The greatest hour of all time for soul-winning evangelism is right upon us. Leaders and other workers in the church of God, with eyes to see, must realize that we are soon to witness the greatest ingathering of souls since Pentecost.
During the last few years we have not seen very large accessions to the faith in North America. That is not hard to understand when we consider all the factors. The United States, like some other countries, has been passing through a period of prosperity brought on through the tragedy of war. And history reveals that periods of prosperity have never been fruitful seasons for soul-winning evangelism. Other interests, important and urgent, have been claiming the minds of men and women. A careless and indifferent attitude to spiritual things has been very evident. But these conditions are rapidly reaching their end, for national prosperity will doubtless be followed by some form of depression. In saying this we are not pessimistic, only realistic, for we cannot escape history.
The words of Jesus spoken to His disciples at the well of Sychar come with particular meaning to us today. Those men were facing very real difficulties. Racial and interracial problems were absorbing their thoughts. But Jesus looked beyond the 'problems. While they were looking at their difficulties, the Spirit of God was already at work and using a very unlikely character as His messenger. Of course, the disciples were ready to believe that the gospel of Jesus would eventually get to the Samaritans, but they thought it would be some time in the future. Reading their thoughts, the Master said, "Say ye not there are yet four months and then cometh harvest"—in other words, do not put off the day of harvest, but rather "lift up your eyes, and look on the fields ; for they are white already to harvest."
And looking up, those men did see something—hundreds of men and women coming down the hillside led by the same woman who a little while before had left her waterpot and her old way of life, and hurried into the city with the tidings of salvation. Where the disciples saw only national hatred, Jesus discerned a whitened harvest.
Like the disciples of old, we today need the anointed vision. The Lord wanted to do bigger things for them than they had ever dreamed of. And He longs to do the same for us. The Spirit of prophecy emphasizes over and over again that we have reached the time when thousands will be converted in a day. But have we ever stopped to consider what we would do with these souls if the Lord were to bring such a harvest as that into the church? Just what would we do ? Are we ready for Him to answer our prayers?
Far-Reaching Implications of Call
The year 1945 should witness the largest ingathering of souls in our history, and with that objective in mind the recent Autumn Council at Cleveland passed a recommendation which we believe is the most comprehensive and far-reaching of any recommendation on evangelism ever passed by an Autumn Council. It calls our field leaders and workers to action. But it does more. It goes right back into our colleges, calling on boards and faculties to plan for the strengthening of the whole evangelistic training program.
This recommendation calls for the proclamation of the message in small rural towns and districts, as well as in the great metropolitan areas. Thousands of little towns and villages have never heard the voice of the evangelist. This plan calls for a great layman's movement—laymen under the guidance of district leaders who will hire halls and school auditoriums and conduct perhaps two or three meetings. At the close of these meetings men and women will be enrolled in Bible correspondence courses. This plan is already working in one or two fields with encouraging results. It will meet a real need in our large rural districts.
A goal of ten per cent increase in membership in North America has been set for the year 1945. And to inspire the real spirit of evangelism throughout our whole membership, a special evangelistic number of the Review and Herald is to be prepared. We urge that all our workers study the recommendation as passed at the tom. Autumn Council. It reads as follows:
Whereas, conditions in the world warn us in no uncertain tones that the day of the Lord is nigh at hand, and that what we do to save men from eternal death must be done quickly ; and,
Whereas, Restless multitudes, sensing the breakup of civilization and knowing not the meaning of the times, stand bewildered and distraught, longing for a sure word of hope, giving us an unprecedented opportunity for preaching the message; and,
Whereas, It is evident that before we can expect the great ingathering of souls foretold in Scripture and in the Spirit of prophecy, a deep spiritual awakening must take place within the church; and,
Whereas, We have been told that "when we bring our hearts into unity with Christ, and our lives into harmony with His Word, the Spirit that fell on the disciples on the Day of Pentecost will fall on us" (Testimonies, Vol. VIII, p. 246) ; and that "what the Lord did for His people in that time it is just as essential, and more so, that He do for His people today. All that the apostles did, every church member today is to do. And we are to work with as much more fervor, to be accompanied by the Holy Spirit in as much greater measure, as the increase of wickedness demands a more decided call to repentance." (Ibid., Vol. VII, p. 33) ; and,
Whereas, These promises are made on conditions, and the success of an expanded evangelism depends upon our meeting them; therefore,
We recommend, I. That a call be made upon the membership of the church, laymen and conference workers alike, to delay no longer in making an unreserved dedication to the work of God and in seeking that spiritual revival which the Lord has told us must precede the pentecostal outpouring of the latter rain; and that in the spirit of such a dedication, we begin at once to set in motion the greatest evangelistic advance ever undertaken by this people.
2. That each conference plan a program of evangelism that will include the rural communities and smaller cities, as well as the metropolitan areas ; and that our conferences appoint one or more workers for rural evangelistic work and include the plan of holding two or three well-publicized meetings in available halls or school auditoriums for the purpose of awakening an interest and securing enrollees for the local conference Bible correspondence schools, to be followed up by personal visits and further meetings.
3. That where great centers of population exist, both local and union conferences lay careful plans for the holding of large metropolitan efforts, and that the entire laity of such areas be enlisted in literature distribution, cottage meetings, and personal work.
4. That in planning for and reporting evangelistic efforts, due consideration be given to the smaller as well as the larger efforts.
