By Pastor Glenn Pease
Sirhan Sirhan, the convicted slayer of senator Robert Kennedy, had
considerable opportunity to be saved. From the time when he was 12 years old he went to Protestant, fundamental, evangelical Baptist Sunday Schools and churches in Pasadena. He was not impressed with the Gospel, however, but was impressed rather with the indifference of Christians. They were thoughtless, careless, irreverent, and clearly did not take their Christianity seriously. So this Jordanian boy said to himself, "It can't be very important," and so he dropped out. History is filled with notorious criminals, dictators, and kings of evil who once were youth in the church where they could have been redeemed and molded for the glory of God. Some examples of this are Marx, Hitler, and Mussolini.
In a very literal sense the church can be a curse to mankind by failing to do its task. When the church is careless and indifferent to the task of evangelism, which includes bringing people, not just to a decision for Christ, but to discipleship and loyalty to His church, it can do more harm than good. Arthur C. Archibald in his book New Testament Evangelism writes, "In America, when 5 thousand Southern Baptist churches, 4 thousand Southern Methodist churches, 3 thousand Northern Methodist churches, 2 thousand Northern Baptist churches, 3 thousand Presbyterian churches, report that in a whole year they did not have a single convert, is it not time for all leaders of Christiandom to arouse and search for the cause of sterility?"
There is a problem, not just in the world, but in the church. All of the changes in the world would not hinder the church if it was responding in obedience to Christ. Jesus is not so inadequate that He cannot cope with the world's developments. The problem is that His people are not open to receiving His wisdom and power. Some years back the Archbishop of Canterbury sent a letter to his clergy suggesting that they meet him for a quiet day in London. One of them replied, "Your grace, in my church we do not need a quiet day, but an earthquake."
Sometimes it takes an earthquake to get Christians broken loose from their rigid rut of non-involvement. This is what happened to the early church. Chapter 8 of Acts begins with an earthquake of persecution. It proved to be an example of, "Blessed are the persecuted," however. For as verse 4 says, "They who were scattered went preaching the Word." The detail that is of great interest here is that verse 1 says they were all scattered except the Apostles. Why they could stay and not have to flee I am not sure, but the value of this was that the lay Christians had to be witnesses. It was a matter of sink or swim, and they began to swim and spread the good news wherever they went.
It is one of the most agreed upon factors in the world today among Christian leaders that layman must get into the act of evangelism for the show to go on. The church dies whenever it fails to stimulate an adequate birth rate through evangelism. Whenever the church gets leadership centered it tends to become a mechanical institution rather than a vital living organism. The church is the body of Christ, and not the machine of Christ. To put it plainly, a clergy centered church tends to lose its evangelistic nature. In the early church every Christian was a witness, and they considered it a duty to win others to Christ. The sheep gave birth to sheep, and no one expected the shepherds to give birth to all the sheep. Men who have been successful in evangelism have had one common factor, and that is a group of layman who were soul-winners.
Protestants are plagued with the idea which has carried over from the Catholic church where all authority centers in one man, and all worship centers around the man at the altar. Salvation, forgiveness, etc., all come from the ministry of the one man. The Reformation helped men to recover the Priesthood of all believers, but most Protestants do not take it seriously. They still feel that the professional pastor or evangelist is the key to evangelism. To be effective we must decentralize our concept of the church and go back to the democratic view in which every member is of equal standing before God, and has equal responsibility to be a soul-winner.
Leighton Ford, vice president and associate evangelist of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, has written one of the best books on evangelism called The Christian Persuader. In it he confirms what we have been saying, and he backs it up with facts. Here is one of his paragraphs: "The Latin American Mission made a study of the fastest-growing movements in their field and found them to be three: The Communists, the Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Pentecostal Churches. Then they analyzed these movements to find their common denominator. Was it their message? Obviously not.....Finally they came up with this proposition: The growth of any movement is in direct proportion to its ability to mobilize its entire membership for continuous evangelistic action."
No movement, Christian or non-Christian, can endure and make progress with professionals only. Layman must be scattered everywhere sharing the Gospel as was the case in the early church. Harnack, the historian, says, "When the church won its greatest victories in the early days in the Roman Empire, it did so not by teachers or preachers or Apostles, but by informal missionaries." This is the only way the church can ever fulfill the Great Commission. Leighton Ford has figured out that just to stay even at the rate the world population is growing we must win 57 thousand to Christ everyday. That is about 2,400 every hour, or 40 every minute. This means that if every professional were doing even fair in soul winning we would be losing. The hope of the world is Christ, but whether or not the world hears of this hope depends to a large extent upon the witnessing of the average Christian.
Notice in verse 5 the message of evangelism. Philip proclaimed to them Christ. Later in verse 35 when talking to the Ethiopian we read that he preached unto him Jesus. The unique message of Christian evangelism is the good news of Jesus Christ. If we know of His coming, His life, His death for man's sin, His resurrection, and His coming again, we have all the good news that all the greatest preachers in history have had. This is the power of God unto salvation to all who believe. It is our responsibility to see that people become aware of what God has done in Christ, and that He offers them forgiveness and pardon for their sin. Some poet has put it-
Pardon-from an offended God!
Pardon-for sins of deepest dye!
Pardon-bestowed through Jesus's blood!
Pardon-that brings the rebel nigh!
It is no wonder that such good news would be heeded by the Samaritans, as we read in verse 6. The wonder is why it is not heeded by so many today. If this is the power of God unto salvation, we can only conclude that if you are being saved, it is because so few are coming under its power. The vast majority of Gospel preaching goes into the ears of those who already know Jesus. The vast majority of Gospel literature is read by Christians. For those who do hear it, it is often not seen as good news, but as nonsense. Even as a Christian I hear the Gospel presented in such a distasteful way that it makes me glad there is more than one conception of what it is to be a Christian. It no doubt makes some glad they are not Christians at all.
