Meeting Changed Conditions in Evangelism—No. I

How can I most effectively reach the people with God's message under the rapidly changing con­ditions of our day?

By JOHN L. SHULER, Instructor in Evangelism, S. D. A. Theological Seminary

One of the most vital questions which demand the careful and prayerful consideration of every worker engaged in evangelism is, How can I most effectively reach the people with God's message under the rapidly changing con­ditions of our day?

I believe that the great God, who in His infinite wisdom ordained the threefold message of Reve­lation 14:6-12 as His special message for today, will give His messengers power and wisdom to reach the people in these changing times. It is true that public evangelism is becoming increas­ingly difficult. Let none conclude from this that the day of large efforts with large results is over, or that we should necessarily seek some new way, in place of public evangelism, as God's primary method of reaching the people with His message. On the contrary this may be a call to Us to restudy all our methods and, under God, revise and devise ways and means that will effectively meet these changed conditions. The greatest days of public evangelism in the advent movement are yet ahead under the fullness of the latter rain.

There is no one best method for meeting these changed conditions. But there are multiple and di­versified methods of excellence, which each worker may apply in his own way according to the varying situations that he encounters. A study of the work of the two of the greatest evangelists of all time —Jesus Christ and Paul—reveals how each of them knew and applied the secret of adaptation and choice of method to meet varying conditions. This requires a broad knowledge of evangelism. We need to know how to apply the methods which may be best adapted to those for whom we are working. This means that the evangelist and the Bible instructor must not get into a rut. Methods cannot be standardized for all men and all places any more than the order of subjects can be stand­ardized. Woe to the worker who does not see and know how to change his methods to keep abreast of the times. He relegates himself to the rear of the procession. The Spirit of prophecy has admonished us to avoid casting our evangelism into a narrow groove, but rather to always leave room for developing new and better methods, and esPecially to keep enough elasticity in our plans to fit into the changing conditions which we en­counter. "The classes of people you meet will decide for you the way in which the work should be handled."—Ellen G. White, Letter 97A, 1901. (Quoted in Public Evangelism, p. 74.)

All evangelism should be built on the premise, "Not by might ("army," margin) nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts." Zech. 4:6. However, consecrated methods are tools in the hands of the Holy Spirit for the building of God's cause. Perfected methods mean much in raising a crop, in fishing and hunting, and in mak­ing war. Evangelism is compared to all four of these in the Scriptures.

Failure to employ plans and technique suited to changed conditions may result in the expendi­ture of thousands of dollars with only limited re­turns. The evangelist who attempts to work a city in precisely the same way he may have suc­cessfully employed ten years ago, may find his re­sponse disappointing. On the other hand, the preacher who makes a careful study of adapting his methods to the changed conditions will likely be on vantage ground in reaching the people.

A nation which attempted to fight a war today as war was conducted twenty-five years ago would hardly achieve victory. A farmer who attempted to raise a crop by the same methods of agriculture which his forefathers employed forty years ago, would not realize the potential productive power of his acres. So also it is in sowing the seed and gathering the fruitage in evangelism.

Every worker desires to achieve maximum re­sults. All things being equal, it can be said that the worker who employs ways and means that most effectively reach the people with Cod's mes­sage will achieve the largest results according to his situation.

Coping With a Changing World

Before we attempt to offer suggestions on how to meet the changed conditions, it is well to inquire, Wherein have conditions changed in respect to evangelism? It would require a volume of many pages to present a full answer to this question. We shall confine our study to only a few pertinent facts.

We must meet a generation that has almost for­gotten the God of the Bible. Although the Bible is not entirely forgotten, it has with the vast ma­jority ceased to be to them the supreme divine au­thority in the field of religion. Modernism, higher criticism, and evolution are sapping the faith of many. Evolution has affected the whole attitude of man's mind toward God and Christian funda­mentals. Joseph Le Conte, an evolutionist, said:

"Its truth or falseness, its acceptance or rejection, is no trifling matter, affecting only one small corner of the thought realm. On the contrary, it affects profoundly the foundation of philosophy, and therefore the whole domain of thought. It determines the whole attitude of the mind toward nature and God."

Evolution is the seed and the taproot of modern­ism. Ethune Baker says, "Modernism has changed the whole face of orthodox Christianity." Evolution and modernism have set aside practically every fundamental teaching of the Bible. When the American Association for the Advancement of Atheism gave its 1930 report, this statement was recorded :

"The spread of atheism was never faster. It is not measured by the growth of atheist groups, but by the decline of religious belief as a controlling factor in the lives of men. This loss of faith causes consternation among the orthodox, who are powerless to arrest the movement. The reconcilers, . . . the Liberals and Mod­ernists, . . . are heroically saving the ship of Christian­ity by throwing her cargo overboard! With what zeal the Fosdicks, the Mathews, and the whole crew of res­cuers toss out the Garden of Eden and the flood, followed by the virgin birth, the atonement, and the resurrection. And then they gain a great victory by getting rid of hell and heaven and of the devil and God, though they keep the name of the last. They may save the vessel of ecclesiasticism, but how long will men sail the seas in an empty ship ? We welcome the aid of the modernists, and pledge them our fullest co-operation in ridding the world of fundamentalism, . . of any serious acceptance of Christianity."

The fundamentalists, who recognize the author­ity of the Bible, are well-nigh hopelessly entangled in the errors of the secret rapture, dispensational-ism, the return of the Jews, the all-grace-no-law theory, the futuristic interpretation of the anti­christ; etc. New errors are arising constantly to entangle the people, so that they will not see the real truth for our day.

This is a time when people will not endure sound doctrine, but are turning their ears from the truth unto fables. (2 Tim. 4:3, 4.) The ma­jority of professed Christians have a form of god­liness, but deny the power thereof in their lives. (2 Tim. 3 :1-5.) The people "say to the seers, See not ; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits." Isa, 30:10.

More and more people are getting their religious education over the radio and are not attending church services. Fifty per cent of the people of America do not belong to any church. The church is having a diminishing influence on nonchurch people. The ministry is without a real message. A prominent Baptist paper says, editorially:

"We face a world whose outlook is dark because the church's theology is so confused that it is no longer a sure and authoritative source of guidance and comfort for the people."—Watchman-Examiner, Jan. 1, 1942.

Twenty-five years ago a plain black-and-white printed announcement was quite effective in draw­ing an audience. But today effective advertising has become a science in itself. It must be colorful, arresting, compelling. Fifteen years ago two hun­dred dollars invested in window cards, newspaper advertisements, and handbills usually drew a larger number of people to an evangelistic meeting than a thousand dollars invested in such publicity today. These are intensely competitive times for getting people's attention.

To be concluded in November

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By JOHN L. SHULER, Instructor in Evangelism, S. D. A. Theological Seminary

October 1944

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