I feel highly honoured to be here today and to have received the Templeton Award. I think I speak for the entire Christian world when I say how grateful we are to Mr. Templeton for providing this Award to bring to the attention of the world the contribution of religion. We are grateful for his vision, dedication, and untiring efforts to further the cause of religion, morality, social change, and world peace.
When I read the list of past recipients, I am reminded of the man in southern America who entered his mule into America’s most prestigious horse race — the Kentucky Derby. When asked if he thought his mule had a chance, he said ‘No, but look at the company he’ll be in?’
I feel today that I am in illustrious company with those who have been past recipients. I certainly do not feel that I deserve such an award. However, I receive it in the name of the Lord I serve, humbly realizing that without the dedication of my wife and family, and the loyalty, gifts and dedication of my associates, it would have been impossible for me to have proclaimed the Gospel of Christ in every continent using every modern means that technology can provide.
From what I have read, I am a recipient of this award especially because of my work in the field of evangelism. I would therefore like to speak briefly and personally on the place of evangelism in the modern world.
So that we will understand what the terminologies are: the word ‘gospel’ comes from a Greek word which means ‘good news’ or ‘good tidings’ or ‘good word’. In this case, it means that there is a God of love who is willing to forgive sin and is offering the hand of reconciliation to all men and women of every race and climate, His love and fellowship — but more — eternal life.
The word ‘evangelist’ is only used three times in the New Testament. It is ‘one who announces the gospel or good tidings’. This phenomena of people claiming others for Christ is emphasized in the New Testament by the fact that the Greek word for evangelize is used 52 times, and the noun form of good news or gospel is found 74 times.
Two thousand years ago, this word ‘evangelist’ described an announcer who would go through the city streets announcing the latest news. They had no radio, television or newspapers, so they had an announcer who would ride on the back of a donkey, horseback, or just walk through the streets shouting the announcements of the news. Thus, in the New Testament an evangelist is an announcer. He is a communicator. He is a deliverer of a message. He has no authority to tamper with the message. He delivers it as it has been given to him. The gift of evangelist is listed in the New Testament as one of the spiritual gifts God has given to His Church to upbuild it, and throughout history since then God has laid His sovereign hand on individuals to carry the Gospel message to the ends of the earth in obedience to Christ’s command: ‘Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world’ (Matthew 28: 19–20). Evangelism is not all the Church is called to do, but a church which fails to take seriously its evangelistic responsibility becomes ingrown and stagnant. It is through evangelism that the Christian Gospel has penetrated the ends of the earth, and the evangelistic thrust of the Church — carried out by many means — has had a profound impact in shaping both the church today and the modern world. This is especially true of the great missionary movements which swept the world beginning in the last century.
Seventy-two years ago, a world missionary conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, met to consider the opportunities and responsibilities of evangelizing the world in their generation. From this Assembly on evangelism 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 missionary union launched by evangelist D. 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 10th December 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 University in 1886 until his death nearly 73 years later, John R. Mott was first, last, and always an evangelist.
So at this point I would like to ask, ‘But what is the message?’ or ‘What does it mean to evangelize?’ It seems to me that it would be difficult to improve on the definition of evangelism that was given to us by the Archbishop’s Committee on Evangelism in 1918: ‘To evangelize is so to 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 King in the fellowship of His Church’. The Gospel we proclaim is called the ‘kerygma’. Its essential contents are summarized in I Corinthians 15: 3, 4, “For I delivered unto you first of all 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’. The good news is that Christ has taken our sin, judgment and hell on the cross. Because He died, God can now not only forgive but justify us. When we come in repentance and faith He forgives our sins, He gives us eternal life, and we become recipients of the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit who can produce through us the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me’ (John 14: 6).
The Apostle Peter said in Acts the fourth chapter and twelfth verse: ‘Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved’. Thus, according to the Scriptures, there is an exclusiveness to the Gospel. This is why there is an urgency to the evangelistic task in every generation.
I would like to use two statements that Jesus Christ made. 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 is from Matthew 9: 37, 38, ‘The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest’.
Christ often used the simile of the harvest. In these two passages it serves to illustrate the urgency of evangelism today.
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 marvellous Saviour was nearby. Already the people were streaming eagerly and curiously out 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 for the Kingdom of God.
Harvest time is always 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 is this note of urgency concerning 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. But we are not responsible for the past generation, and we cannot bear full responsibility for the next one. However, we do have our generation! God holds us responsible for what happens now. We have been given greater and sharper instruments to gather in a greater harvest than any generation of history. Our Lord warned that to whom much is given, of him will much be required (Luke 12: 48). 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. This decade may be the most decisive years since Christ walked the roads of Galilee. 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. The spectre of a nuclear holocaust looms large. It is estimated that more than 60 million people will die premature deaths because of malnutrition and starvation this year. Millions live under oppression. If ever there was a need to bring the Gospel message with urgency and spiritual power, it is now. Almost every newspaper and every book screams from its pages, ‘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 efficient instruments in our hands to help us.
I interrupted a tour of New England cities and universities to go to Moscow and to come here. During the first part of this tour that began on the 15th of April 1 have already spoken to the students of several major universities including Harvard, Yale, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, etc. I have already held evangelistic meetings in several New England states. Everywhere I have gone the interest has been the greatest I have known in my career in preaching throughout New England. Many of the requirements for spiritual renewal are in New England today, and I believe during the eighties we are going to see a spiritual renewal there that may affect all America, because Boston is still the intellectual centre of our country. I go back to America tomorrow to renew the tour that will be climaxed in a major Crusade in Boston University’s outdoor stadium.
