WHAT promises to be one of the most important meetings in the history of the Christian church is scheduled to convene in Berlin, Germany, October 26 to November 4. Dr. Carl Henry, editor of Christianity Today, is the appointed chairman, with Dr. Billy Graham, cochairman. Years of preparation have brought this plan to fruition, and Christians of all faiths, especially leaders, are urged to make this forthcoming World Congress on Evangelism a subject of earnest prayer.
"From the ends of the earth evangelists and churchmen will come to Berlin," says Dr. Henry, "carrying the spiritual plight of the masses on their hearts. Increasingly eager to reach our generation with the gospel of Christ, these devout leaders from many lands will share their burdens and blessings and shape conviction and compassion to match the present hour."
Berlin's famed Kongresshalle has been selected for this meeting with delegates from some ninety countries in attendance. Thirty countries in the African continent alone have been invited to send delegates, as well as twenty from Latin America. Korea, Japan, and many other countries of the Far East, together with Australia, New Zealand, Europe, the Middle East, Southern and Southeast Asia, West Indies, Canada, and, of course, the United States will be represented.
The world crisis to which we have come has impressed these leaders of the need for such a world congress. This is emphasized by Dr. Stanley Mooneyham, coordinating director. He says: "The church was born in crisis. The Book of Acts is a book of crises. So are all the other books chronicling the history of the church." To point this up he reminds us that "immediately after the coming of the Holy Spirit, the church went through a deep valley of testing. Two of its strongest leaders were imprisoned and threatened for preaching the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And what did they do on their release?
"They returned to the church assembled and reported the threat; they told of the dark cloud of opposition and persecution rising against the infant church; they faced squarely this hour of crisis that confronted the pitifully small group of believers—and then they went to prayer!
"They didn't call a strategy meeting or a business meeting. They called a prayer meeting!
"Today we spend so much of our time analyzing and organizing that we forget the most strategic thing we can do in a time of crisis—going to prayer and praying through." How true! But, how tragic!
One of the main objectives of this representative gathering is to so plan "that the relevance of the gospel may be an increasing reality in the preaching and teaching ministry of the church."
The situation facing the church at this time is more challenging than ever. One missionary leader has illustrated our task in this way: "If the population of the world could be compressed into a community of one hundred people, 75 of them would be uneducated, underclothed and underfed." Then he points out that 37 would live in lands where Christianity is outlawed. When we compare the great religions of the world and use the same illustration we discover that 25 out of the one hundred would belong to either the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox churches; 15 would be Moslems; 11 would be Hindus; 20 would be Buddhists or related Oriental religions; 4 would be animists or primitives; and 16 would be either non-Christian or nothing at all. That leaves only eight to represent all Protestantism, many of whom are far from truly evangelical believers.
Now let us look into the future for a moment. Here we find something even more challenging, because the increase in the world's population is so much more rapid than the increase of converts to the Christian faith. It is claimed that by 1980 (only 14 years away, should the Lord tarry) the proportion of Protestant Christians as compared with the rest of the population might not be even 4 per cent. And by the year 2000 (34 years from now), when it is estimated the world population will be 6 billion, this figure could well shrink to 2 per cent—that is unless something tremendous happens. And thank God we know it will happen, for under the power of the latter rain multitudes will be swept into the kingdom. Nothing short of the baptism of the Holy Spirit can meet our need.
If Christians of other denominations are stirred about this, should not we as Adventists be doubly stirred? God's counsel to us is: "Do not rest satisfied that in the ordinary course of the season, rain will fall. Ask for it.... We must seek His favors with the whole heart if the showers of grace are to come to us."—Testimonies to Ministers, p. 508.
An invitation has been extended to your editor to attend this World Congress on Evangelism. To associate with such earnest Christian leaders; to pray with them; to participate in their counsels and witness their heart burden for the unsaved millions is a privilege indeed. No one but God knows what will result from this congress. This is not an ecumenical council but an evangelistic council. And it surely must appeal to all our MINISTRY readers around the world. We naturally carry the burden of our own denominational program on our hearts, and we thank God for its world outreach. What yet remains to be done, however, is staggering. And while we pray for our own missionaries and leaders, let us also carry on our hearts a burden for the work of the Christian church as a whole, and especially these evangelical stalwarts. We have been expressly told that many of these will be standing with us in the final crisis.
