ONE Sabbath afternoon my wife and I were visiting in the home of Adventist friends discussing the relative impact of the Spirit of Prophecy writings upon the church and upon the world outside the church. Robert H. Pierson, who was present with his wife and others, turned to me and asked in a straightforward way, "How can we utilize the Spirit of Prophecy in public evangelism? How can we bring it out in front as a direct agency for winning souls?"
We all agreed that too often we present the gift of prophecy and the work of Ellen White at the very end of a series of meetings. Now the General Conference president was asking us Is it possible to bring the Spirit of Prophecy to the front in a new approach to evangelism?
It was a good question raised by a voice to which we should pay attention. I began to think that the matter had particular significance just now when the interest in the charismatic phenomena is at its height. But how can Seventh-day Adventists exploit the new phenomena of "prophets," psychics, healings, and tongues speaking in the presentation of the third angel's message? How can we experiment in evangelism and put the writings of Ellen C. White up in front, supporting the Bible as an inspired commentary, as a sort of locomotive on the gospel train instead of a caboose in front instead of at the rear?
As Arthur L. White, Paul Gordon, and others joined me in discussion we began to develop an evangelistic approach that we felt should be field tested. This has now been done and we want to share with the readers of Ministry the results of that experiment.
Field Tested in California
The general subject of this pilot series conducted in the Vallejo Drive church in Glendale, California, was "The Big Issues." The subjects for the short series included issues that now command the time and attention of civilized people around the world, such as "Cancers and Coronaries," "Divorce and Stranded Children," "Crime and Corruption in Our Cities," "Pornography and Homosexuality," and "The Ecology Crisis."
The first lecture, entitled "The New Charismatic Movement," was an attempt to test modern prophets and psychics. We applied this test to Ellen White, Jeane Dixon, Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddy, Edgar Cayce, and others. Thus in the very first meeting we brought Mrs. White to the front as a messenger of God speaking to our generation. All of the lectures capitalized on "The Big Issues" that now threaten to blast the world's dream of security. Ancient and modern prophecies that is, the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy were used to highlight these developments.
When this plan was described to the president of the Southern California Conference, Harold L. Calkins, with the possibility that an experimental program might be developed in Glendale, he worked out a most satisfactory opening. The meetings were arranged in the Vallejo Drive church, of which John Todorovich is the pastor. Joining him in the program of evangelism were John Osborn, Pacific Union Conference Ministerial Association secretary; Leslie Hardinge, former Bible teacher at Pacific Union College and now the pastor of the Glendale City church; and other pastors of nearby congregations.
Preparing the Community
To prepare the community for "The Big Issues" night classes, Steps to Christ, the classic by Ellen G. White, was distributed from door to door with a hand bill and enrollment card inserted in each copy. This inexpensive new paperback edition is now available at approximately .07 per copy and may be used extensively as a giveaway item. The fact that the author of Steps to Christ is the subject of the discussion the very first night has an appeal. And since "The Big Issues" or topics are grim in character this positive, Christ-filled book brings a precious spiritual lift into the program.
This experiment in evangelism opened on Thursday night, October 25, with an attendance of approximately 800. On the night before, a group of between 500 and 600 gathered for prayer meeting to plead with the Lord for His blessing upon the new plan.
Attendance at the classes from the very first was excellent and averaged about 900. On five nights, over two weekends, attendance approached 1,200, and the church was filled. Classes for children were organized in a youth auditorium nearby, with men and women volunteers leading out. Children's attendance reached as high as 125.
During the first three meetings enrollments began to pour in from SDA's and non-SDA's alike. More than twenty denominations were represented. Most visitors came as the result of invitations by Seventh-day Adventists.
Subjects for the class lectures are listed separately on this page. They began at 7:30 P.M. and dismissed at quarter of nine, except for the Sabbath classes, which met at three-thirty Sabbath afternoon.
We were cautious in our use of the Ellen G. White quotations, not wanting to overplay our hand, but we came to realize that today people are curious and really want to know. We live in a secular-minded age. Many people know precious little about the Bible and therefore while they may have a reverence for it they do not know enough about it to think of it as the sole criteria for truth. With people flocking to hear the psychics, astrologers, spirit mediums, and Hindu-type gurus, with men and women claiming to be Satan's personal representatives, creating new and devilish cults of worship, with millions consulting the astrology "logs" and expressing keen faith in the signs and messages of the Zodiac, why shouldn't Seventh-day Adventists speak up and let the true gift of prophecy be heard?
There was absolutely no feedback against Ellen White from SDA's or non-SDA's who attended the meetings. "Give us more!" was the unanimous response. In fact, people seemed relieved to know there was a true prophet whose writings explained "The Big Issues" and their meaning to this generation.
Structure of the Class Period
Each class period was divided into four parts, similar in some ways to the Testimony Countdown approach of several years ago. To begin each session we had prayer and a special song.
1. "The Big Issues" lecture itself thirty minutes. During this time I presented the special issue or problem as it takes shape in society today, for example, "The Ecology Crisis," pollution of our atmosphere with foul chemicals, unkind noises and sounds, pollution of our drink and food. Then, "people pollution" too many people in the cities, pollution of the human body with social diseases and the relevant moral pollution. The lecture dealt with the problem. Now what about the solution?
2. "The Big Issues Clinic" fifteen minutes. This feature amounted to a dialog in which Leslie Hardinge and I discussed "prescriptions" offered by the Bible and Ellen G. White to "cure" the social problems of our time. Thus we introduced a positive remedial way out.
