by Bill Yoder
The over 1200 delegates and observers from 35 countries who gathered together at the International Congress Center in Amsterdam, Holland, for the European Congress on Evangelism August 28-September 4 very likely did not return home disappointed. There were, without a doubt, those who would have had strong recommendations and concrete advice regarding improvement of the Congress program and its presentation to the delegates.
The over 1200 delegates and observers from 35 countries who gathered together at the International Congress Center in Amsterdam, Holland, for the European Congress on Evangelism August 28-September 4 very likely did not return home disappointed. There were, without a doubt, those who would have had strong recommendations and concrete advice regarding improvement of the Congress program and its presentation to the delegates. Many had hoped for more pointed pronouncements by the Congress as a whole. There were those who perhaps expected a defined strategy for the evangelization of Europe. Such pronouncements and such strategy were definitely not forthcoming from the Congress. As a matter of policy, it had been decided in advance that the Congress would issue no official statement. To try to develop any comprehensive strategy in most cases even within the nations represented would have proved futile.
The Congress was definitely "European." Among the speakers only two were of non-European citizenship. Dr. Billy Graham gave the keynote address. American-European Bob Evans conducted one of the daily morning devotion sessions for the entire Congress. All other speakers were European. This, of course, set the tone of the Congress. Its emphasis and its insights were geared specifically to the needs of Europe.
In his keynote address, "The Biblical Mandate to Evangelize," Graham attempted to point up some of the forces which are changing our present world. He spoke of the "knowledge explosion" as being the most powerful force at work in society today and referred to astronomy, physiology, biology, sociology, physics as affecting the church from without. From within he referred to the deteriorating forces of humanism, modernistic theology, syncretism and universalism. He expressed his belief that despite all of this, "…if someone were to ask me what the greatest need in the church in Europe is, I would say: To proclaim the gospel with authority, simplicity and urgency, using every available means and method. This could do more to bring about moral and social reform than any single factor. If the church fails, I predict that groups outside the church will spring up to do the job. There is some evidence that that is beginning to happen in Europe now – as it is in America."
Early in its preparations, the planning committee of the Congress determined that there would be a balance between the older and the younger generation. Consequently, approximately 50% of all those present were under 40 years of age. Under the chairmanship of Rev. Gilbert Kirby, Principal of London Bible College, a fine balance was also achieved between theological, practical and devotional-inspirational presentations. On the eve of the Congress, Peter Schneider of Berlin had said, "We have not come here to listen to men in order to criticize them. We have come here to listen to God in order to obey Him." The delegates were grateful for that which they recognized as the voice of God speaking to them about the necessity for evangelism in Europe in the 70’s.
Although Europe has long been recognized as the home of deep and sometimes complicated theology, the theological emphasis of the Congress was certainly not unclear. In his call to the Congress, Chairman Gilbert Kirby had already stated: "We are meeting not to debate the validity of the Christian gospel, but to seek a most effective means of ‘holding forth the Word of Life’ to this generation."
The first of several theological presentations was made by Rev. Henri Blocher of France, speaking on The Lost State of Man. He presented three theses. Blocher’s first thesis: "Only revelation lets man know that he is really lost."
Because every truth is linked with God, let us for a moment first make this reservation. Man can even confess to his moral misery without recognizing his lost state. His awareness can mislead him. It can torment him, shame can crush him, pangs of conscience can grip him, without understanding his true condemnation. The hero with a clear conscience, the man who has apparently freed himself from all pride and egotism, the man who has sacrificed himself for others without bitterness or deception, it is he who is lost before God. The reservation apparently is, of course, essential, for the biblical revelation brings together the terms "religious" and "moral," and equates "good" with the "will of God" (Goodness is an original and essential attribute of the God of the Bible). The Bible does not permit the separation of the second from the first commandment. But the fact remains that fear and a sense of guilt in the light of "values," "norms" and "laws," which make no reference to God’s will, is not a recognition of the lost state in its true sense. To recognize the wrong that one does to one’s neighbor, does not mean to pray with David to the Eternal, "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned" (Ps. 51:4).
Blocher’s second thesis: "General experience already testifies to man that he is lost."
It is not enough merely to comfort the man who feels lost before God and the man who feels miserable. One must go from one to the other. One must analyze in depth the difference to show that God is the first to be concerned. One must show the partially experiemental translation of the lost state into mortality, into the going astray, into the shame; to remind oneself that man is involved and that he loses himself!
