What Should We Think When An Evangelistic Crusade Comes To Town?


A correspondent wrote to ask for help thinking through how to respond to the arrival of a large evangelistic event in his town. This is my reply slightly revised for the HB.


Hi Bill,

This fellow is one of the several successors of Billy Graham (1918–2018). It seems that he is following Graham’s policy of being broadly inclusive and a bit thin on doctrine. This formula worked for Graham and so it is not surprising that he is following it.


Speaking for myself there are good reasons to doubt the evangelistic crusade. Though we should always be grateful when someone calls unbelievers to faith in Christ I am hesitant about this sort of mass evangelism. For one thing, Graham used a technique of having staff come forward at the invitation, which created the impression of a spontaneous response. This is manipulation not evangelism.

Second, the whole anxious bench and invitation system is problematic and has been since its invention in the 19th century. We should call people to repentance and faith in Christ but we may not manipulate them. It is the Holy Spirit’s job, not ours, to bring conviction and new life (see John 3 [all]).

Third, these organizations are intentionally not ecclesiastical. They recruit staff from the churches but they are not subject to the visible church. Who authorized them to do evangelism, the mission which Christ committed to the visible, institutional church? He told his disciples (cum apostles) to evangelize and make disciples (Matt 28:18–20). Paul told Timothy to do the work of an evangelist (2 Tim 4:5)). Apostles and pastors are church officers, working in and through the visible church. Christ attached the sacrament of baptism to evangelism but itinerant evangelists typically do not. Discipleship, in the visible church, is the necessary concomitant of true evangelism but does it mark this approach?

As you suggest, the sort of coalition required for this sort of mass event is also problematic. Certainly confessional Protestants, e.g., those who hold the Reformed confessions, reject Rome as a true church (see Belgic Confession art. 29). Salvation by grace alone (sola gratia), through faith alone (sola fide), in Christ alone (solo Christo) is incompatible with Rome’s message of salvation by grace and cooperation with grace, partly through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary (see The Catecheism of the [Roman] Catholic Church, §969. Rome’s Christ is but half a Savior (Belgic Confession art. 22; Heidelberg Catechism 30), a facilitator who makes salvation possible for those who do their part. This is not the Christ of Scripture and history.

There are other, obvious problems with such coalitions. Historically they have included liberal mainline churches as well as a variety of evangelical congregations. The breadth of such coalitions virtually forbids any depth of teaching. In the Reformed confessions we talk about the marks (indicators) of the true church (as distinct from Rome and sects that call themselves churches but that are not). These sorts of organizations and events cannot function and account for this Reformation principle at the same time.


Were I in your situation, I would pray that the Lord would use this irregular means of witness but also that the Lord might restrain error and confusion and that out of this event people might be prompted to investigate the Christ of Scripture and his church, where ever it might be.

This should also stimulate Reformed confessing Christians to give witness to their faith (their personal trust in Christ) and to the faith, i.e., the faith revealed in God’s Word and summarized in the ancient ecumenical creeds and in the Reformed confessions. We ought to be praying for our unbelieving neighbors, friends, co-workers, and family members in hopes that the Lord will soften their hearts, open their eyes, and give us opportunity to point them them to Christ and to invite them to church.

We should also pray for our ministers and elders, that they would do what the are called to do, to evangelize, i.e., to announce the gospel (as well as the law) so that when inquirers enter the doors of our churches they hear that message that Christ commissioned his church to preach.


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  1. Dr. Clark,
    Thank you for compiling the resources regarding our witness to neighbors, family, friends.

    This morning we listened to Julius Kim’s first talk on our Christian witness, an historical look at the law/The Gospel distinction, Exodus 17, 33 and Psalm 95. These display and declare The Promise and Provision of The Only One Who justifies us, the rebellious sinners by nature, before our Father, who is the One & Only God, Creator.

  2. “Third, these organizations are intentionally not ecclesiastical. They recruit staff from the churches but they are not subject to the visible church. Who authorized them to do evangelism, the mission which Christ committed to the visible, institutional church?”

    The answer I usually hear is that they’re doing evangelism because they don’t see the established church doing it, or not doing enough.

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