FACING A NEW DAY IN EVANGELISM
Dr. Carl F. H. Henry Chairman of the Congress
Greetings in the name of our great God, and hearty welcome to
the World Congress on Evangelism.
Three years of prayer and planning have brought us to these ten bright days. Now the Christian world looks toward Berlin. It prays for signs of victory and tongues of fire. It waits and watches for man-made walls to tumble -- walls segregating races, walls dividing nations, walls embittering social classes. We who honor the God of the Bible are expected above all else to expose the wall of hostility that parts modern man from his eternal Maker; are expected to disclose how Jesus Christ can level this most distressing of all barriers. And, so that together we may evangelize the earth, we are expected to surmount the ugly barriers that separate us as believers.
For hours and days at a time -- in Chicago, in New York, in Washington, in London, and in Berlin -- the executive committee has met in months past to project a program and to invite your participation. Since January the Congress coordinator, Dr. Stanley Mooneyham, has lived in Berlin, where our headquarters staff handled hotel and travel reservations, corresponded with delegates from more than 100 countries, and processed and translated assigned papers into the four Congress languages.
Now in God's good providence we are safely gathered here from the ends of the earth to tarry for ten days before we disperse again throughout the world on a holy mission to a lost generation. This may be the last time in human history that disciples of Jesus Christ are free to meet face-to-face on a global basis for such a goal. Even now some of you occupy seats that were first assigned to delegates unable to secure visas. Never in our lifetime may human destiny depend as largely as in these days upon the vows and ways of so small a remnant.
But we shall only reinforce a grave misunderstanding if, because of our individual presence in Berlin, we congratulate ourselves as members of an international all-star team of evangelists. One major weakness of modern Christianity lies in its abandonment of the heavy burden of evangelism to a small company of professional supersalesman. Our participation here is no occasion for self-congratulation; it is rather a call to self-crucifixion. If any measure of prominence has come our way, that may well be because twentieth century Christianity still enlists "not many wise, not many rich, not many noble" -- otherwise the covering cloud of witnesses might swiftly obscure us all.
Ten years ago a tiny band of dedicated laymen and ministers founded the magazine Christianity Today to reflect the truth of the Bible into modern life. The new magazine was maligned in some quarters, praised in others. Steadily it made its way, until now in its class of readers it has the largest paid circulation in the world. This Congress is a tenth anniversary project. Of our quarter of a million readers, only one in two hundred is here present, yet what happens in the generation ahead will depend fully as much upon those evangelicals at home as upon us. Without them we shall ultimately accomplish very little. The question that must haunt the conscience of every evangelical believer is this: In view of the Great Commission, what does the Risen Lord expect right now from me and from my local church?
Let me share a secret with you, lest as human beings we expect too much from each other. Some months ago the religion editor of a leading American newsmagazine telephoned me, and we must have talked for half an hour. He asked about the "evangelical movement" -- how evangelicals can be infallibly identified, and so on. One of his observations, made at a distance of a thousand miles, still disturbs me, though it may not trouble you. He said. "They talk a lot about apostolic Christianity, but when I look them over I'm not so sure that is what apostolic Christianity was really like." Now, I am not telling you something that some of us haven't said about each other. Let me assure the speakers that a number of others nominated themselves for your particular spot on the program; a few even considered it a travesty that some of you were invited. Some wrote that the theologians have no business here, since few of them know how to lead souls to Christ; others wrote that the evangelists by themselves would quickly derail the Congress into doctrinal confusion. Some rushed into print the self-promoting news of their inclusion as delegates, and appealed for funds in view of this supposed world endorsement of their particular organization. And some others, while they were kind enough not to say so, surely wondered whether the Congress could possibly recover from the liability of my own connection with it.
If you consider such asides regrettable in the presence of the press, let me tell you something about my esteemed colleagues in the world of words. They know us -- alongside apostolic Christianity -- better than we think. If we have any virtue it is this -- that in a world that has lost faith, we cling firmly to the faith of the Bible. This week, so help us God, may the wonder of His grace so move in our midst that the world press may join us in awakening to those momentous New Testament realities that once transformed the earliest reporters of that sacred history into evangelists for Christ. I am greatly pleased that some of the world's outstanding religion editors are here with us, and I trust they will pardon my moment of autobiographical musing. Some journalists, I know, considered this Congress a poor prospect for news because there was no advance plotting of new mergers or new movements, or of resolutions engaging the churches either as instruments of social revolution or as arbiters of political controversy. There is ecclesiastical news nonetheless in our keeping of full faith with the delegates, so that any declaration emerging from this Congress must rise from the spontaneous will of the participants rather than by predetermination of the sponsors.
