MISSION '72 REACH OUT FOR LIFE crusades are now history, and we thank God for what has been accomplished. Although we are grateful for what has been done, we look forward to improving on former methods. There were varying degrees of response. Some workers experienced outstanding results. Others, however, have found that results of public evangelism are increasingly meager and that the effort to reach the multitudes by mass media and lure them out to public presentations of the message within a budget most of us can get is disappointing. Although we are grateful for what has been done, we must find a way to improve on it.
There are growing numbers of people who believe they have found an answer to both public and personal evangelism that fulfills the vision of Ellen C. White and will accomplish dramatic growth in our church in the months and years ahead. The plan depends on public evangelism being linked more decidedly with personal evangelism. So far as I know there are no evangelical churches today that are making significant growth solely on the basis of public evangelism, but there are many that are growing dramatically through the use of personal evangelism and public evangelism combined. Some are doing very well on personal evangelism alone, but none are making it with public evangelism alone.
It is only human for us to hope that lightning will strike and that it will come about in some easy way. We dream about the outpouring of the latter rain and expect that if we hit on the right combination of piety and publicity that it will fall. Let us not forget that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is dependent on the majority of the church members becoming laborers together with God. So this discussion brings us right back to the fact that until we get a program of personal evangelism that works with the majority of our people we are not going to have the kind of success we expect to see for the finishing of the work.
New Testament Witnessing
Many people believe the future of evangelism will be written in what has come to be called New Testament witnessing. The major concepts of this plan actually originated with Christ and the apostles, then were emphasized by Ellen White. Today they are being put into practice in a very successful way by various evangelical churches, such as Dr. James Kennedy and the Coral Ridge Presbyterian church in Florida and Jack Hyles of the First Baptist church in Hammond, Indiana. Seventh-day Adventists have had these concepts through the years, but only recently, in the light of what others have done, have we awakened more fully to their explosive potential. With the aid of a manual we have prepared outlining this program, our ventures in the field have proved out beautifully, and we are seeing tangible results in a remarkable way.
The plan involves some elements that are rather revolutionary over traditional Adventist evangelism. This should not be so and would not be so if we had fol lowed the counsel of the Spirit of Prophecy writings.
This approach teaches our members how to make a presentation of the gospel (a single Bible study on the story of salvation through Christ and how a person may receive Him now as his personal Saviour, experiencing present assurance of eternal life). Then the new born-again Christian is followed up with traditional Bible studies leading to baptism and church membership.
The New-Testament-witnessing plan updates our evangelism into the seventies. It meets the average man where he is, not assuming him to be what the average man was fifty or one hundred years ago. The plan also avoids the problems of generation and cultural gaps.
This concept is built on the interrelation of three principles of the Christian life. These are: (1) The assurance of salvation, (2) based on an understanding of righteousness by faith, and (3) practiced in personal evangelism witnessing that leads the prospect to an assurance of salvation through Christ as the first step in the soul-winning process.
The Doctrine of Assurance
The doctrine of assurance in Christ has often been minimized in Seventh-day Adventist thinking and, in fact, by some people even denied. This is unfortunate, because effective personal lay evangelism cannot thrive without the understanding and acceptance of this teaching.
It is surprising that the Spirit of Prophecy and the Bible have taught this all through the years yet we have failed to teach it effectively. We certainly have failed to capitalize on its practical application to soul winning. The Bible affirms that when one has received Christ he has become a child of Cod (see John 1:12), and that he has eternal life (see 1 John 5:9-13). Jesus Himself said this in John 6:47. The Spirit of Prophecy says that the sinner may come to Christ and accept Christ's gift of eternal life saying, "I need not remain a moment longer unsaved. . . . He will save me now." --Selected Messages, book 1, p. 392. In The Desire of Ages, page 331, Ellen White says that Christ invites us to come to Him and in thus coming we begin the life eternal.
Righteousness by Faith
Obviously, this principle of assurance rests solidly upon a true understanding and belief in righteousness by faith. It is one thing to believe in this doctrine theoretically, but it is quite another to apply it to soul-winning work in its early stages. It is natural for us to drift toward righteousness by works. It is just as human to do so as is drifting toward any other error or sin. Christians of all faiths down through the ages have had an inclination to gravitate in this direction.
We must come to the place where we really believe that Christ receives sinners and gives them the gift of eternal life the very moment they accept Him as their Saviour. In Steps to Christ, page 52, we read, "Some seem to feel that they must be on probation, and must prove to the Lord that they are reformed, before they can claim His blessing." "They . . . depend upon watchfulness against temptation, and the performance of certain duties for acceptance with Him. There are no victories in this kind of faith." --Selected Messages, book 1, p. 353.
The Bible clearly states that salvation and eternal life are a gift of Cod, a free gift (see Eph. 2:8, 9; Titus 3:5; Romans 5:15-18). And in Romans 4 Paul says that if we earn it in the least it is no longer a gift but it is wages. In Romans 9 beginning with verse 30 Paul explains that the Jews missed the whole understanding of salvation because they sought after righteousness according to the law and by the works of the law, whereas the Gentiles who weren't even seeking it found it because they accepted it by faith.
