By Michael Little
He is best known for taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the intelligentsia of the world — the students and professors of our universities.
You may not recognize his face, but 139 million people around the globe know Jesus Christ as their Savior because of his ministry, Campus Crusade for Christ International.
For 50 years, Campus Crusade’s founder, Bill Bright has had one uncompromising passion — take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. That passion has resulted in 4.2 billion people hearing the life-changing message of Christ through the ministry of Campus Crusade. According to “Money Magazine,” Campus Crusade has been labeled the most “efficient” religious organization in the U.S.
It is also ranks as the largest religious charity in America. Today, Campus Crusade has 24,000 full-time employees — the majority of which raise their own support. Another 553,700 people in 191 countries work as trained volunteers.
When you sit down with Bill Bright, as Christian Broadcasting Network President Michael Little did, you don’t get a sense of his own incredible achievements but a profound sense of the greatness of his God. He is a humble man. A dedicated servant of his Lord and Master. Now, as he approaches the age of 80, he is battling pulmonary fibrosis, a medically incurable disease.
His adventure in ministry started back in 1951 while he was attending Fuller Theological Seminary. Out of a domestic dispute with his wife came a contract with God. In that contract both Brights pledged to become, ‘Slaves for Christ.’ It was a beginning that has impacted the world.
Michael Little: “You and your wife have signed a contract with each other and with God saying ‘We surrender ourselves to be slaves’.”
Bill Bright: “Absolutely.”
Little: “Surrendering all, ownership, titles or to be…..”
Little: “….used in our useful lives as slaves of God.”
Bright: “I’ve never received a dollar royalty to any of my books because I feel, as a slave everything that I have is a gift of my messenger.”
Little: “So is it like a vow of poverty?”
Bright: “I wouldn’t say it’s a vow of poverty in the sense that I ended up in some primitive part of the world, in a hut somewhere. But God and His sovereignty had a plan, and then took us immediately within a few months to the University California Los Angeles campus.
“We rented a very nice home to entertain the students. And then we moved in with Dr. Radamier for nine years in a palace type Moorish castle three minutes from the heart of the campus. And then we moved to Arrowhead Springs. So I couldn’t say that I’ve lived the life of a deprived person.”
Little: “Doesn’t sound like it.”
Bright: “The fact is we assumed that was possible when we signed the contract and we’ve been prepared for that all through the years.”
Little: “But this contract surrendering to be a slave, is this something that you require of other followers?”
Bright: “I’ve never required it of anyone, though a good percentage of the people with whom I work have done it on their own initiatives. Because frankly, when you study in the Scripture, the Scripture clearly teaches we’re not our own. We’ve been bought with a price, the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. So none of us really have any rights. I’m simply acknowledging that when I say, ‘Lord I want to be your slave.’ I know I’m a Son of God, an heir of God, and a joint heir of Christ. I’m seated with Him in the heavenlies, but by choice; like Paul, Peter and others, I’ve chosen to be a slave.
“And it’s the most liberating thing you can imagine. All of these years now, I’ve seen this move grow for Bonnette and myself.”
Little: “So the ministry Campus Crusade for Christ sort of spun out of this decision to surrender to be a slave?”
Bright: “Within 24 hours God had given me the vision.”
Little: “Was this your name? Would you name the ministry this? Campus Crusade?”
Bright: “I shared it the next day with a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, Zachary Grover Smith, one of my favorite New Testament scholars. I shared with him what God had said to me the night before. And he got out of his chair in his office, paced back and forth, all he could say for about 30 minutes was, ‘This is of God. This is of God. This is of God.’ But then the next morning he came to class and he said, ‘God gave me the name for you — your vision.’ And he scribbled on a little piece of paper ‘CCC’ under which he wrote ‘Campus Crusade for Christ’ and that’s our name.”
Little: “Have you ever felt that name was limiting because you haven’t been limited to campus to work.”
Bright: “We have 70 ministries. Some are marriage related — some have to do with the ‘Jesus’ film in 600 languages. People have said to me, ‘Why don’t you change your name?’ And I’ve said, ‘Fine, come up with a better name and we’ll change it.’ But no one has done that.”
Little: “No one has ever said the ‘Bill Bright Evangelistic Association’? You wouldn’t have gone for that?”
Bright: “Us slaves don’t have those things. So it’s the emphasis on Jesus. So for 50 years we’ve talked about Him.”
Little: “You’re looking back now 50 years, what has been the thing, which you look back and say ‘That was just a standout event’. Maybe it’s a rally in Seoul, Korea or Dallas, Texas?”