This brings us to a candid word about our program. These days together assure privileged access to influential evangelical leaders of scores of denominational traditions in more than 100 nations of the world. Morning Bible studies, evening inspirational addresses, evangelistic windows on the world, and daily position papers are a built-in structure intended to prepare us for our main business. The four-man panel discussions -- six of them scheduled simultaneously every day -- serve as a stimulus to group discussion in which all delegates are expected to share. Panel discussants will make their own free comments on aspects of the position papers; some of the comments may seem brilliant to the theologs but baffling to the activists, others may seem evangelistically fervent but doctrinally flat. Some remarks will surely be controversial, a few may even be pugnacious, and one or two downright impossible. I recall a European doctor of theology who wrote that on only a year's notice it would be impossible to prepare a ten minute statement for a panel. An evangelist, on the other hand, submitted his paper so hurriedly that I am unsure that even prayer and fasting could have helped it. Happily, many of the panel papers are outstanding. Taken as a whole, however, they give me the impression -- and you must test this out for yourself -- that in these next years we must strive harder to become theologian-evangelists, rather than to remain content as just theologians or just evangelists.
It is well for us to remember what a dappled and diverse company we evangelicals are. Let us accept each other as we are, justified but not glorified, knowing only in part but rejoicing that we know Christ and have the light of His inspired Word to correct us. Let us humbly and earnestly share our deepest convictions and long for the might of God and the mind of Christ and the ministration of the Spirit to be in our midst. From our private intercession, from many small cell groups meeting for discussion and prayer, from brethren finding brethren across traditional lines of separation, and above all, from the fullest mutual devotion to the truth of God in the meeting of heart with heart, may come that sacred moving of the Holy Spirit for which we yearn. May God be pleased to impart a vision, strategy, and power to match the closing third of the twentieth century. May our theme -- "One Race, One Gospel, One Task" -- point the way to a new day in evangelism.
Let me voice a few convictions before I turn over the World Congress to the leadership of our distinguished honorary chairman, Evangelist Billy Graham.
I am convinced that if we relate the biblical revelation to the cavernous vacuums in modern life, the Creator-Redeemer God once again can fill our empty-souled generation as a powerful reality.
But Christ's disciples need not wait in hiding for the right moment to shock the world into its first glimmer of the supernatural, like a rodeo rider poised astride his steed for a sudden thrust down the chute to lasso an unsuspecting creature by total surprise.
We are not God's shock troops, serving as the first line of attack in this battle for the minds and souls of fallen men. The Lord Himself "rideth on a swift cloud" as Isaiah (19.1) declares, and the God of Heaven and earth is no mere "night rider in the sky." He emblazons his presence upon the whole creation. In the words of an Old Testament Psalm. "The Heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth His handiwork" (19:1); in the words of a New Testament epistle, "Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse ..... (Rom. 1:20. R.S.V.). And John's Prologue tells us that the true Light, the Logos, "lights every man" (1:9), that this Light "shines on in the dark, and the darkness has never quenched it" (1:5, NEB). Man the sinner does not walk in total ignorance of the Living God; what marks him as a sinner is revolt against light, both in Adam and on his own account. Deform God's truth as he may, he is wholly unable to extinguish the light of divine revelation that illumines nature and history and conscience.
Despite man's universal spiritual revolt, the Living God daily confronts the more than two billion persons of our generation as a fundamental fact of their human existence. The Cosmic Christ goes before us, convicting a rebel creation that bears his marred image. The Great Apologist inscribes the case for theism ineradicably upon the souls of men. The Great Creator is astride His universe; daily He confronts and corrals every last man and woman with inescapable reminders of His power and deity and of the judgment to come.
It need surprise no-one that in Communist lands older people believe in God.... nor that the very young everywhere do, for no-one is born an atheist. Much of the university world today no longer presents the case for Christianity on its merits; Communist campuses caricature the Living God, while many Free World institutions simply ignore Him. For this superficial disengagement from the supernatural world our civilization already pays a terrible price both in modern thought and life. Another generation, its best minds aware of the reality and truth of redemptive religion, will rise up to judge our superficial age. That brighter generation may even now be living in its teens, waiting for the army of God to sound the trumpet of faith.
Not only does the Cosmic Christ still confront man daily, but shattered remnants of the divine image in man still impel him daily to reach for a recognition that the naturalistic and atheistic theories now so current cannot really nourish.