Blocher’s third thesis: "Man remains lost as long as he does not place his faith in Jesus Christ. Only faith in Jesus Christ leads from the lost state to salvation."
The Son of man has come . . . couldn’t one deduce from this text that from now on the lost state represents a position that has ceased to exist. Preachers deduce this. One may no longer say, "You are lost," but "You are saved." An attempt is made to convince men that their threefold misery is no more than a delusion: in reality, they are rich, saved. Jesus is the conqueror. Evangelism is no longer a rescue operation but rather the declaration of the news that deliverance has already taken place. It is simply the communication of joy in the light of knowledge.
This seductive interpretation has spread particularly through the influence of Karl Barth — even among those who in no way follow the great Basel theologian. Barth did not tire of insisting salvation is completed in Christ and granted to each man; every man is in Christ, whether he knows it or not, he is judged and pardoned, justified and sanctified; faith simply reveals this.
The New Testament faith not only lets us know of salvation, but it lets us receive salvation, "Believe and you will be saved." Many texts announce that. The apostles do not say, "You will be saved" but "let yourself be saved" (Acts 2:40). "Be ye reconciled to God" (2 Cor. 5:20). He who does not believe will be condemned (Mark 16:16; John 3:18). The wrath of God rests upon him (John 3:36). He is destined for eternal damnation (2 Thess. 1:8), which, according to Oepke, does not mean "simple obliteration of existence . . . but an unending, tormenting state of death" (camp. "apoleia" Theologisches Worterbuch zum Neuen Testament, Vol 1, S. 396).
According to the Scriptures, one cannot say that every man is "in Christ" and that salvation was awarded to him at Golgotha. One takes off the old man and puts on Christ, the new man. "Through faith" salvation is awarded to us.
The following day, Prof. Carl Wisloff of Norway spoke on The Church, Its Nature and Mission. As to the nature of the church, he made the following points:
1. In the New Testament, the church is a fellowship of people.
2. The church is a fellowship of believers.
3. Since the church is a fellowship of believers, and since this fellowship is created by the one true gospel, it follows that this church is one.
4. No single denominational church can claim to be identical with that church which is the body of Christ.
5. The opposite of the one church is not the many churches, but the false church, which is the pseudo-church.
6. The duty and function of the church is determined by its very nature. Our commission is to preach the gospel.
Prof. Wisloff granted to those who felt so led to take up arms in defense of their country, or to create or work within revolution within their country. He questioned the right of the individual to do so in the name of the church. "Don’t let anyone who speaks for the cause of revolution presume to speak in the name of God’s church. He has no right to do so. The church can only say what her Lord has authorized her to say. The church’s mandate is the ministry of reconciliation." In conclusion Wisloff warned, "In time to come, Christians must be prepared to be alone. Don’t be afraid to be so. Christians are foreigners, the church of God is a pilgrim church." It would be difficult to report in toto Dr. Gerhard Bergmann’s address on The Relevance of the Gospel Today, without publishing it completely. Several quotations point to the effectiveness of the German evangelist’s understanding of the gospel as it applies to the contemporary scene.
The law of growth in the Kingdom of God, and in God’s creation and world as well is: from inside to outside. The heart of man is the decisive problem. Therefore, my dear brethren and sisters, the main thing in all evangelism, regardless of whether it is on a congregational basis or in major crusades, is to strike at the heart of the individual. Consciences must be challenged and awakened. If you do not appeal to the individual, love’s labour is lost!
By this we do not intend to advocate a "without me" private piety, which retreated to the refuge of an ivory tower, but we want to testify to the clear understanding that all problems of the world are closely linked with the individual. Today there is the imminent danger of becoming intoxicated with world-wide responsibilities while dodging the personal call of God for a clear decision.
The outlook of the gospel as far as the future is concerned is a twofold one: First, because the gospel knows about the power of sin, and because it tells us that men love darkness more than the light, it does not indulge in any enticing songs about a paradise coming to pass within this world. Second, the gospel shows that injustice and violence will increase in direct proportion to increasing aversion to God. You cannot have saved conditions with unsaved men.
The future belongs to Jesus Christ and not to autonomous and self-presumptous men. Because Jesus Christ is the Lord of the world, sin, death and the devil will be overcome. In our present world, it is true, sin, death and the devil still hold sway. But the goal of history will overcome this addiction to sin and death which is a feature of our world and will bring to pass the complete victory of Jesus Christ.
