The striking words of the General Conference president, in his opening address at Grand Rapids, Michigan, made all aware that the 1947 Fall Council promised something out of the ordinary. He declared, "The first item on the agenda at this Autumn Council will be the consideration of a report from a special commission on evangelism."
Having been associated with a group of more than forty, comprised of a special council in evangelism, who had met in Kansas City, Missouri, a few weeks previous to the council, Elder McElhany was still deeply moved by the urge of that committee. It was felt that in this modern time we must make new plans for the advancement of the message. The leaders who gathered there were studying the possibilities and problems of evangelism in this postwar period, and it was keenly felt that we must now revise our plans to meet the needs of the changing condition of our day.
Yes, a new day has dawned—a day of difficulty, to be sure, but withal, a day of glorious opportunity. To discover methods of meeting the opportunities of this hour; to find our way through the unparalleled problems of these times ; to maintain the work that we have, and yet reach out to evangelize unentered territory —these were the questions before that Kansas City commission.
"Nothing we could possibly consider at this council could be of greater importance than the subject of evangelism," declared our president. "We must plan a program of soul-winning endeavor that will eclipse anything we have ever before attempted. The times demand it, and we dare not fail our God in this great hour." As we listened to this appeal we recognized it as a clarion call to the ministry and leadership of the Advent Movement in all the world. A chorus of amen's rang out over the congregation of delegates. It was a moment of high expectancy, climaxed in an impassioned appeal for consecrated, Spirit-baptized service.
All reacted to the challenge, and at the close of his message hundreds—yes, the entire congregation—moved forward, coming down the aisles in response to an altar call. That rededication service will long be remembered. A Christian businessman of another denomination, and one who attends many meetings and conventions, remarked that he had never before witnessed anything like it. God was certainly answering prayer, and a spirit of revival had gripped the hearts of all. Heaven was near, and it was evident that Elijah's God was speaking again through the still small voice.
Next day the committee's report came before the delegation. It was enthusiastically received, and some of the most moving speeches we have ever heard at an Autumn Council gave backing to the recommendations. One or two features were referred to the committee on plans for further study, clarification, and adaptation, but every item of the report was finally accepted.
When the recommendations appeared in their final form they were prayerfully adopted. (The recommendations appear at the conclusion of this editorial.)
Some features of this series might seem a repetition of former actions, yet other features are different, even revolutionary. Through the years we have developed evangelistic methods which, in a measure at least, have met the needs of other days, but our world has changed. The generation to whom we now minister is different from all generations of the past. In recent years whole nations have been dislocated. Empires have crashed, and everywhere is the debris of disillusionment.
Surely the president was right when he declared that the most important question for this council or any other Fall Council to consider is how to evangelize this broken, disillusioned world of more than two billion judgment-bound souls—the largest population of all time. The demands of this hour cannot be met by the patterns of other years.
Of course, every one of the plans voted has already proved successful. In a number of places short, intensive evangelistic efforts, as recommended in numbers 7 and 8 of the series, have been held, and with excellent results. A plan of this kind enables us to sound the message in towns and districts, which if they had to wait for a complete evangelistic campaign, would be waiting for years to come. But an evangelistic group can drop into such a place and after one, two or three meetings succeed in awakening such an interest that at 'times hundreds will enroll in our Bible courses. And how many neglected areas there are ! We were informed by one union president that in his territory there were over seven hundred towns which had never had a visit from the living preacher. Think of it ! And this in only one section of the United States ! What is the picture in other lands? Only God has the answer to this sobering question.
Statistics reveal some startling facts concerning the religious life of these United States. There are more than io,00o villages without a church, and more than 30,000 villages and towns without a resident pastor of any kind, and some 14,000,000 children receiving no religious instruction whatsoever. In fact, 65,000,- 000 United States citizens are not connected with any church or religious organization. Surely we must do something to bring Christ and His message to the people!
In some places where we have a work established, our churches need a new awakening. To have an experienced evangelist come for only a week or two and proclaim the message in power, has resulted in great good to the church itself. But more. Interests have been awakened that have kept the local pastor and his church hard pressed to answer the many calls for Bible studies. Through this means some weak churches have doubled their membership in a very short time.
Nearly fifty years ago the messenger of the Lord urged the establishment of evangelistic centers in large cities. Such a plan permits of a continuous evangelistic program. In these days halls are difficult to obtain, and in some places it is impossible to hire them, or even to pitch a tent or tabernacle. The council tried to face this problem realistically, hence the recommendation that the union conferences plan for the establishment of such centers, where by the rotation of evangelistic teams, a continuous program of public meetings can be maintained.
