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First Commencement: Covenant Seminary

In Covenant Theological Seminary, Theological Seminaries on 24/05/2011 at 09:54

This is an edited form of the address given by Mr. Bunzel during the First Annual Commencement Exercises of Covenant College* on June 1, 1956, held at Pasadena City Church, whose building housed the college prior to its permanent relocation in St. Louis. Pasadena City Church has also provided headquarters for Twentieth Century Evangelism since its beginning in 1954.
[*See the explanatory note at the end of this post.]

The Place Where Responsibility and Opportunity Meet

By Rev. Claude Bunzel, Director of Twentieth Century Evangelism, Minister of Pasadena City Church.

THE SUBJECT which I have chosen is The Place Where Responsibility and Opportunity Meet. I realize that these words, responsibility and opportunity, seem to contradict each other. Responsibility, as you know, carries with it the idea of obligation, something that we must do. In other words, a responsibility is a duty. But opportunity conveys an entirely different meaning. An opportunity is some “favorable chance,” to quote the dictionary, which leaves a person the freedom to undertake or decline.

I remember a cartoon which I saw one time. A young man was seated in an elegant home, holding a conversation with a woman who was obviously well-to-do. This young man had apparently been trying to get this woman to contribute to the cause he was representing. The caption below the cartoon, however, quoted the woman like this: “I was ready to make out a check for you until you started talking to me about my duty.”

Yes, that is the attitude most people take when the matter of responsibility is mentioned. Opportunities they will consider. But the majority of people seem to shy away from anything that so much as resembles responsibility. Yet there is a place where responsibility and opportunity meet. When Jesus was with His disciples for the last time prior to His ascension, His disciples asked Him: “Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6). Jesus replied (vs. 7,8):

It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
In plain words, the answer which Jesus gave to His disciples was this. Their mission was not to be a temporal mission to reform society. It was to be a spiritual mission to tell the world about the One who had come to redeem sinners. This means that
evangelism is the place where responsibility and opportunity meet!

WITNESSES UNTO CHRIST

It is our responsibility to be witnesses unto Christ, because He said, “And ye shall be witnesses unto Me.” But what does it mean to be a witness unto Jesus Christ? Today, certainly, different people will give different answers to that question. I contend, therefore, that the only reliable answer is to be found in that portion of Scripture known as the Acts of the Apostles. This has to be so, for the simple reason that the Gospels and the Epistles were written to those who had already turned to Christ for His salvation.

Witnessing That Jesus Is the Promised Messiah

Salvation is not an emergency measure which God thought up because sin caught him by surprise. God’s plan of salvation was laid in eternity. No doubt this is why the Apostles were constantly emphasizing the truth that Jesus is the promised Messiah of the Old Testament. Peter, and those who witnessed with him on the day of Pentecost give us the first recorded example of this emphasis. The closing remark that Peter made was (Acts 2:36): “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ [Messiah].”

We can never win anyone to Christ by seeming to present Him as an accident of history, or as the natural outcome of some supposed evolutionary process. Jesus the Christ came into this world in order to accomplish the redemption of His people; and the bulk of the Old Testament deals with who He is and what He did.

This leads us into the next great truth regarding the promised Messiah: Jesus Christ is the only possible Saviour for sinful men. I realize that this will sound intolerant to many in a day of loose doctrine. Nevertheless, when Peter and John found themselves in custody before the high priests, because God had used them as the human means of miraculously healing a lame man, Peter bluntly said:

Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12).

Under the deepest conviction that no one else but Jesus could save men from sin, those Apostles defied the high priests who sought to silence them, and continued to witness for their Messiah day after day.

The next lengthy message with an evangelistic content that we read in the Acts of the Apostles is that of Stephen before the Sanhedrin, recorded in chapter seven. No doubt different people will be impressed by different things when they read this testimony Stephen gave. This is what impresses me, in connection with our responsibility to be witnesses unto Christ. Loyalty to Christ must take precedent over loyalty to any and all man-made institutions, whether those institutions are political, cultural, religious or of any other kind. Stephen remained loyal to Christ, even to the extent of praying for those who, in their spiritual blindness, were stoning him to death while he prayed.

