Preaching the Message to Different Religions

Preaching the Message to Those of Different Religious Backgrounds

Public evangelism in unfamiliar settings.

W. G. JENSON Lay Activities and Radio-TV Secretary, Northwestern India Union

In presenting the "last warning" in a country such as India, one often finds that the methods and the approach used in other areas do not seem to yield the same results. Sometimes when evangelists or other interested persons view the mea­ger results, they are tempted to think that the "day of God's grace" is over in such countries, and they may even have the im­pulse to "shake the dust" from their feet.

The command of our Lord to His disci­ples to go "into all the world" (Mark 16: 15) would lead us to believe that persons of every race and clime would respond to the teaching of His Word, as would also the fact that the preaching of the first an­gel's message was to go to "every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people" (Rev. 14:6). Christ Himself found a woman of faith in the Syrophenician whose daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit (Mark 7:25-30). The story of Corne­lius is a dramatic illustration of a Roman centurion who in a very limited yet very devout way was serving God, and was, as Peter said, accepted with God (Acts 10: 1-35). Christ said of the centurion in Ca­pernaum, who had come for the healing of his servant, that He had "not found so great faith, no, not in Israel." He further stated: "And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 8:10, 11). We also have a very as­suring statement that "in . . . Africa, . . . China, in India. . . , God has in reserve a firmament of chosen ones that will yet shine forth amidst the darkness, revealing clearly to an apostate world the transform­ing power of obedience to His law. Even now they are appearing in every nation." —Prophets and Kings, p. 189.

The Church's Greatest Hour

It is with the conviction that the "day of God's grace" is not over, but, rather, that the church stands on the threshold of its greatest hour in India, that we labor in the challenging work of public evangelism. Some who were previously engaged in this line of work have forsaken it for other methods of reaching the people. They have given up evangelism at the very time when it should be promoted and developed as never before. We enjoy liberty and free­dom of worship in this land, and there are men and women of every walk of life here hungering for the Word of God.

In such circumstances it behooves the worker to examine closely his methods and his approach. A stereotyped approach will prove inadequate in any place. There are a number of suggestions I would like to make that might help to make the presentation of our message more fruitful in India.

A Common Denominator Necessary

The preaching must not be slanted to any one group of persons. Our public work must be of such a nature as to encompass persons of all backgrounds represented in the community where the preaching is to be done. This may prove to be a challenge to the worker, but I believe that in the long run the message will reach more hearts. A common denominator must be sought when the lecture is prepared.

I believe that the initial and continued emphasis must be upon Jesus Christ, His life and teachings, and the reasons for and the purpose of His death, resurrection, as­cension, ministry in the heavenly courts, and His return. We must never lose sight of the fact that the first angel of Revela­tion 14 has the everlasting gospel as well as the judgment hour message. Such an em­phasis will, of necessity, include a presenta­tion of the existence of God, the nature of God, the origin of sin, the fall of man, and God's loving response to the dilemma of man. By dwelling upon these great funda­mental themes, many persons who have the impression that Seventh-day Advent­ists stress the law and the Sabbath only, will gain a new appreciation for the message. Others who have never heard the wonder­ful story of the plan of salvation through Jesus will be led to accept Christ as their Saviour.

Once this foundation has been laid, it is then possible to advance to the consid­eration of the Bible as the divinely in­spired writings. By this time many have possibly received a Bible as an attendance award. Very careful and considerate atten­tion must be given to building faith in the Holy Bible. Guidance can be given to in­dividuals who desire to read the Bible. Also, it may be possible to arrange Bible studies with individuals or groups. How­ever, care must be taken that the Bible studies not advance in the teaching of the Bible ahead of the lectures given in pub­lic.

Avoid Offense

It is very essential that the worker have a good understanding of the various religions of the people living within the area to be reached by the evangelistic meetings, and great care must be taken not to speak in any way that will be offensive to the indi­viduals adhering to those faiths. No direct comparisons should be made, and any refer­ence either to the religions or their found­ers must be with great respect, and should be done in a kindly way. It is possible that the presentation of the positive aspect of the teachings of Christ will have a profound effect upon the minds of the hearers, and the Holy Spirit will be able to impress the truths in a forceful manner, without the worker having to draw the conclusion so forcefully that it becomes offensive to even one of his hearers.

