All True Christians Are Evangelizers
“Sing to Jehovah, bless his name. From day to day tell the good news of salvation by him.”—PSALM 96:2.
1. What good news do people need to hear, and how have Jehovah’s Witnesses been exemplary in spreading such news?
IN A world where disasters happen daily, it is truly comforting to know that as the Bible proclaims, war, crime, hunger, and oppression will soon end. (Psalm 46:9; 72:3, 7, 8, 12, 16) Indeed, is this not good news that everyone needs to hear? Jehovah’s Witnesses think so. They are known everywhere as ones who preach “good news of something better.” (Isaiah 52:7) True, many Witnesses have suffered persecution for their determination to tell the good news. But they have the best interests of people at heart. And what a record of zeal and perseverance the Witnesses have built up!
2. What is one reason for the zeal of Jehovah’s Witnesses?
2 The zeal of Jehovah’s Witnesses today parallels that of the Christians of the first century. Of them, the Roman Catholic newspaper L’Osservatore Romano correctly said: “The first Christians, as soon as they were baptized, felt it their duty to spread the Gospel. From mouth to mouth, slaves transmitted the Gospel.” Why are Jehovah’s Witnesses, like those early Christians, so zealous? First, because the good news they publish is from Jehovah God himself. Could there be a better reason for zeal? Their preaching is a response to the words of the psalmist: “Sing to Jehovah, bless his name. From day to day tell the good news of salvation by him.”—Psalm 96:2.
3. (a) What is a second reason for the zeal of Jehovah’s Witnesses? (b) What is involved in “salvation by [God]”?
3 The psalmist’s words remind us of a second reason for the zeal of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Their message is one of salvation. Some individuals work in medical, social, economic, or other fields to improve the lot of fellow humans, and such efforts are commendable. But anything one human can do for another is very limited in comparison with “salvation by [God].” Through Jesus Christ, Jehovah will save meek ones from sin, sickness, and death. Those who benefit will live forever! (John 3:16, 36; Revelation 21:3, 4) Today, salvation is among the “wonderful works” that Christians recount when they respond to the words: “Declare among the nations [God’s] glory, among all the peoples his wonderful works. For Jehovah is great and very much to be praised. He is fear-inspiring above all other gods.”—Psalm 96:3, 4.
The Master’s Example
4-6. (a) For what third reason are Jehovah’s Witnesses zealous? (b) How did Jesus show zeal for the work of preaching the good news?
4 Jehovah’s Witnesses are zealous for a third reason. They follow the example of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:21) That perfect man wholeheartedly accepted the assignment “to tell good news to the meek ones.” (Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:17-21) Thus, he became an evangelizer, a teller of good news. He traveled the length and breadth of Galilee and Judea, “preaching the good news of the kingdom.” (Matthew 4:23) And because he knew that many would respond to that good news, he said to his disciples: “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. Therefore, beg the Master of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.”—Matthew 9:37, 38.
5 In harmony with his own prayer, Jesus trained others to be evangelizers. In time, he sent his apostles out on their own and told them: “As you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.’” Would it have been more practical for them to set up programs to alleviate the social ills of the day? Or should they have become involved in politics to fight the rampant corruption of the time? No. Rather, Jesus set the standard for all Christian evangelizers when he told his followers: “As you go, preach.”—Matthew 10:5-7.
6 Later, Jesus sent out another group of disciples to announce: “The kingdom of God has come near.” When they returned to report the success of their evangelizing tour, Jesus was overjoyed. He prayed: “I publicly praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have carefully hidden these things from wise and intellectual ones, and have revealed them to babes.” (Luke 10:1, 8, 9, 21) Jesus’ disciples, formerly hardworking fishermen, farmers, and so forth, were like babes when compared with the highly educated religious leaders of the nation. But the disciples were trained to proclaim the best of all good news.
7. After Jesus’ ascension to heaven, to whom did his followers first preach the good news?
7 After Jesus’ ascension to heaven, his followers continued to spread the good news of salvation. (Acts 2:21, 38-40) To whom did they preach first? Did they go to the nations who did not know God? No, their initial field was Israel, a people acquainted with Jehovah for more than 1,500 years. Did they have the right to preach in a land where Jehovah was already worshiped? Yes. Jesus had told them: “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) Israel needed to hear the good news as much as any other nation.
