Teach Publicly and From House to House
“I did not flinch from . . . teaching you publicly and from house to house.”—ACTS 20:20, “Byington.”
1. How did a Catholic priest comment on the effectiveness of the house-to-house ministry of Jehovah’s Witnesses?
“CATHOLICS Take Gospel Door to Door.” So read a headline in The Providence Sunday Journal of October 4, 1987. The newspaper reported that a major objective of this activity was to “invite some of their inactive parishioners to return to a more active parish life.” Priest John Allard, director of the Office for Evangelization in the Diocese of Providence, was quoted as saying: “Sure, there’s going to be a lot of skepticism. People are going to say, ‘There they go, just like the Jehovah’s Witnesses.’ But the Jehovah’s Witnesses are effective, aren’t they? I’ll bet you can go into any Kingdom Hall in the state [of Rhode Island, U.S.A.,] and find congregations filled with former Catholics.”
2. What question is appropriately raised?
2 Yes, Jehovah’s Witnesses are well-known for their effective house-to-house ministry. But why do they go from house to house?
The Apostolic Method
3. (a) What commission did Jesus Christ give his disciples? (b) In what chief way did Christ’s early followers carry out their commission?
3 Jesus Christ gave his followers this meaningful commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you. And, look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.” (Matthew 28:19, 20) The principal way in which that work would be done became evident immediately after the day of Pentecost 33 C.E. “Every day in the temple and from house to house they continued without letup teaching and declaring the good news about the Christ, Jesus.” (Acts 5:42) Some 20 years later, the apostle Paul was engaging in the house-to-house ministry, for he reminded Christian elders from the city of Ephesus: “I did not hold back from telling you any of the things that were profitable nor from teaching you publicly and from house to house.”—Acts 20:20.
4 At Acts 5:42 the words “from house to house” are translated from kat’ oiʹkon. Here ka·taʹ is used in a “distributive” sense. Hence, the preaching of the disciples was distributed from one house to another. Commenting on Acts 20:20, Randolph O. Yeager wrote that Paul taught “both in public assemblies [de·mo·siʹa] and from house to house (distributive [ka·taʹ] with the accusative). Paul had spent three years in Ephesus. He visited every house, or at least he preached to all of the people (Ac 20 verse 26). Here is scriptural warrant for house to house evangelism as well as that carried on in public meetings.”
5. At Acts 20:20, why was Paul not referring solely to social calls upon elders or to shepherding visits?
5 A similar use of ka·taʹ appears at Luke 8:1, which speaks of Jesus preaching “from city to city and from village to village.” Paul used the plural form kat’ oiʹkous at Acts 20:20. Here some Bible translations read “in your homes.” But the apostle was not referring solely to social calls upon elders or to shepherding visits in the homes of fellow believers. His next words show that he was speaking about a house-to-house ministry among unbelievers, for he said: “But I thoroughly bore witness both to Jews and to Greeks about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus.” (Acts 20:21) Fellow believers had already repented and exercised faith in Jesus. Hence, both Acts 5:42 and Acts 20:20 have to do with preaching to unbelievers “from house to house,” or from door to door.
No Substitute for It
6. What has been said about the nature of Paul’s preaching work in Ephesus?
6 Commenting on Paul’s words at Acts 20:20, in 1844 Abiel Abbot Livermore wrote: “He was not content merely to deliver discourses in the public assembly, and dispense with other instrumentalities, but zealously pursued his great work in private, from house to house, and literally carried home the truth of heaven to the hearths and hearts of the Ephesians.” More recently, it has been observed: “House to house dissemination of the gospel characterized the first-century Christians from the beginning (cf. Acts 2:46; 5:42). . . . [Paul] had thoroughly discharged his responsibility both to Jews and Gentiles at Ephesus, and they were left without excuse if they perished in their sins.”—The Wesleyan Bible Commentary, Volume 4, pages 642-3.
7. Why can it be said that God approves of the house-to-house ministry of Jehovah’s Witnesses?
7 Though public speaking has its place in declaring the good news, it is no substitute for personal contact at the door. In this regard, scholar Joseph Addison Alexander said: “The church has yet invented nothing to supply the place or rival the effect of church and household preaching.” As scholar O. A. Hills put it: “Public teaching and house-to-house teaching must go hand in hand.” Jehovah’s Witnesses provide instruction through discourses at their weekly Public Meetings. They also have clear evidence that the apostolic method of spreading Bible truth from house to house is effective. And Jehovah surely approves of it, for as a result of such ministry, he is causing thousands to stream to his exalted worship each year.—Isaiah 2:1-4; 60:8, 22.
