Billy Graham Center
World Congress on Evangelism, 1966
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Harold John Ockenga


Evangelism, like every Christian doctrine, is under attack by the enemies of Christianity and is suffering from uncertainty by its friends. The need of evangelism is denied and the nature of evangelism is misunderstood. Small wonder that “ersatz” evangelism is found in some areas of the church today.

The Biblical, definition of evangelism is demanded at the inception of this discussion. This I take to be the proclamation under the anointing of the Spirit (I Cor. 2:4) of the good news of the death and. resurrection of Jesus Christ (I Cor. 15:1C5) for man’s salvation (I Cor. 1:21) with the purpose of gaining conversions (II Cor. 5:20). As J. I. Packer says, “It is the preaching of the evangel with a summons to conversion” (Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, p. 41, IVF).

This definition avoids the two pitfalls of neutralism, that: is, the preaching of the gospel with a take it or leave it attitude, and activism, that is, the attitude that it is our persuasion which converts a person. The former produces a sterile church with few additions of the “being-saved ones” and the latter produces false converts who fall away under persecution and trial. True evangelism depends upon the agency of the Holy Spirit, but is accompanied by fervent persuasion. It is measured not by the effects achieved, but by the faithful devotion to the evangel.

Much which passes for evangelism today is not compatible with the Biblical concept. In Time for May 14, 1965, is an article on Evangelism. It says: “The new approach to evangelism - visible in such instructured ministries as coffee-homes, industrial missions and missions to drag strips, ski resorts and ‘night people’ - is primarily interested not in selling Christianity but in sympathetically expressing a human concern for others.”

Biblical evangelism is a prerogative not confined to the ordained ministry of the church but, as Roland Allen says, should be spontaneous activity of the people of God. The witness of the radiance, joy and freedom of Christian life, causes others to seek the reason and results in the communication of the message. “What carried conviction is the manifest disinterestedness of the speaker. He speaks from the heart because he is too eager to be able to refrain from speaking. His subject has gripped him. He speaks of what he knows, and knows by experience. The truth which he imparts is his own truth. He knows its force. He is speaking almost as much to relieve his own mind as to convert his hearer, and yet he is as eager to convert his hearer as to relieve his own mind; for his mind can only be relieved by sharing his new truth, and his truth is not shared until another has received it. This his hearer realizes. Inevitably he is moved by it. Before he has experienced the truth himself he has shared the speaker’s experience” (The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church, p. 10).

This sharing of the evangel may be on many levels, that of a nation-evangelism-in-depth; that of a city or region - an evangelistic crusade; that of a congregation - a calling campaign; that of a group - a Koinonia prayer meeting; that of an individual - personal witnessing; that of a tract-printed evangelism. On whatever level, it is evangelism if it fulfills the above definition. The object in view, as Dr. L. S. Chafer clearly pointed out, is to reach those who have never heard with the message.

As pastor of an inner city church in a great metropolitan area I embrace the validity of all types of Biblical evangelism, and have used all of them.

Mass evangelism may be understood as the proclamation of the evangel, by mass media, in large assemblies, by amplification, by radio, by television, by movies, by printing. Twenty years ago leaders of the church declared that the days of mass evangelism were over. Then God raised up Billy Graham, who has preached to more living persons than any other preacher in history, and who uses all of the mass media.

Group evangelism is very popular today. Bible study and prayer groups often called Koinonia groups have spontaneously risen in many areas, through which large numbers of moribund Christians have been revitalized and numberless individuals have been introduced to vital Christian faith and life.

Personal evangelism depends upon involvement with individuals rather than upon promiscuous witnessing. Time for friendships, service, ministry must precede the sharing of the message. This may be done at luncheons with business men, where pointed questions are asked, such as, What kind of Bible study do you pursue? What work are you doing for God? Have you witnessed to anyone lately? This may be the entire ministry of one member of a church staff, but should be practiced by us all.

Visitation evangelism may be of a campaign type, may be a sustained ministry of deacons, may be a general church responsibility and is most fruitful. The high-rise apartment has sealed off thousands from this means, but in suburban areas it cannot be surpassed in value. Face to face confrontation with the claims of Christ will always bring fruit.

Tract evangelism is a method within the reach of every Christian. A doctor with a wide practice in Boston was impressed by a sermon on this topic a number of years ago and ever since has set aside his Sunday afternoons to place tracts in hotels, railroad stations, telephone booths, airports and other public places. This ministry supplements his personal witness to his patients.

Evangelism means involvement with persons, interaction and instruction. The chairman of a former united evangelistic campaign in St. John introduced me to the Atlantic Provinces Baptist Minister’s Conference of Canada with this statement: Fol1owing a meeting in the St. John campaign a fellow-minister said, ‘He is not an evangelist, he is a teacher.’ And yet God gave us the greatest campaign in one hundred years. Teaching the Word with a passion for commitment to Christ is evangelism.

Evangelism must take account of the Biblical emphasis on human responsibility to decide, to choose, to convert. Faith is erroneously ascribed to God as a gift (see Eph. 2:8 where “gifts” is neuter and “faith” is feminine. Salvation is the antecedent of gift). Man is commanded to repent, to believe, to convert. The Bible places these acts within the ability of man. Let us not diminish the Biblical emphasis by stressing divine sovereignty. Salvation is of God; reprobation is of man.

Hence we proclaim the gospel; in seeking conversions we also entreat, exhort and persuade. If we expect these conversions we shall see them.

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Last Revised: 10/25/06
Expiration: indefinite

Wheaton College 2006