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World Congress on Evangelism, 1966
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AN APOSTOLIC ASSESSMENT OF
THE MINISTRY OF JESUS CHRIST
by George Duncan

Text: "That which we have heard, that which we have seen, that which we have looked upon, and-our hands have handled of the Word of life. (I John 1:1).

In this three-fold assessment of the impressions left upon the mind of St. John by the ministry of Jesus Christ, we have the basis for a most suggestive study of the essential parts in the ministry of the Gospel. These principles are still required today. We could, in effect, suggest that here we have St. John defining the three channels of communication that are open to the Gospel -- "That which we have heard" suggesting the audible communication of the Gospel; "that which we have seen,, suggesting the visible communication of the Gospel; "That which we have looked upon and our hands have handled of the Word of Life" suggesting what we might call the tangible communication of the Gospel.

The main problem confronting the task of the evangelist today is that of communication. And possibly one of the most urgent needs is that in the task of evangelism the Christian Church make full use of these three aforementioned channels of communication.

(1) Let Us Consider the Declaration that the Gospel Must Have

The concept of the audible communication of the Gospel is familiar to us, for nothing is dearer to every evangelical Christian's heart than the preaching of the Word of God; and this, of course, is in complete conformity with the teaching of Scripture itself. “How shall they hear without a preacher?" "How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?" So we read in the Epistle to the Romans. We do well to give this primacy to the spoken word. Jesus Himself was called the Word, and we do well to proclaim the Word of the living God. But even on this ,familiar ground there are certain thoughts that seem to me urgent, suggestive, and relevant.

a. First there is the securing of the audience for the message. One feels sometimes that the preaching of the Gospel' is not effective because of the composition of the audience to whom that preaching is primarily directed. So often the Gospel is preached within the walls of our churches, to congregations .where there-are few if any unconverted people, and little effort indeed is made by the vast majority of Christians inside to reach out and bring in those on the outside. Instead, the attitude of the Church today seems to be to sit within its four walls and to complain that the outsider "won't come." Nowhere in the Word of God, however, do I find any suggestion that the outsider will come: indeed the emphasis seems to lie in another direction altogether. The command of Jesus Christ to the early Church was "Go ye into all the world." While the Church complains "they won't come," God can very justifiably complain concerning the Church "they won't go." In this securing of an audience for the message of the Word of the living God there are two thoughts that immediately come to mind.

The responsibility for securing this audience should be shared by the whole Church and therefore must be taught to the whole Church. The Church is described in Scripture as "the body of Christ." Therefore just as the body is the instrument through which the mind and the will find expression in word and deed,. so the Church is to be the instrument through which the mind and will of God find expression; the whole Church is the body of Christ. Far too much stress has been laid, in Protestant churches, upon the responsibility of the minister. So often it is felt that it is his work to reach others, whereas all the time the responsibility ought to be shared by every Christian. There must be an outreach to the world outside in prayer, in influence, in concern, in compassion, in witness, in testimony, in invitation, and this must be expressed through every individual Christian believer. This responsibility for securing an audience for the message must be shared by the .whole Church.. The task today in its very magnitude has gone completely beyond the resources of the ministry itself. If the responsibility is to be shared, it must be taught, and done so diligently and constantly from the pulpit.

But more than this, those who have accepted their responsibility must be given an opportunity to fulfill it, to bring this audience within the sound of the message of Jesus Christ.. This means either that the message must be taken to them where they are, or that we bring them to where the message can be .heard. It is within this context that the value of special crusades and special services finds its place. I think it would be true to say that special crusades would not really be necessary if the Church were really doing its job. Many churches are not, however, and so many people would never hear the Gospel were there not crusades and campaigns to furnish the opportunity of hearing about Christ. So let us recognize that the audience for this message must be secured by hook or by crook.

b. Second, let us note the safeguarding of the accuracy of the message. In II Corinthians 5:20 Paul says "We, are ambassadors for Christ." The work of an ambassador is to proclaim the message sent to him by his government. Similarly, the task of the Christian Church is to proclaim, not to invent,, the message that it receives. This involves two important considerations.

