Commission on a Way Forward members (L-R) Bishop Gregory Palmer, Jasmine Rose Smothers, Dave Nuckols and Jorge Acevedo. Photo by Diane Degnan (UM Communications).
By Heather Hahn-
The 32 members of the Commission on a Way Forward are getting down to the business of doing what their name says — helping a denomination deeply divided over homosexuality move toward some sort of future together. That future could end up looking very different than how The United Methodist Church operates at present. The multinational commission held its third meeting April 6-8 in Washington. Just as was true with its first two meetings, the commission’s third gathering was closed to reporters.
“We’re acknowledging that there are deep-seated differences in the church, and there are parts of the church that are not able to live together in a close connection,” the Rev. Thomas Lambrecht said. “So we are looking at ways to loosen the connection. What form that might take, we don’t know yet.”
Matt Berryman agreed with Lambrecht’s assessment. “What we’re contemplating is loosening the connection in the face of conflict over whether there needs to be uniformity of practice and belief around LGBTQ people,” Berryman said.
Scott Johnson of Upper New York cautioned not to get too carried away with the idea of “loosening the connection.” “I think there is no question we still see a connected United Methodist church,” he said. “We’re working toward unity.”
The group brings together clergy and laity from nine countries and of diverse perspectives. At least three members, including Berryman, are openly gay. Still others, like Lambrecht, have long advocated for maintaining the bans on same-gender unions and “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy.
“We are trying to think about and model the new behaviors that will help leaders who deeply care about the church to see new forms and structures that will allow for differing expressions of the global church,” Florida Area Bishop Ken Carter, told UMNS. He is one of three bishops who is moderating the commission’s work.
The group is not only looking at a way through the impasse around homosexuality but also how to increase vitality of local churches and strengthen the church’s mission. According to a press release about the meeting, the commission members indicated they are leaning toward a simpler structure “with clearer processes for decision-making and accountability.”
The Rev. Tom Berlin, lead pastor of Floris United Methodist Church in Herndon, Virginia, said the commission still doesn’t know what “simpler” would look like. “We just have a sense that it’s a lot more complicated than it needs to be,” he said. “That’s why you are hearing people say, ‘simpler’ and ‘looser.’” Berlin added that in his experience, The United Methodist Church is “a denomination that likes the tension of different perspectives.”
For any of its proposals to become reality, the commission needs the assent of General Conference delegates. Bishops are considering calling a special General Conference in 2019.
Heather Hahn is a reporter for the United Methodist News Service. Vicki Brown, UMNS news editor, contributed to this report. This article was adapted from UM News Service.
Photo by Steve Beard.
By Steve Beard-
As cultural mavens are more than aware, this is the 50th anniversary of the infamous Summer of Love when the hippie counterculture christened its fashions, ideals, art, and music. The pilgrimage of the Flower Children to Haight-Ashbury was an attempt to create a fleeting utopia, a chance to experiment with drugs, and an opportunity to dabble in “free love” – a co-ed sleepover without the parents.
When asked to reflect back on what he believed in the ’60s, satirist P.J. O’Rourke responded, “Everything. You name it and I believed it. I believed love was all you need… I believed drugs could make you a better person. I believed I could hitchhike to California with thirty-five cents and people would be glad to feed me… I believed the world was about to end. I believed the Age of Aquarius was about to happen… I managed to believe Gandhi and H. Rap Brown at the same time. With the exception of anything my parents said, I believed everything.”
This was also the summer when the Beatles unveiled Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. With its psychedelic vibe, Indian influences, funky cover art, and wink-and-nod references to drug use, it was a fitting soundtrack for the scene. This was an era of provocative new thinking, troubling for some and liberating for others.
“In some ways the hippie generation appeared to be overturning generations of Christian morality and in other ways they were overturning a soulless secularism and arguing for truth, beauty, and justice,” Steve Turner, acclaimed British poet and author of Beatles ’66: The Revolutionary Year, recently told me. “Unpacking what happened is a difficult task. Anyone who says it was all bad is wrong. Anyone who says it was all good is wrong.”