Many youth leave the church because the Gospel is not good news to them, but a burden and a kill-joy. Many find the Bible dull, boring, and irrelevant. The problem is not with the Gospel and the Bible, for both are exciting and as relevant to life as oxygen is to fire. The problem is that Christians today do not have the kind of authority that Philip had. Philip could command attention when he preached the Gospel. He had power, and he demonstrated it in love, compassion, and healing. The authority he had was obvious. It was visible and practical. That is what it takes to reach people in any age.
We live in a day when all authority is suspect. People have heard so much propaganda that unbelief is a part of everyone's makeup. There are so many gospels that I disbelieve. The fantastic claims of what certain products will do for your life, hair, clothes, or carpet are so unrealistic, and everyone knows it. The result is a general skepticism about all claims to something really great. There are a multitude of miracle products available, and so many spectacular events that supernatural claims of the Gospel hardly even stand out anymore. When the non-Christian does hear the claims of the Gospel he is already hardened because he has had a half dozen miracle products fail to do the job they claim they can do. It is not good news, but questionable news. He will have to see the Gospel in life before he will consider it as authentic. This means the Christian witness is under more pressure than ever to be truly Christ-like. We are epistles read of all men, and if we read poorly we will be as ineffective as a bald man trying to sell miracles hair growing tonic.
To be effective witnesses we must go deeper ourselves into the experience of the grace of God. We are uncomfortable when confronted with our duty to be evangelists. It is because it calls for spirituality, and nothing is harder for people than the effort to be truly spiritual. Henry Drummond in his book The New Evangelism wrote, "All formal religions are efforts to escape spirituality. It matters not what the form is-ritual, idols or doctrines, the essence of all is the same-they are devices to escape spiritual worship." He gave the example of the moods we get in where we would rather walk 20 miles than have family worship. It is so hard to really be spiritual. It calls for such dedication and nearness to Christ that the average Christian just doesn't feel he can do it. They look for another and easier way, but they don't work.
Verse 9 tells of Philip's contact with Simon the Sorcerer who was very impressed with the power of Philip, and that of Peter and John. He wanted this power also and he offered money for it, but was sharply rebuked. We need to be rebuked also if we think we can be powerful witnesses by means of some mechanical shortcut. It will cost us much to be soul-winners, but the return is a hundred fold more precious. Let us, therefore, be determined that whatever other do we will pay the price it cost to be personally prepared to witness to someone for Christ.
As a young person Charles Darwin believed in the authority of the Bible, but he was never brought to a personal commitment to Christ. In later life he said, "Disbelief crept over me at a very slow rate, but was at last complete." The result was that a whole branch of science developed in opposition to the biblical revelation. Carl Marx went to a Christian school for 5 years. At age 17 he wrote, "The history of the nation teaches us the necessity of union with Christ." He was never brought to experience this union for himself, however, and was slowly led into atheism. The result was that half the world came under the godless system of Communism. The failure of the church is the curse of the world.
When a ship that had been in the moth balls for 15 years was being cut up for scrap, to the surprise of many, and to the embarrassment of many, workmen found in the hull 522 mail bags containing thousands of undelivered letters. No doubt, many contained messages of value, words of love and comfort, and messages that could have changed the course of many lives. But all these years they remained undelivered. How many of God's messages to a needy world get locked up in the church. There are messages that brings hope, love, health and wealth to a desperate and dying world, and yet the church often becomes a dead letter office filled with undelivered mail.
How can we be more effective in witnessing? We must first of all be honest and face up to the fact that the excuses we give are not valid. We say that we have not been trained. Most people have never been trained to testify in court either, but if they see a crime or accident they become a witness. A witness is not a trained person, but one who is qualified on the basis of their personal experience. As John said, "That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you." If Jesus has forgiven us and given us assurance of salvation, then let us bare witness to the fact. "Let the redeemed of the Lord say so."
All the training and knowledge you can get is an asset in persuading people, but the essence of Christian witnessing is telling others what Christ has done for you. Paul did this three times in the book of Acts. His own experience was his primary witnessing tool. No one can refute it. It gives the stamp of reality and validity to your concern for the person you confront. No one can train you to use your best tool, for only you can share your own experience. Because the average Christian seldom does share their own testimony, they seldom see anyone else touched for Christ.
We share everything else in life without training. Most women have not been trained to share recipes, but they get the job done quite effectively. Few are trained to give reports on travel or hunting adventures, but they can be quite effective in sharing their own experiences. We share many things that we find to be interesting. Our problem is not lack of training, but lack of faith that what we share can be effective. What we need is boldness and courage to share what we know and have experienced.
We need to realize that the layman has an advantage over a pastor when it comes to witnessing. The average layman has far more contact with the unsaved than does the average pastor. The pastors primary task is working with believers. Preaching is not the best means of evangelism, for most of the people in the church are already believers, and their need is for edification. The average layman just needs the boldness to begin.
Winston Churchill wrote an article on the happiness he found late in life through painting. He said that when he had gathered his brushes and paints around him for the first time he was afraid. He was positively afraid of the canvas. The thought of making the first splash of color upon the clean face of the canvas appalled him. While he was hesitating a friend came to visit and seeing his plight said, "What are you hesitating about? Let me have the big brush." He took it and splashed into the paint and made several strokes on the canvas, and this broke the spell. The fear of the canvas was gone. The world is a canvas, and we are the painters with a message of beauty to spread over that canvas. We need to break that spell that keeps us in a state where we do not act. We need to take the plunge and make that stroke that frees us from the bondage of fear. May God help each of you to make that stroke by sharing your faith with someone in the very near future.