First,, we must preserve the truth of the message, and this truth must be learned. Here once again we are utterly dependent upon the ministry of, the Holy Spirit: "When the Spirit of truth is come, He will guide you into all truth." And since He is the Spirit of truth we are completely dependent upon Him, and must be submissive to Him in regard to the message that we take to the world. But I believe that the accuracy of the message must be secured and safeguarded, not only in a careful presentation of the truth of God -- the truth we must learn -- but also by careful regard to the tone of voice we may use. It is just as possible to distort and misrepresent the grace and mercy of God in Christ by the tone of voice with which we address our people as it is to distort the truth of the Gospel as revealed in Christ by the error we may proclaim. We are told of Christ Himself that he was ‘full. of grace and truth”; one feels that Christ would never have used the tone of voice one so often hears today.

I remember very vividly passing among the back streets of London, and seeing a young Christian preaching., in the. open air to a crowd of bystanders. He held in his hand a big Bible but I felt he should have held a big stick, for he was simply flogging the people. As I listened to his voice I found myself asking, “Would Jesus Christ ever have spoken like that? I. felt that this young man’s presentation of God’s grace was wrecked and ruined by. how he presented the truth.

We have said that the audience must he ‘secured, and the accuracy of the message must be safeguarded.

c. Third, we must sense the authority in the ‘message. It said of our Lord a ministry that, “He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” And’ indeed, in the authentic presentation. of the grace of God in Christ, proclaimed in the power of the Holy Spirit, there will come an irresistible conviction by the Spirit. The whole structure of’ New Testament preaching was based upon and made dependent upon the coming ministry of the Holy Spirit Himself. “Tarry ye in Jerusalem,” was the command, “until ye be endued with power from on high.... Ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you.” The essential spiritual work is done by the Holy Sprit Himself, and by Him alone. It is not the logic of our argument, or our eloquence, that convinces men an brings them to faith. n Christ, ; it is the work of the Holy Spirit. John 16:8 reads: “When he is come, he will convict the world.” Nonetheless’, any conviction by the Holy Spirit is closely related to the condition of the servant of Christ. We dare not take the Holy Spirit’ for granted. We cannot assume, or presume, that He will work .through the message we proclaim, if at the same time He is being grieved by sin in our lives (Eph.. 4:30). We may have the Spirit; but He can be grieved.. Someone has said, and said truly, that while God does not necessarily require vessels of gold or of silver, He does require clean vessels, through whom He can work. So in the proclamation of. Jesus Christ that others hear from our lips there must be that undertone of authority that comes from the presence and power of the Spirit of God. here must be, there always will he an audible channel of communication for the Gospel of God’s grace in Christ. “That which we have heard, we declare unto ‘you.”

(2) Secondly, let us note The Illustration. or Visible Communication that the Gospel will Need,

“That which we have ‘seen,” Jo writes. Here”we consider the visible channels of communication. ‘It is not enough to proclaim the Word; the Word must also be portrayed. We live in day that fully recognizes the importance of visual aids. We live the age of television, with its power to shape the minds and thoughts of men. People are accustomed not only to hear but to see. To this aspect of communication the Church pays too little attention. In evangelism we are so eager to have people listen that we fail to recognize that they want is also to look.
They want to look as they listen, and what they see with their eyes should confirm visually the truth of what they hear with their ears When John assessed the impressions made upon him by the ministry of his Lord, he not only spoke of that which’ he had. heard, but of that which he had seen. We might do well to ask, what was it that John saw when he watched his Lord. during those years of ministry together. I think it would be true to say that he saw and recalled three things First, he saw

a. The activity of Jesus’ love. John 3 16 tells us “God so loved the world that he gave.“ Love is always active, love is basically unselfish. What a constant giving the love of Christ revealed! Ultimately this giving of love was a giving on the Cross, but even long before this the love of Christ was constantly active in ministering to the needs of men. Utterly unselfish and self-forgetful, Christ gave of His time; Christ gave of His sympathy; Christ gave of His understanding; Christ gave of His power and strength: the love of Christ lived for others. Not only unselfishly but also unceasingly – at any time of day or night – Christ was willing and ready to serve the needs of the world. One wonders sometimes just how far this activity f divine love, this compassion and concern for others, is apparent in the life of the Church today. “The love of Christ onstraineth me,” said St. Paul to describe the motivating force that drove him irresistibly in his great missionary task. ut today as one looks at the Church, there seems to be so little to see of this compelling love, although there may be much to hear. Do people real1y see divine love in action, either in the lives of individual Christians, or in the community of the Church?

