Key 73 – A Failure?

In the June 15 Church Herald, Peter Paulsen, from his vantage point in one of the promotional offices of the Reformed Church of America, ventures to express a few of his observations on Key 73.

“Key 73, the much heralded, year-long program of continent-wide evangelistic endeavors,” Paulsen writes, “is now half over.” While the reports I receive are spotty, the word I get is that Key 73 has failed to live up to its promises. Certainly there are places where things are happening, but they tend to be the places where things were happening already. Key 73 did not generate them but rather gave them a new temporary wrapper . . . the Key 73 system has been weighed and found wanting.”

Why Did It Fail? – In his analysis of the reasons for this evident failure of the program Paulsen suggests three considerations:

1. Trying to unify the churches around the simple assertion, “Jesus is Lord” has proved to be no more successful than the much more complex ecumenical efforts such as the Consultation on Church Union (COCU) have been, for the various church groups do not seem to agree on what it is supposed to mean.

2. The effort to elicit ideas for action from local churches in Key 73 has proved to be no more effective than trying to impose ideas on them “from the top” had previously been, and no effective method has been devised to combine the two approaches.

3. Finally, Mr. Paulsen observes that our highly sophisticated public, accustomed to TV and film productions of experts in the use of these media, does not respond well to the amateurish efforts of many who are obviously working outside of their fields in what they have produced for Key 73.

Paulsen’s conclusion is that “Key 73 will not materially aid in the realization of this vision (of ‘every life radically committed to the Lord’) until it gets serious about reaching and motivating Christians, supplying them with usable ideas and resources, and freeing people to do the thing they do best, even if that means allowing the TV producer to do TV evangelism.”

Some Evaluations – Mr. Paulsen’s observations about the course of the Key 73 program are impressive; his diagnosis of the reason for the disappointing results and prescriptions to remedy the deficiencies are less impressive. The Christian who tries to evaluate such things in the light of God’s Word can hardly expect that merely finding more convincing formulae, devising a way of balancing central and local initiative, and hiring more professionally trained specialists will make the churches’ evangelism more effective in winning the vast host of people who are showing themselves to be as indifferent to “high flying ecclesiastical jargon” as to “old time piety.”

The Bible tells us that “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually judged” (I Cor. 2:14). We will never succeed in putting life into spiritually dead men or spiritually dead churches by trying to devise some kind of ecclesiastical or ecumenical pump to do the job. Artificial respiration docs not produce life. That appears to be approximately what many of the current efforts, our own as well as others’, are attempting to do. No one should be surprised if such efforts fail. God’s Word tells us we can expect nothing else!

What does God’s Word say is needed for effective evangelism? It tells us that only the Spirit of God can make the spiritually-blind see and the spiritually-dead alive (I Cor. 2:10; 12:3; John 16:8ff.). The Bible informs us that He brings about this miracle by His word Games 1:18 and 1 Peter 1:23) and therefore, whether any of our evangelistic efforts are really His work or not can and must be tested by asking the question whether they in their content and method faithfully bring His Word (I John 4:1ff.). Paul found that that Word was “the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth” (Rom. 1:17) regardless of his background. The Reformers believed and experienced the same truth.

One of the “key” weaknesses of Key 73 is that it is an effort to align as large a number of churches as possible in an evangelistic program under the simple statement “Jesus is Lord” without defining what the slogan is supposed to mean. It is striking that the Lord Himself was by no means satisfied with such a bare confession (Matt. 7:21). He intimated that many false prophets (vs. 15) might concede that much, and that people whose “Christianity” amounted to no more than that would not enter His kingdom. Although even the demons on occasions were ready to acknowledge Christ as “the Son of God” (Luke 4:41), neither the Lord nor His missionaries (Acts 16:17, 18) were willing to accept the help of those who were still in the service of the devil. We cannot expect Him to be pleased by or to honor efforts to link believers and unbelievers in an unequal yoke (II Cor. 6:14) even in a testimony to Him.

Let us appreciate all true testimony of believers to Him and His gospel. We must acknowledge such testimony as His work and may expect Him to prosper and use it to fulfill His purpose. Let the evident failures of Key 73 spur us to more faithfully, seek to serve His Word, praying for and relying on the power of His Spirit.

Peter De Jong is pastor of the Christian Reformed Church of Dutton, Michigan.