This may be a somewhat new method to us, but for many years other Christian groups have carried on just such a program in some of the great cities. Sixty years ago Dwight L. Moody preached Christ to the multitudes in Glasgow, Scotland. He pitched a large marquee in a downtown section of that old-world city. His methods were new, and somewhat of a shock to that staid religious community, but he awakened the city by fearlessly preaching the Word.
Instead of closing his work when the cold weather came, Moody moved his interest into a large auditorium seating over four thousand, just a block away from the tent site. That "Tent Hall" as it is still called today, has remained an evangelistic center for sixty years and a continuous evangelistic program has been carried on there. Thousands have been and still are being led to Christ in that very place.
In many other cities such centers are in continuous operation. What opportunities open to us for radio evangelism, health evangelism, and youth evangelism by the establishment of such centers! To meet the need of this hour, we must be prepared to make adjustments, and even dare to change some things.
But changes are often difficult. In fact, changes are even dangerous. Only one thing is more dangerous, and that is not to change. To play safe in order "to stay put" is a deadly delusion. We dare not do that. We must move with these moving times, even if it means taking steps which have not been taken before. This was the clear conviction of the council, and we are confident that the world field will respond to the call. During recent months we have seen our workers and people in many countries, and the picture is ever the same. Ministers and members alike are eagerly waiting, listening, and praying for just such a call to be sounded.
The recent Youth's Congress in San Francisco was an inspiring gathering, one of the most unique in our history. It was a spiritual meeting from the opening moment. Many encouraging things were revealed, but perhaps the most encouraging was when Elder McElhany, at the close of a stirring missions rally, called for the youth who would be willing to enlist and give their lives in full consecration to God for service in the cause of missions. He made it clear what such a decision might mean. He told of some who had paid the supreme sacrifice.
The response was tremendous. Thousands of clean living Adventist youth rose quietly to their feet, declaring their willingness to pay any price, to undertake any task, to go anywhere to serve or sacrifice. It was a privilege to witness the quiet moving of the Spirit of Christ over that vast congregation of twelve thousand. The words of the psalmist were truly fulfilled, "Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power."
Not only were the youth responding, but among the thousands of signed cards received that day was one which read : "I am old, but I am willing to go anywhere for Jesus." Alongside that signature were these touching words of a little lad. They told the story of youthful surrender. He wrote, "I am willing to go anywhere grandma goes." Yes, that is the spirit of our dear people. It is everywhere the same. It has gripped all of us, the aged as well as the youth.
To be a leader in the cause of God in such an hour is both a privilege and a responsibility. As leaders we must take the lead. God is going before us. The cloud is lifting, and we must strike camp. The wisdom of this people will be revealed, not in our ability to hold the status quo, but rather in our willingness to enlarge our vision, to adjust our plans, to revise our programs, and even to change our methods as we go forth to capitalize on the opportunities and meet the demands of these changing times.
When, in the upper room, the Master promised His peace to those first leaders of the Christian church, it was not the peace which comes from an unchanging life. Far from it ! These men were plunged into a whirlpool of cultural, economic, political, and spiritual upheaval. No other age or condition, except it be the upheavals in Western Europe during the sixteenth century, is so like our own. Men were bewildered then, as they are today. But the very disillusionment of our day is in reality the raw material of the Christian's hope. Despite all calamities and fears, the seeds of spiritual revival are germinating in many lands. While some may deplore the deadness of the age, those with spiritual insight see in these very things the evidence that we .have reached destiny's hour. Are we ready to move into it, or are we glued to the pattern of the past?
Not the absence of change, but rather the spiritual stability that will carry us through these dramatic changes—this is our need, our greatest need and our only need. The words of David Livingstone, "I will go anywhere—provided it be forward," might well be our motto today. Forward in faith, forward in consecration, forward with God, must be our watchword. The cry of laissez-faire in spiritual contentment must give place to an advancing leadership.
Our movement has come to the kingdom for such a time as this. We are in sight of home, and yet what a tremendous task faces us! The despairing cry of the lost in hundreds of villages and towns where the Advent message has never sounded must stir our hearts, and we must pray for the anointed vision of our Master, that seeing the teeming millions in the great unwarned cities, we may be moved with compassion as we behold the unsaved multitudes. Before the darkness of earth's long night settles down, let us pray for grace and wisdom to lead these blood-bought souls into the light of eternal day. This is our task. It demands larger thinking, broader plans, and a faith that will not shrink.
R. A. A.