The Church and Evangelization
Pierson continued to bemoan the low spiritual life of the Church, "Oh, for some new Luther or Wesley to sound the trumpet of this new Reformation! to provoke to love and good works a torpid, listless church. The scriptural idea and ideal is a whole body of believers at work for souls; universal activity and world-wide evangelism. Every believer must be a preacher, witness, herald. /(took a whole Christ to redeem, it will take a whole church filled with the Holy Ghost to evangelize the world." (Missionary Review, August 1887:457) [Italics his]
In his book Evangelistic Work in Principle and Practice, Pierson continues, "Because this movement is of God it cannot be stopped; the waves will not be swept back and the tide is fast rising; the very roar of the surf is God's voice of thunder calling His people to leave no human soul to live and die without the gospel." (Pierson, 1887:100) He also reiterates his own belief that if every believer participates, the world can be evangelized by the year 1900.
The whole body of believers must accept the duty of telling the old, old story. Each one of us is his brother's keeper. To have heard the message is sufficient qualification and authority for sounding it in the ears of every unsaved soul. Let every hearer therefore become a herald. This is the theory of evangelism in a nutshell; and believers have only to put this theory into practice, to bring the gospel into contact with every living soul before the Bells of God's Clock of Ages shall ring in the natal hour of a New Century! (Pierson, 1887:235-236) [Italics his]
Pierson's plan in this book for evangelizing the world using every believer received hearty support from the Christian community. One man wrote in, "[Your plan] seems practical and practicable. Why not make some attempt to carry the plan into execution?... The 'student volunteers' might enlist in such a movement, and greatly aid it by their consecrated enthusiasm." He then included a pledge that could be made by believers who wanted to join this movement.
Believing in Christ as our only hope, and in the urgent need of many Christian workers engaged in personal effort, in humble reliance on Divine grace, I hereby pledge myself:
To make an honest effort to lead to Christ at least one person every year.
To earnestly endeavor to induce other Christians to subscribe to this pledge, one every month, as long as practicable. (Missionary Review, March 1889:210)
Wilder agreed in his editorial in October of 1887,
God needs every believer in the work of discipling others. This is not limiting God: what He might do, and what He will do, are two different questions. His declared plan is, and always was, to use the disciple as a witness for Him and a winner of souls. There never was or will be a body of ordained preachers large enough to evangelize this world without the help of the great body of disciples. Generals and captains may plan a campaign and conduct an engagement, but it is the rank and file that do the marching and the fighting. Every torpid church, or idle Christian, is a hindrance to God's cause, and a help to the enemy of God and man, a dead weight upon the usefulness of those who are willing to work and a block upon the chariot wheels of God. He who anywhere neglects work, everywhere delays work. The church at home is the engine of the whole machinery of the work abroad. What if there be no adequate motor to keep the wheels revolving! and what of the indifferent disciples who throw on the fire more water than fuel! (Missionary Review, October 1887:593)
In a letter from the leaders of the student volunteers in November 1887,
Some give a discouraging report of the land to be possessed. But "Let us go up AT ONCE and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it." Shall the world be evangelized in our lifetime? Is the idea chimerical? The Earl of Shaftsbury said, "During the latter part of these centuries, it has been in the power of those who hold the truth... to evangelize the globe fifty times over." One hundred and twenty of the missionaries in China, representatives of twenty-one Protestant missionary societies, say, "We want China emancipated from sin in this generation. It is possible. Our Lord has said 'according to your faith be it unto you.' The church of God can do it." The Israelites took forty years for an eleven days' journey. Is the sin to be repeated? (Missionary Review, November 1887:668) [Italics his]
The need for diffusion into unoccupied fields was recognized by those who had other interests in mind besides evangelizing the world.