From my perspective, I’m more than mildly intrigued by the Summer of Love because I’m a Cold War kid – raised as a punk rocker during the Reagan era on The Clash, Blondie, U2, The Ramones, and The Stray Cats. My generation had its own ideals but it was notably not expressed with saffron robes and sitar music. Despite being on a different side of the generational and cultural divide, I will always be a Beatles fan and have a soft spot in my heart for the ’60s. Despite their sometimes justifiable bad rap, the hippies may have ultimately been in search of spiritual transcendence.
“The rock ‘n’ roll bands are the philosopher-poets of the new religion,” wrote Timothy Leary, a 1960s cultural ringleader. “Their beat is the pulse of the future. The message from Liverpool is the Newest Testament, chanted by four Evangelists — saints John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Pure Vedanta, divine revelation, gentle, tender irony at the insanities of war and politics, sorrowful lament for the bourgeois loneliness, delicate hymns of glory to God.”
Of course, Leary was known for his hallucinogenic hyperbole while tripping on LSD. He is also the one who advocated, “Turn on, tune in, and drop out.” Nevertheless, his devotional verbiage was indicative of a Flower Power generation that perceived spiritual vibrancy in rock ’n’ roll, and viewed the church as flaccid and anemic. This was most inelegantly and bluntly stated by John Lennon: “We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t now which will go first – rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity.”
Those ended up being fighting words to the agitated and alarmed faithful. Instead of engaging the prickly comments or turning the other cheek, some American fans doused their Beatles albums in kerosene and scorched them. Others sent death threats in purple crayon while the Ku Klux Klan nailed Beatles albums to burning crosses.
In trying to clarify his position, Lennon said, “Originally I was pointing out the fact with reference to England – that we meant more to kids at that time than Jesus did.” Who could argue with that? In one of his previous books, The Gospel According to the Beatles, Turner underpins Lennon’s point: “Members of this generation could have quoted more Beatles lyrics than they could Hymns Ancient and Modern and would know more about John the Beatle than John the Baptist, more about Paul of Allerton than Paul of Tarsus.”
As the Beatles would soon discover, fame and fortune were often vacuous taskmasters. At a later time in Lennon’s life he addictively found himself watching popular television preachers in search of answers. It was reported that Lennon sent a fascinating letter to the Rev. Oral Roberts in 1972, regretting having said that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus and confessing that he took drugs because he feared reality. Additionally, he quoted the famous lyrics “money can’t buy me love” and sent a donation.
“It’s true. The point is this, I want happiness,” read the letter to Roberts. “I don’t want to keep on with drugs… Explain to me what Christianity can do for me. Is it phony? Can He love me? I want out of hell.”
In the midst of a thoughtful and lengthy response, Roberts wrote, “What I want to say … is that Jesus, the true reality, is not hard to face. He said, ‘Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest … For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’”
Despite the letters exchanged between the rock star and the TV preacher, Lennon’s restless journey eventually led him to embrace philosophies and beliefs that were all over the map.
“You could rattle human authority by growing your hair long, but you couldn’t conquer your inner demons in the same way,” observed Turner. “To ‘change your head,’ as John referred to it in [the song] ‘Revolution,’ required something much more radical.”
Few movements within American Christianity were more radical than the long haired, barefooted hippies getting high on Jesus, revolutionizing church music, tuning into verse-by-verse Bible study, enthusiastically sharing their faith, and being baptized by the thousands in the Pacific Ocean during the Jesus Movement after the Summer of Love.
Looking back 50 years, perhaps that was at least what some of the hippies were trying to discover during that season — something much more radical, a true reality, a change of heart, a touch from God. In hindsight, it’s not such a bad quest.
Steve Beard is the editor of Good News.
The Rev. Adam Weber, pastor of Embrace, a multi-campus United Methodist congregation based out of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
You aren’t anticipating to hear the pastor of the fastest-growing United Methodist congregation in the United States confess his struggle with discouragement and self-doubt. Nevertheless, half an hour before our interview, Adam Weber told an attentive audience at a packed-out Seedbed conference in Houston about a Sunday evening text conversation he recently had with his best friend.
“Hey man, I’m struggling,” Weber began his text.