5. That local as well as national radio endeavors be strongly eneouraged and supported.
6. That as our colleges were founded primarily for the purpose of training men and women capable of promulgating this message, and desiring to strengthen the department of evangelism in our colleges, we suggest that each college board connect an evangelist with the college theological department, as one of the teachers, to foster a strong department of field evangelism ; and that, as far as possible, the teachers in our college Bible departments be encouraged to take an active part in an evangelistic effort each alternate summer somewhere in the territory of their institution.
7. That our colleges encourage young women of suitable personality and talent to take up the work of Bible instructor as a life vocation; and that our conferences, in taking on such Bible instructors, give reasonable assurance of the permanence of such work.
8. That inasmuch as gospel music forms a vital part of our evangelistic program, where a singing evangelist has spent a sufficient number of years in the work, and has proved his worth as a soul winner, he be recognized and dealt with on a parity with ministerial workers of like years of experience.
9. a. That earnest effort be made by our conference administrators, departmental heads, pastors, and evangelists, to inspire our people to greater personal soul-winning activity ; and that men and women of ability be encouraged to assist our evangelists by giving a portion of their time each week to personal work among the interested; and that our lay members be encouraged to take the course in "How to Give Bible Studies," offered by the Home Study Institute, or to receive instruction locally on practical methods in personal evangelism ; and, that men of suitable personality and consecrated ability be encouraged to conduct lay preacher efforts in localities where conference workers are not carrying on public evangelism.
b. That the place and importance of the health message as set forth in the counsels to the church as an integral part of messages to be given to the world be duly recognized and that an endeavor be made by evangelists, medical workers, and trained lay workers to effectively engage in the various lines of medical missionary endeavors in connection with all their evangelistic labors.
10. That determined effort be made by our pastors, evangelists, and lay members to reclaim those who have drifted away from the church, and that our people be encouraged to give to the evangelist or pastor the names of acquaintances who were once with us but have grown careless or have left the church ; and further, that our workers and laity exercise a sympathetic attitude and kindly spirit in dealing with the erring; and as a means of reaching this objective, we suggest the sending of the Review and Herald by the churches concerned to such individuals.
11. That the North American Division adopt as an evangelistic goal for souls an increase of at least ten per cent in membership for 1945.
12. That a special evangelistic edition of the Review and Herald be prepared in 1945, this edition to feature by illustrations, reports, and well-prepared articles, all phases of personal and public evangelism.
Scope of the Provisions
Every feature of this recommendation is vital, but to be effective it must be carried out. In looking over the actions of previous Autumn Councils, one is impressed with the well-worded resolutions on evangelism, but too often they have remained only resolutions. We urge that our field leaders plan with their workers so that this latest recommendation may be translated into living reality in every conference and mission throughout the world field. This is a call to renewed consecration. It is a call for larger thinking and bigger planning.
College boards and faculties are urged to make it possible for every Bible teacher in our colleges to be released from their teaching responsibilities at least every other summer in order to either lead out in, or be associated with, some definite evangelistic company. Many of our teachers have been asking for just such an opportunity. Not only will this mean much to the ministerial students in our colleges, but all the students will be helped by the very atmosphere of soul-winning evangelism
these teachers will bring back to their classes. Many new problems are arising in the field, and our Bible teachers will appreciate the opportunity afforded them of firsthand acquaintance with these problems.
Another thing this recommendation calls for is the recognition of the place of soul-winning song leaders. Too often the sacred ministry of evangelistic music has been in the hands of novices, and while some men have possessed very definite gifts for this service, yet they have felt that if they are going to make progress in the work they must leave the ministry of song and become preachers. Too often a first-rate, soul-moving singer has been lost to the cause and in his place we have made a second-rate preacher—all as a result of failure to recognize the clear gift of God. We need Moodys, but we need Sankeys equally as much. In a few instances the evangelistic qualifications of our song leaders have been recognized and these brethren have been ordained to the ministry. This resolution calls for a definite recognition on the part of the world field of the place of singing evangelism.
With a real evangelistic department in every college and a close tie-up with the music department, we can by the help of God develop a ministry that will mean much to the future of the advent cause. Side by side with this call to greater evangelism is the extended training program for our ministers as presented in the previous issue of THE MINISTRY, page 3.
Step Into Divine Providence
These are forward moves. They constitute dramatic changes. They are evidences of growth and enlargement of vision. In some respects this is more of a revolution than a resolution. May God help us as leaders and associates in service to prepare for the great things that He has for us in the immediate future. Jesus said, "Other men labored, and ye are entered into their labors." As we enter into the labors of others, great will be the harvest of souls. But we must be ready for the demands of this hour.
As you read these lines, will you not quietly dedicate your all to the Master and plead for the enduement of His Spirit? He longs to baptize us with power. He can and will use us if we are rightly related to Him. We have reached the sunset hour of the church's history. There is no time to lose. Countries which have been Gibraltars of indifference to the Christian message have, through the exigencies of war, been marvelously opened. Are we ready to step into the providences of God? As never before, the whole world is a mission field today. We must not put off the day for the latter rain, but rather, heeding the words of the Master, let us lift up our eyes and discern a ripening harvest.
"The final scenes on the stage are set;
The time, the task, and the men are met.
The world at its worst needs the church at its best.
We're called for this hour; are we meeting the test ?"
R. A. A.