Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 6, 1955

Preaching Through Benevolence


After several years trial the "soup kitchen" approach to the evangelism of foreign peoples seems now to be pretty well abandoned. All of us recall what excitement was aroused and what a fanfare of publicity accompanied the huge benevolent program undertaken in Germany; thousands of bundles were sent, great sums of money were expended, and glowing reports were published in the gospel journals over here telling how the grateful Germans were flocking to the Bible classes in ever growing multitudes, and that within a few short years we could reasonably look forward to countless thousands of faithful German Christians and hundreds of congregations.

We ask our readers to give a very close reading to the article appearing elsewhere in this issue entitled, "Promoting The Gospel By Benevolence." This article has to do specifically with the benevolence promotion in Japan, but the things said of that country apply with equal force (perhaps more in the case of Germany) to other areas where this "benevolence approach" has been tried. We say perhaps more in the case of Germany because the benevolent program there was on a much greater scale than in any other nation; and the initial results in the number baptized and the vast crowds attending the services were most impressive. This has made the subsequent defection of these early converts all the more noticeable and significant.

The "benevolence approach" was something new in evangelism and so far as we know had never been tried on any very large scale anywhere. Certainly the brethren in this nation in years gone by had never promoted the preaching of the gospel here in any such fashion. Many acquiesced in the first months of the program, being moved by pity for a fallen enemy, and remembering the Bible injunction to "do good unto all men"; remembering also "if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him to drink." It was pity for the hungry, compassion for the helpless that motivated these gifts; and most of the givers had little thought as to whether the food would be distributed to "good prospects" or not. Most of those who sent did not send with that idea in mind.

There were a few voices (not many) who from the very first began to ask for scriptural authority for the churches' undertaking such a program and with the motive of evangelism. These brethren pointed out that the New Testament furnished no example of any such procedure, that the whole project was getting the cart before the horse — benevolence is the fruit of evangelism, not the seed from which it grows. Some brethren were incensed at any word of criticism. One preacher in Dallas declared that any man who opposed what Otis Gatewood was doing in Germany simply was not a Christian and ought to be baptized. Of course the Gospel Guardian (as usual) was blasted and anathematized for daring to print such criticisms, and portrayed from more than one pulpit as being "anti missionary."

But now even the most ardent proponents of the "evangelism through benevolence" school admit that the whole thing was a miserable failure, that it should never have been undertaken in the first place! They are definitely opposed to that kind of project now apparently not because it is unscriptural, but because it didn't work! If it had worked, if the thousands who flocked to the church had stayed put, then likely this "evangelism through benevolence" would be a standard procedure, regardless of what the New Testament might, or might not, say about such. Has it come to the point with many brethren that they are more interested in whether a thing gets results than in whether it is in harmony with New Testament teaching?

We believe the admitted failure of the "evangelism through benevolence" should give occasion for all of us to re-examine and re-study the whole foreign mission work. Certainly we should have sympathy and understanding and good-will for the scores of consecrated young men who have gone in to the foreign fields. Some of them made a mistake in their efforts to promote evangelism through benevolence; but that mistake was probably as much the fault of those of us who stayed at home as it was of those who crossed the water. Perhaps if all of us had been as vocal as we should have been in insisting on a closer adherence to the New Testament pattern, the "benevolence approach" would never have been attempted. Now that there have been large defections from the number baptized, the nucleus that is left ought to be made up of men and women who are truly converted, and who can be counted on to be faithful and devoted Christians. While this will diminish the glowing reports from the foreign fields, it ought to make for a far healthier and sounder basis for the work generally.

This "evangelism through benevolence" fiasco will not have been in vain if it brings all of us to a greater determination to carry on our preaching programs (both foreign and domestic) "according to the pattern" laid down in the New Testament. A little bit more humility on the part of the promoters, and a greater zeal on the part of all of us could well grow out of this failure. Recriminations and belligerent criticisms have little constructive value. The thing that counts is to go forward with the work of preaching the gospel both in America and across the waters — and to see that ALL of it is done according to the pattern set forth in the New Testament. Let that be the goal and desire of every faithful Christian.

— F. Y. T.