This raises a question. Will you and I be as loyal to Christ as Stephen was, if we are ever faced with possible death for our testimony? The days of martyrdom are not over, as many missionary boards will quickly tell you. Nor are the days of the martyr-spirit over. Therefore, we should challenge men and women to give up everything for Christ. This is not too much to expect; for they will respond — if God speaks to their hearts!

The Acts of the Apostles is filled with valuable lessons such as these. The one more to be mentioned is the instance of Peter and Cornelius, found in chapters ten and eleven. And I still have in mind witnessing that Jesus is the promised Messiah when I point out the central thought of this passage: God is no respecter of persons in His offer of salvation.

God’s salvation is for both Jew and Gentile. It is for high and low. It is for the wealthy and the poor, for the strong and the weak. It is for those who are educated and for those who are ignorant. That is why Peter began his message to Cornelius and his family by saying: “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons : but in every nation he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him” (Acts 10:34,35).

This means that Christ is for all. It means that Christ can meet the need of all. Let us, then, not hesitate to witness to all, as God leads, that Jesus is the promised Messiah!

Witnessing That Jesus Died and Rose from the Grave

Is witnessing that Jesus is the promised Messiah to be the extent ofour testimony? No! The heart of the Gospel is that this promised Messiah died and rose from the grave on the third day. Listen to the Apostle Peter, in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost:

Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among
you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by Him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that He should be holden of it (Acts 2:22-24).

Or listen to Peter as he speaks to the household of Cornelius: “And we are witnesses of all things which He [Christ] did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem ; whom they slew and hanged on a tree: Him God raised up the third day, and shewed Him openly . . .” (Acts 10:39,40).

Deeper into the Acts of the Apostles, especially in the messages of Paul, there is a steady stream of testimony to the fact that Jesus Christ was crucified and raised from the dead the third day. This is doctrinal preaching, to be sure; but it is the kind of doctrine that brings salvation to repenting and believing sinners. Paul’s experience in Thessolonica is a case in point:

And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with
them out of the Scriptures, opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ. And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few (Acts 17:2-4).

No one has truly preached the Gospel, no one has properly witnessed for Christ, no one has actually given sinners the message they need, unless he has set forth the Scriptural truths that Jesus is the promised Messiah, that Jesus died for our sins, and that Jesus rose from the dead the third day. But once having presented these truths we can say, as Paul said in Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:38,39):

Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: and by Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.

WITNESSES UNTO CHRIST THROUGHOUT THE WORLD

It is our responsibility to be witnesses unto Christ throughout the world, because He said: “And ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”

We are to be witnesses unto Christ throughout our world, just as the early Christians were to be witnesses unto Christ throughout their world. The world that we face in the Twentieth Century, however, is not the same world that believers of the First Century had to face. It is not the same world politically. It is not the same world economically. It is not the same world technologically or culturally. It is not even the same world geographically, in the sense of population distribution.

There are certain ways in which our world is the same world that the early Christians faced. The world of the Twentieth Century is the same philosophically ; it is the same psychologically. And quite obviously it is the same religiously. There will be more about these matters later, but for the moment let us think about the differences between our world and theirs.

Our World and Theirs Contrasted and Compared

What kind of a world did the Early Church face ? In contrast to the complexity of modern society, the world which the Early Church faced was exceedingly simple. For one thing, its institutions were few. There was the government apparatus, the various religions centered about a temple or shrine, and perhaps a few guilds or crafts loosely organized. With this and little more, it meant that the bulk of mankind was a homogeneous body, moving through life with humdrum monotony, except for periodic wars among nations.

How different is the world we face today! We have ultra-fast transportation facilities. We have instantaneous communications systems, including the magic of television. There are media for the spread of news, propaganda and entertainment on a national and even an international scale. Our society is split up into tiny fragments, each fragment of which is highly organized, most fragments of which are waging war against some other fragment.

Yet in the midst of all this organizational diversity, we must be careful to remember that’ there is but one Church of Jesus Christ, comprised of all those who have been born of the Spirit of God. We must also remember that to which ever of these man-made organizations we happen to belong, our first allegiance must be to Jesus Christ as Head of the Church which is His Body.

