Soul Surgery: Part 2
Part 2 of a 9-part series by Pastor Alan Redpath given over the course of 1959.
The Science And Challenge Of Personal Testimony
The problem we are now to consider is to distinguish between a scientific and unscientific way of carrying on this all important work of personal work for the Master. The Lord Jesus once said (Luke 16:8), “The sons of this world are for their own generation wiser than the sons of light,” and we are certainly sadly lagging behind in making the idea of conserving our resources as individuals an essential part of our Christian living. We need to remember that we have been redeemed for this supreme purpose.
The task is not simply passing on a word and saying that Jesus saves. It requires a far more scientific approach than that. The Lord Jesus said in Matthew 9:12, “They that are whole need not a physician but they that are sick.” He was speaking to Pharisees whose self-esteem was so thickly worn around them that they doubtless missed the sarcasm which sought to tell them that they, most of all, needed the healing. But a physician is powerless to help a man who, however ill he may be, recognizes no defect in himself. Jesus’ work of healing both spiritual and physical was thus confined to the class of people who reckoned themselves as sinsick.
One of the main objections that people raise toward evangelism of any kind—public evangelism, is that they dislike the excitement which goes with it: the organized fervor, the showmanship, etc. They think that real religion is spoiled by such contacts and they suggest that these methods often belong more to the world of entertainment than to that of spirituality, and that there are usually not many converts of these special missions who stand. The revivalist or leader descends upon a town and if things work according to plan the greatest building in the town is crowded night after night. Appeals are made for people to decide for Christ and to return to God, and soon the team moves on and a few weeks later the town is very much the same as before. Quite often the churches say openly that accession of new members is negligible.
For this reason alone, many people in churches have lost all faith in special missions of evangelism and believe that the work which endures is a normal week-by-week program of Christian activity, pursuing a very ordinary dull routine.
Well, of course, it cannot be denied that some of the itinerate evangelists have been incredibly shallow in dealing with people whom their fervor has moved to public response. In order to win an answer from the audience they have sometimes invited all those who wanted to be better to raise their hands and then counted them as converts. Apart from the deep difference between decision for Christ which is an act of the human will, and conversion which is an act of God, the brief efforts of some inquiry rooms are totally inadequate for dealing with the complex problems of a sadly defeated life.
So many poor pathetic souls who responded to the appeals of evangelists are not registering achievement or testifying to some deep work of grace felt within. They are speaking for their desire for grace and their willingness to receive it. To call them converts is to misuse language in one of the most solemn issues of life. To tell them without examination or explanation that to “believe” and to “have” are one and the same thing is to leave them bewildered and lost in the very hour when they are being persuaded to expose in public their pitiful need. To offer forgiveness from sins without deliverance from sin is no Gospel at all.
It is as though a doctor of medicine serving as a consultant in some great hospital were to walk into the outpatient department where all the poor people were sitting in their variety of need and gratuitously inquire if they wanted to be cured. If they resisted the impulse to ask him why he supposed they were there and simply replied that they did most certainly want to be cured, what would they think if he dismissed them all with one bright cheery word telling them that the cure was already complete? Of course, no doctor would be so heartless. However pressed he may be by the numbers of needy people, he sees them separately, hears their individual symptoms, patiently assesses each fact about them and aims to apply all that he knows of healing to their particular need. The diagnosis is swift in some cases, slow in others, but in any case the aim is to make the work unhurried, individual and permanent. If at last the doctor fails with any case, he and the patient will always believe that he has done his utmost. Can the doctor of souls expect to be any less personal, any less patient?
Counting as we may with confidence on the cooperation of the Holy Spirit, is it not a fact that in all of God’s dealing with us He expects us to do our utmost in all our work with Him? Is it not true that when people quite unused to churches are swept by smart publicity into evangelistic meetings their lives may be fantastically complicated by sin and their knowledge of the ways of God absolutely nil? No slogan is ever likely to meet the need of such people.
Now all this does not cancel out the work of public evangelism. However, the plain task of those of us who see clearly that public evangelism without personal witness for Christ—by those who have a living experience of faith in Him and who are walking with God, is bound to be ineffective—is to be sure that the two are brought together. The failure along this line is one chief reason why the Gospel does not spread as it ought. The advocacy of the faith is left largely to so called “professionals” and the mass of ordinary Christians either feel no responsibility or have no capacity to pass on the glad news.
The simplest way to embarrass any congregation is to ask them two questions. 1. When did you last lead somebody to Christ? 2. When did you last try?
The majority of people are not even trying. They somehow hope that their lives—reasonably consistent with the Christian faith—are exercising a silent influence on the community, but as for the task of direct evangelism, it is not for them.
Now here is the challenge. Nobody would deny that the task is more complicated these days than ever. Many people feel that it takes a professional knowledge which they do not possess to look into a person’s spiritual need. Personal dealings with people in the inquiry room was simple in mass evangelism in the 19th century when it consisted of little more than learning by heart a brief formula which was usually called the “plan of salvation.” Almost any amiable brother could be made a case worker on those terms. All he had to do was to fit the inquirer into the plan and it was bound to come out alright in the end. Sometimes it is all reduced to the simple Gospel fact that all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ are saved. The task of the personal worker was simply to win assent from the seeker that he did indeed believe on the Lord Jesus. The conclusion was then triumphantly drawn, therefore “you are saved.”
To stereotype a process of salvation like that and iron out all differences of personality and all variety of need and all intimate relations of people, is to prove fatal. It is no wonder people can pass this plan of salvation and find themselves precisely the same afterwards as they were before. I recall hearing a very devout drunken man who had been seven times to a certain campaign and thanked the Lord that he had been converted every time.
Now some of these difficulties have dawned upon the minds of many Christian people and they feel that it requires some kind of expert psychological knowledge to start dealing with a soul and therefore they leave it to the minister whom they think has perhaps had some training along this line. While there is a measure of truth in this, I think it is exceedingly dangerous to exaggerate it. To pass on all personal evangelism to ministers would certainly hinder the purpose of God. Our great challenge is to recognize the depth of the work, to seek all the equipment we can get for it, and give ourselves individually to the task. Happy is that church where the pastor and people know one another deeply in the things of the Lord and share the burden together before Him.
Anyone who has led some seeker as far as he can and is still aware that it is not far enough, can always draw upon the specialized knowledge of somebody else and ask that questing soul, “Would you like to open your heart to—?” That other person might well be the pastor, an elder or someone of mature Christian experience. That is not the first suggestion a personal worker makes; he will seek to lead the questing soul as far as he can himself, but if he is beaten he is ready with the alternative suggestion.
Personal testimony does not require even an elementary knowledge of pastoral psychology. The obligation to say a word for the Lord Jesus is laid upon every Christian. To know Christ and not to pass on the good news is criminal. I do not think, however, that any Christian, real Christian, ever resolves on a kind of guilty silence. He just slides into it. The dumbness of those who claim to believe stems less from a disloyal resolution, than from a sense of personal unworthiness and the fear that they really have nothing to give or to pass on.
I believe that the primary equipment every personal worker needs is to know the Lord deeply. Such a worker enjoys the life to which he witnesses, for our power and testimony, our dignity, the cutting character of our words, even when they seem to be warded off easily, all stem from a deep walk with God.