Fifty-six years ago a World Missionary Conference at Edinburgh, Scotland, met to consider the opportunities and responsibilities of evangelizing the world in their generation. From this assembly sprang the Faith and Order movement, the Life and Work movement, and the International Missionary Council. These three movements became the nucleus of what is now called the World Council of Churches.

The Edinburgh conference, attended by 1,206 delegates from all over the world, had been largely organized by John R. Mott. John Mott was one of those who had entered Christian service as a result of the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions launched at Dwight L. Moody’s Northfield Conference in 1886. At that time A. T. Pearson’s slogan had been adopted: “The evangelization of the world in this generation.” On December 10, 1946, in Oslo, John R. Mott was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Asked what his vocation was, this best-loved and most prominent layman in the world church for two generations replied simply: “Evangelist!” From the moment of his conversion at Cornell in 1886 until his death nearly seventy years later, John R. Mott was first, last, and always an evangelist.

To the end of his life he lamented the fact that the doors opened in 1910 for evangelism and missions were not entered. The Church, he felt, was losing its evangelistic zeal and passion, and in 1951 he declared: “We are living in a time of special trial. When has there been anything equal to it?”

In many circles today the Church has an energetic passion for unity, but it has all but forgotten our Lord’s commission to evangelize. One of the purposes of this World Congress on Evangelism is to make an urgent appeal to the world church to return to the dynamic zeal for world evangelization that characterized Edinburgh fifty-six years ago. Remembering their Lord’s words, “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel,” the Student Volunteer Movement shouted to the world: “The evangelization of the world in this generation!”—or as John Mott once worded it: “Carrying the Gospel to all the non-Christian world.”

For my message tonight I would like to use as background two statements of Christ’s. The first is found in John 4:35: “Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? Behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.” The second one is found in Matthew 9:37, 38: “The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few; pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth laborers into his harvest.”

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Christ often used the figure of the harvest. In these two passages it serves to illustrate the urgency of evangelism.

Just before this he had talked with a Samaritan woman. She had been gloriously converted and had gone into the town of Sychar to announce that this marvelous Saviour was nearby. Already the people were streaming out eagerly and curiously to hear the message of Christ. It is against this background that Jesus uses the harvest illustration: the time had come to go out quickly to gather in souls to the Kingdom of God.

Harvest time is the ever-present now! It is always easy to rationalize that the present is not the best moment for action. It will be easier tomorrow or the day after, or perhaps in the next generation. “No,” said Jesus, “there are not yet four months. Now is the acceptable time! Go now, and gather all the workmen you can. The fields are white already unto harvest. Tomorrow may be too late! The weather may have changed, and the crops could be destroyed by a storm.” Throughout the teachings of our Lord there is this note of urgency about evangelism.

The evangelistic harvest is always urgent. The destiny of men and of nations is always being decided. Every generation is crucial; every generation is strategic. We are not responsible for the past generation and we cannot bear the full responsibility for the next one. However, we do have our generation! God will hold us responsible at the Judgment Seat of Christ for how well we fulfilled our responsibilities and took advantage of our opportunities. We have been given greater and sharper instruments to gather in a greater harvest than any previous generation. Our Lord warned: “Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required.” We must not fail to meet the challenge of this hour.

There seem to be periods of special urgency in history when it can be said with peculiar relevance, “The fields are white unto harvest.” I believe that we are now in such a period of history. We stand at the heart of a world revolution. The next twenty-five years will be the most decisive years since Christ was on earth.

Our world is on fire, and man without God cannot control the flames. The demons of hell have been let loose. The fires of passion, greed, hate, and lust are sweeping the world. We seem to be plunging madly toward Armageddon. We live in the midst of crisis, danger, fear, and death. We sense that something is about to happen. We know that things cannot go on as they are.

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The prospect of a world whose population is growing at a fantastic rate has inspired nightmares in world statesmen, sociologists, philosophers, and theologians. For example, if I live to reach my seventieth birthday, there will be nearly seven billion people on the earth then—more than twice the present number. Scientists are not talking about “pathological togetherness”—a world not only where disease and poverty stalk but where there are terrifying psychological problems and insoluble political problems.