If we are to be witnesses unto Christ throughout the whole world — our world — how are we to go about such an immense task? I can only speak for myself, in answering this question; but I hope you will agree with my answer. In the same way that the lawyer investigates before he argues, in the same way that the doctor diagnoses before he treats, in the same way that the contractor plans before he builds, so we must investigate, diagnose and plan before we seek to evangelize our world. To state the problem in as simple a manner as I know how, we must analyse the situation we face, and then tackle it in any legitimate way that seems practical. And lest you jump to a wrong conclusion, I am not advocating a single, simple analysis, to apply for all time. I am advocating repeated analysis — that is a fresh analysis every time some vital factor in the previous analysis changes.

What We Can Learn from Successful Salesmen

It was earlier said that the world we face is the same as the world the Early Church faced in three major areas: philosophy, psychology, and religion. In other words, men’s minds and hearts are the same today as .always. Yet no two men are alike in their temperament, their education, their emotion, their experience, or their desires. This means that we must be as flexible in witnessing to men as the successful salesman is in his approach to a prospective customer.

Strange as it may sound to you at first, in my opinion it would do much good for us occasionally to read one of the many How to Be a Successful Salesman books, then to take the examples they give and the lessons they teach and adapt them to our efforts to witness for Christ.

I recall one story in particular, about a salesman who desired to obtain a large account from an important firm. He inquired discreetly until he discovered the key man whose confidence he had to win in order to gain that firm’s business. When he found out who that key man was, he next sought to find out what he was like. He learned that his man was a golf-lover. So this salesman purchased some books on golf, and read up on golf and golf players. He joined a country club and took golf lessons. After all this, he practiced and practiced until he could play golf as well as he had learned to talk golf. Now he was ready to contact this key man in this important firm. You can guess the result, of course: he won that large account.

Perhaps you and I can win more souls for Christ when we show a willingness to proceed as sensibly in the spiritual realm as the successful salesman does in the commercial realm.

The Inspired Example of an Inspired Apostle

Lest you think I am advocating a Yes and No attitude, or am suggesting that we compromise our testimony merely to gain a hearing, I refer you to the Apostle Paul to illustrate what I mean by flexibility. He it was, you remember, who said: “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you” (I Corinthians 9:22,23).

The Apostle Paul journeyed to Antioch in Pisidia for the one purpose of witnessing for Jesus Christ. Why did he begin his sermon with a long review of Jewish history? Was he so foolish as to imagine that those Jews in that synagogue did not know their own history ? Of course not! His aim was to establish a point of contact on the basis of that which was of interest to them, in order that he might gain favorable attention to that which was of interest to himself.

It is Paul’s experience in Athens, however, that seems to me to have special meaning for us today.
Mind you, this was the same man; yet his language was entirely different, and his point of contact was entirely different. If you study carefully his address, found in Acts chapter 17, you will notice these things. First, Paul based his remarks upon something which was a part of their local environment, the altar with the inscription To
the Unknown God. And he had discovered that altar as he walked about the city of Athens, waiting for Silas and the others to join him. Next, he demonstrated that he was familiar with their philosophical beliefs and could even quote from their poets. Finally, he combined denial of that which they .believed with an affirmation of that which he believed, and wanted them to believe. This kind of approach, I can add, gives thinking people an opportunity to think!

A Key That Unlocks Society for a Gospel Entrance

Our world is highly organized. The people of today have what can be called group-consciousness. Sometimes the same individual belongs to different groups that work against each other. This is even true of evangelical believers. Yet it is still our responsibility to be witnesses unto Christ in this kind of a world. Is there a key with which we can unlock this tangled maze ? To me there is.

If we concentrate our efforts upon those areas which remain unchanged, that is, if we concentrate upon the areas of philosophy, psychology and religion, we can penetrate the highly organized society of today and reach men and women who have unwittingly allowed the walls that separate group from group to isolate them from their fellow-men. When I use the words, philosophy, psychology and religion, however, I use them in the basic and elementary meaning of how men think, how men act, and how men worship. Such intimate knowledge of such basic matters will enable all believers to witness more effectively for Christ.