8. (a) What has been said about the reason why house-to-house preaching is effective? (b) How may Jehovah’s Witnesses be compared to Paul in doorstep preaching and other witnessing?
8 Another authority has said: “People find it easier to remember teaching at their doorstep than at the church step.” Well, Paul was at doorsteps regularly, setting a fine example as a minister. “He was not content with teaching and discoursing in the synagogue and the market,” wrote Bible scholar Edwin W. Rice. “He was ever diligently ‘teaching’ ‘from house to house.’ It was a house-to-house, hand-to-hand, face-to-face contest with evil, and to win men to Christ, that he waged in Ephesus.” Jehovah’s Witnesses realize that person-to-person discussions on the doorstep are effective. Moreover, they make return visits and are happy to talk even with opposers if these individuals will allow reasonable discussions to take place. How like Paul! Concerning him, F. N. Peloubet wrote: “Paul’s work was not all in meetings. No doubt he visited many people personally at their homes wherever he learned of one who was inquiring, or so interested or even opposed as to be willing to converse on religion.”
Elders to Take the Lead
9. What example did Paul set for fellow elders?
9 What example did Paul set for fellow elders? He showed that they should be bold and tireless house-to-house proclaimers of the good news. In 1879, J. Glentworth Butler wrote: “[The Ephesian elders] knew that in [Paul’s] preaching he had been utterly unaffected by thought of personal danger or popularity; that he had withheld nothing of needed truth; that he had not, with one-sided partiality, dwelt upon peculiar or novel aspects of truth, but had urged only and all that which was profitable ‘to the use of edifying,’ or building up: the whole counsel of God in its purity and fullness! And this faithful ‘showing,’ this fervid ‘teaching’ of the Christian truth had been his practice, not only in the school of Tyrannus and in other gathering places of disciples, but in every accessible household. From house to house, and from soul to soul, day by day had he borne the glad tidings with Christlike desire and yearning. To all classes and races, to the hostile Jew and the sneering Greek, his one theme—that which, fully expounded, includes all other essential saving truths—was repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”
10, 11. (a) As regards the Christian ministry, what did Paul expect of the Ephesian elders? (b) Like Paul, in what kind of preaching do Jehovah’s Witnesses, including the elders, engage?
10 In essence, then, what did Paul expect of the Ephesian elders? Scholar E. S. Young paraphrased the apostle’s words in this way: “I did not only speak in public, but I labored from house to house, with all classes, both Jews and Gentiles. The theme of my ministry to all classes was ‘repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.’” Putting Paul’s words another way, W. B. Riley wrote: “The plain meaning was: ‘I expect you to continue that which I began, both to do and to teach and I expect you to resist as I resisted; to teach both privately and publicly as I did in the streets and from house to house, to testify likewise to Jews and to Greeks repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, for these are the fundamentals!’”
11 Clearly, in Acts chapter 20, Paul was showing fellow elders that they were expected to be house-to-house witnesses of Jehovah. In this regard, the first-century elders were to take the lead, setting a proper example for other members of the congregation. (Compare Hebrews 13:17.) Like Paul, then, Jehovah’s Witnesses preach from house to house, telling people of all nations about God’s Kingdom, repentance toward Him, and faith in Jesus Christ. (Mark 13:10; Luke 24:45-48) And in such house-to-house work, appointed elders among the modern-day Witnesses are expected to take the lead.—Acts 20:28.
12. What did some former elders refuse to do, but in what do elders take the lead today?
12 In 1879, Charles Taze Russell began to publish Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence, now called The Watchtower Announcing Jehovah’s Kingdom. Russell and other Bible Students declared the Kingdom message in the apostolic manner. In later years, however, some congregation elders did not live up to their witnessing responsibilities. For instance, one Witness wrote: “All went along well until the announcement came of all taking part in house-to-house witnessing with literature and particularly the Sunday house-to-house work—this in 1927. Our elective elders opposed and tried to discourage the whole class from taking up or engaging in any part of such work.” In time, men who would not engage in house-to-house preaching were no longer privileged to serve as elders. Today, too, those serving as elders and ministerial servants are expected to take the lead in house-to-house witnessing and other forms of the Christian ministry.
