The church bleeds to death when its ministry and laity stop winning souls. Soul transfusions are constantly needed to keep our movement alive and virile. Soul-winning programs tend to fill the collapsing veins of the church with new blood. Who brings more vitality to the church than new members who have never known this message before? Who has deeper love for God and his church than those who have caught the "first love" experience? The greatest crime a preacher can commit against the spiritual life of himself and his church is to permit his attention to be focused on details and programs which do everything but win souls.
Credit Cards Necessary?
The preaching of the gospel publicly and witnessing from house to house spelled success for the infant New Testament church. Without the aid of telephones, filing systems, libraries, credit cards, diplomas, and numerous other items thought necessary today to make the church successful, this startling religious revolution gripped the Roman Empire. Tragically, the most comparable movement today, in terms of intensity and vitality, is not the Christian faith, but an atheistic ideology!
Strange that a movement which denies the existence of God should exhibit more enthusiasm and conviction than a movement which claims to believe and serve the God of the universe.
Fastened Seat Belts
History constantly repeats itself. God's ancient people failed in their mission, not because of a lack of organization, men, money, or materials, nor did they fail because of obscurity. Their true goal of witnessing by lives and lips the power and authority of God to the world was aborted. One glance at Reformation history indicates a duplication of Israelitish failure.
The Adventist Church appears to be prospering in many ways, and for this we thank God. Its original momentum is not yet spent. Statistics viewed through human eyes indicate a powerful program. Yet the great danger of membership anemia is present. Plodding dully along in the ruts of past victories can plague us. To depend on the baptism of children of Adventist families to reach our baptismal goals can spell disaster. It is sometimes said that if we spent all of our time, energy, and money baptizing and holding our own young people we would be making greater advances than all other types of soul-winning endeavors put together. We also hear remarks to the effect that if we could develop a program that would keep our members from backsliding, we wouldn't have to do any evangelism. This may sound convincing, but such reasoning will lead the movement up a blind alley.
Of course we want to save our youth and keep members from backsliding. The greatest solution to this problem is not entertaining them but putting them to work saving others. We take our hats off to the new MV drive of TARGET 30,000, which is commendable. We hope that our adults will catch the same spirit. The greatest thrill in the world is not competitive sports but hunting for souls! Conversion of souls brings rewards far exceeding club activities.
Spiritual Dry Rot
The problem is that the emphasis of activity is being shifted inwardly rather than outwardly. When the original emphasis of any religious organization shifts to diversified services being offered to those within the fold, dry rot inevitably sets in. Busyness may abound, programs may flourish, and societies multiply, but spiritual muscles never fully develop unless there is consistent battling to gain souls from enemy territory.
Militant or Triumphant?
The church can only survive as a vital power as long as it is militant. If we sit down and begin to play the part of the church triumphant in the midst of the battle, defeat is certain! With a triumphant attitude the church may continue to exist as a showpiece like an Egyptian Pyramid, but life and vitality will long since be replaced by the cold marble of indifference and inactivity. Multitudes may "oh" and "ah" at our parade of buildings and budgets. But how many empty seats would there be in the sweet chariot if it would swing low today and pick up the results of last-day Adventist activity?
No secular or religious individual or organization can continue a prosperous existence without persuasive witnessing. General Motors assembly lines would fast grind to a halt if they stopped convincing people that their product was the best buy for their money. Expansion of their factories takes place only after sales are increased. They fight to sell. Every weapon possible is used in their program of competition. Their goal is to put a Chevrolet or related car in every garage.
Cars or Christ
The church runs a multimillion-dollar program today. Is our goal less important than that of an automobile manufacturer? Can we exist with any less determination and competition? Never! We must fight the battle to live properly. We have a cause to fight for which is the placing of the three angels' messages before every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. Once that goal is lost, or attempted by proxy, our power disintegrates.
Beecher and Phillips
Two of the greatest orators in American history were Henry Ward Beecher and Wendell Phillips. These men fought for abolition in the day when men were stoned in the streets of New York City and Boston for being abolitionists. They won their battle for human freedom, for slavery was abolished.
One night after the Civil War, they met in a city where Wendell Phillips delivered a lecture. Beecher went to hear him. After the meeting Beecher went back to the hotel with Phillips and lay down on the bed while Phillips paced the floor. "Henry," he said finally, "how did I do tonight?" "I never heard a more brilliant speech," was the guarded reply. "I felt dead," said Wendell Phillips; "I didn't feel happy about it. Something has gone out of me. You are my friend. Tell me what it is." "Wendell," said Beecher, "it's all words; beautiful, magnificent, artistic words, but you aren't fighting for anything any more."
Action and Belief
Action always accompanies belief. When belief dies, action grinds to a halt. This simple truth can be applied to any area of life. This issue of THE MINISTRY has been enlarged for the purpose of giving emphasis to public evangelism in general, and field schools of evangelism in particular. If ever a Congressional Medal of Honor were given to preachers it ought to be given to the minister who spends the major portion of his time and energy in direct soul-winning activities, and the training of the future ministry. These men who meet the enemy head on undoubtedly have the clearest conviction of what it means to be a gospel minister. These bear an unweighable burden for the rescue of men and women out in no man's land who need the warmth and love of Him who died to give them life. This is the highest work under heaven.
We know that the reports given in this issue can be multiplied manyfold by numerous unsung ministerial heroes around the world.
J. R. SPANGLER