I can sense the same thing here in England. I was here just a few weeks ago preaching in Blackpool and meeting with leaders that came to Manchester from all over the country. We have been invited to football stadiums in five centres in 1984. I feel that there’s a rising spiritual tide in Britain. I felt it the year before last in the missions that it was my privilege to hold at both Oxford and Cambridge Universities. And last year when I had dialogue at Cambridge with the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Ramsey.
I feel it when I hear the stories of what is happening among many of the young people of Britain. Certainly it is not a majority. It is a small minority. But spiritual life is there, and a great burden rests upon their hearts to do something before it is too late. They feel this is a time of harvest. And what I have said about America and Britain is true in many parts of the world. Materialism and secularism have not been able to fill the void in the hearts of men.
Yet, at a time when the harvest is the ripest in history, the church is often floundering in tragic confusion. For years the church has been urged in conference after conference to do evangelism, and yet there is still confusion about what biblical evangelism is. 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. The early church proclaimed to the world ‘we have found hope instead of despair, life for death, forgiveness for guilt, purpose for existence’. They shouted abroad, ‘We’ve found it in Christ, and having found it we must share it’. That was the evangelism of the early church.
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 don’t you tell him to mind his own business?’ The woman replied, ‘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’.
The proclamation, however, of which I speak also carries with it the idea of diakonia, or service. We witness not only by what we say but what we do. There also should be no dichotomy between the winning of a person to Christ and the social responsibility that the new disciple bears. The social, psychological, moral and spiritual needs of men and women become a burning motivation to proclamation and service if a person is a true disciple.
However, I am convinced that in recent decades the church sometimes has gone too far in exclusively trying to solve the social and political problems of the world without also addressing itself to the spiritual needs of men and women first. I am convinced if the Church went back to the main task of proclaiming the Gospel it would see people being converted to Christ, and it would have a far greater impact on the social, moral, and psychological needs of people than anything else it could possibly do.
Some of the greatest social movements of history in this country have come about as a result of people being converted to Christ. Many examples could be cited: the conversion of Wilberforce that led to the freeing of the slaves; the conversion of William Booth that led to the founding of the Salvation Army; the conversion of George Williams that led to the founding of the Y.M.C.A.; the conversion of Barnardo that led to the founding of the Barnardo Homes; the conversion of Keir Hardie that led to the founding of the British Labour Party. Scores of current and up-to-date illustrations could also be given from many countries.
We are sometimes guilty of exhorting people to love each other before they have the capacity to love each other. This capacity can only fully come about through a personal relationship with Christ.
It was my privilege to spend the winter of 1946/47 here in this country. Europe was just beginning to dig itself out of the rubble of World War II.
When the Olympic Committee decided to revive the Olympic Games after World War II in London, a flaming torch had to be carried from Athens to London following the ancient tradition. Seventeen hundred youthful runners from many countries were appointed to carry the flame in relays a distance of 1,700 miles. The first would sprint a statute mile, deliver the torch to the second, and so on until the torch arrived at last in London, the site of the Olympics in 1948. This flame was a symbol of hope to a world ravaged by war.
Two thousand years ago the ancient world stood at the point of crisis. Religion had become a hollow mockery. Roman military might had enslaved a great portion of the world. Race superiority was asserted by the dominant ethnic group. And uninhibited lust for pleasure was universal. Men and women were sold like animals in the market-place and were slain in the arena for the entertainment of the blood thirsty mobs who sought to satiate their perverted taste for entertainment.
But in the city of Jerusalem, a little band of people prayed to be endued with power from on high, because they had been instructed to do so by their Master before His death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. After 10 days of prayer, fasting, and self-examination a phenomena occurred the like of which the world had never seen, ‘There appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 2: 3).
The Heavenly fire spread from the hearts of this little band to ‘Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia. Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians’ (Acts 2: 9–11).
At this opportune time, and from this strategic place, the Lord God put the torch of the Gospel into the hands of representatives of every culture and climate in the then- known world and sent them flaming north with the ever- lasting Gospel of Jesus Christ. You and I who claim the name of Christ today are heirs and beneficiaries of their faithfulness, along with Christians of many traditions throughout the world.
Today, in this year of our Lord 1982, the world stands once more on the edge of crisis.
In the Museum of Modern Art in New York there is a modernistic painting of a parking meter, the kind we see every day in the streets of our cities. Across the meter in large red letters are the words, ‘Time Expired’.
This warning is not only written across this modernistic painting, it is also written in the heart of modern man. There is the universal feeling that history is running out, that civilization’s days are numbered, that the problems of the world are insoluable, that hope has reached its frazzled end.
That would be true indeed were it not for one thing, and that is this: G + dm = R3. God plus dedicated men and women equals revival, renewal and revolution. That’s the formula of spiritual relativity. It is more potent than Einstein’s theory of relativity because it lays hold upon the inexhaustible resources not of the physical universe but of God Himself.
In my travels I have heard the inner groanings, felt inexpressible longings, and sensed the deep hunger to know a purpose and meaning in life, and a great thirst for the supernatural in the hearts of men and women. It is true in every culture and every political or economic or social situation.
As those 1,700 young men carried the Olympian torch from Athens to London in 1948, so I would like to rededicate my life today for the remaining years that I may have to carry the torch to as many people as possible, using every facility that modern technology has given us. I challenge you also, if you claim to follow Christ, to commit yourself in a deeper way to Him and to making His saving Gospel known.
Our Saviour was the light of the world, but when His earthly life was extinguished He said to His torchbearers: ‘Ye are the light of the world’ so ‘let your light shine before men’ (Matthew 5: 14–16).
From that day to this, rescued, redeemed men and women have carried the torch of the Gospel and wherever it has shone it has dispelled darkness, despair and sin, and has brought hope to the hearts of men. It can do it again.