8. How do Jehovah’s Witnesses today imitate first-century followers of Jesus?
8 In a similar way, Jehovah’s Witnesses today preach in all the earth. They cooperate with the angel seen by John who “had everlasting good news to declare as glad tidings to those who dwell on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people.” (Revelation 14:6) In the year 2001, they were active in 235 lands and territories, including some commonly viewed as Christian. Is it wrong of Jehovah’s Witnesses to preach in places where Christendom has already established its churches? Some say it is and may even consider such evangelizing to be “sheep stealing.” However, Jehovah’s Witnesses remember Jesus’ feelings for the humble Jews of his day. Although they already had a priesthood, Jesus did not hesitate to tell them the good news. He “felt pity for them, because they were skinned and thrown about like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36) When Jehovah’s Witnesses find humble people who do not know about Jehovah and his Kingdom, should they withhold the good news from such individuals because some religion claims authority over them? Following the example of Jesus’ apostles, we answer no. The good news must be preached “in all the nations,” without exception.—Mark 13:10.
All Early Christians Evangelized
9. In the first century, who in the Christian congregation shared in the preaching work?
9 Who in the first century shared in the preaching work? The facts show that all Christians were evangelizers. Author W. S. Williams notes: “The general testimony is that all Christians in the primitive Church . . . preached the gospel.” Regarding events on the day of Pentecost 33 C.E., the Bible says: “They all [men and women] became filled with holy spirit and started to speak with different tongues, just as the spirit was granting them to make utterance.” Evangelizers came to include men and women, young and old, slave and freeman. (Acts 1:14; 2:1, 4, 17, 18; Joel 2:28, 29; Galatians 3:28) When persecution forced many Christians to flee from Jerusalem, “those who had been scattered went through the land declaring the good news of the word.” (Acts 8:4) All “those who had been scattered,” not just a few appointed ones, evangelized.
10. What two-fold commission was fulfilled before the destruction of the Jewish system?
10 This proved to be true throughout those early years. Jesus prophesied: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14) In the first-century fulfillment of those words, the good news was widely preached before Roman armies destroyed the Jewish religious and political system. (Colossians 1:23) Further, all of Jesus’ followers obeyed his command: “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.” (Matthew 28:19, 20) The early Christians did not urge meek ones to believe in Jesus and then leave them to find their own way, as some modern preachers do. Rather, they taught them to become disciples of Jesus, organized them into congregations, and trained them so that they in turn could preach the good news and make disciples. (Acts 14:21-23) Jehovah’s Witnesses today follow that pattern.
11. Who today share in announcing the best of good news to mankind?
11 A number of Jehovah’s Witnesses, following the first-century examples of Paul, Barnabas, and others, have gone as missionaries to foreign lands. Their work has been truly beneficial, since they have not become involved in politics or in other ways strayed from the commission to preach the good news. They have simply obeyed the command of Jesus: “As you go, preach.” However, most of Jehovah’s Witnesses are not missionaries in foreign lands. Many of them earn their living doing secular work, and others are still in school. Some are raising children. But all Witnesses share with others the good news that they have learned. Young and old, male and female, they joyfully respond to the Bible’s exhortation: “Preach the word, be at it urgently in favorable season, in troublesome season.” (2 Timothy 4:2) Like their first-century forerunners, they continue “without letup teaching and declaring the good news about the Christ, Jesus.” (Acts 5:42) They are announcing the best of good news for humanity.
Proselytize or Evangelize?
12. What is proselytism, and how has it come to be viewed?
12 The Greek language has the word pro·se’ly·tos, which means a “convert.” From this has come the English word “proselytism,” which basically means “the act of making converts.” Nowadays, some say that proselytism is harmful. A document published by the World Council of Churches even speaks of “the sin of proselytism.” Why? The Catholic World Report states: “Under the steady hammering of Orthodox complaints, ‘proselytism’ has taken on the connotation of forcible conversion.”
13. What are some examples of harmful proselytism?
13 Is proselytism harmful? It can be. Jesus said that the proselytism of the scribes and Pharisees was harmful to the converts they made. (Matthew 23:15) Certainly, “forcible conversion” is wrong. According to the historian Josephus, for example, when the Maccabean John Hyrcanus subdued the Idumaeans, he “permitted them to remain in their country so long as they had themselves circumcised and were willing to observe the laws of the Jews.” If the Idumaeans were to live under Jewish rulership, they would have to practice the Jewish religion. Historians tell us that in the eighth century C.E., Charlemagne conquered the pagan Saxons of northern Europe and brutally forced them to convert.* How sincere, though, were the conversions of the Saxons or the Idumaeans? For instance, how genuine was the attachment of Idumaean King Herod—who tried to have the infant Jesus killed—to the divinely inspired Law of Moses?—Matthew 2:1-18.