As John recalled what he had seen, he recalled also, secondly,

b. The adequacy of Christ’s power. How varied the problems must have been that confronted Jesus Christ. Almost every kind of physical problem, of moral or spiritual problem, was brought before Him, and how transformed the people were when He had finished His ministry to them The blind could see, the lame could walk, the dead were raised to life, every life He touched was transformed by His power We like to sing and to say, “Jesus saves,” but is this fact really evident in the lives we live? Jesus’ power to save from sin is certainly more simply power to save us from sin’s penalty and guilt; surely His purpose also has been to save us from the power of sin. If the Son shall make you free, you sha1l be free indeed, “ said Christ, and in writing to the Romans, Paul speaks of “the glorious liberty of the children of God.” But the reality is so often so tragically 1ackng in the life of the Christian Church! The folk we work with, the people live with, our friends and relatives, the people in the shop, these people do not see the power of Christ to save us from our sins. Quite legitimately they can argue. and quite logically they can reason therefore, what difference does Jesus Christ actually make? They seem to be able: to get on just as well without Him. No, my friends, the visible channel of communication is not presenting to the watching world the clear vision of Christ that it should.

There is one other thing that John had seen in Jesus’ ministry and which he could never forget. He had seen not only the activity of His love and the adequacy of His power, he had seen also, thirdly,

c. The agony of His passion, the significance of which the disciples no doubt only understood later and then only to some degree. The scars it had left upon Him they would never forget. They had seen Christ bearing ‘the sins of the world H at a strange and fantastic cost that they would neither then nor ever on earth fully understand. And. this, of course,: is the ultimate thing for which the world waits and”looks – to see how far the Christian Church is really getting under the burden of the need of the world, under the burden of its sin, its sorrow, its pain, its hunger. It waits to see, obviously and clearly, that love of God which must surely find expression through the Church, the, body of Christ. But it just is not evident. Most Christians care for very few people outside their own circle of chosen friends. Because there is so little burden-bearing, the world remains unconvinced of the’ reality of the love of God in Christ. Our soft hands show no scars,; there are no wound prints anywhere on our bodies. “Except I see in his hands the print of the nails...I will not believe” was the cry of doubting Thomas that Easter time so long ago. I believe that the cry of the world is much the same today; doubting, unbelieving, it confronts the Church with the same challenge: “Except I see in your hands the print of the nails, I will not believe.”

We have considered two channels of communication – the audible and the visible. We have examined the declaration that :the Gospel must have and the illustration that the Gospel will need. We come now to the third and last channel of communication That which our hands have handled of the Word of Life,” or the. tangible channel of communication. Here we consider’, thirdly,

(3) The Examination or Scrutiny that the Gospel can Stand

All of us are familiar with this medium of communication. Advertisements and advertisers lure us to take into our hands, and for trial periods, the goods they are trying, to sell,. People call at our doors with sample packets of detergent; others urge us to take some book for seven days’ free trial, or a set, of encyclopedias or records. They feel that if they can only get their products into our hands so that we can examine them closely, try them out, and test them, then we will surely buy. It. is this aspect of communication that is possibly the most searching and challenging of all. As John recalls the ministry of Christ, and the closeness of their walk and life together, this is the third and final impression left vividly upon his mind. He speaks of that which “our hands have handled of the Word of life.” Think first of, all: ‘

a. How close the examination was. “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” John writes in his introduction to his Gospel, words, in all probability, that were written after the Gospel itself was finished. John had lived very close to Jesus. He had rubbed shoulders with Him for nearly three years; he had slept with his Lord; he had worked with Him; he had travelled with him; he had eaten at the same table; he had. Seen had tired and had seen Him fresh; he had seen Him popular he had seen Him hated; he had seen Him successful and had on the Cross in the hour of seeming failure. John knew Jesus as intimately, and as’ closely, as it is possible to know another person.

