For the Reformed churches of Australia the task of bringing in the straying and lost sheep of the fold is great. In fact, so great is that task that the churches are at a loss how and where to begin and, when begun, how to proceed. As can be expected, there are various opinions as to how we must begin and go about our Christ-given mandate. Indeed, there are some sharp differences of opinion here in Australia as there are in the United States and Canada.
Let this fact, however, stand clearly before the mind of every reader; there are no differing opinions as to the necessity and urgency of the task that confronts the Reformed churches in Australia. But just because the churches’ leaders, ministerial and lay alike, are so alive to their task, the differing ideas on how to begin and proceed arc forcefully and positively set forth. Let the writer assure every reader that though there are differing opinions, there is no hair-pulling, no name-calling, in fact not even evil suspicions of one another. Thus discussion is possible; even more than that, discussion is animated, spirit-charged, and fruitful.
Indications of the Reformed churches’ keen awareness of the necessity to evangelize is proved variously. Hardly a classical church letter or denominational periodical comes from the press but one call read one or more articles on the subject of evangelization. Should you attend the classical meetings, ministers’ get-togethers, you would soon hear a lively discussion on some aspect of reaching out to and/or receiving those coming in. There is also a darker side to the picture. On the lay level, down at the grass root level of our fellowship, the necessity of personal witnessing by precept and example is all too often sadly lacking. More on this latter aspect in a later issue. D.V.
At present I would like to inform you more specifically on the differing ideas regarding methods of evangelism and what gave rise to these.
The Graham Crusade is forcing the issue into the open. In early 1959 Dr. Graham and his fellow crusaders will concentrate their efforts in Sydney and Melbourne. Short crusades are also planned for the capital city of each state. Since our Reformed churches center in and about these capital cities of Australia, the entire Reformed fellowship in Australia will be in close proximity to the Graham Crusades. Among our Reformed folk, the question is repeatedly ask e d, “What are we to do: co-operate, participate, just pray for, or ignore the crusades?” “If we do take part, can we be conscience free and what specific part shall we take? If we do not take part, why not?” On the lay level there is uncertainty. Some fellow-Australian Christians, ardent evangelicals, are urging full and free cooperation. Yet the Reformed folk feel hesitant. They see so much in many of these Australian evangelicals that does not meet with approval. The question continually arises: Since we began our own Reformed Church because we found it difficult, if not impossible, to be one with the Baptist, Methodist, Church of Christ, Presbyterian, and Anglican people in worship and witnessing, should we now, in spite of that, before we have experienced and witnessed a Graham Crusade, pledge ourselves to cooperation? It is when the Reformed Churches at large ask what to do in view of the Graham crusade that the differing opinions of the leaders on how to evangelize come to the fore. Let it be said here that, apart from the Graham crusade, the problem confronting us is this: Should the Reformed Churches, as they begin and carry out their witnessing task, seek co-operation with existing evangelical bodies here, employ their met hods of special “evangelistic preaching,” of large mass meetings, of mass psychology, of revival type meetings on the local level etc., or should we continue to stand alone, or at most seek the co-operation of those truly Reformed at heart (as the Reformed Presbyterian, Free Presbyterian) and employ our own scripturally determined methods to preach the full counsel of God’s sovereign grace?
But now, since Dr. Graham is coming, this basic question is asked in relation to the crusades. And the question is answered by a loud, “yes, we must co-operate” by a few; by a loud “no, we may not co-operate”, by the majority. Both parties are honest, urgent seekers of the lost and straying sheep whom Jesus Christ claims as his own.
If we ask what reasons motivate the answer “yes”, nothing new is said—nothing that is not heard elsewhere in the world. Here are stock answers: “here we have a providentially provided man and means to bring many to salvation and into our churches”; “Graham is a true Christian”; “Graham preaches Jesus Christ and him crucified”; “we all believe in and serve are same Christ”; “Graham will not compromise with Liberals even if he does cooperate with them”; “Graham is used of the Lord in a wonderful way in other places of the world, so he will be used here beyond a doubt.” “If we do not join in we will lose a golden opportunity to receive new members”; “Jesus preached to large crowds, he had mass meetings also; it is a very scriptural way of bringing the gospel to many folk”; “we stiff Reformed can learn a lot from our evangelical brothers’ in zeal and methods”; “we Reformed have a wonderful heritage we must share with the masses, with the inquirers, with Graham and his helpers.” All these and more reasons for co-operation are not ignored by those who are opposed to cooperation.
A telling argument is used by those who favor participation of some sort in the crusade. It is this: “Many immigrants need a jolt, a shot in the mm from a spiritual point of view. Many of these are so hard to reach by the local church. The crusade undoubtedly will attract many of these wandering souls who have not yet found ecclesiastical moorings here.”
But why then do the majority not plan to cooperate with Dr. Graham’s crusade or adopt the methods of evangelism employed by the “evangelicals”? The reasons given are also some of the stock answers heard around the world. “Graham is an Arminian, he is a product of his training. He over-emphasizes the will of man”; “Graham cooperates with liberals, and even though it is said he does not compromise with them, it certainIy is a strange and unexplainable situation cooperation yet no compromise”; “Graham’s assistants, the counselors, have to recommend inquirers, converts, to the churches of their choice, regardless of the character of those churches without even being allowed to utter one word of warning regarding this or that church”; “mass evangelism is unavoidably charged with undue emotionalism.”