To the Jews of Jesus' time the most puzzling thing about Jesus was the fact that He accepted sinful people right on the spot and gave them the assurance of His love and salvation. "This man receiveth sinners" (Luke 15:2) was their amazed comment. To this day we find it difficult to accept the fact that Cod receives us just as we are and loves us and gives us eternal life on the basis of what He did for us on Calvary, rather than on the basis of anything we have done or will do for Him. Obedience and Christian discipline bear a vital relationship to our life in Christ, a relationship that can, in deed, separate us from Christ if ignored or neglected. This we must also emphasize, but this must be understood in the framework of obedience as a response of love on our part rather than as a means of meriting our salvation or eternal life.*
Share It or Lose It
Christians who do not regularly share this wonderful good news with others soon lose it and drift into a legalism that contributes to the coldness and deadness of many churches. As with love, you can not experience it alone. It is a two-way street, not a dead-end alley. "A bell's not a bell till you ring it, a song's not a song till you sing it. And love in your heart wasn't put there to stay; love isn't love till you give it away." So it is with Christ.
A rewarding aspect of this program is the way in which laymen are willing to learn this step in soul winning and to work at it on a regular basis. The first step in leading a soul to accept Christ as Saviour is something that many of our laymen feel confident they can take, although they may not feel the same about giving a whole series of doctrinal studies. Many, however, who have thought they could not give a series of doctrinal Bible studies have been willing to undertake the assignment after learning how to lead people into the primary experience of accepting Christ as their personal Saviour. Consequently, we have found that where we have initiated this program we are creating an entirely new psychology with our laymen; and in some places there is a waiting list to get into a training program. In one conference we now have about 200 laymen who are fully trained (not merely instructed) and are doing this work every week. Last year this same conference experienced the highest fourth quarter of baptisms in its history, and the pastors reported that one third of those baptisms were the direct result of this new program in their churches. More than 100 people have been baptized from the use of this plan, and it is only in its infancy.
This Plan Brings Results
Another encouraging feature of this approach is that most often people who have accepted Christ seem willing to at tend church at the very beginning of their relationship with one of our witnessing members. As they begin attending church and the pastor's Bible class they are taught the message in its fullness, and then, of course, they are led on into the church and are baptized.
We have also found this approach to be a tremendous advantage in relating to former members. Most of them have drifted away not because they have lost confidence in the doctrines of the church but through discouragement. This often is the result of an unfortunate concept of legalism, which crushes them. When they understand righteousness by faith and the assurance of salvation, their experience is placed on an entirely different level, and many of them return to the church almost immediately.
In a crusade just concluded we used this approach with in-laws of the church husbands who had been labored with for many, many years but had never taken the step to join the church. When we visited them and presented Christ and the assurance of eternal life, inviting them to accept Christ as their personal Saviour, they were completely disarmed, responded favorably, made a profession of accepting Christ, and soon were in the church.
This program begins slowly because it requires on-the-job training, but after a year a local church usually can have from fifteen to twenty teams going out one night a week presenting the gospel to people, leading them into the church. It isn't long until this trickle of visitors to the church begins to mount up to a significant number of people attending each Sabbath as they learn the message in the pastor's Bible class. When this method becomes a regular pattern, the church is filled with people who are ripe fora reaping crusade, and public evangelism be comes an entirely new experience.
During the twenty years I have been involved in evangelistic crusades, the great est longing of my heart has been to see our laymen effectively working for souls so as to properly prepare them for the public meetings. Not until this approach came along have I seen anything anywhere that I thought would fulfill this dream. Now it is within our grasp, and God is blessing it in a marvelous way. I am happy that the church is now moving forward with these important concepts. By incorporating this plan of personal evangelism with its emphasis on righteousness by faith into MISSION '73 and all our public evangelism of the future, we will be aided greatly in the finishing of our task.
As a person is taught that even now he can enjoy the full assurance of salvation he must be led to see the danger of falling from grace that his salvation experience must be cultivated through constant watchfulness, prayer, and obedience.
* In considering this subject a distinction must be recognized. Ellen White speaks of the dangers associated with the doctrine of "once saved, always saved" as follows: "Those who accept Christ, and in their first confidence say, I am saved, are in danger of trusting to themselves. They lose sight of their own weakness and their constant need of divine strength." Christ's Object Lessons, p. 155. Also, "We are never to rest in a satisfied condition, and cease to make advancement, saying, 'I am saved.' " --Selected Messages, book 1, p. 314.
We must keep in mind the distinction between full assurance now and the doctrine of eternal security that leads to overconfidence. "When this idea is entertained, the motives for watchfulness, for prayer, for earnest endeavor to press onward to higher attainments, cease to exist. No sanctified tongue will be found uttering these words till Christ shall come, and we enter in through the gates into the city of God. ... As long as man is full of weakness for of himself he cannot save his sou! he should never dare to say, 'I am saved.' " --Ibid.