So long as the societies were few, and the field practically unoccupied, there was but little risk of missionaries interfering with each other, but now to almost all the inviting fields different societies are sending their missionaries where in some places they are overcrowded, while large extents of territory are wholly unoccupied. (Missionary Review. December 1887:784)
The year 1888 opened with a great deal of enthusiasm about what could be done. "Each closing year of this nineteenth century seems to urge us, as it comes, to make the very most of it. From many comers we are hearing the question, will the world in its present state last another century?...The missionary movement...has grown more in the last ten years than in the previous seventy, and most of all in the last year or two, while it is promising to grow within the next few years as never before... Never were the prospects of the world's evangelization so hopeful." (Regions Beyond, February 1888:35-36)
The Centenary Conference in London
One of the editors of this REVIEW, in a book entitled "The Crisis of Missions," proposes in the serene boldness of faith, the plan of holding an Ecumenical Council of a new order, a Pan-Christian Conference on behalf of Missions in every part of the world. A "World's Missionary Council," he calls it. The Missionary Review is already in purpose something like a fulfillment of such a notable dream. It offers to be a council in perpetual session, to consult for the spread of the Gospel throughout the whole earth. It will do what it can to bring about, in God's good time, the actual convening of Christendom in council to concert measures for the speedy evangelization of the world. (Missionary Review. January 1888:48-49)
Oddly enough, a few pages later, an announcement for a General Missionary Conference in London appears. This was to be a repeat of the 1878 conference only with more representation from American societies. The Committee convening this convention said they "are most solemnly impressed with the conviction that there has never been a time, since the days of the apostles, when it was of more urgent importance than it is now, that all who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity should labor 'in the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace,' in order that 'the gospel of the kingdom of God' may be carried out into all the world and preached 'unto every creature.'" (Missionary Review, January 1888:62)
In this same issue, A.T. Pierson writes in his editorial, "Evangelization is the one word that deserves to be emblazoned on the banners of the believing host The one immediate, imperative duty of every follower is to become a 'herald.' To bring this gospel of life into contact with every living, human soul in the shortest possible time and the best possible way÷that is evangelization," (Missionary Review, January 1888:35)
In April he wrote, "Paul yearned to press into regions beyond, where Christ had never been named, and so within the life of a generation he carried the cross over the known world west of the Golden Horn. That principle of evangelization must be the law of our Christian life if we are ever to overtake the regions beyond. We must practically feel that the call is loudest where the need is greatest and the darkness deepest. Then, while we shall pass by no really needy field nearer home, we shall press with untiring zeal and contagious eamestness into the farthest comers of the earth." (Missionary Review, April 1888:242)
In this issue Pierson first linked the London conference with his appeal in 1881 and the appeal issued by the North-field Convention in 1885. Pierson writes,
There will be many who will regard this council, now called to meet in June, as the answer to many fervent prayers. This will be an ecumenical council in fact. And think for what purpose they meet who gather there and then! To map out the world÷for Christ's war of the ages! To cover every district of earth's surface with the network of missionary effort; to plant the cross in every valley and on every hill; to put the Bible in every hamlet and hut; to prevent all waste of men and material and means; to distribute work equally and equitably; to accelerate the progress of missions so that in the shortest time the witness may be borne to all people and to every soul! (Missionary Review. April 1888:268)
The London Committee issued an appeal for prayer that read,
We lament over the feebleness of the efforts put forth by the churches of Christ, and we mourn over the great and increasing mass of heathenism which still confronts the church in this nineteenth century of the Christian era. It is one great object of the Conference to be assembled in June to look this appalling fact fully in the face, and by applying the lessons taught by the past to the conditions of the present, to awaken the church of Christ, by every possible effort, to a due sense of the obligation under which she lies to the perishing heathen and to her Divine Head and Lord... Pray that, under God, the Conference may be the means of introducing a new era in missionary enterprise. That it may hasten the day when "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord," and when "the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together." (Missionary Review, April 1888:300-301)
In May Pierson again emphasized that the immediate evangelization of the world was the "Supreme Question of the Hour." "Again we hear Prince Albert thunder out, 'Find out God's plan in your generation and do not cross that plan, but fall in into your own place in it.' Has God a plan in this generation? If so, what is it, and how am I to know it? By every sign and signal God has shown the men of this generation that his purpose is the immediate evangelization of the world." (Missionary Review, May 1888:322)
In July 1888 issue of the Missionary Review Pierson published his article "The Great Commission: Facts and Their Philosophy." He wrote, 'The divine scheme was to reach every human soul by the shortest road. Hence, (1) an oral proclamation was chosen as the method, and (2) every believer as a means." (Missionary Review, July 1888:491) [Italics his]
