Results tagged “evangelism” from Reformation21 Blog

Affliction Evangelism

|

"This light momentary affliction," Paul writes, "is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (2 Cor. 4:17). Paul's use of the singular noun "affliction" in 2 Cor. 4:7 is intriguing. Paul doesn't say afflictions (plural), which would suggest periodic suffering in the life of the Christian. Nor, to all appearances, is he referring to some specific episode of suffering in his own life and ministry, though Paul's life and ministry certainly contained episodes of more concentrated difficulty. He seems, rather, to be making a point generic to all Christians (hence the "for us"). "This light momentary affliction," then, seems to be a reference to the entirety of the Christian's life on this side of eternity. The Christian's life in toto can be characterized as one singular "affliction." The whole thing is hard. The hardship of the Christian life doesn't preclude joy. Nor does it preclude any number of concrete pleasures in this life (family, friendships, craft beer, pillow fights, etc.). But the life of the faithful Christian will, as a whole, be difficult.

That's a hard pill for us as Americans to swallow. Our culture puts tremendous pressure on us not just to be happy -- to pursue happiness in the here and now at any cost -- but also to look happy. Hence selfies. Selfies exist, I'm convinced, not to preserve or trigger their subjects' memories of places visited, things seen, and experiences experienced, but to be posted to some form of social media in order to project a certain image of their subjects; namely, the image of fun, adventurous, and (above all) happy people. Paul's designation of life as an "affliction" invites us to abandon the very pretense our culture bids us maintain. Acknowledging life as difficult is both scary, because it pushes against the grain of cultural expectations, and liberating, because it invites us to stop pretending that everything's peachy all the time.

But why must life be so hard for Christians? Difficulty in life is typically attended by confusion on the part of those undergoing it. The question "why?" seems to follow inevitably in the train of suffering. There seems to be a logic to Paul's sequence: "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair" (2 Cor. 4:8). There is, of course, the obvious response that life is hard for Christians because it's hard for everyone in consequence of the Fall. But Paul, in 2 Cor. 4:7-12, outlines a particular logic for the suffering that Christians' encounter, a logic that, if grasped, might help Christians endure in the midst of difficulty. The suffering Paul seems especially to have in mind in these verses is persecution as a result of efforts to share the Gospel. But the logic for suffering he outlines, I think, has applicability to other forms of hardship.

Christians suffer, first of all, because God delights to triumph in weakness. "We have this treasure in jars of clay," Paul writes, "to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us." The treasure that Christians' possess and seek to share with the world is the Gospel and its fruits. But their efforts to share that treasure with the world generally reap trouble. Life as a clay jar ain't pretty (see 2 Cor. 4:8-9). It's not surprising, of course, that efforts to share the Gospel with others result in unpleasantness. The Gospel is an affront to those who would deny any absolute moral standard because they wish to live their lives without accountability or consequence. It's even more of an affront to those who would acknowledge an absolute moral standard, but insist upon their own ability to meet that standard. The Gospel, in other words, is offensive.

But God grows his kingdom through the means of Christian witness, however much attended by animosity from the world. There is, in fact, a correspondence between the manner in which God accomplishes salvation through the person and work of His Son and the manner in which he advances his kingdom through the application of Christ's work to elect sinners. God triumphed over sin, death, and hell through apparent weakness -- an apparently deluded man hanging on a cross, Rome's most despicable instrument of capital punishment. God brings sinners through faith into a share in Christ's kingdom through equally apparent weakness -- persecuted, perplexed, and suffering Christians, feebly testifying to the treasure that they possess and trying to share it with others. Jars of clay. Significantly for our theme, the weakness of the means (i.e., us) that God has chosen to advance his kingdom ensures that all glory and praise for the same will be returned to him in the final analysis. The "surpassing power" that brings fruition to the efforts of silly people proclaiming a silly message clearly "belongs to God and not to us" (2 Cor. 4:7).

But there is a further logic to suffering outlined in these verses, which is this: Suffering turns our lives into sermons. Suffering may or may not show us what we're made of (as the saying goes), but it will definitely show us and others where our hope, where our identity, and where our confidence lay. The suffering Christian, in other words, becomes a form of Gospel proclamation to the world. Feed a Christian to the lions, or give a Christian some incurable disease, and what do you discover? Someone who ultimately has more invested in the life to come than this present life. Someone who can face pain and even death with ultimate hope rather than despair. Strip a Christian of his job and livelihood and what do you discover? Someone whose identity is rooted less in a profession or job title than it is in the reality of God's love and Christ's work for him. Someone whose confidence rests in God's sovereign provision more than it does in a bank account. Soak the Christian in trouble and then wring that Christian out, and what will pour from that Christian is the Gospel in visible, lived, concrete form. What will pour from that Christian, in other words, is confidence that nothing this world throws at him/her can jeopardize his/her treasure, namely, the Gospel and all that it comprises, which is chiefly the prospect of eternity in God's presence (2 Cor. 4:17).

