Evangelistic "Guerrilla" Tacitcs

THIS AGE has been called the Age of Aquarius, but it might also be labeled as the Age of the Anonymous. Society has demanded new systems of labeling of foods, drugs, clothing; in fact, almost everything one buys. Why? The answer lies in the anonymous marketing of almost everything. A natural suspicion has arisen. It has been proved to be justifiable time and again. . .

-chairman of the religion department, Columbia Union College at the time this article was written

THIS AGE has been called the Age of Aquarius, but it might also be labeled as the Age of the Anonymous. Society has demanded new systems of labeling of foods, drugs, clothing; in fact, almost everything one buys. Why? The answer lies in the anonymous marketing of almost everything. A natural suspicion has arisen. It has been proved to be justifiable time and again.

Sadly, religionists likewise have fallen into this procedure like a guerrilla attack, "hit 'em and run." No longer can that technique in any sense be defended. In the past evangelical groups have argued vigorously over the words of Jesus, "Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves" (Matt. 10:16). However, what Jesus truly meant may be understood by the translation, "Be wary as serpents, innocent as doves" (Matt. 10:16, N.E.B.). It is one thing to be "wary" and "innocent." It is quite another thing to act like a serpent!

One of the most effective spring boards used against evangelists and evangelical Christians by those who would belittle evangelism is the charge of anonymity.

Frankly, connotations that are associated with this form of methodology should deter any respect able organization from being classified with movements engaged in such activity.

It must be said, however, that in the past sincere men felt justification for exercising caution in identifying their sponsoring organizations. This, they felt, was necessary owing to the prejudices existing against the church they represented. The dangers facing the church from external foes have always been most formidable when there has been a climate of hate, suspicion, and distrust.

To obviate this feeling, today our foremost need is that of wise, sagacious public relations. Forthrightness, honesty, uprightness, and sincerity are the only Christian principles upon which good spiritual relationships can be established. That prejudice exists goes without saying. How best to deal with it and obviate it is the problem we are discussing here.

That the church has grown in influence throughout the earth is a patent truism. The establishment of medical, educational, and mission institutions at the cost of great sacrifice in blood and treas ure cannot be without tremendous power and influence. Added to this, we have seen the heartening expanse of the worldwide radio and national television programs of many denominations. Supporting these larger programs are additional scores of local broad casters in all parts of the world. The influence of the press has been felt in remarkable fashion with a greatly accelerated public relations emphasis. The ever-enlarging stream of gospel literature being placed in the homes of thousands of people daily by devoted, self-sacrificing colporteurs is of inestimable value to the Christian cause everywhere.

What we are arguing is that the church stands today in a singularly different light than at any previous time in history. The accumulated results of these ministries and public relations benefits are far greater today than those ever achieved in the past. For the church to labor today in a way fashioned according to the conditions extant before these benefits were possessed is not only unwise but defeats the very possibility of evangelical growth or the making of any impact upon the masses.

The cutting, slurring, insidious undermining of evangelical influence is never so clearly indicated as on this very question of the attempted prevention of dis closure or identification of the sponsoring people.

In one particular campaign an evangelist was asked a question by a group of boys. As the meeting place was being prepared they asked him about it. He told them they were going to see bears, lions, goats, leopards, and dragons at the meeting. They, of course, assumed it was to be a circus and gleefully told everyone they saw that it was. The evangelist referred, of course, to paintings of certain prophetic symbols pictured in the Bible. But the news quickly spread in the city that a circus was coming to town. Obligingly on the opening night the evangelist hung up all of his faded art work to prove that the boys were right. Perhaps it was only a circus after all!

The world expects of Christians the strictest conformity to the highest ethical principles, and rightly so. Caution and care must constantly be exercised, but not duplicity, deception, or deceit.

Spiritual Duplicity Repulsive

The essential principle that must characterize evangelistic programming is the concept of world brotherhood and world responsibility. No man is an island unto himself. If there ever was a movement upon the earth raised up by God with an international concept it is the church He came to establish. And yet, how little attention is paid many times to critical evangelistic methodologies.

Duplicity of conduct is reprehensible in even the most ordinary pursuits of life. Whether it be in the social, political, or moral strata, straightforwardness and basic honesty are praised and re warded. What shall we say then of the religious and spiritual consistencies that are so absolutely necessary? How utterly and unspeakably repulsive must spiritual duplicity appear in God's sight, to say nothing of the permanent defections and the eternal loss of men and women who have been cruelly disillusioned by inconsistencies and deceptions. The evangelist must be transparently consistent.

The fear of the apostle is ever with us. He that is alerted to the grim possibilities likewise calls out in his longing, "But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway" (1 Cor. 9:27).

Indeed, guerrilla evangelists are entrapped in a small and self-destructive world of their own making. Thus they find their mission impossible.