The very pressure of the population explosion is bringing an increase in racial tension throughout the world. Unless the supernatural love of God controls the hearts of men, we may be on the verge of a worldwide racial war too horrible to contemplate. The population explosion is also increasing the ideological differences that separate men. The world indeed has become a neighborhood without being a brotherhood. Scientists, educators, and editors have become “evangelists,” proclaiming the grim message of a bitter, cynical despair.

The pages of almost every newspaper and every book scream, “The harvest is ripe!” Never has the soil of the human heart and mind been better prepared. Never has the grain been thicker. Never have we had more effective instruments in our hands to help us gather the harvest. Yet at a time when the harvest is the ripest in history, the Church is floundering in tragic confusion.

An official of the World Council of Churches told a group of us at Bossy, Switzerland, a few years ago that if that group were to adopt a definition of evangelism, it would split the council. Within the conciliar movement deep theological differences make it almost impossible to form a definition of evangelism and to give authoritative biblical guidelines to the Church. This is one of the purposes of this Congress on Evangelism: to help the Church to come to grips with this issue and to come to a clear understanding of the evangelistic and missionary responsibilities of the Church for the rest of this century.

First, there is confusion throughout the Church about the very meaning of the word “evangelism.” Definitions are formed to fit personal tastes. Some think of evangelism simply as getting people to come to church. Others think it means getting people to conform to a pattern of religious belief and behavior similar to their own. Some new definitions of evangelism entirely omit the winning of men to a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. Their proponents look upon evangelism as social action only. The secretary of evangelism of one of the great American denominations said two years ago: “The redemption of the world is not dependent upon the souls we win for Christ.… There cannot be individual salvation.… Salvation has more to do with the whole society than with the individual soul.… We must not be satisfied to win people one by one.… Contemporary evangelism is moving away from winning souls one by one to the evangelization of the structures of society.”

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We cannot accept this interpretation of evangelism. Evangelism has social implications, but its primary thrust is the winning of men to a personal relationship to Jesus Christ.

There has been a change in understanding of the nature and mission of the Church, from “the Church has a mission” to “the Church is mission.” There has been a change of emphasis from the spiritual nature of the church task to one of secular reformation. This new “evangelism” leads many to reject the idea of conversion in its historical biblical meaning, and to substitute education and social reform for the work of the Holy Spirit in converting and changing men. All these ideas would have appalled most of the delegates at Edinburgh fifty-six years ago.

The early Christians went by land and sea to spread the “evangel,” the good news that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself. This phenomenon of people claiming others for Christ is emphasized in the New Testament by the fact that the Greek word for “evangelize” is used fifty-two times and the noun form of “good news” or “gospel” is used seventy-four times. The early Church proclaimed to the world: “We have found hope for despair, life for death, forgiveness for guilt, purpose for existence!” They shouted to the world, “We have found it, and having found it we must share it!” That was the evangelism of the early Church.

It seems to me that we cannot improve on the definition of evangelism that was given to us by the International Missionary Council at Madras in 1938: “Evangelism … must so present Christ Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, that men shall come to put their trust in God through him, to accept him as their Saviour and serve him as their Lord in the fellowship of his Church.”

Evangelism means bearing witness, with the soul aflame, with the objective of winning men to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

A lay evangelist once approached a woman in a Boston hotel and said: “Do you know Christ?” When she told her husband of this, he said: “Why didn’t you tell him to mind his own business?” She said: “If you had seen the expression on his face, and heard the earnestness with which he spoke, you would have thought it was his business.”

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Oh, that God would give us a love for souls like that! In our prayer groups during this congress, and in our discussion periods, let us ask God to strangely warm our hearts and set our souls on fire until we have a burning passion for the souls of men.

There is not only confusion about the meaning of “evangelism”: there is also confusion about the motive for evangelism. There should never be any doubt that the Commander-in-Chief, the Head of the Church, the Lord Jesus Christ has given a command. Failing to heed this command is deliberate disobedience. Three of the four Gospels end with a commission to the Church to evangelize the world.