There are also some weighty considerations which are peculiar to the Australian scene. They lend much support to the stock reasons given for not favoring cooperation. I shall mention the following:
1. THE UNIQUE AUStRALIAN MENTALITY IN REGARD TO THE METHODS WHICH REVIVALISM HAS EMPLOYED IN THE PAST.
This was brought to our attention even before we ever set foot on Australian soil. When sailing to Australia, an Australian secretary of the China Inland Mission had seen me in conversation with an American Baptist revivalist who was going to New Zealand and Australia, “to conduct revival meetings.” Said the Australian, “He will soon find out that the many hit-and-run revivalists who have preceded him to Australia have made a bad impression upon the public there. The foreign revivalist is looked upon as an opportunist, as an intruder seeking the advancement of personal or of a specific group’s interest.”
It is a fact that tho public attitude here is definitely not favorable to revivalists, mass meeting evangelists. Recall what happened in Melbourne when Oral Roberts was there with his mass meeting techniques. He was literally thrown at and thrown out of the city.
Should we as a Reformed Church, who are known as a predominantly foreign church, which.is seeking to become Australian, join in this crusade? True, the Spirit of God can work great changes; it may well be that Graham will be received as no other was. Yet many are apprehensive.
A second element of this unique Australian mentality which we wish to mention is the prevalent sports and gambling craze and its setting. The Australian loves the big mass meeting—but for play, for excitement. The races and attendant gambling are intimately associated with big, exciting, massive crowds. There is an aversion to having religionists take over their techniques and places of sports and gambling. Yet this same play-boy Australian is conservative, staid in his attitude to religion. It is a good thing. but keep it where it belongs—in the church and home. Don’t make a show of things religious.”
The third factor in this Australian situation is the average Australian’s temperament. Though the Australian can get very excited at the races, he is on the whole a staid, quiet, emotionally sedate person. He takes great pride in his self-control. He avoids emotional tension, he dislikes the tensions of a religious mass meeting. He frowns on mass meeting techniques and revivalistic methods.
2. THE SECOND CONSIDERATION IS THE FACT THAT THE REFORMED CHURCHES HAVE SPOKEN IN THE PAST.
“We must come apart, be separate! The fundamentalism of some, the liberalism of others force us into separate denominational existence.” This was emphatically declared seven years ago. Must the Reformed Churches now become inconsistent and join in with those very ones to whom they said, “sorry we must part”?
The questions that arise are: Do we not repudiate our existence when we co-operate? Do we not in effect say that our Dutch cultural background was our reason for separation and establishment of our own church, while no basic Scriptural principles motivated us? These questions are not born of pride, of a feeling of shame or of fear for loss of face. The Reformed Churches were organized because of conviction because of deep true loyalty to the Word of God. A consistent witness, a God-honoring conviction, is involved, yes, is jeopardized if a cooperation is undertaken now with a group that includes Fundamentalists and Liberals.
3. THE THIRD CONSIDERATION IS THE WIDE. SPREAD IGNORANCE HERE IN AUSTRALIA PERTAINING TO tHE SCRIPTURAL TEACHING OF THE CHURCH.
The Reformed Churches are endeavoring to witness to the important Scriptural teaching regarding the nature and task of the church. It is a necessary endeavor indeed. It must not be impeded or obstructed in any way. Therefore men speak as follows:
“The church is the body of Christ, mandated to maintain, develop, and enlarge herself by preaching the Word, administering the sacraments, and exercising discipline. The task of the church is to be the center and source of all witnessing; from within her the message of salvation and life must go forth. But now, revivalism, mass evangelism as practiced, neglects the church as to its nature and task.
“The Reformed Churches therefore should seek to be truly scriptural in their approach to their witnessing task, in their duties to bring in the lost and straying sheep. The churches must work from within the churches, call men, compel men to come to the worship services and the churches must adapt the services to the visitors. More than that, the churches must send out workers onto the roads and into the streets. The churches’ workers must enter into the homes of the unevangelized, meet them in their normal living situation.”
Men who observe the Jebovah’s Witnesses and Mormons at work in Australia are deeply impressed. These heretics conduct no mass meetings; they employ no psychological media, but they plod the streets, ring doorbells, speak in the home, invite folk to their local worship center. These groups, with a very unscriptural message but with a scriptural method, accomplish much more here in Australia than mass evangelism can point to anywhere!
4. THE FOURTH CONSIDERATION IS THAT STUDENTS OF HISTORY ARE AWARE OF WHAT THE EFFECT OF REVIVALISM AND ITS METHODS HAVE BEEN IN OTHER NATIONS.
However, the number of folk in the religious scene in Australia are not aware of such facts as Timothy L. Smith explains in his book “Revivalism and Social Reform.” Says Smith, “Revivalism has been instrumental in creating widespread new ethical seriousness (which led to the social gospel), giving Arminian doctrines preeminence over Orthodox Calvinism; paving the way for the evangelical Unitarian, in opening the door to the Oberlin holiness movement and the general movement of perfectionism.” With such an unenviable record, revivalism offers us much to be apprehensive about in Australia and little to be happy with. But since few folk in Australia are aware of the inherent dangers in revivalism, in its message and methods, we must enlighten them. But if our churches join in the Graham Crusade, join in with the endeavors of other groups, will not their witness re revivalism be made of little effect? It is believed to be more effective to speak to the revivalists from the outside; they may listen. But if one seeks to speak up as one of them, he is silenced as a minority who must go along with the majority.
Many, many folk here in Australia are outside the fold; they are wandering, straying, lost sheep. “They too are of the fold” Jesus said, “They too must be brought in.” How shall we do it? Jesus said the shepherd left his 99 who were in the fold, and went out to the deserts and mountains to seek that one which was lost!
Our prayer here in Australia is that we indeed may be true to our dear Master in seeking and bringing in his sheep. Included in our prayer is “Lord, increasingly cause us to see how we can do it most effectively.”