Jesus Shows the Way

It is only in Christ that the world can be given a most beautiful portrayal of character and personality that will be positively arresting to the beholder! When did His desire for consistency ever lead Him to obstinacy? Remember His answer to the accusation of Sabbath-breaking when His disciples partook of grain:

"Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him; how he entered into the house of Cod, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests? Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless?" (Matt. 12:3-5).

Another glorious view of Jesus demonstrates how benevolence lent Him strength, not weakness. In Simon's house He silenced the whisperings regarding the loving Mary with the stinging words, "Let her alone" (Mark 14:6). He was not ever accused of bigotry or austerity. Instead He was accused by His critics of fellowshiping with sinners "Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?" (Matt. 9:11). Jesus didn't hide behind the title Rabbi and seek to dissociate Himself from the world. Neither did He operate under false colors in an attempt to identify with sinful man. They knew exactly who and what He was, and loved Him for it.

The acquisition of large numbers without the satisfying experience of conversion is to be deplored. It is time to stop the wringing of the hands and to face the alternative; namely, less emphasis on numbers and a greater emphasis on thoroughness. The two inevitable questions asked of a man's work and consequent evaluations are, "How many were baptized?" and "How much did he spend?" As though these were the norms whereby men are evaluated by God!

Evangelism is far too complex a science to be evaluated by such simple equations. Evangelism is comprised of far too many imponderables to be denominated by mere figures. Just as long as such ruinous evaluations continue to be made, we battle vainly against the terrible pressure of human businesslike evaluations of profit and loss.

This pressure has contributed also to anonymity so that numbers might be accumulated regard less of the long-range overview.

We hear a great deal about the alarming rate of apostasies from the faith. The evangelist usually feels the first stinging rebukes. He is usually the first to suffer the attributive blame. He is charged with slipshod work, careless instruction, and undue haste. In this there is often much truth, but seldom is consideration given to the pressures to which he has been subjected. There must be brought together in this matter a complete blending of objectives on both the part of the evangelist and the supporting bodies. Neither one can carelessly throw charges and place the blame upon the other.

In all candor it must be noted that the matter of staying by a task until finished is not a quality that comes easily or even intuitively. It is far easier to siphon off the cream and then move on to new areas to repeat the same care less approach. Our evangelistic concepts must be broadened and the problem faced candidly. It is easy to succumb to the temptation of partial instruction in order to swell the records.

It is not enough to say, "I have fought a good fight." The evangelist must also say, "I have finished my course."

Five Point Summary

We can summarize the burden of this article in the following five points:

First, the evangelist should not close his eyes to the fact that prejudices are real. He can expect them. Because he expects them he will not be dismayed when he is confronted with them.

It is necessary to bear in mind many related facets of this complex psychological, moral, and social problem. Do not expect results too quickly. In other words, do not expect too much too soon. Pressure, tension, and insistence oftentimes result in mental blocks, suspicions, and distrust. Take time to establish fundamental basics that are necessary to bring about audience rapport.

Second, find the point of agreement. Discover the common denominator. Do not move from it until new agreements are formed. This is one of the most frequently violated laws of good evangelistic procedure.

Third, drive in the stakes of agreement solidly. Stay by long enough to be sure the things of first importance are given the primary place in the affection. The first thing to establish is the recognition of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. Without this all sub sequent preaching becomes a motivation of merely logical syn theses, impressive formulas and credos of conduct rather than any personal possession of Christ as Lord in life.

Fourth, establish the fact that you have come to know Christ as your Saviour. Win confidence. Confidence is the first law for conquering prejudice.

The tremendous power of an experiential witness in the evangelistic processes cannot be emphasized too strongly. Until people believe in you, there is little they will trust you with in things spiritual. It is well enough to talk piously about the majesty of the gospel, but it must never be considered that the message of Christ can be separated from the divine plan that predicates that His men will proclaim it.

This necessity of a personal acquaintance with God is motivation enough to those who are treading uneasily along the road of life. Prejudice may grow out of a sense of insecurity or a fierce distaste for deception.

Fifth, keep poised. Do not lose your balance. What is the extent of the influence of one who is easily distracted, easily provoked, quickly unnerved, or led to swift retorts and sharp innuendoes when one indicates a lack of comprehension? Many a soul is lost to the church by an ill-advised word, a sharp reply, or a quick answer. Even the tone of the voice may betray a deeper emotion that may not be as well concealed as we might think.

The pleas for unity of mind and heart through the gospel provisions of the new birth are of apostolic origin. Our Lord wrestled in prayer on this matter with impassioned requests for us.

"As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: 1 in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me" (John 17:18-23).

This principle of sanctification of Himself so that others might likewise share in the glorious experience is most eloquently attested to by none other than our Lord Himself. Honestly, can the evangelist do less?

(To be continued)


Adapted from Principles and Methodologies of Christian Evangelism. Author's dissertation for Doctor of Sacred Ministry degree, May, 1974, Howard University.


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-chairman of the religion department, Columbia Union College at the time this article was written

July 1975

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