The clamor for human rights is a hallmark of our times. But atheistic naturalism cannot sustain the case for enduring and universal rights. Communist theory suspends all human rights on the sanction of the totalitarian state, thus substituting the absolute state for the sovereign God. But only the divine image as a creation legacy and redemption latency supplies an adequate support for human dignity, endowing man with universal rights and duties, and reinforcing those rights even against the totalitarian state.
Not only does the Cosmic Christ go before us as the Great Apologist in our mission to mankind, but now as the Great Evangelist also convicts the human race in advance of our witness to the world. The eternal Word became flesh, the Logos sacrificially stepped into world history at the Father's bidding. The rejected Redeemer has sent the Holy Spirit to reprove the world of sin, of righteousness refused, of judgment inescapable. Now He bids us, as His co-workers, to take worldwide the good news of redemption in His Name: "As the Father has sent Me, so send I you" (John 20:21). Thus He announces our integration with Him into the redemptive covenant of the Godhead, assigning us as ambassadors of reconciliation to stand between a perishing race and the living God.
So extraordinary is the "good news" of Christ's Gospel that it can renew some of the lost dignity even of the unbeliever despite his atheistic distortion of spiritual concerns. What else reinforces man's sense of personal significance as insistently as his need to prepare for an individual destiny in eternity? Time and again, the evangelical reminder that Christ died for my sins and that eternal separation from Christ is my prospect unless the new birth is my portion stabs awake the individual conscience so dulled by the secular forces of modern life.
If the machine age threatened to make man himself a mere impersonal adjunct, the computer age now threatens to dispense with him entirely. More and more the technological revolution seems to imply the insignificance and obsolescence of the individual. Social and political forces of our time likewise threaten the importance of the individual; Nazis elevated only the Nordic race to importance; Communists sacrifice the individual to the collectivity; Western materialists reduce man to a machine for multiplying mammon. Modern philosophy and scientific theory both tend to demean the individual. In its search for laboratory explanations the scientific approach to life overlooks individuality in order to emphasize the universal and predictable, and thus minimizes the significance of human decision. Our recent focus on the sub-human world and on outer space makes man seem but one of a trillion specks of animated matter in the vast times and distances of the cosmos.
But the Gospel reminds all men of an inescapable personal destiny in eternity, based on a conclusive decision in time. Jesus was always reclaiming men and women whose sense of personal worth and identity had almost vanished, and His redemptive power is still potent in a generation no longer quite sure of human dignity. By its urgent call to individual regeneration the religion of the Bible stands between the modern man and the daily erasure of his personal meaning and worth. It reminds every bearer of the debased image of God that he must some day stand before Him in whose image all godly men are even now being renewed.
But the Gospel of Jesus Christ does not remind men in a congratulatory way of their personal dignity and worth; it upholds the dignity of man by offering a recovery of his squandered destiny through the forgiveness of sins and a new life. The God of the Bible is the God of justice and of justification. The Christian evangelist has a message doubly relevant to the modern scene: he knows that justice is due to all because a just God created mankind in His holy image, and he knows that all men need justification because the Holy Creator sees us as rebellious sinners. The Gospel is good news not simply because it reinforces modern man's lost sense of personal worth, and confirms the demand for universal justice on the basis of creation, but, also, because it offers rebellious men as doomed sinners that justification and redemption without which no man can see God and live.
The fact that the Christian message speaks to the fragmentation of the self and to the derangement of society has also given rise to speculative religious theories that seek to restore the human personality or to promote social utopias, while they ignore the utter indispensability of the new birth for man's salvation. For several generations influential modern churchmen have ventured in Christ's name to reconstruct and revolutionize man and society while they discount the New Testament concepts of conversion and regeneration and reject the miraculous elements of the Bible, including our Lord's substitutionary atonement and bodily resurrection. Perhaps nothing attests the deepening apostacy of the professing Church as obviously as the ready secularization of the content of the evangel and of the mission of the church.
For good reason we repudiate the inversion of the New Testament by current emphases on the revolutionizing of social structures rather than on the regeneration of individuals; we deplore the emphasis on material more than on moral and spiritual betterment; and we renounce speculation about universal salvation that cancels new life in Christ as the precondition of present blessing and eternal bliss. What the Bible teaches, and what therefore we believe, still has more force than these popular ecclesiastical misconceptions.
But in these next days we must not simply deplore the evangelistic paralysis of the ecumenical movement; what the Church desperately needs is aggressive devotion to the right option. In the decade ahead we intend to proclaim the truth of revelation in full confidence of God's redemptive rescue of multitudes from many nations.
