The term “evangelist” might cause a shudder in some sophisticated congregations by suggesting a vociferous pulpiteer “preaching up a storm.” Nevertheless, the word means “a publisher of good news.” The dictionary has a definition for the corresponding verb: “make known the gospel to; bring under the influence of gospel truths; convert to Christianity.”

Should this send a shudder through the ranks of believers? Indeed not. It should elicit a robust “amen.” For who in the Church is not, scripturally at least, obligated to be an evangelist? There may be evangelists who are not apostles, bishops, or pastors; but every apostle, bishop, or pastor is supposed to be an evangelist. For twenty centuries the historic scribes—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—have been called “Evangelists.” In liturgical language, he who rises to read the Gospels is designated an evangelist. In a true New Testament sense every believer is an evangelist, every churchman a Gospeler. The ecclesia is evangelical; and, as the late G. Campbell Morgan used to say, to call a man “evangelical” who is not evangelistic is an utter contradiction.

The Church has ever been under orders to evangelize. Are the orders less urgent in this time of apocalyptic siftings and transitions? We claim to see in our domestic and international upheavals, in our plunge toward the abyss of unbelief, an inexorable movement toward the great denouement of the human story; it would thus be tragic if we were to soften the thrust of evangelism in this fateful hour.

Choruses of despair sound from all sides. And why not? One need not be a prophet to discern the signs of the times. “We have now made it possible to destroy the human race, to reduce to the time of Cain and Abel man’s position on earth; to scatter to the four winds in a matter of seconds the civilization it has taken centuries to build”—the United States Atomic Energy Commission speaking. “Utter and unrelieved gloom awaits us. It is likely that during this present generation all our large cities in every part of the world will be destroyed”—the voice of the skeptic Bertrand Russell. “The handwriting on the wall of five continents now tells us that the day of judgment is at hand”—the voice of the scientist William Vogt. “Our civilization is doomed”—the voice of the missionary physician and scholar Albert Schweitzer.

But why, as evangelicals, should we be surprised at all this? After all, we have loudly maintained that we believe everything Jesus said. And what did he tell his disciples when they asked, “What shall be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the world?” A question like that today could get you a chilling brushoff in many a church or seminary by many a religious leader! But Jesus did not brush off the question. In fact, two big chapters in Matthew are needed to contain his answer. And that answer, taken seriously, is rather terrifying.

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False Christs will abound; they will mislead multitudes. War-talk and wars will increase. Nations will be at one another’s throats. World famine will take a frightful toll. Earthquakes will shake many places. Persecution will fall heavily upon God’s people. Many will be “offended” and lose their faith. Traitors will appear everywhere. Hatred will intensify. Many false prophets will deceive the masses. Wickedness and immorality will increase. Love will grow cold. The abomination of desolation, predicted by Daniel, will desecrate God’s temple. A horrifying terror will sweep the earth, more fearful than has ever been or shall ever be again—so fearful, in fact, that were its time not curtailed, no man would be left living on the earth. More false prophets will emerge, this time with dazzling signs and marvels. Disturbances will jar the solar system. Still, the Gospel as a witness to the approaching Kingdom will be preached. And men will reject the truth, as they did when Noah prophesied.

But Jesus, facing his followers with this eschatological pronouncement, did not offer them a future of nihilism. They were to raise their heads; their redemption lay beyond the world terror. For them the end was the beginning. God’s day would dawn; his righteousness would rule. Meantime, they were to get to work. The Gospel had to be pressed home to men. The disciples needed the dynamic of the living Spirit; only his divine compulsion in them could move them out to their fateful mission to the world.

So with us now, and even more so. For those men stood millennia away from the fulfillment of those apocalyptic sayings; we stand perhaps within the first framework of their fulfillment. The time seems brief; the buds burst on the tree. We are cast, perhaps, somewhere between the beginnings of the apostasy and the terror, between the early fall of faith and the rise of Antichrist.

This is no time to be beguiled by unbelieving scholars who disown God’s Word and dishonor his Son; it is rather a time for men to match the mission of evangelism. In a day of incredible unbelief, those who still believe must fill a vast vacuum. Evangelicals, like Nehemiah’s masons who worked with a trowel in one hand and a sword in the other, have much to do; they must not allow the Sanballatian jeers to jar them from their task. They must endure the charges of “obscurantism,” bear the sneers of the existential nihilists and demythologizers of the Word, withstand the pulpiteers and professors who make war on the side of Antichrist, and carry on like men who under devastating fire still have orders to advance. And when the odds appear insuperable, may they, like Zerubbabel confronted with his task, hear the word from heaven: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.”

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Only minds clouded by spiritual and prophetic oblivion can fail to discern the down-thrust of our world toward ruin; yet, as Bishop Fulton J. Sheen has said, in the death of a great civilization the masses are always unaware of their tragedy. So it remains for those not yet blind, nor led by the blind, to gird on the sword of the Lord. Ours must be the deepest social concern—the concern for men’s redemption. Others will labor at the secular level. But none will seek to save the lost except those who are saved. Here must we, even in tormenting loneliness, fill the yawning gap. So many depend on so few! This, in the language of Churchill, could be our finest hour. To us has been given the burden for a dying age. The divine messenger warned Daniel, “Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand” (Dan. 12:10).

Time moves on swift wings. The eschatological tempo is accelerating. The order of the day comes down from the top to men twice-born: Evangelize! Thin-ranked and hard-hit though we be, the order is not lifted. “You will bear witness for me … away to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8b, NEB).

Let evangelicals not only proclaim redemption in the face of impending judgment but also “preach, saying, the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Never was evangelism more needed than in this apocalyptic age.

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