With the aid of an overhead projector and screen, quotation after quotation from the Bible and Ellen G. White was thrown upon the screen. It was seen that the "solution to pollution" is country living. "Out of the cities! out of the cities!" wrote Ellen White. The solution to the pollution of moral filth in soul and body was, of course, the cleansing blood of Christ. Here opportunity was presented to offer the gospel remedy. This sounds like a very simple approach, but it works. People are looking for effective solutions. The most effective solution is the gospel of the grace and love of God!
3. "The Big Issues" testimony services ten minutes. One or two persons gave heartfelt testimonies telling what Christ has done for their souls and ex pressing deep appreciation for what the writings of Ellen White did to bring a sense of security and rest in this troubled time.
4. "The Big Issues" question-and-answer period ten minutes. John Osborn, Ministerial Association secretary of the Pacific Union Conference, served with me in this period, during which written questions were read and answered. These questions were mostly limited to the work of Sister White and the particular role that she occupied in the church as God's special messenger for these hectic days. This was one of the most popular and interesting features of all. (The entire series of ten meetings have been recorded and will be available on cassettes.)
Other Features of the Program
Following the question-and-answer period the class was dismissed with prayer and each student as he left received a free copy of the lecture. He was instructed to read this before going to bed if possible, certainly before attending the next night's class. Thus the printed lectures became as it were the textbook for the class.
Those attending eight out of ten nights and reading the lectures were awarded a free copy of The Great Controversy and The Desire of Ages in paperback. Those who attended all the meetings and read all the printed lectures also were presented with an additional book, Ellen G. White and the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
The total cost of advertising and expenses came to about $3,500. Offerings reached about $3,000. The Book and Bible House sales mostly of Ellen G. White books amounted to $2,200 in four nights. The display of books appeared in a Sabbath school room outside the main chapel. Extension of "The Big Issues" class in the form of doctrinal discussions on Wednesday and Friday nights began in the Glendale City church immediately after our ten-night series, under the direction of Leslie Hardinge. The very first follow-up class attracted six hundred persons, including many non- Adventists. These classes represent a carefully planned extension of "The Big Issues" series. It is hoped that there will be a good baptism as a result.
"The Big Issues" approach is designed for public evangelism in SDA church buildings (but not necessarily limited to church auditoriums) and will attract interested and curious people who want to listen to the Adventist explanation of what is happening. Many of our pastors could utilize and build upon this unique approach, further experimenting and developing the plan.
These SDA church-oriented evangelistic efforts could add up to hundreds of small baptisms of five, ten, or twenty persons and thus we might see thousands of new converts coming to the Saviour. Here is an area where pastors could become evangelists and hold services in their own churches.
The White Estate will arrange for the printing of the lectures if the response from our pastors is affirmative. Watch for the Spirit of Prophecy Day program in early May. Sign the enclosed card and mail your vote to the White Estate, General Conference.
The Glendale lectures will be printed in pamphlet form on paper that is punched and can be inserted in notebooks. These materials will be made available at our Adventist Book Centers and supplied only to pastors and eligible church elders who plan to utilize the class program locally.
If a pastor has 500 church members and wishes to conduct a "Big Issues" class, he probably would wish to order two hundred to three hundred sets of the ten lectures available. Each set of lectures probably will cost in the neighborhood of $1.25 to $1.50 an item that can easily be offset by offerings taken nightly or at least three or four times during the series.
In connection with the Vallejo Drive classes we used about twelve thousand to fifteen thousand handbills. We have also prepared a four-page brochure explaining just how to conduct the program.
Pastors who wish to purchase tapes or cassettes may order these directly from the Southern California Adventist Book Center, 1535 East Chevy Chase Drive, Glendale, California 91206. The cost is $20 for ten cassettes. The cassettes would be valuable because they include not only the lectures but the questions and answers, the dialog (clinic material), and the personal testimonies.
No Seventh-day Adventist evangelist has yet utilized this approach in a theater-type series of meetings or a tent or a public hall where the attendance might include more non-SDA's than church members. We would certainly like to see this attempted.
Big Issues—Phase II
"The Big Issues" program must include either an extension of the ten nightly classes that would go on uninterrupted or an extension in the form of a class meeting two or three nights a week, as in the Glendale experiment. There are three goals to keep in mind: (1) New converts, (2) Strengthening the faith of believers, (3) Preparing the people for the Lord's coming.
Following are a few suggested titles for Phase II of "The Big Issues" class:
"Our Beloved Dead Where Are They?" The "is sue" of death is always with us and strangely it has become a subject of intense public interest, also in university studies; not only "death," but life after death.
There is also the possibility of a lecture dealing with "The Real Energy Crisis" in which the paucity of the Holy Spirit's presence might be presented as a sign of Christ's soon coming and also the need for the infilling of the genuine oil of the Spirit! What an opportunity to present John 3 and true conversion.
Think also of the following "Big Issues": "The Money Crisis Not Only Dollars but Sense!" The discussion of the current economic crisis opens the way to present the tithing plan and God's promises of security here and hereafter.
"Whither Bound, America?" Here is a chance to introduce the Sabbath-Sunday controversy and arouse conviction and action about the true Sabbath. Each pastor will be able to come up with titles for big current issues in which he can include some current truth for today.
The pilot run is now a matter of history. The attendance, the offering, the interest at Vallejo Drive and at Hardinge's follow-up classes were all quite impressive. God's signal blessing rested upon the program.
Much more will be achieved than simply building confidence and faith into the hearts of our church members and stabilizing our people, some of whom are drifting into the world. The meetings will win souls and will be worth every penny and every minute invested. Here is a new method that awaits your own trial and testing!