In Acts 1:8 we read: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” (RSV). At the end of the walk to Emmaus, which is also the climax of Luke’s Gospel, the Lord, in opening the minds of his companions to understand the Scriptures, says: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46, 47, RSV).

The command in Acts 1:8 is all-inclusive, embracing evangelism in all possible circumstances. “The end of the earth” represents every conceivable situation—taking account of every possible language, race, color, or even religious belief. There was no syncretism here! There is an exclusiveness about the Gospel that cannot be surrendered. If there were no other reason for going to the ends of the earth proclaiming the Gospel and winning souls, the command of Christ would be enough! It is not optional. We are ambassadors under authority.

The second motive for evangelism is the example of the preaching of the apostles. An evangelistic objective was at the very heart and core of their preaching.

The third motive for evangelism should be that the love of Christ constrains us, as Paul said in Second Corinthians 5:14.

The most important thing that has ever happened to us as Christians is our acceptance of Christ as Lord and Saviour. We immediately want to share it with others.

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One of the greatest tragedies of our day is that so many professing Christians lack the desire to share their experience with others. Dr. James S. Stewart of Edinburgh has said: “The real problem of Christianity is not atheism or skepticism, but the non-witnessing Christian trying to smuggle his own soul into heaven.”

The fourth motive for evangelism is the approaching judgment. The Apostle Paul said: “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Cor. 5:11a). The background for the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not only the love of God but also the wrath of God! In the solemn light of the day of judgment, man’s greatest need is for reconciliation with God. Christ bore our sins on the Cross in order that we, through faith in him, might be reconciled to God.

This brings us to one of the most important points of confusion in the mission of the Church today: Are men really lost? The great weight of modern theological opinion is against the fact that anyone is ultimately lost. The various shades of universalism prevalent throughout the Church have done more to blunt evangelism and take the heart out of the missionary movement than anything else. I believe the Scriptures teach that men outside of Jesus Christ are lost! There are many problems and many mysteries here, and I do not have time to go into the matter in detail. In Matthew 7:21–23, our Lord says to some men: “Depart from me.” Here is final judgment! He said also: “He that believeth not is condemned already.”

Language cannot get plainer than this! To me, the doctrine of a future judgment, where men will be held accountable to God, is clearly taught in the Scriptures.

The fifth motive for evangelism is the spiritual, social, and moral needs of men. “Jesus had compassion on them” is a phrase used more than once in the Gospels. He looked upon men not only as souls separated from God by sin, but also as sick bodies that needed his healing touch, empty stomachs that needed feeding, persons whose racial misunderstandings needed his Word (for example, his experience at Capernaum and his story of the Good Samaritan).

Thus evangelism has a social responsibility. The social, psychological, moral, and spiritual needs of men become a burning motivation for evangelism. However, I am convinced that if the Church went back to its main task of proclaiming the Gospel and getting people converted to Christ, it would have a far greater impact on the social, moral, and psychological needs of men than it could achieve through any other thing it could possibly do. Some of the greatest social movements of history have come about as the result of men being converted to Christ, for example, the conversion of Wilberforce led to the freeing of slaves. Scores of current and up-to-date illustrations could be used. We have made the mistake of putting the cart before the horse. We are exhorting men to love each other before they have the capacity to love each other. This capacity can only come about through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

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We have discussed the confusion about the meaning of and the motive for evangelism; but there is also confusion about the message of evangelism. More and more there is pressure to accommodate the Christian message to minds and hearts darkened by sin—to give precedence to material and physical needs while distorting the spiritual need that is basic to every person. This change in emphasis is really changing Christianity to a new humanism.

The great question today is: Is the first-century Gospel relevant for the twentieth century? Or has it as little to say to modern man as some radical theologians would have us believe?

The Apostle Paul sums up the Gospel in First Corinthians 15:1–4: “I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved.… For I have delivered unto you that which I also received, how 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.”