A relatively unknown personality to evangelism and congresses on evangelism, Prof. Dr. Paavo Kortekangas of Helsinki handled very capably what could have been one of the most controversial issues of the Congress, The Social Implications of Evangelism. As Professor of Church and Society at the University of Helsinki and Director of the Finnish Institute of Social Ethics, the speaker was well-qualified to speak on this subject. He said:
When we think what is the strict, most essential message of Christianity and evangelism, the social aspect may seem less important. But if we think of the kind of effect the gospel of Christ and the experience of salvation has, then the social implications appear important. Even Christianity is of a social nature. It is true that man must make his decision alone and personally. Evangelism doesn’t endeavour to cause any mass reaction, but to separate man from the crowd, to make his decision alone before God. However, when making his decision he is bound to some group in many ways. After his decision new life appears particularly in social relationships. The fruits of sanctification are in the social life . . . .
It is possible that we Western Christians have wanted – and we have been criticized for this – to spread to other cultural areas the form of Christianity which is characteristic of ourselves, and that we have not allowed the gospel freely to produce another kind of Christianity in other cultural areas. Up to now we have not understood that the so called younger churches also have something special to give. In any case, with all its weaknesses – which we need not defend – the Christian mission is a good example of the social implications of the gospel . . . .
We have no reason nor right to compromise with the fundamental basis of our faith, which is the deity of Jesus Christ, the sinfulness of man and salvation through Jesus. However, we have no reason to neglect the social field. We must also ask: Is the present society just, and should we try to use our influence so that God’s will would be seen more clearly in relationships between men and nations? We may not leave this question to liberal theologians only. It concerns all Christians, especially those who believe in Christ’s deity and lordship and have found personal faith . . . .
Our starting point does not lie in demands, but in faith in the Lordship of God and Christ. We are saved only through Christ, but faith without deeds is dead. That is why the consequences of the faith are to be seen also in a social context. The Christian doesn’t leave society but reforms it and brings God’s fresh power and unselfish love of our neighbors into the midst of ail the corruption and selfishness which exists. If we make Christ a political Messiah, we have misunderstood his gospel. But the gospel is also misunderstood if we shut our eyes totally to the social implications of the faith . . . .
We never try, and may not try, to make this world a heaven, but we wait for a new heaven and a new earth where righteousness and justice co-exist, as God has promised. This waiting is no idle waiting, but a time for spreading the gospel and carrying out God’s will. This sinful world is the place where we are to live as Christians and which we are to try to reform by the power of the Holy Spirit, and through the courage arising from our faith.
After the basically theological messages of the first two days, the program moved to a more practical nature. Most delegates felt that the practical workships were far too short to be truly effective.
Especially good comments were heard about the workshop sessions on "Home Bible Study Groups" led by Mrs. Gien Karssen of Holland, and on "Spiritism and Occultism" led by Richard Kriese of Switzerland. Other workshops dealt with personal evangelism, radio and TV, film evangelism, inner-city evangelism, Christian literature and student evangelism, child evangelism, crusade evangelism, mobilizing prayer, nurturing the new Christian and the ministry of music in evangelism.
For many the turning point of the Congress began on Youth Day. The opening speaker of the morning was Prof. Hans Rookmaaker of the Free University of Amsterdam. Rookmaaker stated his belief that the blame for youth problems is to be laid at the feet of the world, the church and youth itself. He traced the breakdown of Christian beliefs, pointing to scientific naturalism, theological rationalism and existential philosophy as contributing to the major problems facing young people. Rookmaaker stated his conviction that the key to successful evangelism among young people is not so much methods but attitudes.
Rookmaaker was followed by Charles Guillot of France, director of the French broadcasts of Trans-World Radio and president of French Youth for Christ. Guillot offered a number of penetrating suggestions as to what those attitudes of which Rookmaaker had spoken might be if we are to reach and win young people for Christ:
He who wants to evangelize young people must first of all get rid of clericalism and act in such a way that the gap between the young and the older generation can be forgotten.
The young people must be regarded as individuals and not as a mass, a market, a potential in terms of force or number, to be recovered for our group or church.
We must try to understand them by a real and sincere approach and by being at their disposal: They live in an uncertain world, which, as it seems, does not offer them anything worthwhile; they do not know what will be tomorrow, and they want to profit by everything now, at once . . .
We must try to integrate with their way of living, that is to say, to discover their music, their poetry, their philosophy, their pleasures, their language, in order to give them a desire for living today and tomorrow.
