For a number of years this journal has advocated open identification of our denominational affiliation wherever feasible. We are enheartened to find our experienced evangelists adopting and successfully following this plan in one form or another. Conditions and localities vary, and so do techniques by which we can identify our program without losing either our prestige or our audience. Our readers will be interested in this and a succeeding article from Evangelist Shuler.— EDITOR.
in every endeavor to win people to our faith Seventh-day Adventists desire that the first impressions be conducive to a favorable consideration of the claims of present truth. The manner of approaching- the public in our evangelistic meetings should therefore be studied from the angle of making such an initial impression as will contribute most to the eventual acceptance of God's message. The Word of God furnishes guidance on this mat ter. Three evangelistic examples may be cited: Jesus, the apostles, and John the Baptist.
First, how did Jesus in His initial public address approach the people of His home town, Nazareth? The answer is found in Luke 4: 16-32. He read certain statements from the prophecy of Isaiah, which foretold the divine message the Messiah would proclaim when He appeared, and the character of the work He would do. Then He proceeded on the basis of "this day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears." The basis of His appeal was the fulfillment of prophecy. He appealed to them on the ground that He was preaching the very message which the sure word of prophecy had appointed for that very hour.
When we study the evangelism of Jesus we notice that His favorite method of beginning His presentations was to talk about subjects concerning which His hearers were thinking. He discussed things in which they were already interested. He illustrated this message by using certain objects with which His hearers were acquainted.
As a second example, how did Peter approach the people in his evangelistic address on the day of Pentecost? He began by quoting that part of the prophecy of Joel which foretold the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, as being witnessed that very day—"This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel." He also pointed out how a certain prophecy of David had been fulfilled a few days before this in the resurrection of Jesus. He appealed to them on the basis of the fulfillment of divine prophecy.
And as a third example, how did John the Baptist approach the people in his evangelism? He said, "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias." John I -.23. He directed their attention to God's message for that hour, as called for in the fulfillment of prophecy. He appealed to them on the basis of the message which God had appointed to be preached, believed, and obeyed at that time.
On the basis of these examples from the evangelism of Jesus, the apostles, and John the Baptist, we shall do well in our evangelism to approach the people on the basis of the fulfillment of prophecy or a discussion of themes in which there is unusual interest. The initial presentation may be built around the prophetic backgrounds of current world events or situations. This, of course, precludes the beginning of a new campaign with the identical sermon with which we opened our previous campaign.
Many people are very desirous of knowing the meaning and outcome of the tremendous happenings and the unprecedented conditions of our day. When we approach them on the basis of the prophetic implications of these things we at once command their attention and their interest. When we show how the ancient prophecies of Scripture are being so accurately fulfilled, it builds up their confidence in the veracity of the Bible, and leads them to believe that we do have something worthwhile for them from the Word of God.
This matter of approach to the public naturally raises the question, Shall the meetings be identified as being sponsored by Seventh-day Adventists? There may be parts of the world field where this procedure would not be wise. There are perhaps no evangelistic techniques that are universal in their application to the entire vineyard of the Lord. But in our city evangelistic campaigns in the United States it is obviously wise, in advertising the first meeting, to inform the public that the meetings are being sponsored by Seventh-day Adventists.
We followed this plan in the Detroit campaign in the autumn of 1947 and in the Oakland campaign in 1949. And it is to be noted that the identification of the campaign as Seventh- day Adventist did not militate against the se curing of large results in either instance. In the newspaper advertisements publicizing the first meeting in these two campaigns a notice was inserted similar to statements used by some of our leading evangelists who advocate this plan. It said:
"These meetings are one unit of a worldwide gospel movement with hundreds of churches cooperating. Many friends of the Bible, and the Seventh-day Adventist churches of ———— are happy to bring these meetings to ————, to the end that they may help our citizens to find a closer walk with God, and that all of us may do our part better in making our blessed free America a still better place in which to live."
Some have argued that if we identify our meetings denominationally, before we begin, many people will not attend, who would have attended had nothing been said about how the meetings were being sponsored. This may be true to some extent. On the other hand, there are many people who will attend because they understand the meetings are being conducted by Seventh-day Adventists. These would not attend had the meetings not been so identified. Where there is no identification it is likely that some will remain away from the meetings, thinking that they are being conducted by the Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Pentecostals, or some other group. The gain which comes from identification definitely outweighs what losses may be involved.
There is a further suggestion, which is perhaps the most important of all, touching upon our approach to the public in our evangelism, as seen in the three Biblical examples previously cited. In each case there was given the invitation to listen, investigate, and then heed the evangelistic presentation as being God's message for that very hour. Herein lies one of the secrets of power in evangelistic preaching, because there is nothing more powerful than a Heaven-sent message whose hour has come.
This indicates where to place the emphasis in our approach to the public. Seventh-day Adventist evangelism is based on the threefold message of Revelation 14. It is the Heaven-sent gospel message for those who live after 1844 and before the second coming of Christ. Revelation 14:6-12 is the only real justification for the existence of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. This is the charter for our evangelistic preaching. This is what makes Seventh- day Adventist evangelism different from the evangelism of all other religious groups. No other people are attempting to preach such a threefold message, which is God's truth for this time.
We should understand that the preaching of the threefold message of Revelation 14 cannot be limited merely to the proclamation of the special truths specifically mentioned in the wording of the verses alluded to. It embraces all the gospel truths that have ever been revealed to men. It is declared to. be "the everlasting gospel" (Rev. 14:6), the gospel of the ages, the one true gospel concerning the one divine plan of salvation, with the one and only Saviour as its central attraction. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ in the true, God-appointed set ting for the closing age of the gospel. All its truths must be presented as proceeding from Christ, but in the setting of the judgment hour and the impending return of Christ. This threefold message with its distinctive, all-inclusive truths is the only true way of Christ for our day.
in their preaching, the Lord Jesus, the apostle Peter, and John the Baptist approached the public, and placed their finger on the specific Heaven-sent message for that hour. Why then, should we not in our first sermon to the public, or in the first literature we give them, place our finger on Revelation 14: 6-12, as being God's special message for our day, and as constituting the basis of our mission? Why not capitalize on the important pas sage more than we have in our approach to the public?
Such an approach gives an immediate, appropriate, and attractive answer to our hearers concerning the "why" and the "who" of the meetings and our mission. This kind of identification places a stamp of authenticity on the preaching, as presenting our message from the Word of God, which has been predetermined of God, for meeting man's need for this mighty hour. It carries with it the power of God for making the best impression for acceptance.
It is only reasonable to believe that the power of God accompanies the preaching of His special message. In the time of John the Baptist we notice that the power of God to at tract the multitudes and to convert the believers accompanied the proclamation of God's message for that hour. John distributed no hand bills. He posted no placards. He did not have access to the radio or the newspaper. He had no choir. But the crowds flocked to hear him. Why? Because he proclaimed God's message in the power and demonstration of the Spirit. So today the prime requisite we need in our approach to the public is to preach God's message for this hour in the power of the Spirit.
In my next article I shall offer specific suggestions on how to make this message approach to the public, and its advantages.