When Paul preached this message in Corinth nothing seemed more irrelevant to the people of that day. However, the Holy Spirit took this message and transformed the lives of many in that city. Dr. James Stewart of Edinburgh points out: “The driving force of the early Christian mission was not propaganda of beautiful ideals of the brotherhood of man. It was the proclamation of the mighty acts of God. At the heart of the apostles’ message was the atoning sacrifice paid on Calvary.”

The Apostle Paul himself said: “This doctrine of the cross is sheer folly to those on their way to ruin, but to us who are on the way to salvation it is the power of God … God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. As God in his wisdom ordained, the world failed to find him by its wisdom, and he chose to save those who have faith by the folly of the Gospel” (1 Cor. 1:18–21, NEB). Thus the message of the Gospel that we must proclaim to the world is: Christ died for our sins; he has been raised from the dead; you must be converted by turning from your sins and by putting your faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour!

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There is confusion about the strategy of the enemy of evangelism. To Jesus and the apostles, Satan was very real. He was called “the prince of this world,” “the god of this age,” and “the prince of the power of the air.” The names used for him indicate something of his character and strategy. He was called “deceiver,” “liar,” “murderer,” “accuser,” “tempter,” “destroyer,” and many other such names.

Satan’s greatest strategy is deception. His most successful strategy has been to get modern theologians to deny his existence. The Apostle Paul said, “… Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.”

When the seed of the Gospel is being sown, Satan is always there sowing the tares—but more. He has the power to blind the minds of those whom we seek to evangelize: “… the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (2 Cor. 4:4). His strategy is to use deception, force, evil and error to destroy the effectiveness of the Gospel. If we ignore the existence of Satan or are ignorant of his devices, then we fall into his clever trap. However, we have the glorious promise that “greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

There is also confusion about the method of evangelism. We who are here tonight represent the vast majority of the countries in the world. Each of our countries differs in its attitude toward Jesus Christ and its willingness to respond to the Gospel. However, I have found in my travels around the world that while the approach may be different here and there, the spiritual needs of men are the same. I no longer speak to laboring men as laboring men—to university students as university students—to Africans as Africans—to Americans as Americans. I speak to all as men in need of redemption and salvation.

Evangelist Leighton Ford has listed six methods of evangelism found in the New Testament:

(1) mass evangelism—John the Baptist, Peter, Jesus, Stephen, Paul; (2) personal evangelism—thirty-five personal interviews of Jesus alone are recorded in the Gospels; (3) impromptu evangelism—Jesus at the well, Peter and John at the Gate Beautiful; (4) dialogue evangelism—Paul at Mars Hill, Apollos at Ephesus (Acts 18:28); (5) systematic evangelism—the seventy sent out by Jesus two by two, the house-to-house visitation mentioned in Acts 5:42; and (6) literary evangelism—John 20:31 and Luke 1:1–14, both clear statements of the evangelistic, apologetic intent of the writers of these Gospels.

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No one method will be right for every person in every situation at every time; but some method of evangelism is certainly right for all people in all situations at all times! The Holy Spirit can take any method and use it to win souls.

Our goal is nothing less than the penetration of the entire world. Jesus said: “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations, and then shall the end come” (Matt. 24:14). Here evangelism is put into an eschatological context. We are not promised that the whole world will believe. The evangelization of the world does not mean that all men will respond but that all men will be given an opportunity to respond as they are confronted with Christ.

Most of the illustrations of the Gospel used by Jesus—salt, light, bread, water, leaven, fire—have one common element: penetration. Thus the Christian is true to his calling only when he is permeating the entire world. Not only are we to penetrate the world geographically; we are also to penetrate the worlds of government, school, work, and home, the worlds of entertainment, of the intellectual, of the laboring man, of the ignorant man.

The world desperately needs moral reform; and if we want moral reform, the quickest and surest way is by evangelism. The transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only possible way to reverse the moral trends of the present hour.

David Brainerd, in his journal of his life among the North American Indians, said: “I found that when my people were gripped by this great doctrine of Christ and Him crucified I had no need to give them instructions about morality. I found that one followed as sure and inevitable fruit of the other.”