WITNESSES UNTO CHRIST THROUGHOUT THE WORLD IN THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

Our Lord Jesus Christ said: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” Therefore, it is our responsibility to be witnesses unto Christ throughout the world in the power of the Holy Spirit.

We can know the Gospel of God’s grace unto perfection. We can have analyzed completely and correctly the society in which we live; and we can have singled out a point of contact that is ideal. We may speak with the tongue of an orator and reason with the mind of a philosopher. But if we do not possess the power of the Spirit of God, our testimony will fall upon deaf ears and accomplish little or nothing.

Why We Need the Power of the Holy Spirit

We realize that those believers who gathered together in one accord on the day of Pentecost were filled with the Holy Spirit. But do we also realize that the conviction of sin which was then produced was the work of the Holy Spirit, and not of the Apostles ? In other words, we need the power of the Holy Spirit to produce conviction of sin.

The Sanhedrin attempted — unsuccessfully — to silence Peter and the other Apostles. Then the Apostles and disciples prayed for boldness to witness [Acts 4:23-33]. God answered their prayer, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, they later declared: “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

Do you ever hesitate to witness because you fear opposition? The same Spirit of God who gave Stephen the courage to withstand the official opposition of unbelieving priests will also give you courage!

Perhaps you have a desire to serve Christ, and to witness for Him; but you cannot make up your mind exactly how to go about it, and where to attempt it. All of Us can learn a lesson from Philip. He was in the midst of such a great soul-winning campaign in the city of Samaria that the Apostles came from Jerusalem to investigate, and then to help. Yet the Spirit of God directed Philip to leave that great city campaign in order to lead one lone man to Christ in the middle of a lonely desert. This same Holy Spirit will guide us into fruitful service, if we but commit ourselves into His hands.

Who would ever have thought that a vengeful man like Saul of Tarsus was destined to become, by the grace of God, the Apostle who labored more abundantly than they all? Acts chapter nine tells of his conversion, and of his filling with the Holy Spirit, then adds: “And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God” (v. 20). This is bound to be the result, in the case of any and all who become filled with the power of the Spirit of God!

Opportunity As Well As Responsibility

I have spoken of our responsibility to be witnesses unto Christ throughout the world in the power of the Holy Spirit. This responsibility is our opportunity as well!

Why is our responsibility to witness for Christ also our opportunity ? Because we are sinful and He is sinless. Because we are unrighteous and He is righteous. Because we are, apart from saving grace, unholy, but He is holiness itself. So it is an opportunity for persons such as ourselves to witness for One like Him.

The world is an opportunity for us, as well as a responsibility — our world, today, in spite of apostacy, in spite of materialism, in spite of the thousand and one things that keep men from thinking about the welfare of their souls. If we analyze our world, if we adapt ourselves to its need, if we seek the guidance of the Lord in establishing a point of contact, we can win souls for Christ — today.

When we as believers stand before the mirror and look at ourselves, we see someone whom the Holy Spirit indwells. It is a wonderful privilege, beyond the ability of human language to describe, just for this alone. In addition, we have the priceless opportunity of enjoying the power of the Spirit of God, who will give us courage, who will guide us, who will bless our efforts to witness for Christ.

There is a place where responsibility and opportunity meet. That place is the place of evangelism. It is the responsibility of every believer to be a witness unto Christ; and believers collectively are to be witnesses unto Christ throughout the world. Each of us individually must, however, give forth our testimony to Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. May this be true of each one of us, both this day and all the days that follow!

[*Note: Technically the first commencement exercises for Covenant Theological Seminary were observed on 30 May 1957, with Dr. Joseph P. Free of Wheaton College delivering a message entitled “Watch, Stand, Be Strong.”  However, the text of that message cannot be located at this time.  As stated in the brief preface above, Dr. Bunzel’s message was delivered at the first annual commencement exercises of Covenant College. The College began in the fall of 1955 and Covenant Theological Seminary began a year later and after the College had relocated to St. Louis, Missouri.  However, since both schools shared the same property location until the relocation of the College in 1964, the Seminary accordingly has numbered its annual commencement exercises based upon the College’s first commencement in 1956. So in lieu of finding Dr. Free’s text, it seems appropriate to post Dr. Bunzel’s message as part of this series.]

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