Evangelism is urgent business. Its urgency stems from the Lord’s command to his people to make disciples of all nations. Only as the Church fulfills this command is it faithful to its Lord.

Evangelism is a matter of here and now. Yet its urgency is also eschatological. In this apocalyptic age what the New Testament teaches about the ultimate purpose of evangelism must be heeded. At the Lau sanne Conference on Faith and Order, Adolf Deissmann said: “We, today, must lay the strongest possible stress upon the eschatological character of the Gospel which it is the practical business of the Church to proclaim.… We must daily focus our minds upon the fact that the kingdom of God is near, that God with his unconditional sovereignty comes through judgment and redemption, and that we have to prepare ourselves inwardly for the maranatha—the Lord cometh.” It is this eschatological perspective, now far clearer than at Lausanne in 1927, that sets obedience to the Great Commission in imperative focus today.

The urgency of evangelism comes from its nature. Evangelism means proclaiming the Gospel for a verdict. That verdict cannot be put off. Nowhere in Scripture is there the call to receive Christ tomorrow. Always the emphasis is upon the present. “Now,” says the Apostle Paul, “is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” Yet the salvation to be accepted today is for all eternity.

Of the precise nature of evangelism, the New Testament leaves no doubt. It makes crystal clear the gospel message “that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” It insists that the marching orders of the Church are centered in the proclamation of this Gospel to all mankind. To be sure, the Church has other obligations. Inherent in its nature is its obligation of worship, of preaching and teaching the Word, of administering the sacraments or ordinances. Moreover, just as our Lord went about helping the needy and afflicted, so the Church has its ministry of compassion. It can never forget that Jesus said in his priestly prayer, “As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.”

There is no contradiction between evangelism and the compassionate ministry of the Church. The two are organically united. Indeed, without obedience to the Lord’s command to evangelize there can be no true Christian compassion. As Samuel M. Zwemer put it, “All of the older missionary heroes, Judson, Carey, Livingstone, Martyn, Hudson Taylor, lived for eternity and preached eternity, a Gospel that was other-worldly. They went out to save the lost. Yet … they had their schools, hospitals, and asylums; they were not unmindful of social evils and worked for social reform. But they considered all these as means to an end; these were only the scaffolding of the eternal palace. That consists of living stones, lives redeemed, character built up, souls won for glory.”

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Numerically the Church is losing ground. The population growth is running ahead of the number of converts. Even in the United States, church attendance is descending from the peaks of ’55 and ’58. But the New Testament shows that the evangelistic imperative applies to proclamation of the Gospel irrespective of the number of conversions. Statistics are at best a secondary incentive for evangelism. The Church is not primarily concerned with numbering the people. It is first of all obligated to fulfill the purpose of God, which, according to Scripture, is not world conversion but world evangelization. Nowhere does the Bible promise that all who hear the message will receive it. In his parable of the sower, our Lord described four kinds of ground upon which the seed fell and said that only on the good ground did it bear enduring fruit. In another parable he spoke of the wheat and tares growing together until the harvest. And according to the last chapter of Acts, when Paul first preached at Rome “some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not.”

Early in the present century, leaders like Robert E. Speer and John R. Mott led hosts of students to missionary commitment with the stirring words, “The Evangelization of the World in This Generation.” The World Congress on Evangelism to be held in West Berlin in the fall of 1966 (see News, Jan. 1 issue) might well revive these words. Never was their realization more possible than now. Granted the relentless opposition to Christianity behind the Iron and Bamboo Curtains, granted the continuing challenge of Islam and Buddhism, Christianity is still by far the most numerous and widespread of religions. Air travel that has telescoped journeys of weeks into hours, the immediacy of communication through television and radio—things unknown in the days of Speer and Mott—have brought the Church to the threshhold of the evangelization of the world in this generation if it will but seize its opportunity.

There must no longer be any territory unoccupied for Christ. The steady advance toward world evangelization by the efforts of pioneers such as the Ecuador and Congo martyrs and their successors, the penetration for the Gospel into areas like cannibal New Guinea, and the work of groups like the Wycliffe Bible Translators in reaching hitherto untouched tribes on every continent, point the way to proclaiming Christ to all who have never heard his saving message.

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As part of this outreach, the spiritual deserts that have resulted from the lapse of whole areas into secularism must be reclaimed. The Gospel must continue to be preached in Europe and the United States; efforts to penetrate Communist countries with the message of Christ must be unremitting.

What, finally, is the great dynamic for the resurgence of evangelism? Greater than every other motive, including even obedience to Christ and the constraint of his love, is the glory of God in the coming of his Kingdom. The supreme motive of evangelism is eschatological. Evangelism looks forward in confident hope to the day when Christ shall reign as King of kings and Lord of lords and every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The Church must return to the biblical concept of the nature and purpose of evangelism. This it will never do without wholehearted recommitment to its commission to evangelize the whole world in preparation for its coming King. Bishop Heber’s great missionary hymn still speaks to every Christian:

Can we, whose souls are lighted

With wisdom from on high,

Can we to men benighted

The lamp of life deny?

Salvation, O salvation!

The joyful sound proclaim,

Till earth’s remotest nation

Has learned Messiah’s Name.

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