If key 73 achieves only a part of its objectives in the United States and Canada, World Vision president W. Stanley Mooneyham has remarked, the results will nonetheless be phenomenal. From its impact thus far, two observations are inescapable: that the venture has had gratifying and surprising momentum on a nationwide basis, and that Key 73 must be viewed not as a terminal effort but as an ongoing thrust into and beyond the mid-seventies.

By the turn of last year, the enterprise had enlisted not simply 100 (as was initially hoped) but 150 major denominations and organizations for the largest cooperative evangelistic effort in any nation since the Protestant Reformation. Since the television launch film was shown January 6 and 7 on 667 stations across the United States, mostly public service, it has been televised additionally on half as many more outlets. The total estimated viewing audience in the United States and Canada exceeds 75 million.

Although the first phase in many places began unspectacularly, there were already impressive pilot programs in 1972, and Christians in Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Detroit, and Seattle, among other metropolises, found their stride in the first weeks of the new year. During March alone, executive director Dr. Ted Raedeke and other leaders held thirty-five statewide strategy seminars providing program resources and guidelines for lay witness, Bible distribution and study, fair ministries, youth outreach, and impact weeks.

Scripture distribution quickly accelerated to the point where the American Bible Society was dispatching 600,000 to 700,000 copies of Luke-Acts weekly; beyond all expectation, distribution reached the six-million-copy mark long before Easter. In some cities—including a traditionally Lutheran center, St. Louis—Roman Catholics led the way in citywide distributions of Scripture. Their interest in evangelical vitalities has been especially noteworthy in Iowa, particularly Des Moines and Dubuque, and the number of Catholics in neighborhood Bible-study groups is on the increase in many communities.

On the local level, there are impressive reports of evangelical engagement. In one New York area, twenty-one churches in the Kenmore-Tonawanda region, spurred by Kenmore Baptist Church, distributed 50,000 copies of Touched by the Fire (Luke-Acts) by personal presentation house to house on a Sunday afternoon in March. Hundreds of laymen are now wearing an ordinary door key attached by a pin clasp and bearing the figures 73, an idea developed by a member of Olean Baptist Church.

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Dr. James Nettinga, director of advance programs for the American Bible Society, reports:

The Bible Society simply cannot keep in stock the Key 73 Scriptures we have designated for the Bible study program. Luke-Acts goes out as fast as it comes from the printer, and already more than three million copies have been ordered and distributed by individual churches and communities in study programs and in community distribution witnessing. They are going at the rate of 250,000 per week; our immediate problem is paper!

Yet is it also clear that the gathering momentum of Key 73, somewhat late in occurring in many parts of the nation, argues against rigid calendar restrictions. The danger that Key 73 might empty into a 1974 vacuum of effort was early sensed by Christian Reformed and other cooperating agencies that viewed the effort as initiating an ongoing evangelistic concern. Methodists of all branches are planning a worldwide evangelistic engagement in 1974. Southern Baptists, slow to get under way in 1973 despite a fervent original commitment, may not find their cooperative stride until next year. Church leaders throughout Australia are contemplating a nationwide effort in 1975.

Seen in the context of Key 73, ecumenical-evangelical cooperation and contrast reflect some interesting developments. Vocal independent conservatives who have never had a good word for Graham crusades, CHRISTIANITY TODAY, or any effort that transcends fundamentalist isolation from ecumenical-related churches, have predictably had no use for Key 73. At the same time, some ecumenical-devoted churchmen have seen Key 73 primarily as an opportunity for creating a public image of broad ecumenical acceptance at a time when ecumenism is in considerable disarray, not least of all for substituting socio-political protest for personal evangelism.

In the center, however, are the vast multitudes of evangelicals, inside and outside the ecumenical constituency, who recognize the Great Commission as the Church’s primary task. This group includes many ecumenists who regard a Christian social witness as authentically biblical, yet neither equate this with evangelism nor make it the Church’s main mission in the world.

It is at the level of ecumenical bureaucratic leadership that the purposes of Key 73 are conspicuously exposed to public understanding or misunderstanding, while its inner intentions are best exhibited and clarified at the community level. NCC leaders associated with Key 73-related denominations, some of whom cooperated when they could no longer afford to ignore the effort, are sometimes more concerned for high-level mass-media visibility on the edge of Key 73 than for local congregational cooperation in evangelistic penetration.

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Most of the laity and many of the clergy, however, are aware of this propensity, and know how to assess it when it appears. The difference between authentic apostolic evangelism and ambiguous modern proposals for Christian engagement is readily evident on the local scene. Those whose prime devotion is to the broadest possible public image for ecumenism per se (“I don’t care what we do, so long as we do it together publicly”) are simply presiding over the terminal coma of neo-Protestant ecumenism.

It was part of the Key 73 commitment that existing transdenominational structures should be used wherever they have been useful for local cooperative evangelism, and that new community structures should be projected only where already existing structures are unserviceable, and that these new ones should be projected as self-destructing with the completion of Key 73. This principle should be maintained.

Already interest in learning new evangelistic techniques and methods has shaped a well-nigh irresistible demand for a new Key 73 manual incorporating information about novel, successful ways of witnessing. And communities sharing the blessings of cooperative evangelistic engagement are asking what new and larger possibilities of spiritual activity remain to be explored.

Key 73 is but a beginning; the Great Commission will retain its urgency until every last citizen has heard good tidings of great joy. There is every reason for Key 73 participants to look and labor toward a significant bicentennial climax in 1976.

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