“And I wanted to say that I’m wondering if God can use me,” he told the audience. “I feel unusable. And I’m struggling with discouragement.” Weber asked his friend for prayer. His buddy prayed for him but also addressed his discouragement by countering the lies that were sneaking into Weber’s heart and mind. He reminded Weber of who God is and how “God uses me and how God sees me, that I’m a son of the king. Reminding me of the simple truth that God loves me, and how God can use anyone, He’s simply looking for someone who’s willing and available to be used. That’s the requirement.”
Weber was strung out on ministry and needed a boost. “My friend was cheering me on: ‘Keep going, you’re doing good, just keep running you’re doing well.’ Sounds strange to share but it was one of the coolest gifts I was given last year, just my friend being present in this moment. I was just reminded of how much we need friends.”
The phenomenal growth of Embrace, a multi-campus United Methodist congregation based out of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, accentuated Weber’s dependence upon prayer and friendship. Speaking in the jargon of our social media age, he points out that there is a gargantuan difference between Instagram followers and true friends, as well as Facebook likes and heartfelt, actual love – especially for leaders. “We can have so many relationships through church, but so often we don’t have one friend that we can call and be real with. We might know half the earth but we don’t have one friend that we can call when we’re broken,” Weber said. “It’s completely crazy.”
Good News’ editor and editorial assistant, Steve Beard and Courtney Lott, sat down with Weber to talk to him about ministry and his new book Talking With God.
You give a very sobering description of what it means to be pastoring the fastest growing United Methodist congregation in the United States. And, you’ve written a book on prayer. You experienced dramatic ups-and-downs in leaving seminary to launching a church to getting burned out, and then seeing your church explode. In what way did prayer change for you in those different stages?
That’s a great question. At the start of the church, it was a lot of praying for things: “God, help me to find a staff person.” “Lord, help this family to come to our church.” “God, grow attendance.” “Lord, would you do this?” “Would you do that?” Then during the season of burn out, I just sort of hit rock bottom and it really became, “Lord, I need your help, I need you personally.” I think that was probably the biggest change that happened. I switched from praying for things to praying: “I need more of you, Jesus. I need more of your word. Your word is a light, you know I need you, for my path, from moment to moment I need you.”
And I think my prayer life now is, “I still need you. I have those moments of where I’m broken, I’m desperate, but I just love being with you. I just want to spend more time with you, not just because I need you, because I do, but because I just want to be with you because I enjoy your presence so much.” I think that would probably be my three stages of what my prayer life has done since starting the church.
Did seminary prepare you for something outside of your control? Obviously, you’ve worked hard. But there’s an aspect to which you couldn’t have conjured up pastoring the fastest-growing church.
Never, that wasn’t even a desire of my heart. If you had said, what is your crazy goal, Adam? I’d have been like, gosh, if we could see 200 people come and pay our light bill and see a life change, that’s what my answer would’ve been. So there was no concept that something crazy could happen. So I think two things. During my very first semester in seminary I read Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. The book was given to me by Steve Martyn, my seminary professor, not the actor. [Laughter.] He prepared me. I think I needed even more tough love than he gave us. Because he was tough love, but my skull was even ten times thicker. I truly thought that if you leave ministry you just don’t have a call on your life and that if you leave ministry you just don’t want to work hard and that’s not the case at all, we’re not robots.
I wish I would have pushed even further into the disciplines. The most important thing today? Time in God’s word. The most important thing today? Talking with the Lord. The most important thing today? If there’s sin I need to confess it. I wish I’d realized how crucial it was to have a close brother in my life who could sharpen me and I could sharpen him back.
Photo courtesy of Embrace Church.
The other thing I didn’t have exposure to was just seeing what it looks like to lead a church that does that. And there’s not a lot of patterns for that. So I took Christian Leadership, but they don’t do Christian leadership for that. So that was something I’d never seen before. We weren’t big in numbers when we first started growing so I was kind of alone and I didn’t realize how fast it was growing and then once the word got out I was already burnt out. There weren’t people who could come along side me and say, “Hey.”
