I am not the only one to observe the great changes that have occurred within the past 50 years. Nor am I the only one to remark that greater changes have occurred during my 50 adult years than during the preceding 500 years. However, I should like to relate how God has led me to these changes, and to take advantage of the spiritual opportunities they presented.
In my lifetime great advances have been made in man’s ability to communicate. How well I remember my boyish amazement when a telephone was installed in our home on the orange ranch, so that we were able to talk with friends living four miles away in Redlands, California. The wireless achieved commercial success in 1897. Later, during high school days, I wrote a mail order house for the parts to make a wireless receiving set. To receive messages over a wire was a marvelous thing, but how amazing to hear messages simply coming out of the air! I immediately busied myself with learning the Morse Code, and became proficient enough to land a job as an assistant dispatcher for the railroad.
It was a part of God’s plan that as a lad I should be so fascinated by these new modes of communication. Thus in 1924, seven years after my conversion, when God spoke to me during a sleepless night in a Pullman car about preaching the Gospel by radio, my heart immediately responded to the idea of the greatly increased efficiency that radio could give evangelism. To think that while standing in one place I could tell the good news of Christ to many thousands scattered over a wide area! I did not feel personally qualified for such a ministry, but God so gripped my heart with the vision of what radio could do that as dawn came and the train was approaching Pittsburgh, I told God I would attempt to put my church services on the air as soon as I returned to Placentia, California.
Radio was so new in those days that it was hard to get others to share the vision. Some actually felt that since Satan is the prince of the power of the air, it would be folly to try to preach the Gospel via the air waves! Some of my deacons felt that if church services were put on the air, people would make this an excuse for staying at home. But we tried it anyway, and soon people from all over Orange County were packing the evening services of our church at the crossroads amongst the orange trees. The deacons were soon convinced!
In the late twenties networks were beginning to thread their way across our country, and in 1931 I was led to try one broadcast on a private network up the West Coast. Through the great response to this one broadcast, God shoved me how much a radio network could add to the efficiency of evangelism. But funds were insufficient to continue on a network, and so we did the next best thing by going on station KNX, whose 50,000 watts could blanket the 11 Western states with the Gospel. The program became increasingly popular on this station, and in 1936 we were able to buy time on 13 of the Mutual Broadcasting System stations extending from Los Angeles to Fort Wayne.
We occupied the best hour on Sunday evening, and it wasn’t long until a cigarette company which wanted the entire Mutual network was threatening to pre-empt us. The only way to keep that choice spot was to take the whole network. I had only four weeks to inform the radio listeners of the greatly increased cost of going from 13 to 65 stations, but God worked so marvelously that when it came time to pay the bill we had $4.29 left over!
Era Of Radio Evangelism
Ever since then we have been on a coast-to-coast network, and it seems that God was pleased to raise up radio evangelism to meet a particular need. Mass evangelism suffered a decline between the heyday of Billy Sunday in the twenties and the rise of Billy Graham at mid-century. But during this time radio evangelism helped fill the gap. Hundreds of conversions were reported every week, and it helped rather than hindered the local church. Once when I was about to speak before the Southern Baptist Convention, the master of ceremonies asked how many of the 4,000 ministers present had ever received into their churches members who had been converted through listening to the Old Fashioned Revival Hour. My heart skipped a beat or two—until a great forest of hands went up.
When television became widely used, it looked as though radio would become obsolete. But people are becoming increasingly wearied by western gun fights and fixed quiz shows, and as a result radio has been experiencing a surprising comeback. People’s interest in the Old Fashioned Revival Hour, for example, has never been greater than at present. How I do praise God for enabling me to preach still from Sunday to Sunday with nearly world-wide coverage.
I note also an advance in the field of education, namely, in the greatly increased number of young people who are now attending college. This fact has definite implications for Christianity in America. Let me show why I think this is so.
In early America, colleges were mainly for the training of ministers. Later it became expedient to train ministers in seminaries. But at the close of the last century many of our seminaries began to succumb to the lethal fumes of liberalism, and it became apparent that orthodoxy was soon going to be without an adequate supply of trained leaders. Providentially, God raised up many Bible institutes, which were very effective in training thousands of young men and women—many of whom were not college graduates—to know their Bibles and have a zeal for evangelism. After my conversion I myself graduated from such a school, the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, where I had the very finest training from a giant of the faith, Dr. R. A. Torrey.
Bible institutes saved the day for Christianity because they were so effective in training people to meet the immediate needs of the Christian enterprise. But because they are geared to the level of the high school graduate, they are not able to provide their students with that breadth of perspective and intellectual acumen so essential for those leaders whose responsibility it is to give guidance in shaping orthodoxy’s long range policies in our changing world.
To complicate this picture, a greatly increased percentage of the younger generation were graduating from college. Many of these felt called to the Lord’s service, but where would they find adequate training? To many the Bible institute level seemed too elementary, and evangelical seminaries on a high scholastic level were all too few.
I believe it was in view of this need that God laid a burden on my heart to found a theological seminary which might become what Cal Tech is to engineering and West Point to military science. The picture which I have painted to show the need for such a seminary was not as clear to me then as it is now. But God saw it clearly, and in 1947 he led me to contact Dr. Harold John Ockenga of the Park Street Church in Boston, to procure the faculty for such a school.
Despite many obstacles and much criticism during the past 11 years, God has wonderfully worked to raise up a seminary which helps to meet the need for training evangelical leadership. The charter faculty consisted of four members, but now there are 16 faculty members, men of unquestioned orthodox conviction, clear-cut evangelistic zeal, and thorough theological training. Already a theological literature is being produced which neo-orthodoxy and liberalism respect.
Thus I want to testify to the fact that God has worked in my life—as he has in many others—to do those things which were needful for his work in view of the great changes which have occurred.
Facing The Moral Sag
There is one more change which I would like to mention—one which creates a problem that is not really being remedied. There is a moral declension evidenced on every hand in America.
This current declension is an exhibit of the innate corruption of man. The Bible teaches the fall and the result of the fall in the total depravity and corruption of mankind. Again and again in history this has been demonstrated. Civilizations have their birth, growth, period of fullness, decay, fall and finally, oblivion. The decadent conditions which preceded the fall of other civilizations are being paralleled in our own beloved America. The predominant emphasis upon sex in literature, advertising, family relations, entertainment and news, the dishonesty in personal and economic relations, the avarice exhibited in love of money and position, the indulgence in ease, the dependence upon state paternalism for security, all reveal the weakening of the moral fiber of this nation.
Notable is it that the predominant message of New Testament preachers, such as the Lord Jesus, John the Baptist, the Apostle Peter, the Apostle Paul, was on repentance. The same was true of the Old Testament prophets in the days of crisis in Israel’s history. If ever we needed a message of repentance, namely, the change of one’s mind concerning the basic principles of relationship to God, and the turning from one’s sin with a godly sorrow, it is now.
Unless this nation repents, the judgment of God is sure to fall. But there is no reason to expect the nation to repent until professing Christians repent. Judgment must begin at the house of the Lord. I pray that God in his goodness may bring about a genuine old fashioned revival, such as has occurred at times in our nation’s history, so that our country may continue to enjoy his blessings.
Charles E. Fuller is known to countless multitudes as the radio voice of the “Old Fashioned Revival Hour.” Eleven years ago he founded Fuller Theological Seminary, whose 39 original students have grown to 450 graduates, 100 of them on mission fields throughout the world. In this essay he tells how the passion for souls led him to preach on the air waves.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.