The Witness to Men

Each assembly is responsible, in a corporate way, for the spread of the Gospel in its area. It is “the pillar and ground of the truth”— the pillar upon which the truth is inscribed and displayed for all to see, 1 Tim. 3. 15.

Of primary importance is the Godward exercise of the company in worship, but thereafter, in the power and freshness of royal priests, we must leave the marvellous light of the sanctuary and move out into the realm of moral darkness to witness to men — to proclaim to those without, by life and lip, the excellencies, the virtues, of Him who has called us out of darkness into His wonderful light.

Though we are all familiar with the principles of evangelism, yet it is in the practice of it we may be sadly lacking today. Suppose we were to take stock of the positive effort being put forth in the Gospel by our local assembly. What does it amount to? What is the extent of it? How effective do we find it to be? These are questions which from time to time we should frankly face up to. “Well”, the reply might be, “we have our regular Children’s work, the Sunday School, and week night Children’s Meeting; the Youth Class; the Ladies’ Meeting — and, of course, our Sunday evening Gospel service”. These are undoubtedly avenues for reaching the unsaved of all age-groups with the Gospel. Whether they are proving effective or not we must all determine according to our local experience and circumstances.

What of the Sunday Evening Gospel Meeting?

The Sunday evening Gospel meeting is perhaps the sector where our effectiveness may be most in question. It would seem that in these days only a few strangers (and, alas, sometimes none at all) are found in the hall for this regular proclamation of the Gospel. There are exceptions to this admittedly, and in some localities a dozen or two visitors attend regularly; although our own experience, confirmed by intelligent hearsay, would lead us to conclude that such places are not very numerous.

It is not surprising then — nor is it unreasonable — that some should question whether this type of Gospel effort ought not now to be discontinued. Some maintain, with considerable evidence and justification, that it is obsolete and outmoded, and a new approach to the corporate witness of the assembly is urgently needed. Others assert, in defence of the present situation, that whether there are unsaved present or not, if the Gospel is faithfully preached God Himself is glorified, and moreover the saints — particularly the elderly ones — receive blessing and refreshment for their souls through listening to the re-telling of the story which means so much to them. Who can doubt that these are worthy aims — God’s glory and the saints’ blessing — but the primary purpose of the preaching of the Good News is surely the salvation of lost souls. This being so, we must go to where the sinners are — the message is essentially for them. We must, in other terms, push away from the shore and shallows, and launch out into the deep where the fish move in their shoals, and there let down the Gospel net for a catch. The logic of this is writ large across the Scripture page; “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel” is the divine principle enunciated in the great commission, Mark 16. 15.

Some among us would maintain the ancestral tradition of the Gospel meeting in its present form, however ineffective it might prove to be. On the other hand, reformers would shut down the Sunday evening meeting entirely, and substitute something else in its place. But what is the valid test as to whether or not the established arrangement should be changed? Should it not be dictated by whether the new thing will be more effective and more productive than the one it displaces? In some cases the answer may be in the affirmative — in other instances, perhaps because of adverse “side effects”, the answer would be “No”.

Ways and Means

We would take the liberty of citing our local experience. The assembly, meeting in a redevelopment area, is now a small one. Yet, despite the fewness of numbers, a regular open-air meeting is held at a busy strategic point in the borough every Saturday afternoon, summer and winter alike. The Gospel is proclaimed uncompromisingly and fervently to the shoppers and their families and to the strollers, and hundreds of Gospel tracts are distributed. Contacts are made and conversations held during or at the close of the meeting. The Word of God is displayed on large canvas banners set up on the edge of the Green, and a text is also presented on the platform front. (After all, even in these sophisticated days, the banner with its slogan is the stock in trade of worldly demonstrations; why cannot this still be used by Gospel witnesses?) The banners are thoughtfully read by many passers-by. Some four or five brothers speak succinctly in quick succession. God’s Word is freely quoted. The messages are pithy and pointed, and no one can mistake the way of life and salvation. Meanwhile several sisters, stationed at strategic points to ensure that all in the vicinity can be offered a tract as they linger or pass by, distribute the leaflets. No singing is attempted, as the company is too small to make this impressive; although in past years, when the numbers were greater, effective singing to an accordion accompaniment was a feature of the witness. No public address system is now used. We discontinued this to avoid losing the site when the borough bye-laws were revised — a blessing in disguise, for the power and resonance of the brothers’ voices have since improved, in some cases almost out of all recognition. We resort too readily to artificial means of amplification today. Those who assay to speak, do well to cultivate their natural vocal powers. This would prove an all-round advantage. (As a by-product of those regular open-air efforts with their special technique of presenting the Gospel in precis form, with clarity and brevity, not a few young men have developed into fine Gospel preachers. In this respect it has proved, in our experience, to be an excellent training ground.)

In addition to the Saturday afternoon open-air, we have, in the summer months, an out-of-doors witness on a Lord’s Day evening also, following the Gospel service in the hall. For this the same procedures are adopted. These methods bring us into direct contact with the people of the borough, and over the past years a number of conversions have taken place — one or two of a striking character. Letters expressing interest, and requesting further help and literature, are received now and again, and suitably followed-up, since the name and address of our hall has been stamped on all the tracts. Acutely aware of our dependence upon the Spirit of God, short prayer meetings-are held in the hall before and after the outside preaching.

Although much importance is laid upon the “open-air” aspect of our evangelism, we are nevertheless concerned when no stranger is present at the indoor service. An endeavour (often successful) to bring in the passer-by right off the pavement is made each week just before the Gospel service commences. Door-to-door visitation also forms an important adjunct to our “going forth” with the Glad Tidings.

Now, these are simple ways, shorn of the spectacular — perhaps some would classify them as old-fashioned. We grant, of course, that local circumstances and environmental conditions must obviously have a bearing on the nature of the methods employed in Gospel witness. But our methods do confront the people in the neighbourhood with their need to be saved, and present the basis on which salvation can be obtained. And is not this what evangelism is all about?

The essence of what we have been saying is this — that the indoor Sunday evening service is in itself not enough to fulfil our function in local Gospel witness. (Let us remember, however, that souls are still being saved in our halls on Sunday evenings). Unfortunately, it takes a lot to move us out of stereotyped ways, to launch forth into new courses of service for God when a change is clearly indicated, and greater blessing may accrue.

Perhaps a prayerful re-assessment of our assembly’s Gospel activities is well overdue. If so, shall we be doing anything positive about it? The time is running out (so we tell the unsaved); the difficulties are intensifying; the need everywhere is very great. Let us, therefore, respond locally to the challenge while there is still time and opportunity.

To be concluded.

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