Why shouldn’t we try to a certain extent to identify with them? As Bob Dylan expressed it in his song, "Times are Changing": You cannot speak to the youth of today in the same way as five or six years ago. The message certainly has not changed, but the package must have some other color.
Be authentic and don’t wear a mask (whether the mask of religion or of the ministry, of a pastor or a youth leader) that is to say, show yourself as you are, with your weaknesses, your doubts, your conflicts, your affections and your joys.
It is equally important to avoid any judgment from whatever high spiritual level, because pitiless condemnation then takes the place of love and closes the door to any dialogue.
Few of the delegates were actually prepared for the dramatic production of the evening entitled "The Revolutionaries." Attempting to portray the mood behind the feelings of contemporary European youth, the program made use of a multi-media audio-visual presentation, as well as simple drama and personal appearances of British pop star Cliff Richard and recently converted British film actor James Fox. Richard obviously stole the show both with his recital of one of his early song-and-dance routines of the 1950’s, and with his philosophical use of the contemporary hit "My Way." Richard climaxed the evening by singing a Christian re-wording of "My Way" entitled "His Way," which had been especially written for the evening by Dave Foster. Reactions were extremely varied, although it appeared that most of the delegates were grateful for having been startled into a new understanding of today’s youth, even when that included sound film clips of World War II, the entertainment theatrics of Richard, and a view of teenage attitudes toward sex, which was too realistic for some.
With the sounds of "The Revolutionaries" still ringing (or jangling) in their ears, the delegates were treated the next day to more controversy, this time in the form of a straight lecture by Dutch journalist Jan van Capelleveen entitled Communicating the Gospel Through the Local Church. Van Capelleveen made a studied attempt at stirring the thinking of the participants and succeeded completely. He said, for instance:
As far as I know, the really effective evangelistic movements of the last few centuries in Europe have hardly ever sprung from the local church. As a girl once told me, "We pay our pastor to do the work of evangelism." Of all institutions, the local church is probably least equipped for evangelism.
The first requirement is training in communication. We shouldn’t limit our communicating work to the pulpit only. A journalist often is no more than an extension of the pulpit. A florist is asked to fill the vase with flowers on the platform. Young people are asked to run the mimeographing machine and print the local church bulletin. And when all these things are done by the church members, the pastor and the board of the church tend to sit back contently because they have put their people to work. They have not. They have only asked them to serve the pulpit, not the world.
Secondly, whoever wants to communicate has first to earn the right to be heard. People don’t listen to everyone. The problem with the institutional church is that it has a terrible image.
Take, for example, the average church service. A pastor leads the service and also preaches. He announces the songs he himself has selected. All the people in the pew can do is sit, sing what has been ordered and sit again. All this in a day in which people want to have their say in what is going on.
The inspirational portion of the Congress reached its high point significantly on that day. In his usual excellent way, Rev. John R. W. Stott of London spoke on the Holy Spirit in Evangelism. High points in this major address of the Congress:
Harry Boer wrote in his Pentecost and Missions: "When the church tries to bottle up the Spirit within herself, she acts contrary both to her own and to His nature. For it is the nature of the church ever to be enlarging her borders, and it is the nature of the Spirit to transmit His life to ever-widening circles" (iv). Because of the current rejection of absolutes, in favor of the slippery slopes of relativism and subjectivism, it is all the more vital for us to pray that the Holy Spirit will do His unique convicting work in our day. It is perfectly true that some people appear to come to Christ without any very clear knowledge of sin, guilt, righteousness or judgment, but this gives us no excuse to neglect our duty and omit these themes from our evangelism. Nor have we any liberty to devalue the gospel into a mere offer of friendship to the lonely and comfort to the sad, or into a drug to ease the pain of those battered by adversity. We may indeed begin where people are, with their felt need, but we cannot stop there. For Scripture lays upon us the obligation to preach the law before we preach the gospel, and to let men see their true plight in order to shut them up to Christ (Gal. 3. 23-24). It is only against the dark backcloth of human guilt that divine grace shines in its fullest brightness.
The fact that conversion is essentially a work of God’s Spirit has sometimes seemed to Christians to make evangelism superfluous. But the fact that the Holy Spirit’s chief weapon in bringing souls to birth is the Word of God, actually makes evangelism indispensible. The proclamation of the gospel is the divinely appointed means by which sinners are convicted, illumined and born again. Since in God’s wisdom the world did not come to know God through its own wisdom, it pleased God throgh the folly of the kerygma, of the gospel we preach, to save those who believe (1 Cor. 1:21). As R. B. Kuiper has expressed it in his God-Centered Evangelism: "It is the task of the evangelist to communicate the gospel to men; to impart to man the faith in the gospel is God’s prerogative" (vii).