A knowledge of the customs and prov­erbs of the peoples among whom the meet­ings are conducted will prove helpful in presenting the teachings of Christ and the Holy Bible. A knowledge of the language, with its idioms, will also win the interest of the hearers (not that the lectures need be given in the language always, but the occasional use of an idiomatic construction will help to make a point clear). Likewise, let the language be such that all will be able to understand. Profound truths, such as would appeal to the highly educated, must be expressed in language so simple that the uneducated persons may compre­hend.

When there are persons in the audience who have no previous knowledge of the Bible, it will prove helpful if the evangelist will plan to take the time to help his hear­ers gain a broad and general "background" understanding of Bible personages and their history. In many instances those who profess to have faith in the Holy Bible are not too well informed concerning the events recorded in the Scriptures, or of the purposes of God in His dealings with His people. Such a plan will also strengthen those who have newly come to have faith in the Holy Bible, or who have an interest in learning of the teachings of the Word of God.

This program may be developed in such a way as to give the hearers the knowledge that will facilitate the presentation of Bible doctrines at a later date. Even as this is be­ing done, the speaker can stress certain vital points that will serve him well in the consideration of the Bible doctrines. It is possible that a premature presentation of the doctrines to persons who have little or no acquaintance with the Holy Bible may not find a reception, whereas those same doctrines might find a speedy reception in the minds where a love for, and a faith in, the Holy Bible has been cultivated.

The Personal Life Important

A word must be said about the impor­tance of the life of the worker himself. "He who teaches the word must himself live in conscious, hourly communion with God through prayer and a study of His word; for here is the source of strength. Communion with God will impart to the minister's efforts a power greater than the influence of his preaching. Of this power he must not allow himself to be deprived." —The Acts of the Apostles, p. 362. "The heaven-born peace expressed on Paul's countenance won many a soul to the gos­pel. Paul carried with him the atmosphere of heaven. All who associated with him felt the influence of his union with Christ. The fact that his own life exemplified the truth he proclaimed, gave convincing power to his preaching. Here lies the power of truth.

 The unstudied, unconscious influence of a holy life is the most convincing sermon that can be given in favor of Christianity. Argu­ment, even when unanswerable, may pro­voke only opposition; but a godly example has a power that it is impossible wholly to resist."—Ibid., pp. 510, 511. Again, the dis­ciples' "understanding of truth and their power to withstand opposition were pro­portionate to their conformity to God's will. Jesus Christ, the wisdom and power of God, was the theme of every discourse. . . . As they proclaimed the completeness of Christ, the risen Saviour, their words moved hearts, and men and women were won to the gospel. Multitudes who had re­viled the Saviour's name and despised His power, now confessed themselves disciples of the Crucified."—Ibid., p. 594.

To summarize, let us be sure to plan our program of evangelism in such a way as to include the people of all faiths and of all walks of life. Let us be certain that we present the "fundamental truths" of the gospel, and lead men and women to accept Christ as their Saviour. Let us present the  message in simple language, adapting our sermons as much as possible to the experi­ence of the people in the audience. Let us understand that by taking time to give our hearers a broad background knowledge of the Bible, we are laying a foundation that will make the presentation of the doctrines easier. And, recognizing the wonderful privilege that is ours, as well as the ex­ceedingly great responsibility that rests upon us, let us seek a new consecration to our Lord Jesus Christ—a new experience in holy living, that our preaching may be supported by our lives.

"What the church needs in these days of peril, is an army of workers who, like Paul, have educated themselves for usefulness, who have a deep experience in the things of God, and who are filled with earnestness and zeal. Sanctified, self-sacrificing men are needed; men who will not shun trial and responsibility; men who are brave and true; men in whose hearts Christ is formed 'the hope of glory,' and who with lips touched with holy fire will 'preach the word.' "­Ibid., p. 507.

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W. G. JENSON Lay Activities and Radio-TV Secretary, Northwestern India Union

March 1968

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