14. How do some of Christendom’s missionaries put pressure on people to convert?
14 Are conversions forced today? In a sense, some are. Certain missionaries of Christendom reportedly offer overseas scholarships to potential converts. Or they may make a starving refugee sit through a sermon in order to obtain a ration of food. According to a statement issued in 1992 by a convention of Orthodox Primates, “proselytism sometimes occurs through material enticement and sometimes by various forms of violence.”
15. Do Jehovah’s Witnesses proselytize in the modern meaning of the word? Explain.
15 Pressuring people to change their religion is wrong. Certainly, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not act in such a way.* Hence, they do not proselytize in the modern meaning of the word. Rather, like the first-century Christians, they preach the good news to everyone. Any who respond voluntarily are invited to take in more knowledge by means of a Bible study. Such interested ones learn to put faith, solidly based on accurate Bible knowledge, in God and his purposes. As a result, they call on God’s name, Jehovah, for salvation. (Romans 10:13, 14, 17) Whether they will accept the good news or not is a matter of personal choice. There is no compulsion. If there were, conversion would be meaningless. To be acceptable to God, worship must come from the heart.—Deuteronomy 6:4, 5; 10:12.
Evangelizing in Modern Times
16. How has the evangelizing work of Jehovah’s Witnesses increased in modern times?
16 Throughout modern times, Jehovah’s Witnesses have preached the good news of the Kingdom in a greater fulfillment of Matthew 24:14. A prominent instrument in their evangelizing work has been the Watchtower magazine.* In 1879, when the first issues of The Watchtower were published, the magazine had a circulation of about 6,000 in one language. In the year 2001, over 122 years later, the circulation had reached 23,042,000 copies in 141 languages. Paralleling that increase has been the growth in the evangelizing activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Compare the few thousand hours spent each year in the evangelizing work in the 19th century with the 1,169,082,225 hours devoted to the preaching work in the year 2001. Consider the 4,921,702 free Bible studies that were conducted on average each month. What an enormous amount of fine work was accomplished! And it was done by 6,117,666 active Kingdom preachers.
17. (a) What kind of false gods are worshiped today? (b) Whatever his language, nationality, or social status, what does everyone need to know?
17 The psalmist says: “All the gods of the peoples are valueless gods; but as for Jehovah, he has made the very heavens.” (Psalm 96:5) In the secularized world of today, nationalism, national emblems, prominent individuals, material things, and even wealth itself have been made objects of worship. (Matthew 6:24; Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5) Mohandas K. Gandhi once said: “It is my firm opinion that . . . Europe is today only nominally Christian. It is really worshipping Mammon [riches].” The fact is, the good news needs to be heard everywhere. Everyone, whatever his language, nationality, or social status, needs to know about Jehovah and his purposes. We wish that all would respond to the words of the psalmist: “Ascribe to Jehovah glory and strength. Ascribe to Jehovah the glory belonging to his name”! (Psalm 96:7, 8) Jehovah’s Witnesses help others to learn about Jehovah so that they can properly ascribe glory to him. And responsive ones are greatly benefited. What benefits do they enjoy? These will be discussed in the following article.
According to The Catholic Encyclopedia, during the Reformation the forcible imposition of a religion on a people was expressed by the motto: Cuius regio, illius et religio (In essence, this means: “Whoever rules the land also decides its religion.”)
At a meeting of the United States International Religious Freedom Commission on November 16, 2000, a participant made a distinction between those who try to force conversions and the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It was noted that when Jehovah’s Witnesses preach to others, they do so in such a way that a person can simply say “I am not interested” and close the door.
The complete title of the magazine is The Watchtower Announcing Jehovah’s Kingdom.
Can You Explain?
• Why are Jehovah’s Witnesses zealous evangelizers?
• Why do Jehovah’s Witnesses preach even where Christendom has established churches?
• Why are Jehovah’s Witnesses not proselytizers in the modern meaning of the word?
• How has the evangelizing work of Jehovah’s Witnesses grown in modern times?
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Jesus was a zealous evangelizer and trained others to do the same work
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All in the first-century congregation shared in evangelizing
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Forcing people to change their religion is wrong