For nearly all of its twenty-five-year life, the National Council of Churches has been criticized for its lack of attention to evangelism.
In one of the first acts of its three-year term, the council’s newly-constituted governing board responded to the attacks. At its Atlanta meeting on a warm spring day early this month it quickly passed a policy statement on evangelism.
Although the statement was the council’s first on the subject, it attracted little attention and no floor debate. No votes were cast against it. The favorable vote did not carry with it, however, any commitment of personnel or funds to put evangelism higher on the council’s priority list.
Even though 1975 was reported to be the NCC’s best in terms of dollar income, none of its ninety-eight executives was assigned to work full-time on evangelism. The portfolio has been a part-time responsibility of Dean Kelley, the council’s expert on religious and civil liberty. Asked at a news conference if adoption of the policy statement would be followed by a beefing up of the staff in evangelism, general secretary Claire Randall said there were no such plans.
“Not intended as a comprehensive theological treatise on evangelism,” according to its introduction, the new statement is a carefully-worded “corrective to the recent dichotomy between ‘personal’ evangelism and ‘social action.’ ” It was drafted by a working group composed primarily of denominational secretaries of evangelism, some from within the NCC and some from non-member churches. A draft presented to the board said the group had “hammered out” the paper, but after someone objected to the description on grounds that it sounded combative, the word “developed” was substituted in the published introduction.
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