Bright: “In Seoul, Korea one night I spoke to about 1.3 million people and over a million of them indicated salvation decisions. They had a philosophy. Many of the Korean pastors told me that many were not sure of their salvation. They asked me to speak on Ephesians 2:8,9 ‘For by grace you are saved through faith.’ Many wonderful people had been active church members but they weren’t sure. They were trying to earn their salvation by their good works.
“On another occasion in Korea, in 1980, there were about 2-3 million every night in the meetings.”
Little: “Would you say that the ‘Jesus’ film has won more people to Christ?”
Bright: “There have been over 4.2 billion in 645 languages in 235 countries believe the film. We have reason to believe there are hundreds of millions who have made some kind of decision.”
Little: “Sometimes I’ve read as many as 1/3 of the people who view it actually pray to receive?”
Bright: “I’ve seen occasions where most of the people present did that.”
Bright: “I remember a pastor of a large church in Nairobi, Kenya wanted to start a new church. So we took the film to a part of the city where there was a lot of foot-traffic and started the film. No one there but us. Soon there were about 1,500 people stopped to see it. And when the invitation was given over one half of them indicated they wanted to receive the Lord. So we started the church immediately.”
Little: “Just like that?”
Bright: “You know about the Dawn Ministry?”
Little: “Yes, sure.”
Bright: “Mr. Steele said their reports indicate that through the ‘Jesus’ film and other evangelism in which we were involved, over 750,000 churches have been started.
“750,000. So, this is what the Master does, not the slave.”
Little: “How would you describe yourself, theologically or doctrinally? Are you an ecumenical, are you an evangelical, how do you answer that question? ”
Bright: “I’m a classical Christian.”
Little: “Classical Christian.”
Bright: “I’m a New Testament Christian. I reject and throw out titles. I’m not a fundamentalist, though I’m fundamental in all of my doctrine. I’m not an evangelical, because that means that I exclude the Catholics and main-liners, and Orthodox. I’m a believer who loves Jesus and I work with everybody else whatever their denomination; Catholic, Orthodox, charismatic, main line, evangelicals, anyone who loves Jesus, I’ll work with them.”
Little: “Your family was involved in politics back in Oklahoma years ago. Campus Crusade is known for its influence throughout the evangelical, the larger Christian world. What is your stance politically? What involvement do you have politically?”
Bright: “I believe every Christian should be involved in politics. From the precinct to the White House. But we as a movement have chosen not to be partisan because we represent millions of people who share different views but they love Jesus. I’m more concerned about the salvation of souls than I am in promoting a particular party. But I’m a very conservative personal politically. I abhor the murder of 40 million unborn babies. I deplore the pornography and all of the immoral degenerate things that are happening in our country. I favor candidates who are biblically oriented, who hold the views of the Ten Commandments.
“I remember when Ronald Reagan was president he said ‘if the American people obeyed the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule we wouldn’t have any problems.’ The first time I heard him say it I thought, ‘That’s too simplistic.’ There are complicated problems back there. But you analyze it, he’s right. Every morning as I read the scripture, every night, I quote the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule.”
Little: “As a part of your devotional life?”
Bright: “I’ve just written a book on the Ten Commandments. Part of my devotional life, because I want before God that everything, every thought, attitude, action, motive, desire in my heart be pleasing to Him. I ask Him, ‘Keep the spotlight of Your Spirit on me so there would be nothing impure or unholy in my life.’ That’s been my prayer for 50 years.”
Little: “By every measure, Campus Crusade for Christ has been a terrific success. 50 plus years, hundreds of millions of people have heard the Gospel, and have accepted Christ as a result of the multi-faceted ministry. But there were hard lessons. Not everything has been positive.”
Little: “Well, what were the hard lessons of ministry life which you’ve had to learn?”
Bright: “Well I had to learn how to trust the Lord. My faith muscles grew. Just like, you’re exercising your muscles and they may be sore for a while, but they become stronger with exercise. Faith grows with exercise. You see God work miracles.”
Bright: “You’re believing for more and so through the years God has honored that.”
Little: “But there’s got to have been people sometimes in your life who have criticized you and said, ‘our confidence is not in you Bill Bright. We don’t want you to be our leader. I remember one of those stories. Others who said you were a liberal, a heretic for associating with those outside of Protestantism. But what did that do to you?”
Bright: “Well if you’re referring to the document that I signed with Chuck Colson and others to embrace our fellow believers in the Roman Catholic tradition, they were the people who wrote me some very uncomplimentary letters. But I wrote back to tell them that I love them because the Scripture commands me to do that.”
Bright: “You know you love God with all your heart, soul, mind, you love your neighbor as yourself, and you love your enemies. So I’ve never allowed those critics to bother me. I just simply did what I believe God wanted me to do. Remember that I became a slave in 1951. Slaves have to obey their Masters.”