The free offer of the gospel

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Not long ago, I received a very generous offer. One of the current glitterati of the evangelical scene was going to be preaching, and I was invited to go along and hear him speak . . . in person . . . for free.

I must confess that, living as I do in the UK, I was not able to take up this very kind proposal, but I was certainly perturbed by it. I recognise that those who preach the gospel should live by the gospel, and that there is a responsibility for those who make such plans to take account of the fact that the labourer is worthy of his hire. I also recognise that many men and the organisations with which they are associated make a phenomenal amount of high-grade material available free of charge. I appreciate that many of these men do minister regularly in a congregation which they faithfully serve. I know that many of these prominent men have a desire to equip others to serve, and I am grateful for that investment. I would like to think that this was, in some measure, an aberration, and not the idea of the gentleman in question.

But has it really come to the point where a chance for us underprivileged to hear the Great Ones speak in the flesh without having to pay for it is worth advertising as some kind of bonus? Is there a tacit admission that usually you will need to fork out for this kind of privilege? Does this 'incarnational' ministry (you know, the one where they actually walk among us) now come with a price as standard? Are we so in thrall to men that the opportunity to see and hear one of our demagogues without having made our deposit first counts as an event?

The cult of celebrity and the elevation of the conference over the church seems to be taking ever deeper roots. While appreciating the dynamic of a gifted man with a reputation for insight and competence drawing others to hear him - "Come, see a man who told me all things that I ever did" (Jn 4.29) springs to mind - there is a danger in our case that the attraction becomes the vessel rather than the treasure. Indeed, the more the pot cracks, the greater the visibility and the more evident the splendour of that which resides within. The better encouragement ought to be to come and hear Christ preached rather than to come and hear this man who, by the way, preaches Christ. We are trying to play God's game by the world's rules. Besides, outside of our narrow little world with its shoddy little celebrities, these names mean nothing. It may be different in other places, but where I live advertising a meeting at which some evangelical guru is going to be speaking simply fails to float the boat of the man on the street. Inside we may be sweaty with applause and greasy with adoration, but outside they could not care less. We get a gang of fan-boys within and a careless crowd going about their business without. And even if we could somehow stir up interest in the man, do we not thereby begin to fall into the error of the Corinthians, in thrall to their superapostles?

In real life it requires the earnest labours of the unknown evangelists to press home the need of salvation in dependence on the Spirit to awaken an appetite to come and hear, not first and foremost a man, but a message of life and light and hope for those lost in darkness. Our call ought to be not so much, "Come and hear So-and-so preach Christ," but rather, "Come and hear Christ preached." That is the route to greater spiritual health. You might tell me, for example, that a man like Spurgeon could be lampooned as one of the great draws of the age, his name a surefire way to gather a crowd. Yes, but on those occasions when Spurgeon urged all the regular members of his congregation to stay away in order to give others an opportunity to hear the gospel, the Metropolitan Tabernacle filled up even more quickly than usual, and many were turned away for lack of space. I acknowledge that you cannot entirely separate the man from his message, but I suggest that this indicates not just the nature of the reputation but where the true power lay. Let it be known that the Great Ones of our day are preaching Christ to any who wish to hear, and how quickly will the building fill? We have a long way to go.

If we are going to put our top men on this gospel thing, could churches not more often give opportunities for them to exercise their gifts on the front line without us and others needing to pay to hear Christ proclaimed in person by the best - or, at least, most famous - we have? After all, don't we believe in the free offer of the gospel?
Posted November 1, 2012 @ 6:00 AM by Jeremy Walker


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