Do we want social reform? The preaching of the Cross and the Resurrection has been primarily responsible for promoting humanitarian sentiment and social concern for the last 400 years. Prison reform, the prohibition of the slave trade, the abolition of slavery, the crusade for human dignity, the struggle against exploitation—all are the outcome of great religious revivals and the conversion of individuals. The preaching of the Cross could do more to bring about social revolution than any other method.

Do we want unity among Christians throughout the world? Then evangelize! I believe that some of the greatest demonstrations of ecumenicity in the world today are these crusades where people by the thousands from various denominations have been meeting to evangelize. There are a dedication, a zeal and a spirit in these meetings not found in other gatherings.

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Our greatest need, however, is not organizational union. Our greatest need is for the Church to be baptized with the fire of the Holy Ghost and to go out proclaiming the Gospel everywhere. We must first have spiritual unity in the Gospel. Eight cylinders in a car are no better than four if there is no spark from the battery and no gas in the tank.

But one of the great questions before this congress is: Can the Church be revived in order to complete the penetration of the world in our generation?

The revival that the Church so desperately needs cannot be organized and promoted by human means. It cannot be created by machinery. The two symbols of Pentecost were wind and fire. Both of these speak to us of the mystical, supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in revival. The meaning of the word “revive” in the Old Testament is “to recover,” “to restore,” “to return” to God’s standard for his people. The word for revive in the New Testament means “to stir up,” or “to re-kindle a fire which is slowly dying.”

The Christian continually feels the pull of the world, the flesh, and the devil. This is why Paul exhorted young Timothy to “fan the flame” (2 Tim. 1:6). Even the members of the early Church needed fresh renewings. In chapter two of Acts we find that the believers were filled with the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room; yet in chapter four we read of their being filled once again: “And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31).

In my travels around the world I have met many sincere Christian leaders who believe that it is impossible to have a worldwide revival. They base their assertions on the prediction in Scripture that “in the last days perilous times will come,” when there will be a wholesale departure from the faith. They admit that the Gospel has lost none of its ancient power to save and that here and there a few souls will be gathered in. But they believe that there will be no outpourings of the Holy Spirit before the end of the age. They argue that it is completely out of the plans and purposes of God for the Church to pray for and expect a mighty revival.

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Brethren, I do not believe that the day of miracles has passed. As long as the Holy Spirit abides and works on the earth, the Church’s potential is the same as it was in the apostolic days. The great Paraclete has never been withdrawn, and he still waits to work through those who are willing to meet his conditions of repentance, humility, and obedience.

I am convinced that here in Berlin there could begin a movement of God that would touch the world in our generation. If in the next ten days we will meet God’s conditions, he will send us a time of refreshing, revival, and awakening.

After fifteen years in China, Jonathan Goforth came to the deep and painful conviction that God had something mightier to do in his life and ministry. He became restless as he began, under the Spirit’s anointing, an intense study of the Scriptures in relation to revival. After months of study and prayer, he began to believe that God would fulfill his Word in the most difficult field in the world. That was the beginning of the great Manchurian revival.

Henry Martyn once wrote: “If ever I see a Hindu a real believer in the Lord Jesus, I shall see something more nearly approaching the resurrection of a dead body than anything I have yet seen.” But Martyn carried on in faith, believing the promises of God, and lived to see the day when God began to work among the Hindus.

We are tempted at times to cry with Habakkuk, “Oh, Lord, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear?” (Hab. 1:2a). Habakkuk was discouraged as he saw the overwhelming odds against the work of the Lord. He had almost reached the point of despair. God gave him a glorious answer: “For I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you” (1:5b). In other words, God was saying to his despondent prophet: “If I told you what I am doing in the world, you wouldn’t believe it.”

We come from different racial, linguistic, and cultural backgrounds—but before God with our spiritual needs, we are one race! We have only one Gospel to declare in every generation, and that is, “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself.” We have one task—the penetration of the entire world in our generation with the Gospel! God help us here in this historic Berlin Congress to learn how better to understand and do our task.

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