When Jesus looked into the eyes of His disciples and told them that the gospel of the kingdom should be preached in all the world as a witness to all nations, and then the end would come, it was humanly impossible to conceive how this could be accomplished. After the resurrection of our Lord, there were only 500 believers who were still faithful to Him. The estimated population in Israel at the time—more than 15 million—made a ratio of one believer to every 30,000 nonbelievers! How could they possibly reach this skeptical, hardhearted people when Christ had worked three and one-half years with such meager results?
Just before the Lord returned to heaven, He repeated His commission, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:15, 16). How could this be done when they had no modern means of transportation and no modern communication such as telephones, television, and radios? The secret is found in Mat thew 28:18. Jesus said, "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth." This power was poured out upon the waiting disciples on the day of Pentecost. In one day 3,000 were converted and baptized, and the church began her conquest of the then-known world!
Today with the world population rap idly expanding and seemingly insurmountable obstacles facing the church, the task of sharing Christ with the world seems again humanly impossible. Every time your heart beats, a new person is born into the world! World population will double in just thirty-seven years! And yet with all the growth in population, church attendance is diminishing each year in many denominations. Many churches are vacant on Sunday mornings, while larger sports arenas are being built to accommodate the growing crowds. Our own church, beloved as it is by us, is no exception; many Seventh-day Adventist churches too are almost vacant on Sabbath mornings.
It grieved my heart when I read of an Adventist church that was organized sixty-two years ago with thirty-six members, inviting the public to come and celebrate with them their sixty-second anniversary. The thing that hurt my heart was the article's concluding words: "You are cordially welcome to celebrate this occasion with the congregation that now has a membership of forty-two." A total net increase of six members in sixty-two years!
It bothers me when I attend ministerial gatherings and hear pastors report that they have won to Christ and baptized only three, four, or five people during the whole year! At one workers' meeting recently five ministers stood up to report that they had not added a single member to their church for the entire year!
It bothers me when several of our conferences in North America had a decrease in membership last year. It bothers me when I read of a conference president who, having served three terms, reported to his constituents the progress in that conference during the nine years of his administration. He mentioned the number of persons who were baptized during those nine years. Then he subtracted those who died, and those who left the church during that same period of time, and was left with a total increase for the nine years in his conference of only seventeen.
It bothers me when I meet minister after minister who has been in denominational employment for five, ten, and fifteen years, but who has never held a public evangelistic campaign. It bothers me when I talk to seminarians who have made plans to do everything and any thing it is possible to do when they take over their church except win men and women to Christ.
It bothers me when I hear minister after minister preaching sweet, flowery sermons, and then sitting down without making an appeal. Why do we preach and then fail to invite men and women to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour? What's the need of preaching a sermon if there is no appeal? It bothers me when statistics show that our church has moved from second place to third, then to fourth, and now is in fifth place among the fastest-growing denominations. That bothers me when I know that we have truth for these times.
The last recorded words of Christ to His disciples are found in Acts 1:8: "But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me." The Greek word for power in this verse is dunamis, from which we derive the word dynamite. Jesus was not talking about a fire cracker type of power. He was talking about a dynamite type of power—power to proclaim the gospel, power to lead others to Christ, power to witness, power to proclaim the Word with authority. We have too many whispering-hope preachers. A preacher who has something to say should say it! We are strong on information, but so weak on proclamation.
Speaking of Pentecost, Acts 2:4 says that when the Holy Ghost came upon them, they began to speak. Many people emphasize the part of this text that refers to tongues, but the important thing about the apostles' speaking was not the language, but the message. What was the message that the early church shared with the people in their witnessing? Christ was the central theme of their witnessing. They did not talk about the weather or the Temple or the city of Jerusalem; they talked about the One they loved, the One who filled their every thought and plan. This is our mes sage, as well. Years ago we were instructed: "Of all professing Christians, Seventh-day Adventists should be fore most in uplifting Christ before the world."—Gospel Workers, p. 156.
Jesus told the disciples that, after the Holy Ghost came upon them and they received power, they were to be witnesses. A witness is one who gives evidence, one who has personal knowledge or proof or evidence of something. When one witnesses, he affirms or declares his beliefs and his convictions. A witness is simply one who tells what he knows and has experienced. Perhaps the reason there are so few, even among Christian ministers, who are witnessing is that only a few have had a personal experience with Christ. Those who have had such an experience will cry out like Jeremiah, "His word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay" (Jer. 20:9).
Now and then, various church bodies announce that during the coming year they expect to major in evangelism. What would you think of a railroad company that announced it would be majoring in transportation during the next twelve months? The business of a railroad is transportation, and the business of the church is evangelism. Evangelism is God's chief business for any church at any time. The founders of our faith were a group of believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, filled with the Spirit, witnessing and winning others. Their business was to know Christ and to make Him known; to be Christians and to persuade others to be Christians. They had a story to tell, and they told it every where. They were not out to dispense good advice, but to declare good news. They carried the gospel to the high and to the low, in season and out of season, but in time the simple became complex. There grew up a vast organization that today seems to be rapidly becoming an end in itself. Like the oil well that produced nothing because it required all the oil it pumped simply to grease its own machinery, the church today is in real danger of becoming so occupied with keeping its organizational mechanism moving that it has energy left for nothing else.
Too many are merely occupying positions. Those who are ordained and those who will be ordained need to remember that they have not been, nor will they be, ordained to sit behind a desk. They have been, or will be, ordained to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to win souls to Him. That's what it's all about, and we have our priorities mixed up if we think otherwise. There is no better evidence of a genuine call to the ministry than a passionate desire to make Christ known to others. Any preacher whose business is not God's business will soon be out of business, and God's business is restoring His image in man. The reason so many are leaving the ministry and going into some other line of work is that they fail to make God's business their business.
The proverbial anonymous writer penned this paraphrase of the apostle Paul:
Though I speak with the tongues of scholarship and use high-sounding phrases and well-coined sentences, and though I have a winning personality, and have the art of getting along with people, and have failed to win souls to Christ, I am a cloud without rain and a well with out water.
And though I have the best of education and understand all the mysteries of religious psychology, and though I have all Biblical knowledge, and lose not my self in the task of winning souls to Christ, I become as high-polished brass and a tinkling cymbal.
And though I read the latest books and magazines and attend the church Bible conferences and camp meetings, and I am satisfied with less than winning souls for Christ and building Christian character, I am a wandering star without light or heat.
The soul winner doth not behave him self unseemly; does not make it hard on others and easy on himself; is not envious of others who seem to be more successful; is not puffed up over his own attainments.
The soul winner never faileth, but if one does not win souls, he is a failure. And though he wins the highest position in the church and is recognized and honored by all, and fails to win souls for Jesus, what will it profit him in eternity?
Now abideth positions, popularity, and personal soul winning, but the greatest of these is soul winning.
Give us a watchword for the hour,
A thrilling word of power,
A battle cry, a flaming breath,
That calls to conquest or to death;
A word to rouse the church from rest
To heed her Master's high behest.
The word is given; Ye hosts arise;
Your watchword be: Evangelize!