4th, 1898.