After I went through that season I started having lots of people speaking into my life. Who had seen rapid growth or pastored larger churches. And they just said, “Hey, you need to make a change.” I can remember sitting down with a Baptist pastor who had pastored a church that was 2-3,000. He asked how I was utilizing my week and I told him. And he just said, “No way…no way.” And I said, “Yeah, is that weird?” He was just horrified by how I was leading, by what I was doing. “You need to hand that off.” I can remember the restaurant I was at when he met with me and was encouraging me.
In one part of your book you write about The Practice of the Presence of God. Are there other books that are very influential in your prayer life besides that one that you would recommend?
Again, I’d mention Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline. Also his book on prayer. The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer is so good. Knowing God by J.I. Packer isn’t directly about prayer, but it kind of is. Those would be the first few ones I’d list off. Foster’s book on prayer was shaping for me. Just those different aspects because he talks about different kinds of prayer. Prayers I never would’ve thought about praying before. Like the prayer of examination, just examine your heart – Psalm 139, “search me oh God and examine my heart.” That was a huge shaping book. The Pursuit of God by Tozer was my first old school book that I can remember reading. It was even an older version of it because it even smelled funky because it was old. I can remember going through it and thinking “wow,” just coming alive and hearing someone’s passion and heart for the Lord and their own pursuit for him was strengthening to mine. That was shaping.
There was a time before you grew that your district superintendent told you, “Yeah, we’ll just close this church.” Describe the drive home after that meeting.
Yeah and it was never said in a threat-filled way or anything like that. [But] I was totally broken. On my drive home, I was totally broken. I was already tired and so unsure of myself and yet I knew I loved the church. And I just had this feeling with a few changes I felt like we’d grow, but I didn’t have any proof of that. You know you have gut feelings, but after three years of trying to grow and you haven’t, gut feelings don’t really do a whole lot.
Then we got assigned a pastor type coach a week or two after that. He’d met with our team and had heard the story and he said, “Next month, you guys are going to grow, and you’re going to grow and grow.”
And I said, “I think you’ve not listened to anything we’ve said to you.” I said, “How did you get to that?” It was so crazy I almost didn’t want to listen to him. The last thing he said to us, which was so ironic, he said, “I want you guys to start praying about when you’re going to launch a campus off this church.”
I thought to myself, “You’ve officially went in the loony bin because our church is going to be closed here pretty soon if we don’t grow.” And sure enough, we moved in and started to grow. What was so cool was that that coach met with myself and the conference leadership. And he said the same thing to them. He said “They’re going to grow and you’re not going to know what to do with them.” And I thought, “Okay, maybe don’t say this to my bosses.” And yet he was spot on.
Photo courtesy of Embrace Church.
What is your prayer for the United Methodist Church?
My prayer for the United Methodist Church is that we would rediscover our passion for Jesus. I’m reading through the sermons of John Wesley right now. And he said a whole bunch of things we often quote, but what we don’t often quote is his desire to reach people for Christ. First and foremost, I need to tell as many people as possible about Jesus. Because he’s everything, he’s our savior, he’s our Lord. We’ve got the greatest news that’s ever been told: “Behold I bring you good news of great joy, a savior has been born, he is Christ the Lord.”
Personally, I need a savior, and I need the Lord right now. My whole life I’ve needed those two things. We need to rediscover that. We always get asked, “What’s the secret sauce to growth?” I say, “It’s going to be really profound: Tell people about Jesus.”
You’re broken? He can make you whole. You feel like you’ve had regrets and you’ve screwed up in life? He’s able to take our regrets and use it for good. He’s able to wipe the slate clean. I’m like, man, I need both of those things. You read Wesley and that was his message. Ω
The Rev. Billy Graham speaking at the 1980 United Methodist Congress on Evangelism. Photo by Religion News Service.
The Rev. Dr. Billy Graham christened the decade of the 1980s by preaching at the United Methodist Congress on Evangelism meeting on the campus of Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Graham’s evangelistic ministry played a key role in the conversion of Good News’ founding editor Charles Keysor and he was an important inspiration during the formative years of the work of Good News. Three years before the Congress on Evangelism address, Graham wrote a personal note of encouragement to the staff and board of directors of Good News:
“I have always believed that The United Methodist Church offers tremendous potential as a starting place for a great revival of Biblical Christian faith. Around the world, millions of people do not know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, and I believe that The United Methodist Church, with its great size and its honorable evangelistic tradition, can be mightily used by God for reaching these lost millions,” wrote Graham in 1977.