There is no reason, or even pretext, for the present apathy of the Church of Christ. We can gird the globe with a zone of light in twenty years if we have men and money, both of which the church is perfectly able to furnish to-day in abundance. The awful extent of the field need not discourage us. We can reach this thousand millions with the gospel and we can do it with surprising rapidity, if we have the will to do it God's way. He has gone before us. He has flung the doors wide open, actually challenging the church to enter and take possession... Accordingly God has accomplished within half a century what we should have supposed it would require half a millennium to effect. Talk of "waiting upon God?" God has been long waiting for his people. (Missionary Review, July 1888:492-493)
A.T. Pierson attended the London conference and was able to deliver several key addresses. In his keynote, "The Field is the World" Pierson warns his audience not to glory too much in past but to look to what has yet to be done and ask God for the power to finish the job. "I want to say÷and it is a most profound conviction of my being, on this subject÷that the world will never be converted or evangelized at the present rate of progress." (Johnston, Vol. I, 1888:182) He goes on to pinpoint the main cause of slow progress in the world's evangelization, namely a policy of concentration, rather than diffusion. Stanley P. Smith, one of the Cambridge Seven, used this illustration of concentration,
Imagine the disciples are here distributing the food, and that this great assembly is the hungry multitude that is waiting to be fed. They go to the first row of benches distributing the food, and to the second, and the third, and the fourth, and so on to the eighth row. But at the end of the eighth row they stop and turn back to the first, and feed these eight rows again, pouring bread and fish into their laps and piling it about them, leaving the starving multitudes behind uncared for. What do you suppose our Lord would say if He were here? Let us take the parable to ourselves, for this is what we have been doing. We have been feeding these nearest to us over and over again with the bread which our Lord has given us, and have neglected the multitudes beyond. (Shanks, 1887:259)
Henry W. Hunt, in China's Millions wrote why he felt the evangelization of China was being held up,
Too much settled work, and too little systematic itinerant work; too much flocking together of the workers in certain places where the blessing has been given in a degree, and too little scattering in other places which have hardly had an opportunity. (China's Millions, March 1890:31)
This, of course, was Pierson's reason for calling for an Ecumenical council as early as 1881. He wanted the mission societies to come together to agree and act upon a policy of diffusion. In this address, Pierson was able to adequately express his concern for this new direction in missions. He closed with the Queen Victoria illustration and the example of Ahasuerus from the book of Esther. The job can be done quickly! The Church Missionary Intelligencer reported that "two points he particularly emphasized÷ that success in the work is to be looked for in the descent of the Holy Ghost in answer to prayer, and that the work must be done speedily÷by the end of the century, he pleaded. It was a grand speech." (Church Missionary Intelligencer, Special Supplement, July 1888:9)
In his talk Pierson also proposed that if the world was to be evangelized speedily, laymen would have to become directly involved in cross-cultural evangelism. The Gospel in All Lands noted that "the effect of these words, which minimised the value of ordination, was evidently depressing to the Churchmen present on the platform, who preserved a solemn silence, though it was correspondingly exhilarating to the Nonconformists in the area, who cheered and cheered again." (The Gospel in All Lands, 1888:379) Later on Pierson wrote, "And as in the apostolic days, so now; no class of ordained preachers can ever meet this world-wide emergency. While the Church waits for such alone to do the work of preaching the Gospel to the world, or for the training of a regular ministry for its official proclamation, whole generations perish." (The Missionary Herald, August 1,1888:321)
H. Grattan Guinness said in his address, "God grant that this Conference may be, as it ought to be, a turning point in missions÷a stage from which the Church will make a fresh start, and push on her glorious warfare against sin and Satan with tenfold courage and energy, resolving by divine help to evangelize the world before the present generation has passed away!" (Regions Beyond, August 1888:232) That this was foremost on his mind is the report of this talk in Woman's Work For Woman. They referred to H. Grattan Guinness as the man "who feels that the Church of Christ might evangelize the whole earth during the present century." (Woman's Work for Woman, 1888:201)
The question "Is it possible or desirable to map out the whole heathen world among different missionary societies or churches, so as to ensure its more rapid evangelization?" did come up as a topic of discussion at the conference. The answers given were generally in the negative. "The very attempt at such a project would probably lead to a historical repetition of the tribal feud of ancient times, when 'Judah vexed Ephraim and Ephraim envied Judah."' (Johnston, Vol. II, 1888:469) On this same question Reginald Radcliffe of Liverpool said, "We cannot withdraw our beloved Missionaries, honoured servants who are amongst us, and those that have lived in the field. God bless them!" (Johnston, Vol. II, 1888:478) He suggested rather, that American, British and German laymen go into the unoccupied fields and, like Caleb and Joshua, bring back a report of what can be done. Evidently Mr. Radcliffe felt that the societies already had their hands full.
