In the Nov. 1, 1966 issue of the Standard Bearer, page 69, the Rev. H. Hanko called our attention to a striking gathering in the city of Berlin. For background information, re-read that article.
Christianity Today, sponsor of this “World Congress on Evangelism” has a further explanation of this gathering in its Oct. 28, 1966 issue:
To refocus the twentieth-century Church’s sight on the great commission of Jesus Christ, more than a thousand Christian leaders will be meeting in Berlin for prayer, panels, and planning sessions in the famous Congress Hall October 26 to November 4. Delegates to the World Congress on Evangelism include evangelistically concerned clergy and laymen from all races and from around the globe, from modern frontier tribes and from Christendom’s most ancient churches. The Auca Indians of Ecuador, whose tiny band of believers sprang from the blood of recent missionary martyrs, are represented, as is the Mar Thoma Church in India, which ascribes its origin to the first-century apostle Thomas.
The congress theme is “One Race, One Gospel; One Task.” Proceedings will be simultaneously translated into English, French, German, and Spanish. A few special-interest sub-sections will be conducted only in Japanese.
Many of the delegates consider the gathering the most significant opportunity for evangelistic planning in the modern era, and they fervently hope it will light the fuse for a worldwide evangelistic explosion….
. ..The World Congress on Evangelism has one overarching aim: to see the fragmented world in relation to the universal need for the New Testament Gospel and Christ’s unrescinded command to evangelize the earth. The congress is not orientated to any one ecclesiastical agency; participants have been invited without regard for ecumenical position. The congress does not claim to speak for any grouping of contemporary churches; rather, it is a platform that makes visible the devout determination of multitudes of evangelical Christians to proclaim the Gospel to their contemporaries.
The theme of Christian witness to God’s saving grace will be uppermost in the minds of the participants….
As background for discussion, involving all the delegates, distinguished evangelical spokesmen are presenting panel position papers….
These six papers will prepare the way for thirty-six panels (each with four participants) on special facets of interest. An hour of open discussion will follow each panel. (p.3)
That will give you a bit of an idea of what is the purpose of this World Congress of Evangelism. And worthy though the cause of missions itself is, one cannot help remembering that it was a similar missionary conference of some 50 years ago which was the beginning of the present-day World Council of Churches. The way man’s reasoning appears to run is this: First, since unity appears impossible on the local level, there is this one area in which we can work together — in sending forth the gospel to the heathen. Secondly, when we do go to the heathen, we are rather hard-put to explain how it is that so many denominations exist — all supposedly proclaiming the one Christ and the one church. Thirdly, we had better then seek to mend our own fences at home before we go to the heathen and tell them the way they must live. Though greatly over-simplified, this appears to be how the World Council of Churches came into being. Will the present-day World Congress on evangelism herald the beginning of another union movement? This is not the avowed intent of the meeting — but one wonders what its final fruit will be.
THE BASIC THEOLOGY OF EVANGELISM
In the Christianity Today of Oct. 28, l966 there were presented six “position papers” for the Congress on Evangelism. Each paper represents the author’s own individual opinion and will serve as basis for discussion. Each paper sets forth guidelines for proper evangelization of the world. These are interesting — particularly one entitled: “The Basic Theology of Evangelism.” This one was written by Dr. Harold John Ockenga, pastor of the Park Street Congregational Church in Boston. His paper sets forth only his own ideas, yet I suspect that it represents the general opinion of all those attending this congress. What, according to Ockenga, is the “basic theology” of evangelism? He rightly emphasizes first of all the authority of Scripture.
The Bible is our authority. A Bible that is the infallible rule of faith and practice is the reason for the existence of Protestantism. The Reformation rediscovered three major truths that established Protestantism as a return to New Testament Christianity. The first truth, called the formal cause of the Reformation, is that the Bible is the final and infallible authority in matters of faith and practice. This is the principle of sola scriptura. The second truth is justification by faith, called the material cause of the Reformation. This is the principle of Sola fide. The third truth is the priesthood of the believer….
. ..The necessity for a return to biblical authority is the reason for our gathering. We are under the Word. Let us therefore give proper place to the Word of God in all our deliberations.
So far, so good. And on the basis of this infallible Scripture, Ockenga maintains that the theology of evangelism must be Trinitarian “for each person of the Trinity bears an important role in evangelism.” From this point on Ockenga goes astray, setting forth that old Arminian position as the only proper position for evangelization in our day. And if Ockenga’s position will be the position of the Congress on Evangelization at Berlin, then no Reformed man could ever have any part in this endeavor.
In the first place, Ockenga points to the work of the Father in evangelism.
In speaking of the role attributed to God the Father in evangelism, we emphasize the decrees of God, the election of God, and predestination by God. The divine decrees constitute the plan of salvation….
. ..The decrees of God…established the end from the beginning and the steps along the way. These embrace the fall of man, the atonement made for sinful man through the incarnation and crucifixion of Jesus Christ…, the offer of salvation through universal preaching, and the salvation of those who believe or respond affirmatively to this preaching.
God’s part in redemption is called election. Here there are competing theories. The five points of Calvinism speak of the sovereignty of God, the depravity of man, a limited atonement, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the believer. Not all Christians share this formulation; but those who do hold it believe that God elected some and passed by others. Calvinism declares that the Gospel must be preached in all the world and that those who are elected will accept the Gospel, believe in Jesus Christ, and persevere in good works unto the end. It also teaches that no one can know who is elect except by the fact that he continues in good works and ‘perseveres unto the end….
The second view is that named after Arminius, who taught in the University of Leyden from 1604 till his death. Arminius returned to the pre-Augustinian view of conditional election. God, by his eternal and immutable decree, ordained in Jesus Christ to save those who by the grace of the Holy Spirit believe in Jesus Christ and persevere in that faith and obedience of faith. Christ died for all and each, so that he gained reconciliation and remission of sins on the condition that believers remain faithful…. God foreknew this faith and elected believers unto salvation.
The view one adopts is of great importance to his evangelistic fervor. The matter of election is no mere question of semantics. The resolution of the matter rests in giving proper place to each biblical emphasis. We must not neglect either emphasis. For my part, I approve a practical synergism of affirming prevenient grace, the responsibility of each individual, and election in Christ of all who believe. Thus I say that salvation is all of God, reprobation is all of man. I cannot throw the responsibility of man’s reprobation upon God.
This raises the question of predestination by God and the invitation to accept Christ. The Bible makes it plain that the Holy Spirit attends the preaching of the Word and enables a sinner to accept Jesus Christ as Saviour. The offer of salvation is real, and God does not mock us. It is the Spirit’s work to attend that offer with life-giving power. (pp. 9-12)
Ockenga wants to combine the “best” of the ideas of Calvinism and Arminianism. He ends up with a creature that bears no resemblance to Calvinism at all — and its Arminianism shows forth all over the place. If this is his basis for evangelism — the theology which must govern it — and if this is adopted by the Congress on Evangelism, then their evangelism is doomed. Then it assumes the form of that performed by Billy Graham (who is serving as honorary chairman at this congress) — and with such evangelism no Reformed church may participate. I fear that this theology is what the vast majority at the Berlin meeting will want. Its participants and the denominations they represent intend to go forth and “evangelize the world in this generation.”
Dr. Ockenga also explains the work of the Son and of the Spirit in evangelization. To these I will call your attention next time, D.V.