This is the challenge of the Church’s witness today. How close an examination can our Christian testimony stand? Think of the distance we keep between ourselves in the pulpit and our people in the pew. There seems to be a great gulf fixed. We preach about prayer but we do not submit our own prayer life for examination. We proclaim the victory that is possible in Christ, and yet are not prepared to allow our own lives to be closely checked for evidences of victory. For many years I have spoken at the Keswick Convention where year by year the message of. the sufficiency of the grace of God. in Christ is proclaimed. Someone once said with a touch of cynicism that it might be a good thing if, instead, of the preachers standing on the platform and preaching, their wives be invited to stand and tell how it all works out at home! This is the challenge that the Christian Church must be prepared :to, face. We must not keep people at. a distance, for if we do, we run the danger of making them think, and quite rightly, that we are afraid our lives and testimony cannot stand scrutiny. Secondly,

b. How convincing is the evidence of this close examination? After writing “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us,’ John goes .on to say “We beheld his glory, the glory: as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” The conclusion to which John was driven was that Jesus was not only different from all other men he had ever known but that He was also divine. This is so terribly in contrast to what is normally our; experience: so often the more we know Christians the less we respect them. They are fine in church but not nearly so nice at home, and as for working with them in the office or factory – why that is another thing altogether! This situation is all wrong! By contrast 1 recall one of the highest tributes I ever heard paid to a Christian man; was given, by a speaker at the memorial service to the late Mr. Fred Mitchell, who died some years ago in an airdisaster. Speaking of Fred Mitchell, the friend made this remarkable statement: “You never caught Fred Mitchell off ‘his” guard because he never needed to be on it.” I think he meant by this that there was no pretense and no inconsistency about Fred Mitchell’s testimony. Wherever you touched his life – whether in the fellowship of a convention ministry, in the life of the business community in which his faith was tested, or in the life of the home – it rang true. We sometime say that “distance lends enchantment to the view,” by which we mean that from afar some people look quite attractive. John stated his verdict of Jesus Christ after knowing Him intimately for three years, and came to the conclusion that His life could be explained only in terms of deity. This is the conclusion those who know us ought to be reaching as well. The Christian evidence of our lives should be so convincing to the people in our homes, the people we work and play with, and those in our church fellowship, that they too reach the same conclusion, that our lives can be explained only in terms of deity, in terms of Jesus Christ.

If this sounds too difficult, we need to remember one further thought as we consider the scrutiny that he Gospel will bear. Let us note:

c. The completeness of our equipment. We must never forget that the same Christ who dwelt with John is the One who indwells you and me. Our salvation began when Christ entered our lives by the Holy Spirit. The same Carist who walked earth as a man among and for men walks this earth again in us by the Holy Spirit and because He is here still, and able to live out His life in us in all His sufficiency of grace and power, that presence ought to be sensed; wherever we go people ouht to be made aware of Him.

Evangelism has been defined as the offering of a whole Christ for the whole man, by the whole Church, to the whole world. If this is indeed evangelism then it will require the three channels of communication w have suggested. There must be the declaration; there must be the illustration of the Gospel; and, finally the products of the Gospel nus1 be able to stand the closest examination. “That which we haye heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we hav looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word o± life.” Is it because some of these channels are blocked that the message of Jesus Christ is not getting through to a needy world? The mechanism of the Christian Church in evangelism is that of a three cylinder car; but sometimes, alas, in cur evanelism only one cylinder is functioning! We are preaching a message but are not illustrating it; and we fail altogether to allow the world to examine what it produces. So in the minds of the masses, the message seems to have no relationship at all to what it promises to do.

May God grant that the channels of commw’ijcaion be opened, and that the message of Jesus Chrit go fotb uiindered to meet as it alone can meet the needs of the world that needs so badly the salvation to be found in. Christ alone.


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Last Revised: 11/1/06
Expiration: indefinite

Wheaton College 2006