Oddly enough the moderator of this discussion on comity, William J. R. Taylor, an American, closed by suggesting that the London Conference prepare the way for a still greater conference "to be held, towards the close of the nineteenth and the opening of the twentieth century, in some capital city of the old world or the new world, not to frame new creeds, not to fight over old battles, but to organize more completely, and to start more powerfully, the most extensive and practical system of Gospel propagation that the world has ever seen since that day of Pentecost which was the type and promise of the conversion of all nations, under the Great Commission, and by the power of the Holy Ghost." (Johnston, Vol. II, 1888:469-470)
As soon as the conference ended, reviews poured out through denominational and non-denominational missions magazines. The Church Missionary Intelligencer wrote, "It was perhaps a mistake to call it the Centenary of Protestant Missions. Such a phrase raises expectations which certainly have not been fulfilled. Excellent as the Conference has been, it has been very far from enjoying the eclat of a centenary." (Church Missionary Intelligencer, July 1888:425) The editors felt that perhaps the high point of the conference was meeting with the American delegates who "were able and cultivated men, whom it was a privilege and an honour to meet." (Church Missionary Intelligencer, July 1888:429) The Evangelical Magazine reported,
They "were of one mind and one soul" in desire and purpose, to "preach the gospel to every creature." How best this could be done was the dominant thought. Much information was given. Difficulties and obstacles were stated with great candor. Many statements were made of a most encouraging and stimulating character. But the meetings were deliberative, not executive. Therefore it was that many questions of great practical and doctrinal interest were hardly touched, and others were ventilated only, not decided. The conference was not a council, and was too large, miscellaneous and popular to develop into true practical deliberative forms, or to elicit much boldness of speech or freedom of opinion. This, no doubt, was felt by many to be a want, but it was inevitable." (Evangelical Magazine, August 1888:374-375)
Others were greatly encouraged. Mrs. Guinness wrote in Regions Beyond, "We are filled with the hope, and deeply impressed with the expectation, that the next few years will witness such ingatherings from among the heathen, as the world has never seen." (Regions Beyond, July 1888:199)
Pierson wrote back to the Missionary Review during this time and his letters were published over a period of several months. In his first letter, dated June 11, he wrote with enthusiasm about the possibilities of such an august gathering.