Everyone a Witness
13. (a) What should we do even if people do not listen to the Kingdom message? (b) How has Paul been compared with Ezekiel?
13 With Jehovah’s help, Christians should declare the Kingdom message from house to house, even if it is not received with appreciation. As God’s watchman, Ezekiel was to warn people whether they listened or not. (Ezekiel 2:5-7; 3:11, 27; 33:1-6) Drawing a parallel between Ezekiel and Paul, E. M. Blaiklock wrote: “From [Paul’s speech in Acts chapter 20] emerges a clear picture of the ministry in Ephesus. Note the following: First, Paul’s urgent faithfulness. He was no seeker after popularity or the public’s approval. Set like Ezekiel to a watchman’s task, he discharged his duty with honest zeal and character to back his speech. Second, his loving sympathy. He was not the man to take words of doom upon his lips without emotion. Third, his indefatigable evangelism. Publicly and from house to house, in the city and throughout the province, he had preached the gospel.”
14. Why is witnessing the responsibility of everyone who makes a dedication to Jehovah God in prayer through Jesus Christ?
14 God’s abundant blessing upon his present-day servants leaves no doubt that he is pleased to have them bear the name Jehovah’s Witnesses. (Isaiah 43:10-12) Moreover, they are Christ’s witnesses too, for Jesus told his followers: “You will receive power when the holy spirit arrives upon you, and you will be witnesses of me both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the most distant part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) So witnessing is the responsibility of everyone who makes a dedication to Jehovah God in prayer through Jesus Christ.
15. What has been said about the witnessing work of the early Christians?
15 It has been said of witnessing: “It involved the entire church. The missionary enterprise of the early church was not the responsibility of the Women’s Missionary Society or the Foreign Mission Board. Nor was the work of witnessing left to professionals like elders, deacons, or even apostles. . . . In those early days the church was mission. The missionary program of the early church was based on two assumptions: (1) The chief task of the church is world evangelization. (2) The responsibility for carrying out this task rests with the entire Christian community.”—J. Herbert Kane.
16. Even writers in Christendom make what acknowledgment regarding Christians and witnessing?
16 Although modern-day writers of Christendom do not agree with the Kingdom message, some do acknowledge that Christians have an obligation to witness. For instance, in the book Everyone a Minister, Oscar E. Feucht observes: “No pastor can fulfill the ministry God gave to each believer. Unfortunately centuries of erroneous thinking in the church has made the tasks of 500 parishioners the task of a single pastor. It was not so in the early church. They who believed went everywhere preaching the Word.”
17. What can be said about the place witnessing had in the lives of early Christians?
17 Witnessing was paramount in the lives of early Christians, even as it is among Jehovah’s people today. “Broadly speaking,” wrote Edward Caldwell Moore of Harvard University, “the first three centuries of the Christian movement were characterized by a great enthusiasm for the dissemination of the faith. The Christian passion was evangelism, the telling of the message of redemption. . . . The spread of the influence and teachings of Jesus was, however, in the earliest period, owing in but small part to men whom we should call missionaries. It was the achievement of men of every trade and occupation and of every order in society. [They] carried to the farthest limits of the [Roman] empire that secret of the inner life, that new attitude toward the world, which in their experience constituted salvation. . . . [Early Christianity] was profoundly convinced of the approaching end of the present world-order. It believed in the sudden and miraculous setting up of a new world-order.”
18. What grand hope far surpasses the dreams of political leaders?
18 In house-to-house witnessing and other forms of their ministry, Jehovah’s Witnesses joyously direct their hearers to the new world God has promised. Its foretold blessings of endless life far surpass the fondest dreams of today’s would-be builders of a new world order. (2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1-4) Though it would seem that everyone would want to live in God’s wonderful new world, that is not the case. However, let us next consider some effective ways in which Jehovah’s servants can teach those seeking eternal life.
How Would You Respond?
□ How do we know that God approves of the house-to-house ministry of Jehovah’s Witnesses?
□ In regard to the ministry, what is required of elders and ministerial servants?
□ Witnessing should have what place in a Christian’s life?
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In 33 C.E., Jesus’ disciples witnessed from house to house without letup
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Paul taught “from house to house.” This form of the ministry is carried on by Jehovah’s Witnesses today