The following four texts in the New Testament show the early church being closely involved in evangelism with the poor. These are Acts 6:1; Galatians 2:10; Romans 15:25-27; and 2 Corinthians 8:2.
In Acts 6 the community of believers was already made up of Jews and Gentiles (Hellenists, according to NRSV translation). The latter complained to the apostles that “their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food”. There must have been an inequitable system whereby the Jewish widows were served and the Gentiles left out.
It has been suggested that the Jewish society already had in place the mechanism for serving the poor based on the Hebrew scriptures. What was being called for here, was for an equitable way that would ensure that no needy person was left out without help.
In response, the apostles called a community meeting which decided to have two separate ministries:
The apostles would concentrate on the proclamation of the good news and a team of seven deacons would do social ministry. The seven became the foundation of the deaconate and its development through the centuries, as we shall see later.
The second reference, Galatians 2:10 is itself a reference to the Jerusalem Council of 49 A.D which convened to address the question of whether or not Gentile believers would have to – literally – become Jewish before they could be Christian. The decision, according to Paul, was no! What Paul stresses as coming out of the Council is this: “They asked only one thing: that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do”.
We can see the practical side of this evangelism in Romans 15:26-27 where Paul informs the Roman congregation of his work in Macedonia and the Roman province of Achaia. The believers there, were “pleased to share their resources with the poor among the saints at Jerusalem…”. He continues to show in 2 Corinthians 8:2 that the Macedonian believers were not deterred in this evangelism by their own poverty or hard times. “For, during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part”.
These are the three lessons of evangelism from the early church:
First, attending to the material needs of the needy is as important as the proclamation of the good news.
Second; when it comes to rituals and observances, ministry to the poor and needy takes precedence.
Third; every believer, including the poor, participate in evangelism.