The question is. Can the problem be solved, of reaching with the gospel the unsaved millions of the race? Of course it must be solvable; for our Lord never would commit to His people an impossible task. If we study the gospels we shall find God's way of solving the problem outlined. It embraces some important factors, which we have comparatively failed to emphasize. Two of them I desire to make very prominent: first, individual call to direct labor for the unsaved; and secondly, the supernatural power of God. Had these been as prominent in the life of the church as they should be, the work of the evangelization might already have overtaken the population of our globe. (Missionary Review, August 1888:587)
He went on to list his expectations of the meeting. He felt that first of all, hearts needed to be revived and brought to a new level of commitment in prayer. Secondly, energetic action was needed. He cited both the example of the soldier of Queen Victoria who could publish her will in eighteen months and the example of Ahasuerus' decree being published in nine months. He concluded, "What might we not do with the help of the printing-press, steam navigation, the telegraph, and all the appliances of modem invention, if the church would but give herself to the glorious work! We might publish the gospel to all living peoples before the end of the present century!" (Missionary Review, August 1888:588)
In his second editorial letter, Pierson enumerated the wonders God had done in opening up the world, evidenced by the diversity of mission agencies present at the conference. He cautioned, "but though we have reached a climax of development, the topstone and capstone have yet to be laid before the pyramid of wonders is complete. The whole world must now be taken possession of and occupied for Christ. Without this grandest result, all else is comparatively not only unfinished, but is failure. To this end all else points and tends." (Missionary Review, September 1888:641) [Italics his] Speaking again of the need for haste, Pierson continued,
Another profound impression left by this World Council is that of the marvelous celerity of movement in this march of ages. Truly God is marching on, and he who would keep pace with God must not lag behind or lack for energy and enthusiasm.... The celerity of His march is always in proportion to the preparation and capacity of His people to follow. And hence we may expect Him as leader to move onward and forward with more and more astounding rapidity as He gives us facility and opportunity for a corresponding rapidity of advance." (Missionary Review, September 1888:643) [Italics his]
After the conference A.T. Pierson and A.J. Gordon traveled throughout Scotland together taking up the great theme of the evangelization of the world. The American preachers were evidently quite successful when gauged by the response of their otherwise pessimistic audience. "We are longing and praying for such a new departure, for a revival of missionary zeal in the churches throughout our land; and we gratefully acknowledge that your presence amongst us, and the solemn appeals you have made to us in your public addresses, have kindled our missionary enthusiasm and revived our drooping faith." (Quoted from a letter to Pierson and Gordon in Missionary Review, October 1888:735)
A year after the conference Pierson published an article entitled, "A Retrospect of the World's Conference." Here, now over the first enthusiasm generated by this momentous congress, Pierson feels the freedom to criticize the outcome and make a few suggestions. Among his major recommendations was the idea of a standing committee that could carry on the work that was started at the conference. Pierson lamented the fact that "there were certain bonds of comity and unity, of counsel and cooperation, which might have been perpetuated, and thus have given also a certain perpetuity to the conference itself." (Missionary Review, June 1889:407) Evidently this did not happen, because Pierson went on to suggest another world council in 1892 that would continue this work and see the world evangelized by the year 1900.
Many of these feelings were also apparent in the report of the Conference which was published in 1888. The stated purpose of the Conference was "to stimulate and encourage all evangelistic agencies, in pressing forward, in obedience to the last command of the risen Saviour, 'Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all nations,' especially in those vast regions of the heathen world in which the people are still 'sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death,' without a preached Gospel, or the written 'word of God.'" (John-ston, Vol I, 1888:viii) This raised the expectations of many delegates who came with the understanding that strategic planning to complete world evangelization would be the central theme. Yet, because of the various concerns of other delegates, this was not the case.
Johnston anticipated criticism based on the varying expectations the delegates. Trying to appease those who looked for greater planning to finish the task of world evangelization, he wrote,
We shall refer again to some of those questions on which rules and regulations have been desired by some of our friends, especially those from foreign parts. It is not impossible, and it would be in many ways desirable, that a future Conference of a similar kind should not only arrive at such complete unanimity of opinion, but at such an intimate knowledge of one another's character and habit as to enable it to pass rules and form an executive body for carrying them out. (Johnston, Vol. I, 1888:ix)
A few ardent minds have expressed disappointment at not seeing at once the ripened fruits of such a great gathering of able men from many lands. It would have been looked upon by some as a great triumph, if the Conference had passed resolutions calling upon the Churches to double their contributions to the cause of Missions, and had urged the Societies to multiply the number of Missionaries and portion out the dark and unoccupied regions of heathendom to be evangelized by different Churches. (Johnston, Vol. I, 1888:xxiv)
Outside of the London Conference there was plenty of enthusiasm for what could be done. Rev. Judson Smith of the American Baptist Missionary Union wrote, "What hinders the immediate effort to plant the Gospel in every nation and island and home in all the earth with the next few decades? nothing but the faltering zeal and purpose of the mass of Christian believers now on earth. That precisely is the critical question... it is possible now, as never before in the world's history, to preach the Gospel to all the nations." (Regions Beyond, June 1888:168) [Italics his]
In October 1888, Pierson published an editorial entitled "A Crusade for Missions" in which he called on pastors to set themselves apart for a special ministry of missions devotion. "The evangelization of the world is a problem so grave and so great that it demands men, if a peculiar, if not an exclusive sense, devoted to it. The church needs to be aroused, quickened, stimulated, to new endeavor. prayer, consecration, giving, if we are to overtake the present generation with the gospel." (Missionary Review, October 1888:721) Because the church was the key link in this chain, it was pastors who needed to carry this special burden if the task was to be completed. That the challenge was for the Church was obvious to Pierson.