Ponder these words of the apostle Paul to Timothy, and grasp anew the world vision of this evangelist, perhaps the greatest leader in all Christian history: "I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be offered for all men; for sovereigns and all in high office. . . . Such prayer is right, and approved by God our Saviour, whose will it is that all men should find salvation and come to know the truth" (1 Tim. 2:1-4, N.E.B.).*
The Lord's counsel to us as a people is to pray for all good causes. And what greater cause can there be than that of bringing to the millions now living in darkness the glorious light of Christ, and to those who have a glimmer of light the fuller sanctifying knowledge of the everlasting gospel?
These well-known words have meant much to us through the years: "All over the world men and women are looking wistfully to heaven. Prayers and tears and inquiries go up from souls longing for light, for grace, for the Holy Spirit. Many are on the verge of the kingdom, waiting only to be gathered in."—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 109. If that was the situation half a century ago, it is even more true today since the world's population is twice what it was then.
The leaders of this World Congress recognize the vital place of prayer, and as we have already mentioned, they are appealing to all Christians, and especially ministers, to seek God earnestly for an outpouring of His power upon this gathering. While we as Adventists naturally pray for God's special blessing on our own worldwide program of evangelism it is our privilege, yes, and our duty, to unite in prayer with fellow ministers of other faiths. Nothing draws men so close together as prayer. Here is counsel we all do well to heed: "Our ministers should seek to come near to the ministers of other denominations. Pray for and with these men. . . . We should manifest a deep, earnest interest in these shepherds of the flock. . . . God has a work to be done which the workers have not yet fully comprehended."—Evangelism, pp. 562, 563.
If we are going to pray with these other "shepherds" we must be with them. The 1,200 delegates at this congress will not all see eye to eye on every point of doctrine but they can all unite in prayer for the salvation of the lost. This they will do. And we know God will hear their earnest petitions. As we take this congress on our hearts, let us pray that God will give to these earnest men the guidance of His Spirit as they lay plans to bring the living Christ to a dying world. The theme of the congress is "One Race—One Gospel—One Task."
Says Dr. Billy Graham: "There will be times in the congress program, that are not planned. We are going to let the Spirit speak and we are trying not to limit God in this congress. I believe the situation in the church and in the world is such today that a congress of this sort could, with God's blessing, have a worldwide impact on the Christian church." Then he concludes: "It is my prayer that historians will write of this time—if Christ tarries His coming—that the World Congress on Evangelism was used of God to advance the church and that in this meeting the mighty God revealed to us His old power in new dimensions."
Dr. Henry speaks of the "overriding concern of the Congress" and states it "will be the absolute necessity of fulfilling Christ's command that His disciples go into all the world and preach the gospel.
"Today many theologians themselves need to be evangelized. They are prime examples of religious confusion, zestfully contradicting each other in the name of theological progress. Some ardently promote secular rather than supernatural perspectives, and eagerly undermine the faith of the Bible."
The sevenfold purpose of this great meeting is challenging:
(1) To define Biblical evangelism; (2) to expound the relevance of Christ's gospel to the modern world; (3) to stress the urgency of evangelistic proclamation throughout the world in this generation; (4) to discover new methods of relating Biblical evangelism to our times; (5) to study the obstacles to Biblical evangelism and to propose the means of overcoming them; (6) to discover the types of evangelistic endeavor currently employed in various lands; and (7) to summon the church to recognize the priority of its evangelistic task.
The note of urgency and even the language in these clearly stated objectives sound uncommonly familiar to Adventist ears. Nor could we improve on these. But think of what this can mean to Protestantism in general at a time when many are denying the faith and declaring that evangelism is outmoded.
This issue of THE MINISTRY gives special emphasis to the work of our own evangelists. While we thank God for what His Spirit is accomplishing in the hearts of men in the nearly 200 countries in which our Adventist evangelists are giving their witness, we realize that evangelism's greatest hour is just ahead when the whole world will be lightened by the glory of God in fulfillment of Revelation 18:1. God make us equal to our task today and aware of our unparalleled opportunities.
* The New English Bible, New Testament. © The Delegates of the Oxford University Press and the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press 1961.