For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. . . . For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe" (1 Cor. 1:18-21).
These statements have been considered the Bible basis for evangelism.
The Great Commission given in Matthew 28:19 and 20 sets forth the individual responsibility to bear witness to the faith we have. "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations . . . : and, lo, I atri with you alway." Along with the commission and the responsibility we have the promise that we can expect and receive God's presence in our work in the form of His Holy Spirit.
"We cannot say that we are exalting the Name of God if we fearfully run away, without faith, from a new instrument or technique that He may guide us to use for His glory." 1 The promise in Matthew 28, given in connection with the evangelistic commission, is not dependent upon the use of any stipulated media or the nonuse of any technique. It is not so simple. "We cannot be simply 'for' or 'against' any media of communication. It is a matter of 'correct use' and 'misuse.' "2
Throughout the years since the commission was given to the disciples of Christ the message of the gospel has gone forth in fulfillment of the requirements of this directive under the impetus of the media of the age.
It is true that for every age there is a corresponding method for accomplishment of a given purpose. We can no more hope to reach twentieth-century man with eighteenth-century methods than we could hope to go to the moon with eighteenth-century vehicles; and we cannot, as Christians, release ourselves from the mass media of any age, nor from the problems they present.
A century ago the evangelist Charles Finney asked this question: "Now are we to be told that we must pursue the same old, formal mode of doing things, amidst all these changes?" And we might ask the same question as we view the media of communication at the finger tips of all today.
Father Theodore M. Hesburgh said, "The task facing us . . . will not be done if our philosophers and theologians continue to live among, work with, and speak to people and problems long since dead and buried."' He was speaking in this instance of the task involved in reaching the world with regard to control and judgment of the H-bomb; it is equally as applicable with respect to reaching the world in an evangelistic sense.
Now the message of the church is the same. "The reconciling message of God's activity in Jesus Christ is the same from age to age. It has outlasted and sometimes outwitted competition in other times and in other places. It would be heard again by people in need in this age of mass media and mass men." But the methods of reaching men from age to age must be modified to suit the surroundings and time. "Present-day conditions require the adjustment of this vital truth [the evangelistic methods of presenting the gospel] to the circumstances and attitudes of mind which face youth and the growing generation."
This demands a re-evaluation of our times, a look that does not take anything for granted, an evaluation that will point out where our adjustment must take place. Churches are adjusting their areas of labor, and the statement made by Dauson Bryon that "most churches need to face the fact that the people whom they wish to reach are outside the church service" is being recognized by present-day church leaders.
In the first session of the Roman Catholic Ecumenical Council called by the late Pope John XXIII, the Catholic Church reevaluated its methods of work with those of indigenous groups, seeking to fit their worship to the way of life of each group.
In Time magazine we read this, which indicates what is going on in some groups:
In Philadelphia's West Mill Creek redevelopment project, 3,200 residents are served by a young Presbyterian minister who has no church, preaches no sermons, collects no contributions. Instead, the Rev. Eugene Turner simply moves among the development homes, offering his help, and only incidentally guiding the religiously inclined to the church of their choice. "Mine is a ministry of mobility," he says?
This recognition of society in the process of change and that of a mobility of the population necessarily brings us to the words that Paul said long ago, and which still continue to be a true dictum of responsibility in reaching groups or individuals: "I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some" (1 Cor. 9:221. This asks for a bending of traditional service to meet the needs of the people. "Many Denver [Colorado] churches play down Sunday worship in favor of midday services during the week." This is in order to "reach families living in the anonymity of tall new apartment buildings."
Communication is the very essence of religious practice, and if our churches or evangelists today are not getting through to the people, if there is no reception, then the method of communication must be brought under question. Religionists feel that this is especially important in this particular era of possible destruction. "The church must either make its impact upon the secular world today and win it for Christ, or the secular world will increasingly encroach upon the spiritual life of the church, blunting its witness and dimming its vision." This does not mean that people are to be "scared" into religion. It should not become, as Episcopal Bishop James Pike once said, "a sort of tranquilizer pill to a populace keeping a wary eye on the sword of Damocles." "
Men of leadership have recognized the necessity of carrying forward the standards of religion. It has been a concomitant part of historical heritage. Former United States President Eisenhower said, "I feel that no one teaching moral standards and spiritual ideals should do so apologetically." Daniel Webster, great American statesman, left these words on record: "I do not know what is to become of us as a nation . . . if God and His Word are not known and received. If truth be not diffused, error will be." We have seen examples of nations who gave up Christian principles, with the consequent decline in morality and integrity that eventually destroyed them.
There are complaints from the evangelistic field; yes, and some of them are justified. There have been those who engaged in public display of evangelistic procedures with a far different motive than that which they advertised. Some have employed a fanatical zeal not in keeping with the dignity of the gospel. There are charlatans who have their own financial interests foremost in mind. An intemperate display of emotion has swayed some who do not have a firmly based, mature religious viewpoint. There are dangers to be watched for in the most admirable of evangelistic endeavors. And the modern methods of mass communication make these elements more available to the public, and more susceptible to the use of unscrupulous publicity seekers.
False emotion, overexcitement, an overnight religious profession—these are all valid criticisms brought forward largely through the adequacy of the total coverage available today. More adequate coverage and viewing makes for a wider expanse from which to draw criticism. This is to be expected, and the alert evangelist will make use of these valuable criticisms to evaluate his own program.
1 Malcolm Boyd, Crisis in Communication, a Christian Examination of the Mass Media (New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, 1957), p. 19.
2 Ibid., p. 20.
3 Donald Keys (ed.), God and the H-Bomb (New York and Canada: Bellmeadows Press, Random House, 1961), p. 16.
4 Martin E. Marty, The Improper Opinion, Mass Media and the Christian Faith (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1961), p. 15.
5 John Timothy Stone, Winning Men (Studies in Sou/ Winning) (London: Fleming H. Revell Co.), pp. 10, 11. Dauson C. Bryon, A Workable Plan of Evangelism (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press), p. 14.
7 Time magazine, Religious Section, Feb. 1, 1963.
9 Stone, op. cit., p. 69. (Quoting Dr. Zwemer, Into All the World.)
10 Time, loc. cit.
11 Horace F. Dean, Operation Evangelism (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1957). p. 27.