“Mission England”—A Missed Opportunity
By “Awake!” correspondent in Britain
FOR British newspapers to devote over 50,000 column inches to reporting religion—any religion—must be something of a record. “Mission England,” a crusade sponsoring Billy Graham and Luis Palau during the hot summer of 1984, certainly hit the headlines. Rallies in six key cities countrywide were coordinated with a London campaign to attract tens of thousands of people. Why was a crusade deemed necessary? How did the British respond to American-style evangelism? What did “Mission England” actually accomplish?
For ten years the idea of inviting Dr. Graham to England had been considered, but as recently as in 1980 prominent church leaders made no secret of their opposition. Undoubtedly they remembered Billy Graham’s last major crusade in 1967, after which one survey revealed that only 5 percent of those who made a public declaration and began to attend church were still doing so a year later.
Nevertheless, with Britain in something of a spiritual slump, others gave unqualified support to the plans. “Britain needs spiritual renewal,” urged Methodist “Mission England” chairman, Lord Tonypandy. David Sheppard, Bishop of Liverpool, pointed out: “There’s a lot of people, both members of the churches and on the fringe of the churches . . . who need that challenge to get off the fence and commit themselves to be followers of Jesus Christ.” So what was there to lose? Eventually, as The Times pointed out, “Mission England” turned “into a bandwagon that most church leaders were happy to climb on to.”
But even as the mission got under way, there was no letup in criticism from clergymen. The Sunday Telegraph reported that Richard Jones, head of the Methodist Church in East Anglia, decried the “crude doctrine” and “crude style” presented by both Graham and Palau. Added Methodist leader Lord Soper: “I dislike their methods and advertising very much.” Why? What were the problems?
Promotion and Personalities
Religion for the average Englishman is a very personal matter. Seldom is it discussed even in private, and public debate is rare. Therefore, the orchestration of a public crusade to promote religion goes against the national grain. A generally approving Liverpool Daily Post nevertheless commented: “Saturday night’s performance—for that is what it was—was unabashed American-style evangelism, perceived elsewhere as pure showbusiness.”
Others took exception to the strong emphasis on personalities. “It is Dr. Graham who is billed as the star attraction, and not the substance of his message,” complained Church of England cleric Jack Burgoyne as Graham was about to start his Ipswich meetings. “He has been turned into a cult personality by his organisation.” Guest speakers, gospel singers, and visiting dignitaries were welcomed to draw the crowds. But in the final analysis, Palau and Graham were the focus of attention. In a guarded criticism, the Church Times concluded: “There is a profound hesitation about the whole style of the Graham and Palau meetings—about the use of music, crowd-psychology and personal eloquence to create a pressure to ‘come forward’ on a particular evening.” Was the concern of the Church Times justified?
As “Mission England” drew to a close, a count revealed that about a hundred thousand had ‘come forward’ to make a ‘commitment to Christ’ at the instigation of Graham and Palau. It came as something of a surprise, however, that the majority already had association with some church. One estimate gave 15 percent as new recruits. “Was Dr. Graham literally preaching to the converted?” queried the Church Times. “You have to say that the potential converts . . . were in a distinct minority. As much as anything, therefore, it was an occasion for encouraging the troops.” Why was such encouragement necessary?
“The high-ups in the church are seriously worried,” stated Birmingham’s Sunday Mercury, because the total number of worshippers in the Church of England is “decreasing to a worrying extent.” Bill Flagg, a bishop and “Mission England” chairman for the North-West, acknowledged: “The churches had almost given up on evangelism in the 1970s.” To their members, Billy Graham’s call was simply: “You might have been baptised. You might have been confirmed, and you might go to church. But deep inside you’re not right with God.”
Back to Church
“Everyone who responds is referred back to a church,” explained one of Dr. Graham’s aides. “If a person comes forward who has no church background we try to find a church he can identify with.” Evidently the doctrine of the church did not matter. The Catholic Herald commented: “Catholics were trained alongside Pentecostals, Baptists, Anglicans and Brethren and others” to be counsellors to help and advise those who came forward. The fact that the Roman Catholics were involved at all raised some eyebrows and aroused indignation in The British Council of Protestant Christian Churches for whom such a rapprochement was nothing short of a betrayal of basic Christian doctrine.
Even so, just how deep the commitments were must remain an open question. One report indicated that 500 ‘went forward’ seemingly so as not to “disappoint a visiting celebrity.” But what about the follow-through for those who made such commitments? “Churches aren’t geared up for new believers . . . Some churches are so boring I would not want to attend,” confessed Anthony Bush, South-West regional director of “Mission England,” as reported in The Sunday Telegraph.
Directing people back to the churches is really tantamount to sending a hungry man to get food from an empty larder. As a Gallup poll conducted prior to the Merseyside crusade revealed, two thirds of those asked wanted the church not only “to give moral guidance” but also “to teach the Bible.” In a similar survey around Sunderland, vital subjects that people said they needed to know about were: world peace, coping with today’s problems, God, Jesus, and, again, the Bible. What did Palau and Graham do to satisfy these needs?
A Missed Opportunity
“I want you to say to yourselves ‘I want to know that if I died tonight, I would go to heaven.’ This might be your last chance, the closest you will ever be to God’s Kingdom.” This was Billy Graham’s commitment appeal. But such a death-oriented philosophy answers no questions. “Young people are searching for something to believe in,” declared Graham. But young people need hope and a reason to live, to be convinced that life has a purpose and that God will act to safeguard their future.
In fact, God’s Kingdom is what young people—and their elders—badly need to hear about. This Kingdom is humanity’s only hope, a real government by means of which peace, along with everlasting life, will be restored to mankind. (Isaiah 9:6, 7; Matthew 6:9, 10) Jesus prophesied that Christians in our day would be busy preaching the good news of God’s Kingdom to all the nations, a work in which Jehovah’s Witnesses have been busy for many decades now. (Matthew 24:14) Palau and Graham’s campaign drew thousands, yet both of them failed to explain the real importance of God’s Kingdom to the assembled throngs. What a missed opportunity!
Truthfully, though, we should not expect many good results from such a crusade. The Christians of the first century did not campaign in this manner, neither did they appeal to people in such an emotional way. A Church Times editorial declared that during such a crusade, “it is impossible to discuss in a calm and intimate manner the many questions . . . which must be in the minds of the hearers if the audience is at all representative.”
The wise man Solomon said: “Anyone inexperienced puts faith in every word, but the shrewd one considers his steps.” (Proverbs 14:15) In searching for truth, we need to be discerning. The safest course by far is to follow the example of the early Christians in Beroea to whom Paul preached. They were commended for their diligence in “carefully examining the Scriptures” and for using them as the authority for their faith. (Acts 17:11) Jehovah’s Witnesses have always followed this example. Get in touch with them to “discuss in a calm and intimate manner” your Bible questions. You have nothing to lose—but much to gain.
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Those who responded were referred back to the churches they originally left because they had found no hope