“I have been acquainted with the Good News movement and some of its leaders since 1967. To me it represents one of the encouraging signs for the church fulfilling its evangelistic mission, under the Bible’s authority and the leadership of the Holy Spirit. At the forefront of the Good News Movement has been Good News Magazine. For 10 years it has spoken clearly and prophetically for Scriptural Christianity and renewal in the church. It should be read by every United Methodist.”
Everyone associated with Good News in that era found considerable inspiration in Dr. Graham’s encouraging words. What follows is an adaptation of the transcript of his address on January 2, 1980, to his United Methodist brothers and sisters.
– Steve Beard, editor in chief
By Billy Graham-
The evangelistic harvest is always urgent. The destiny of man and of nations is always being decided. This may be one of God’s great spring times, when He is going to do a new thing. There seem to be periods of special urgency in history when it can be said, with great relevance, the fields are white unto harvest. And I believe that we are now in such a period. Our world is on fire and man, without God, cannot control the flames. The fire is a passion and greed and hate and lust are sweeping uncontrollably around our globe.
We live in the midst of crisis, danger, fear and death. The harvest is ripe. Never has the soil of the human heart and mind been better prepared than it is tonight. Never has the grain been thicker. Never have we had more efficient 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 often floundering in confusion, especially concerning evangelism.
1. There is confusion in the church as to what evangelism means. Dr. George Hunter in his excellent book, The Contagious Congregation, says, “Evangelism is a much misunderstood word, capable of many possible meanings.” Most people swear either by it or at it. Some think of evangelism simply in terms of getting people into the church or persuading them to conform to a particular pattern of religious belief and behavior, similar to their own. Today there are many people who think of evangelism as social action and omit entirely the winning of people to a personal relationship with Christ.
In recent years, many have rejected the Biblical doctrine that men and women are individually sinners before God and will be held responsible at the judgment. Instead, they believe in a doctrine of collective sinfulness and the corporate guilt of society.
Two weeks ago, I attended the funeral of Bishop Fulton Sheen. He had been one of my dear friends for many years. And speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast last year, he began by saying, “President Carter and Mrs. Carter, you are sinners.” You can imagine how shocked the audience was. And then he said, “We’re all fellow sinners.”
Archbishop Sheen then pointed out that rabbis and preachers had stopped talking about sin. Then he pointed out that Dr. Carl Menninger, the famous psychiatrist, had written the book, Whatever Happened to Sin? to draw attention to the need for a rediscovery of our personal sin and responsibility before God.
Many have moved from a belief in man’s personal responsibility before God to an entirely new concept that assumes all men and women are already saved. There’s a spreading universalism, which has deadened our urgency that was had by John and Charles Wesley, Francis Asbury, E. Stanley Jones, and others like them.
This new evangelism leads many to reject the idea of conversion in its historical Biblical meaning and the meaning historically held and preached and taught by the Methodist Church.
The church – and I’m talking about all denominations now – needs to recover a Biblical definition of evangelism. And it seems to me that we cannot improve on the definition of evangelism given to us by the Lausanne Covenant: “Evangelism is the proclamation of the historical, Biblical Christ as Savior and Lord with a view to persuading people to come to him personally and be reconciled to God. The results of evangelism include obedience to Christ, incorporation into his church and responsible service in the world.
The Bible does not use the word “evangelism,” but the verb form of the word appears often in the New Testament, which basically means to proclaim the Good News and is used over 50 times. By using verbs to speak about evangelism, the Bible puts the stress on active communication.
Canon Douglas Webster of the Church of England pointed out, “In the great majority of the 76 instances of the word ‘Gospel’ in the New Testament, the verb that goes with it is to preach. However, evangelism is never mere words isolated from the total witness of God’s people.” There is no dichotomy between redemptive evangelism and our social responsibility. They go together. They are partners and we must recognize that.
