Evangelists—Sounding a Clear Call?
‘THE world can hear the approaching hoofbeats of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse.’ So said popular evangelizer Billy Graham to a group of assembled representatives of the press. “We are in very perilous times,” he continued. “The world is moving very rapidly.”
It was this concern that we are living “in very perilous times” that moved Mr. Graham to spearhead a recent meeting of nearly 4,000 evangelists in Amsterdam, Netherlands, from July 12 to 21, 1983. This International Conference for Itinerant Evangelists had representatives from 133 countries and 30 religious denominations. Its purpose was to accelerate the forward movement of evangelism throughout the world by giving further training to the evangelists. But what kind of “training” did they receive? Has the conference served to promote Christian unity? What message did they have?
Some 107 workshops dealing with subjects as diverse as public speaking, language and geography were held. Much stress was laid on improving methods of reaching people. True, addressing large “revival” crowds continues to be the evangelists’ most potent tool. However, workshops on the use of TV, radio and films were also held. But since about 70 percent of the evangelists were from so-called Third World countries, “hi-tech” ministries are out of the question for many. One preacher from Zaire explained that he has to walk from village to village and from house to house to gather a crowd.
Alternate Preaching Methods
Evangelists, though, learned that there are pleasant alternatives to door-to-door canvassing. ‘Go to dinner with business executives and political leaders,’ they were told. The idea is to get these prominent personalities to ‘accept Christ’ and through them attempt to reach the masses more effectively.
Sports evangelist Eddie Waxer, for example, told a workshop audience that if top men and women athletes can be reached, they will have limitless potential to glorify God before television audiences of millions—even billions! He then told how Nigerian athlete Naduka Odizor made it to the quarter finals of the 1983 Wimbledon tennis championships. Says Waxer: “He then became one of the great witnesses to that nation which is cold to the Gospel. In all the papers, on television and radio stations you had Odizor being interviewed and telling that country—and much of the world—that he owed his tennis success to God and Jesus Christ.”
Not surprisingly, how to raise money was another prominent subject for discussion. Fund-raising experts gave numerous suggestions along these lines. So great an issue has money become that Argentine evangelist Luis Palau was moved to say: “Evangelists tend to covet money for personal pleasure.” He added, “We love a good life. There’s nothing wrong with that . . . but temptation regarding money has destroyed a lot of preachers.”
Where to Direct Converts
But probably one of the stickiest issues the convention had to deal with was, After the evangelist has made a convert, what next? Everything that will be said in a sermon should point forward to the call for the decision to accept Christ in their heart, said Graham. But just what does ‘accepting Christ in one’s heart’ entail? The Bible speaks of “the congregation of the living God, a pillar and support of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15) But where is it? The conference merely echoed the lame suggestion that after conversion, people should be led to the local church of their choice. Yet these are the very same churches Graham earlier chided as ‘floundering in confusion, especially concerning evangelism, its message, its methods and its results.’ In fact, he went so far as to say, “We cannot risk confusion if we are to make the impact on our generation that God expects of us.” So, in essence, the upshot of evangelism appears to be, ‘Gather the confused “sheep” and bring them to a place floundering in confusion.’
Jesus’ Word to Evangelizers
When Jesus sent out his apostles as itinerant evangelizers he did not talk of preaching through social gatherings or getting prominent people to reach the masses. He said: “Into whatever city or village you enter, search out who in it is deserving . . . When you are entering into the house, greet the household.” (Matthew 10:11-13) They were to go from house to house as did the apostle Paul.—Acts 20:20.
As to what they were to preach, Jesus stated: “As you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.’” (Matthew 10:7) And regarding our time, Jesus stated: “And this good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations.” (Matthew 24:14) Today people need to hear the good news of God’s Kingdom, which is mankind’s only hope. Neither the method nor the message advocated by Jesus was emphasized by the conference.
An Indistinct Call
The Amsterdam conference is thus merely another woefully inadequate attempt at uniting the world. Instead of learning how to ‘handle the word of truth aright,’ evangelists prefer to hear about fund raising and filmmaking. (2 Timothy 2:15) No wonder, then, that Christendom’s evangelists have failed to offer a uniting message for mankind! At best their efforts do little more than offer a temporary emotional lift. While condemning the churches for ‘floundering in confusion,’ Billy Graham and company themselves have little to offer but vagueness, confusion. And as the apostle Paul once said, “If the trumpet sounds an indistinct call, who will get ready for battle?”—1 Corinthians 14:8.
However, there does exist a clear call for true unity based on true evangelizing. This will be explained in the following article.