Sunday, January 13, 2008method to our madness...
My friend Franklin, very recently commented about our use of Bible signs in our evangelistic efforts. He mentioned that he personally didn't favour the use of signs due to the wicked deeds of Fred Phelps and his entourage (who use wicked statements on signs); and all too often, again, according to Franklin, signs are used as sensationalistic tools to protest all manner of things. His statements reminded me of a request another regular on my blog, Robert, had made; that is, to describe why we evangelize the way we do. This post is my answer for both Franklin and Robert.
Before we begin, let me confess that everything I will describe and profess in this post doesn't come from my little head; I have come to these positions through the power of the Holy Spirit, by the human agency of my pastor, who is the most driven and faithful evangelist I have ever known. I have been involved in mass evangelism for roughly 7 years now. My pastor has been at it for over 30. Without anyone to push him along, pastor Tim has consistently, and compassionately been preaching the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ in the highways and byways of at least three cities/towns. I believe that these credentials make him a valuable, and relevant resource for the topic at hand.
The first thing I learned from pastor Tim's evangelism was that his main objective differed from the goal of most evangelists I knew. You ask any evangelist you know: "Why are you preaching the Gospel?" The overwhelming majority will answer, without missing a beat: "So men can be saved!" While the salvation of men is a desired outcome of our evangelistic efforts, I assure you that it is not the primary objective. The number one goal of our Friday night efforts is God's glory.
"Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Corinthians 10:31)
I am not just being cute here. It is important for you all to understand that there are lots of things that would change in our method of evangelism if glorifying God wasn't our chief concern. For example, let us consider the use of Bible signs. I see myself with my big John 3:36 sign from time to time when I pass in front of a large store window. My first thought is always the same: "Man! do you ever look like a bozo!" Now, if I think I look like a clown, well, it only follows that almost everyone who sees me will see me as just that, a clown. So why in the world do I do it?
God is watching, and He is glorified.
Brothers and sisters-in-the-Lord, consider my words: how do you think God feels when He sees me walking in the most wretched part of my city with a sign that has His Word all over it? Do you think He is embarrassed for me? Do you think He sees me as a clown? Perhaps you do... but I just can't see it. In the carnal realm, I am a Bible sign carrying bozo. In the spiritual realm, I am holding forth the Word of Truth, to the praise and honour of my God.
There are a million carnal reasons to believe that using Bible signs and plain Bible tracts is ineffective and even detrimental to the work of evangelism. The thing is, I couldn't care less about these carnal reasons, our evangelistic efforts are spiritual. Confrontation? Discomfort? Annoyance? Yes, these are carnal reactions to the work of Biblical evangelism. You see it all through the book of Acts, and that is why I do not worry about my preaching being an affront and a scandal and foolishness to carnal men. Consider:
"For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God." (1 Corinthians 1:18)
"But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Corinthians 2:14)
"To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ." (2 Corinthians 2:16-17)
My faith in the Doctrines of Grace plays an important role in my evangelism here. You see, I don't believe that being culturally sensitive, or seeker-friendly, has any relevance in evangelism. I REALLY, REALLY DON'T. I believe that wherever I go in the world, if I stand on a street corner with a Bible sign and preach the unadulterated Gospel, this is what will happen:
1- The unconverted will be annoyed and/or amused and/or angry at me.
2- The elect of God will hear and be changed forever.
Franklin, in his comment said that he believed "that the method of delivering the message makes a difference." I couldn't agree more, but I fear that he and I aren't talking about the same thing. You see, when my good friend speaks of "method", he is speaking carnally, as in worldly considerations (ex: Fred Phelps/hippie protests... etc). As far as I'm concerned the only consideration one should have when developing a method of evangelism is this: "Will this method set forth the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ clearly and directly enough to be foolishness to carnal men, and be the power of God to God's elect?" I assure you, all other considerations are carnal and irrelevant.
Evangelism is a spiritual work that requires much faith. Faith that God will save His people through the "foolishness of preaching" (1 Corinthians 1:21). Faith that no matter how much of a bozo the preacher may feel like, God will use him as a fisher of men. This is why I don't like using "gimmick tracts" (with some kind of flashy, flesh-appealing content), or sketch boards on which one can use art to tell the Gospel story. It is too easy for us preachers to start believing that the type of tracts or the type of paint can make a difference. The Holy Spirit is the One who makes a difference. No one and nothing else.
If God is going to save a man on a Friday night, He will use our evangelistic efforts, or He will use someone or something else; but be sure of this, God will save him. Whether the man likes signs or hates them. Whether he takes a Bible tract or refuses to even look at it. Whether he loves the sound of a Gospel preacher, or hates it to the uttermost. The Good Shepherd's calling is irresistible to His sheep. They know His voice. They don't know Fred Phelps' voice, because they don't belong to Fred Phelps. They belong to the Great Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ.
So, what's in it for the Gospel preacher? Why does he preach when the salvation of God's elect is certain? God's glory. He commanded that all His saints go out and preach the Gospel to all. The Lord is then well-pleased with those who bring the Word of Life to the unconverted, whether these souls convert or not. It is all about the glory given to God through the faithful obedience of His children.
Perhaps that isn't good enough for many evangelists, but I assure you, it's good enough for me.
Ps: Great minds think alike... listen to this short audio clip by Missionary Paul Washer. He sums up very concisely what I learned from pastor Tim.