So God’s Word or gospel is the instrument the Holy Spirit uses. Therefore we must preach the word, proclaim the gospel. We must beware, however, of defining too narrowly what this proclamation means. God’s Word itself is changeless, being his self-revelation, preserved in Scripture. We cannot alter its content. But the fact that the Word is the word, unchanged and unchanging, does not necessarily mean that its communication must be always and only verbal. Since God’s Word once became flesh and dwelt visibly and tangibly upon earth (John 1:14), we evangelicals should not have been as slow as we ahve sometimes been to recognize that place of a Christian communication which is partly or even wholly non-verbal.
We are used to the idea that Jesus Christ made the invisible God visible, so he who saw him saw the Father. But there is a sense in which the invisible God may now be seen in the Christian community, if its members love one another with the love of God. And this relates to our theme of the Holy Spirit in evangelism, because John goes on immediately to indicate that we can truly love one another only "because he has given us of his own Spirit" (v.13).
Having said that (and meant it), I think it is necessary to add that although God has intended the visual to illustrate and dramatize the verbal, yet all visual communication still needs to be interpreted by words. However far the electronic revolution goes, and Marshall McLuhan’s predictions of "the global village" come true, I do not myself believe we shall ever be able to dispense with some form of verbal witness, either in public preaching or in private, personal testimony. In this work every Christian is to have a share.
Now in this verbal communication of the gospel, the apostles Peter and Paul both emphasize that the Word without the Spirit will be fruitless. Peter writes of "those who preached the good news to you through the Holy Spirit sent from heaven" (1 Pet. 1:12), and Paul describes his own preaching in similar terms (1 Thess. 1:5). He did not rely for the effectiveness of his mission upon himself, but on the power of God, a power which lies in the combination of the word of the Cross and the witness of the Spirit (1 Cor. 1:17 and 23; 2:1-5).
This leads me to strike a note of caution. The renunciation of human wisdom and of all reliance on it, which Paul himself made and to which he summons us, is commonly misunderstood. It refers partly to our message (that we may not tamper with the gospel of Christ crucified) and partly to our manner of preaching (that we may not rely on human rhetoric). But it cannot be pressed into use to justify either slipshod preparation or anti-intellectualism or irrelevance or the suppression of our personality.
The final address of the Congress was brought by the chairman, Rev. Gilbert Kirby, principal of London Bible College, on a Strategy for the Seventies. He addressed himself to the relevance of the gospel and the sometimes irrelevance of the church.
I believe the age in which we live demands that we take a long hard look at our church life and that we become willing to reappraise everything that we do. So often customs and usages which we are so reluctant to drop, are found, on examination, to have no scriptural warrant whatsoever taut are simply "the tradition of the elders." Might not the Lord be saying to some of us: "You make void the Word of God through your tradition which you hang on" (Mark 7:13).
Of course, it is only too easy to degenerate into being an iconoclast – to seek change merely for its own sake. I am simply asking that we should be honest enough to face the modern world as it is, and then to look at our church situations and ask ourselves how far we are really geared to cope with the task of reaching men and women with the gospel.
He spoke of the need of mobilizing the total membership of the body of Christ, training them and involving them in the task of evangelism. Kirby concluded his address with some top priorities in facing the challenge of the seventies:
1. A change of idea about the devil; we must learn to take Satan seriously.
2. A fresh vision of Christ, the Lord of Glory, the Alpha and Omega, whose we are and whom we serve.
3. A clearer understanding of the evangelistic mission of the church in which every member must be involved.
4. A greater willingness to go where men and women are and gossip the gospel, using, where appropriate, unconventional means.
5. A deeper compassion for men and women and a realization that there can be no substitute for love.
6. A clearer conception of the gospel of God’s grace in all its fulness and with its social implications.
7. A more vivid awareness that the time is short and that the coming of the Lord draws near.
Those who expected the European Congress on Evangelism to produce a significant, definite strategy for evangelism on the Continent were certainly disappointed. An attempt was made on the final afternoon to divide the delegates into national groups, but it was too much to expect that within two hours a group of heterogeneous delegates, even from one country, could agree on a strategy to reach their country for Christ in the seventies.
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