Is Public Evangelism Outmoded?

Our opportunities for evangelism today are greater than ever before.

R.A.A. is the editor of the Ministry

What a wonderful hour it is to which we have come! Nothing in all his­tory compares with it. Our opportunities for evangelism today are greater than ever before. As we look back over the centuries we thank God for the great preachers of the past, men who reached crowds of ten, fifteen, and twenty thousand by their un­aided voices. But today Evangelist Billy Graham has reached not 20,000 but 120,­000 and more in his great revivals. Then what about radio and television? Not scores of thousands but scores of millions are able to hear the voice of the living preacher in our day. Yes, this is a won­derful hour, but what are we doing about it? How are we as a denomination react­ing to its challenges and its unparalleled opportunities?

A survey recently conducted by M. K. Eckenroth of the Theological Seminary has brought some vital facts to light. There are trends among us that might well cause us concern. A questionnaire was sent to a group of our ministerial leaders, evan­gelists, and field administrators, and they were asked to state their opinion con­cerning certain aspects of evangelism. To the question, "Do you consider mass pub­lic 'revivals,' evangelistic 'crusades,' and preaching 'missions' to be outmoded for the last half of the twentieth century as far as Seventh-day Adventists are concerned?" the overwhelming response was "No." One of our ablest union administrators an­swered by a triple negative—"No! No! No!" That was encouraging. But in con­trast, 12 per cent declared that in their opinion public evangelism is outmoded. Another 15 per cent were uncertain. While nearly 80 per cent declared that public evangelism in their opinion is still an im­portant part of our work, yet 50 per cent of these expressed the belief that the fi­nancial cost of public campaigns made them impracticable.

We are not here discussing the merits of the case, but this situation brings a chal­lenge to us. It is true that mounting costs of halls and newspaper advertising and other forms of publicity have brought per­plexity to our conference leadership. But if public evangelism is definitely a part of our work, then surely there must be a way of financing it. The time was, in our history, when such evangelism was not only thought to be important but the all-im­portant work among us. We existed to preach a definite message. And everything was geared to that end. It is a fact that halls were cheaper, considerably cheaper. But it is equally true that there is no com­parison between the conference income of those days and what it is today. Can it be that we have permitted other things to capture our attention and absorb our funds, or are we losing the sense of the urgency of our task?

At the same time the questionnaire was sent to our own leaders, another inquiry was sent to leaders of other Christian groups. The replies received from these are very significant. Our Baptist friends were practically the only ones who replied as favoring public evangelistic campaigns. This probably accounts for the rapid growth among the Baptists, there being more than 18,000,000 in the United States today.

A reply from the Church of Christ stressed education as an evangelistic method. And of course we could agree, for that is a prominent feature of our over­all evangelism. Some of the older Protestant churches, such as the Presbyterians and the Lutherans, revealed a definitely un­favorable attitude to such evangelistic cam­paigns. Yet history reveals that originally these churches came into being as the re­sult of great doctrinal preaching in public places. Today these denominations are well established, with large institutions and set­tled congregations. Public evangelism seems no longer vital to their existence.

Our Own Attitude

Is that our attitude? Of course we say No. But if we are financially unable to carry out what we consider to be important, then how long will it be before we will have settled down to the idea that public evangelism is no longer an essential part of our commission? In other words, are we traveling the same road as our predeces­sors? It is always easier to talk the lan­guage of evangelism than to do the work of an evangelist.

Of course, we thank God for the great possibilities of radio and television, these newer means of preaching the message, but even with such wonderful aids as these, is it not the living preacher who must bring the interest to fruition? Those who are foremost in these techniques of com­munication will be the first to emphasize that it is the proclamation of Christ from the public platform that in the long run makes the work they do effective. All other agencies, such as education, literature, health evangelism, radio, television, public relations, are seed-sowing methods—"en­tering wedges" for the gospel. But is it not the living preacher, "the watchman on the walls of Zion," whose cry must be heard in no uncertain tones in every hour of need? His public proclamation of the mes­sage, with the association and help of a team of personal workers, is what brings success.

Modern warfare has revealed the effec­tiveness of bombardment as a "softening up" process, but only when the infantry marches in is the territory actually taken.

The apostles talked about "the foolish­ness of preaching," and it certainly did seem weak and foolish to the cultured Greco-Roman world. But it is still God's method of saving those who believe. And that God-inspired method must surely not be relegated to the background in our planning. If we are unable to do this work because of shortage of funds, then per­haps we should study our whole program of finance, to see whether there is a leak­age somewhere. Should not every dollar in this cause be an evangelistic dollar, invested in the great program for which God has called us—the preaching of the everlasting gospel to prepare a people for the Lord's coming?

R. A. A.

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R.A.A. is the editor of the Ministry

May 1956

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