Scanning the September, 1942, issue of Pulpit Digest, we were greatly impressed with the general uncertainty of the evangelistic program of the popular churches. This journal declares that it features the "outstanding religious thought of the month," and it has been published for a number of years as a digest of homiletics. Catching the messages of the various ministers who contribute to this journal, one must conclude that there is a question in the minds of many as to the true mission of the church. Moreover, there seems to be a definite shifting of emphasis in this critical hour, which is worthy of our attention.
Quoting first from the article entitled, "You: Problem or Solution?" by Russell IVI. Blythe-wood, minister of the Tabernacle Christian Church, Lincoln, Nebraska, we note: "Some Christian leaders seem to feel that the major task of the church is to be constantly winning new converts, and while I would not minimize this important phase of its work, there is the responsibility of the church to the members it already has."
"Our church membership is large enough so that if all would attend regularly we would have to double our seating capacity. Our attendance is under zoo on an average. We don't need more members—though we certainly do want more—to fill our pews. We need those we have to attend more regularly."
Significant is the fact that in the same issue of the journal another writer, James T. Browning, of the Grace Methodist Church, Bluefield, West Virginia, presents a different challenge. His theme is "The Strategy of the Church."
"The church in this world is supposed to be 'the church militant.' . . The church will never win over the forces of evil by 'going in hiding.' The church must carry the battle into the enemy's territory. We have taken a recent slogan, 'Let the Church be the Christ,' to mean that • it must not raise its voice concerning anything that goes on in the state, or in politics, or in the field of economics; that it must be satisfied with generalities, outworn platitudes, reciting creeds, and reading scriptures. It must give full signs of anemia, and impress the world as being a good, but harmless sort of creature. . . .
"The church must do more than wage an offensive against the enemy in his own territory, it must at the same time take itself and the gospel of Christ to the people. . . . More people will go to church when the church goes to more people!"
We sense another note as C. H. Witt, of Long Branch, New Jersey, writes on the "Five Modern Needs of the Church." He stresses as the last of her five needs : "The necessity for laymen and laywomen to witness for God daily in a conferential way rather than in an artificial atmosphere conjured up by special exigencies and occasions."
It might be profitable to cull from a book review in this same number of the Pulpit Digest. The book is on, "The Romance of Evangelism," by Roland Q. Leavell, who points the way to the growing of "evangelistic churches." Speaking of the author's personal experience, the reviewer states :
"He has given himself assiduously to the task of developing a program of evangelism that was rooted in the churches, an evangelism that was a real part of the normal life of the churches. He had led in the development of a pastoral evangelism designed to rescue evangelism from the disfavor into which it had fallen and to place it on a safe and sane gospel basis."
Confusion of thought characterizes the times. Our own evangelistic workers are sometimes prone to attempt to solve the world's ills with new ideas. While we are not here merely to build churches, we are called to build up the church of Christ. It is possible, however, to increase materially the membership of a church without adding to its spiritual force. In fact, some evangelistic campaigns have so weakened the church that its members have lost all interest in a series of evangelistic meetings. Let us reflect our true mission, especially in an hour when the everlasting gospel message is destined to triumph. While we must recognize that the "conferential way" suggested by one minister in this article is not the vigorous witnessing by the laymen that this hour calls for, we can weigh well the caution of an "artificial atmosphere conjured up by special exigencies and occasions." Our evangelism must be marked with a power that has been promised the church at the time of the end. Every addition to the church must be added strength in these closing hours of a militant evangelism.
L. C. K.