2. There is confusion concerning the motive for evangelism. Our first motive is the command of the Lord Jesus Christ. Three of the four Gospels end with the commission to the church to evangelize the world. And the book of Acts begins with another similar commission. And Jesus repeated it five times. I don’t go around the world preaching the Gospel because I feel like it. I’m tired of flying airplanes. But to go from one town to another and one airport to another and live in a suitcase and all the rest of it, I wouldn’t do it for any other business or any other motive except one. I’m under orders from the Lord Jesus Christ who died for my sins and shed His blood and is alive.
Evangelism is the example set by the preaching of the apostles. They said, “for we cannot stop speaking of what we ourselves have heard and seen.” We are beggars telling other beggars how to find bread.
“Jesus had compassion on them” is the phrase that is used over and over in the Gospels. He looked on men, not only as separated from God by sin, but as sick bodies that needed his healing touch and empty stomachs that needed feeding and prejudiced hearts that needed his words.
Photo courtesy of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
It was natural for Andrew, when he found Christ, to go and tell his brother Peter, and for Phillip to hurry and break the good news to his friend, Nathaniel. They did not need to be told to do it. They did it naturally and spontaneously. They were all evangelists.
If we have lost our enthusiasm for Christ, our eagerness to share our faith, it’s because our faith has ceased to mean much to us. The apostle Paul said, I’m not ashamed of the Gospel.
Dr. John Stott, speaking before the General Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Nairobi said, “I would like now to suggest one way in which to recall to the urgency of evangelism those to whom requests for justice, love, liberation, humanization, and quality of life are paramount. It is to urge that their concerns are absolutely right.” Certainly, it’s right to be concerned about those that are oppressed, those that are hungry, those that are starving, those that are orphans.
But many times he said it becomes too narrow and too superficial. If justice means the securing of people’s rights, is it not one of their most fundamental rights to hear the Gospel? If love seeks to serve men’s highest welfare, can we leave them alone in their spiritual lostness and still claim to love them?
John the Baptist came preaching judgment. Jesus preached judgment. There is a day of accountability coming and people do not seem to be aware of it.
I believe the scriptures teach that people outside of Jesus Christ are lost. In Matthew 7, our Lord says to some men, “Depart from me.” And hear His final judgment. He again said, “He that believeth not is condemned already.” If we really believe that men are lost apart from Jesus Christ, it should become a burning incentive to evangelize with zeal and passion.
The great Methodist preacher of London and a long time personal friend of mine, Dr. Leslie Weatherhead, once said, quote, “We do our generation a great disservice if we make light of sin and pretend that it does not matter and that we are all going to the same place and that God will pat everybody on the head and say, there, there, it doesn’t matter. I’m sure you didn’t mean it. Come now, enjoy yourselves.”
Dr. Weatherhead went on to point out that there are many things we don’t know about hell, but that Jesus used every image in His power to tell us that hell is real and that it’s terrible, that it’s something to be feared and it’s something to avoid.
“Jesus had compassion on them” is the phrase that is used over and over in the Gospels. He looked on men, not only as separated from God by sin, but as sick bodies that needed his healing touch and empty stomachs that needed feeding and prejudiced hearts that needed his words.
Evangelism and social compassion have always gone together. That’s one reason I love the Salvation Army. Salvation and soup. They put them together.
And the Methodists have always done it. Today, the evangelist, whether he is Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, or Catholic, cannot ignore the diseased and the poor and the discriminated against and those who have lost their freedom from tyranny.
These social evils cry loudly in our ears and we too must have compassion on them. Some of the greatest social movements of history have come about as a result of men being converted for Christ. And I am convinced that if the church went back to its main task of proclaiming the Gospel, it would have far greater impact on the social, moral, and psychological needs of men than any other thing it could possibly do.
3. There is confusion also concerning the message of salvation. Many times, when traveling internationally, we encounter the customs agent who says, “Have you anything to declare?” And some day I’m going to surprise one of those fellows and say, “Yes, I have to declare to you that Jesus Christ died for your sins according to the scriptures, was buried and rose again the third day. Repent and believe.”
But tragically many times the church doesn’t have much to declare. Any other message than the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not evangelism. Call it something else. It may be good and fine and great. But Paul sums up the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures. He was buried and He rose again the third day, according to the scriptures.” Now, notice, he said “according to the scriptures.” And I want to tell you, I believe the Bible is the authoritative Word of God.