In January of 1889, Pierson published his landmark, "Christian Missions as the Enterprise of the Church," the article that most fully embodied his philosophy for reaching the world by the year 1900. Pierson wrote,
Christian missions represent the most colossal undertaking ever presented to the mind of man... Here are fifteen hundred millions of perishing people to be overtaken with the gospel message, if at all, within the life-time of a generation. Yet Christ says to a comparatively few disciples: "Give ye them to eat," and yet what we have seems hopelessly inadequate provision for such a vast multitude. But there is the authority of the King; He certainly will not command what is impossible or even impracticable. With proper organization and distribution of this multitude into companies; with our few bailey loaves brought to Him to be blessed, broken and multiplied as broken; with simple faith in His power and presence, and with implicit obedience to His Word, we may not only feed all these millions, but find fragments left in abundance; for the gospel provision strangely multiplies as it is divided. (Missionary Review, January 1889:7)
Pierson then continues with the theme of celerity of movement saying that part of our loyalty to Christ's commands is to carry them out immediately and with haste. He gives the example of Ahasuerus' decree and the haste with which it was borne to everyone in his realm. This is contrasted with how the church treats Christ's commands.
We have not yet felt that the King's command is urgent and the King's business requireth haste. Were true, sound, sensible, practical business principles applied to this problem, no hindrance would be huge enough even to delay the prosecution of the work solemnly committed to the Church of Christ. And once more we record our solemn conviction that, with thorough organization, sanctified resolve and practical co-operation throughout the Church, the gospel may be preached as a witness, not only among all nations, but to every living creature, within the lifetime of the present generation, or even before the present century closes. (Missionary Review, January 1889:8) [Italics his]
Pressing this last point home. Pier-son reveals the true conviction of his heart, 'This thought of a possible proclamation of the Word of life to every living creature before this century closes, we have sought to trumpet forth by tongue and pen for twenty years; and it has never yet been shown to be either impossible or impracticable. It can be done; it OUGHT to be done; it MUST be done." (Missionary Review, January 1889:9) [Italics his]
Finally turning to some simple calculations, Pierson once again underscores the feasibility of finishing the task by the year 1900.
There are, perhaps, in round numbers, thirty millions of Protestant church members in the world. Could each of that number somehow reach thirty-three of the unsaved, the whole thousand million would be evangelized; and could each be brought to give one cent a day, our missionary treasuries would overflow with over one hundred millions of dollars every year. Of course we cannot depend upon enlisting in this work all church members. Nominal Protestants include millions of mere professors, members of state churches, formalists and ritualists, and millions more who, while they profess to be disciples, are actually immoral and infidel. But let us suppose that there are ten millions of true disciples who can be brought into line, and who by systematic effort can be made to furnish men and money for this work, even with this tenth part of Christendom the world may be evangelized before the twentieth century dawns...
We repeat, that it is our solemn and mature conviction that before the close of this century the gospel might be brought into contact with every living soul; for if we could so organize and utilize ten millions of disciples as that every one should be the means of reaching with the good tidings one hundred other souls, during the lifetime of this generation all the present population of the globe would be evangelized; or, if the sublime purpose should inspire the whole Church to do this work before this century ends, each of this ten million believers has only to reach between eight and nine souls every year for the twelve years that remain. (Missionary Review, January 1889:12-13) [Italics his]