The early Christians knew themselves to be a new race -- a race renewed, liberated from a doomed humanity and called to rescue others. Is it any wonder that men who have never been born again seek to remake man and society simply by reshuffling unregenerate human nature? Can we expect the unborn to depict a birth which they have never experienced? Recently a leader in the fastest-growing denomination in the United States said: "Men need not live their lives away from God. Men need not live their lives burdened down with guilt. Men need not live their lives in wandering and aimlessness. God stands ready to receive us .... There is forgiveness and new life in Him" (Dr. Arthur B. Rutledge, in remarks to the annual Rome Mission Board conference in Ridgecrest, North Carolina, August 26, 1966). This emphasis by twice-born men on the Gospel invitation to the forgiveness of sins and the new birth can stir multitudes to seek and find redemption in Christ Jesus.
Lack of vital faith in the supernatural Creator and Redeemer sooner or later means the terrible loss of human dignity, of social justice, and of personal salvation. Outside a rediscovery of the Gospel of grace there now remains no long-range prospect for the survival of modern civilization, but only a guarantee of its utter collapse.
Is it too much for men devoted to Jesus Christ to pledge their hearts and lives to a bold new effort to give every man on earth in our time the opportunity to accept or reject the Redeemer? In the providence of God the staggering population increase coincides with the age of space travel and mass communications techniques. Do we have eyes to see new possibilities of evangelistic planning and witness? In the providence of God evangelicals of all lands and races are being drawn together across the ecclesiastical division of the recent past. Dare we look for interracial teams of evangelists who will circuit the earth in courageous confrontation of whole communities and nations torn apart by racial strife? In the providence of God the liberal and neo-orthodox revisions of biblical Christianity are now sunk in a sea of anti-intellectualism, and modern theology wallows in the mires of confusion. Are we ready to call the student world to an earnest searching of those rational evidences for theism of which their intellectual peers for a generation have deprived them, and as skillful theologian-evangelists face these audiences with the full claim of the Gospel? Is it too much to ask God to make this World Congress an occasion for so melting and moving our hearts that each of us gains a deepened passion for winning souls that launches the cause of Christ upon a new tomorrow?
Let it be said of us that when we gathered here the man-made walls seemed formidable indeed, but only until the Risen One walked in our midst to remind us that He was crucified outside a sacred wall, and that He sundered even the seal of the walled-in tomb in which men laid Him, though it was the seal of the mightiest empire of His day. May it be said of us that we learned for ourselves in Berlin that to Him who appeared to walled-in disciples fearful of their contemporaries, even huddled behind closed doors, man-made walls pose no impenetrable barrier. Even as He showed the early Christians His hands and feet, and lent them new feet to carry the Gospel to Rome and beyond, new hands to minister to pagans forsaken by their own kin, new life in Christ that embarrassed the vocabulary of their day by its lack of adequate descriptives -- so let us know the presence of the Risen One who speaks His commission anew to each of us and breathes upon us the Holy Ghost.
The early Christians knew that walls solve none of man's dilemmas, but only witness to man's diseases and his need for God's salvation. They rejoiced in a Redeemer who so renewed human beings into a single new humanity that men forgot whether they were Greek or Jew, circumcised or un-circumcised, slave or free; Christ became to them "all, and in all" (Col. 3:11). Their mandate was the Risen Redeemer's commission, and the only reason the ancient world rose from and above its pagan mires lay in man's response to the Gospel they proclaimed. Now, almost twenty centuries later, when much of the modern world is again pagan, that same concern brings us together. That same Gospel offers to persons of all races and classes and nations a fresh prospect of dignity and direction, of hope and happiness, of purity and power.
At the outset I said that without the full cooperation of evangelical Christians around the world -- of whatever color, country, denomination or ecumenical identification or non-identification -- we shall do little. Let me note in closing, however, that without the Great Commissioner we can do nothing at all. If we take the Great Commission seriously, we must take the Great Commissioner just as seriously: "He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also... Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me ..... Without me ye can do nothing" (John 14:12, 15:4-5). It is tragic when men who profess to serve Christ, in effect forsake the duty of evangelism; it is equally tragic when disciples who proclaim a devotion to the Great Commission try to "go it alone." When even theologians herald the "death of God," it becomes our double duty to manifest in our obedience the presence of the Living One.
Can we find for ourselves in these days what at first must have seemed almost incredible even to the early Christians, namely, that because Christ indwelt and transformed them, those who touched their lives acknowledged them to be a new race of men?
Will it be said of us: They came to Berlin pondering their individual tasks in a world out of joint; they returned like a host from heaven, unable to stifle their praise of Christ, their thousand tongues swelling into a single mighty voice, and their lives glowing with the radiance of messengers from another world?