Now, I accept by faith that this is God’s Word. And everything we need to believe for salvation is in this book and also for our daily lives. And when Paul preached this message in Corinth, nothing seemed more irrelevant to the people of that day. Think of it. Pagan, immoral, secular, intellectual. Corinth, and Paul, the only Christian in town, and he was going to start a church.
How would you start a Methodist church in ancient Corinth? Well, Paul said, “I determined to know nothing among them except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” and I was scared and fearful and trembling and weak and I didn’t use enticing words and I didn’t use my intellectual ability, I just declared to them, Jesus and Him crucified, and God touched Corinth. And one of the great early churches was born.
While methods may change, brothers and sisters, the message never changes. It is relevant and transforming in every generation. I’d like to preach the sermons of John Wesley and George Whitfield because I’m convinced they still have the power today as they did 200 years ago. The message doesn’t change.
4. There is confusion concerning the strategy of the enemy in evangelism. To Jesus and the apostles, Satan was very real. He was called the prince of this world, the god of this age, the prince and power of the air. And names indicate something of his character and strategy. He was called deceiver, liar, murderer, accuser, tempter, destroyer and many other names. And the evangelist, in the work of evangelism, is opposed on every hand by tremendous spiritual forces.
When the seed of the Gospel is being sown, he is always there sowing the tares. But more, he has the power to blind the minds of those whom we are seeking to evangelize. His strategy is to use deception, sometimes force, sometimes evil and error to destroy the effectiveness of the Gospel. If we ignore the existence of Satan or our ignorance of his devices, then we fall into his clever trap. However, we have the glorious promise, “Greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world.”
5. There is confusion also concerning the method of evangelism. You go to any part of the world and they use different methods. The method I use may not be the most effective method. We try to use a multiplicity of methods in our crusades. No one method will be right for every person in every situation at any given time.
The Holy Spirit can take any method and use it to win souls. But our goal is nothing less than the penetration of the whole world. Jesus said, “This Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached throughout the world.” Paul said to Timothy, stir up the gift that’s in you. And it’s the picture of a poker being thrust into a dying fire until the embers flare up again.
When the church fails to stir up that gift, it dies. As someone said, the church exists by mission. Fire exists by burning. But what we need most is revival in the church.
One of the great mission fields of the world, let’s confess it, is the church itself. George Whitfield would go from church to church and he would preach a whole week on “you must be born again.” And do you remember, the leaders came to him in one place and said, “Brother Whitfield, we’d appreciate it if you’d change your text. We’re just tired of hearing that same text over and over again, ‘you must be born again.’” He said, “I’ll change when you get born again.” We need a little bit of that.
The Holy Spirit has not been withdrawn from us. He still waits to work through those who are willing to meet His conditions. We are tempted at times to cry with Habakkuk the prophet, “Oh, Lord, how long shall I cry and thou will not hear? How long, oh, Lord?” Let us not limit God in His working. Sometimes the working of the Holy Spirit may seem slow in your church or your conference or in your denomination. But let’s get ready for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It could happen.
If the church was supernaturally blessed of God at its birth, who will say that in the closing days of its witness here on earth, it will not be blessed even in a mightier way? And perhaps, God will reply to us, as He did to a discouraged Habakkuk, “I will work a work in your days which you would not believe in even though I told you.”
Let me tell you, God hasn’t lost step. Nothing takes him by surprise. Everything is according to plan. And the plan is, to put Jesus Christ on the throne.
We all know that great statement by Wesley in 1784. “You have nothing to do but to save souls, therefore spend and be spent in this work.” Observe. “It is not your business to preach so many times and to take care of this or that society; but to save as many souls as you can; to bring as many sinners as you possibly can to repentance and with all your power to build them up in that holiness, without which they will never see the Lord.”
Let it be remembered that the Methodist church began in the white peak of conversion and intense evangelistic energy. Let it be recalled that the Methodist church is an evangelistic movement. Let this be a decade when the great revival that many are praying for and many believe is on the way is going to sweep the Methodist church.
Billy Graham is an evangelist for Jesus Christ, friend of sinners, and a greatly beloved Christian leader and author known around the globe.