Brother “J. R. W.” of Kentucky tossed Tolbert Fanning a softball in the June 1858 issue of the Gospel Advocate (pp. 170-171). It was a subject he had constantly addressed as an editor and evangelist. It was one of the great themes of his life beginning with his time as an evangelist supported by the Nashville (TN) church from 1832 to 1836.
Question: Are the disciples authorized to perform the service without an Evangelist?
The question contains several. What is the “service” to perform on the Lord’s Day? What is the function of an evangelist? Does the evangelist have a clerical function such that without an ordained evangelist the congregation could not “perform the service”?
Concerning the function of an evangelist, Fanning writes:
it is the duty of the Evangelist to preach the Gospel to the world, plant the taught with Christ in Baptism, congregate the converts, teach them all things in which they are to walk, to see that they keep the ordinances, ordain the Elders in the congregation, and set in order everything wanting for the perfection of the body.
In other words, the evangelist evangelizes the lost, plants the congregation, equipts members, and appoints leaders. Then an evangelist moves on to a new field and repeats the process. The evangelist should not linger and serve as a priestly mediator for the congregation. “It is not the work of the Evangelist to perform the service of the congregation.” Rather, the evangelist equips the congregation so that they might “perform the service” themselves.
When the disciples give the worship into the hand of a hired preacher, as one who works merely for the profit or place, to lord it over God’s heritage, they abandon, in fact, the religion of the Bible. The healthful soul invigorating life giving and life sustaining ordinances, have been given into the hands not entitled to them. The hired, or voluntary services of the church in the hands of preachers, enrich not them spiritually, and make the disciples poor indeed.
To hand the service over to “a hired preacher” is a form of “Popish” clericalism, according to Fanning. It destroys the faith of the congregation as they become passive receivers rather than active participants. The legitimate field for evangelists (preachers) is within the “world” rather than in the established congregation. Let the congregation do its own work, including the work of sending out evangelists to plant new congregations.
What the evangelist should do, however, is plant the congregation, equip the members, and appoint elders to lead the church. Fanning is quite insistent that evangelists appoint bishops or elders. On what authority, another querist asks? “In the Apostolic times Evangelists were consecrated by the hands of the seniors” (Acts 13:3; 1 Timothy 5:14; 2 Timothy 1:16), “and Elders were set apart to the Bishop’s office by Evangelist” (1 Timothy 3; 5:22). Remember, however, that the evangelist does not settle into the congregation but is sent to other places. Consequently, it is the elders who lead the church rather than the evangelist.
But what is the “service” that members are to perform on the Lord’s Day? Fanning lists seven particulars:
1. The assemblage and Christian greetings on the Lord’s day.
2. Prayers of the Saints.
3. The teaching, reading of the Divine oracles.
4. The exhortations and confessions of the disciples.
5. The Lord’s supper.
6. The songs of praise.
7. Communicating, or putting money into the treasury, a sacrifice with which God is well pleased.
“We cannot see how it is possible,” Fanning adds, “for disciples to neglect any of these parts, and still maintain a position in the church of Christ.”
No Evangelist necessary; no clerics needed. It Is the priesthood of (male?) believers; there are no clerics, only the gathering of disciples. It is simply the gathering of Christians to greet, pray, teach, read, exhort, eat & drink, sing, and give. This is the fellowship of the saints on the Lord’s day. No preacher required; just committed, active disciples who gather to listen to each other and the word, sing their praises, share their resources, pray, and sit at the table together. Ad all that to the glory of God and the building up of the body.