More than a few people asked that question during D. L. Moody's evangelistic campaigns throughout Great Britain during the 1870s. Thousands were coming to faith in Jesus Christ and whole cities were beginning to sing the praises of God. The impact of the gospel was astonishing.
Yet Moody himself was anything but extraordinary His education was limited. His speech was unimpressive. His messages were short and simple. Nevertheless, everywhere Moody preached hundreds were publicly coming forward to confess the Lord Jesus as Savior.
In Birmingham, England, one theologian went so far as to tell Moody, "The work is most plainly from God, for I can see no relation between yourself and what you have done." Moody laughed and replied, "I should be very sorry if it were otherwise."
Lessons From Great Evangelists
Why Moody? Why Wesley, Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, Zinzendorf, Whitefield, Finney, Spurgeon, Torrey, John Sung, Billy Sunday, Carrie ten Boom, Catherine Booth, and Billy Graham? There have been thousands of evangelists during the closing centuries of this millennium. But only a few were truly great. What made them great evangelists?
I've examined that question and found the answer has little to do with method or technique. Some preached before the masses, some in churches. Some presented the gospel in small groups, some one-on-one. Most of the great evangelists used a combination of approaches, but that isn't what made them great.
No, it wasn't their method, but their message and their passion for souls that constrained them to tell everyone about the Savior until their dying day. The gospel — that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and was raised on the third day — was their mission.
I was in Glasgow, Scotland, for a crusade about twenty-five years after Billy Graham had preached there. The story was told of an old Church of Scotland minister who went to hear Billy Graham each evening. When the crusade was over the minister said, "Dr. Graham, I've heard you every night for six weeks, and you've preached the same sermon every single night."
Except for the introduction and illustrations, that's been true throughout Dr. Graham's ministry. The gospel hasn't changed in nearly 2,000 years! All great evangelists share this passion for souls and a commitment to an unchanging gospel.
Methods Aren't Sacred
Moody once observed, "A lie will travel around the world while truth is still putting on its boots." The scientist, Sir Francis Bacon, put it this way: "Man prefers to believe what he prefers to be true." Frequently, we unwittingly believe false statements because we don't bother to scrutinize what we hear or read.
Many popular misconceptions about science or history are relatively harmless.
Misconceptions about the work of God, however, may have eternal consequences. Many Christians would agree with this statement: "While Mass evangelism' methods seem to have more results, personal evangelism' methods win people to Christ more effectively" There's only one problem – it's not true.
That God advocates one form of evangelism over another is a serious theological error. Evangelism methods aren't sacred. They are simply vehicles for proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Cling to the unsaved.
In this age of misinformation when millions do not understand the gospel and are going to hell, we have no time to waste arguing about which approach to evangelism is "best." God does the work of evangelism through us, no matter what method we use. It is through the power of the Holy Spirit and by God's grace — not our impressive techniques — that people are saved. Polished evangelism presentations are weak and ineffective without His anointing.
"I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling," the apostle Paul reminded the Christians in Corinth. "My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power" (1 Corinthians 2:3-5).
In spite of Paul's "weakness: many committed their lives to Christ and the church in Corinth was established. Why? Because Paul willingly and actively proclaimed the gospel using every available method. Paul used a variety of methods to win people to Christ. He could say, "I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some" (1 Corinthians 9:22).
Great evangelists have all shared a holy audacity that prompted them to try new approaches. In God's name they used various forms of the media to communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ, beseeching God to sanctify those means.
Straight from the Heart of God
What is the gospel? I prefer to view it in three sections:
1. The gospel comes from the heart of God.
"God is love" (1 John 4:8). Americans must hear, over and over again, that God truly loves them. He calls men everywhere to come to repentance and he saved (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).
2. The gospel centers in the Son of God.
Jesus Christ died for our sins. Many people ask, "Don't all religions lead to God?" No. In fact, many religions don't even make that claim Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). Why could He be so exclusive? Because He's the only One who died on a CTOSS for the sins of the world — for your sins and mine. He died in our place.
Jesus Christ was buried. His burial confirmed His death. And because our sins were buried with Him our conscience is freed from guilt. 'We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life" (Romans 6:4).
Jesus Christ was raised on the third day He is alive today] There is no tomb holding His bones. We don't build monuments to Christ because He's not dead.
Jesus Christ ascended into heaven. Just as He went up, the Bible says, He will come again and take us to Himself "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in Me. In My father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where lam" (John 14:1-3).
3. The gospel is a call from God.
Without an invitation to repent and believe (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 16:31; 17:30), the gospel is incomplete. To believe in Jesus is to receive Him (John 1:12), to open the door (Revelation 3:20), to confess Him (Romans 10:9-10), which means we are not ashamed of Jesus.
That's the gospel, pure and simple. The older I get, the bolder I become to stick with the basics, to proclaim the gospel with simplicity Its power is amazing.
Conversion — Not Just Therapy
In addition to a passion for souls, an open mind to effective methods, and a pure gospel, we must also have confidence in God's power to change lives. We've got to believe in instantaneous conversions again. I believe in recent decades the United States has not seen as many conversions to Christ as countries in Asia and Latin America because were not sure if Christ has the power to convert people on the spot. The "gospel" that many preach says, "If you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, get into a therapy group, and hang in there a few years, you never know, one of these days He just might liberate you from addiction." That's an anemic gospel whose fruit is wimpy conversion, "a different gospel — which is really no gospel at all" (Galatians 1:6-7).
The gospel preached by the apostle Paul came "With power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction" (1 Thessalonians 1:5). That gospel says, "Christ can set you free — now!" If we proclaim the biblical gospel, I believe that thousands of Americans will be changed overnight. The living Christ has the power to do it. And now more than ever, America desperately needs this gospel truth.
A Worldwide Ministry
Evangelist Luis Palau preached in his first large-scale crusade thirty years ago, when 20000 people jammed the presidential plaza in Bogota, Colombia. Latin America, where he was born, was his primary mission field the next fifteen years.
Since 1980 however, the Lord has given Luis a worldwide ministry. When Gorbachev began to open the Soviet Union to Western freedoms in 1989, the churches invited Luis Palau to preach at the country's first open-air evangelistic meetings. After Romanian dictator Ceausescu's execution, the newly formed Evangelical Alliance of Romania invited Luis to preach at the nation's first evangelistic crusades.
His schedule this year includes crusades in Chiang Mai, Thailand; Hong Kong; Ciudad Juarez, Mexico; El Paso, Texas; Bristol, England; Maracaibo, Venezuela; Kansas City, Missouri; and five mini-crusades in his home region, the Pacific Northwest.
Luis has now proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ to an estimated 12 million people in 63 nations, and says he'd like to preach another thirty years. "If the Lord gives me strength, why not? I may not be as vigorous, but my mind can be as clear. Certainly my knowledge of the Lord and Scripture ought to be better. I'd like to encourage leaders and remind people of certain basic truths. If the invitations keep coming, I want to preach until the very end."
Luis Palau, who is preaching on Thursday morning of the convention in Dallas, is one of our generation's prime mass evangelists.