Paul makes it clear in the opening chapters of 2 Cor. 4 that one aspect of our calling as witnesses to Christ is to make "open statement of the truth" (i.e., open our mouths, and actually articulate the gospel to others.) In 2 Cor. 4:8-12 he makes it equally clear that "open statement of the truth" can be made with our lives in addition to our lips. "We who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you." Translation: We who are heirs of eternal life with God ("we who live") will regularly get the snot kicked out of us in life ("are always being given over to death"). But suffering has a purpose ("for Jesus' sake"). It puts our hope in Christ on full display to others. It turns our lives per se into a form of witness ("so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh").

Suffering is no fun, no matter how we gloss it. But seeing the opportunity that suffering affords to proclaim the Gospel with our lives may go some way towards helping us to "count it all joy when we encounter trials of various kinds" (James 1:2).

 

Evangelism, Baptism and Evaluating Church Health

|

If I've heard it once I have heard it a thousand times: Christians who are members in Reformed Churches tripping over themselves to apologize about how poorly the Reformed Church does evangelism. Related to this is the tried and true self-deprecation: "We need to see more adult baptisms." What turns my stomach most of all, however, is hearing such individuals says things like, "Evangelical churches win people to Christ and then we disciple them." Such a statement is almost entirely untrue. In this post, I wish to challenge the assertion that the Reformed Church is bad at evangelism by focusing attention on the sacrament of baptism.

It has been both my pleasure and privilege to baptize more adult converts than I ever could have imagined when I first became a pastor. However, it is probably the case that the majority of baptisms that I have performed have been those of the children of believers. For some-- even among those who gladly wear the Reformed and Confessional label--this is not a good thing. "We need more adult baptisms," they say. Generally speaking, those who talk like this seem to have embraced a scale by which they judge baptisms: Infant baptism, good; older children (in a family that has transferred from a non-Reformed Church) baptized by profession of faith, better; college students/young professionals baptized on profession of faith, even better; middle aged or senior converts, even better still. The problem with this scale is that people who unnecessarily create levels of baptism unfortunately reduce the beauty of covenantal baptism, and unwittingly undermining baptism itself. Covenantal (i.e. household and infant baptism) is baptism. We should, therefore, rejoice in the same manner and with the same passion and emotion at each and every baptism. Sadly, it is often the case that, for many, simply speaking of "infant baptism" subtly undermines baptism.

Those who have adopted a baptism scale miss what is actually taking place during the baptism of the infant of a believer. When the child of a believer is baptized we are doing evangelism and we are making disciples (Matt. 28:18). At every baptism we rejoice in the work of God in these waters as we witness another baptism, another disciple being made and another member added to Christ church. From this perspective the Reformed Church is quite good at evangelism.

One of the things that the Reformed Church universally acknowledges is that re-baptism isn't baptism. When I was 19 or 20 years old, having undergone a profoundly religious experience and a turning from sin to Christ, a group of Christians was encouraging me to be re-baptized. The ironic thing about this experience was that the group encouraging me to do this, on the one hand, absolutely insisted on it (so much so that membership was not allowed without it); while, on the other hand, they were equally clear that baptism doesn't really matter that much. They told me that baptism was about me taking a step of obedience and proclaiming my new life. The reason I was told I had to be re-baptized was because I had been baptized as an infant. To the group insisting on re-baptism, this baptism didn't count. I came to see, however, that my baptism as an infant was really baptism and my experience in the backyard pool at 19 or 20 was nothing more than a religious incantation which I was forced to undergo.

There is no such thing as re-baptism. There is only baptism. Baptism is not repeatable. There is only one baptism. One is either a baptized person or one is not a baptized person. The Reformers and the Reformed Church have consistently defended the fact that baptism cannot be undone--no matter the state of one's heart or one's church standing.

Grasping this principle helps us understand, in part, why we see fewer adult baptisms than infant baptisms in our church. Additionally, it helps allay the thesis that the Reformed Church is bad at evangelism. One very clear reason why we see fewer adults being baptized in our church is because a large number of people come to repentance and faith in Christ many years after having been baptized as infants. In that case, they join our church by reaffirmation of faith rather than re-baptism. That was my experience and it is the experience of many who live in areas where the Gospel has been at work for Centuries.

In contrast to such an approach to baptism, evangelicals of all stripes insist that those who have had a spiritual experience and have come to Christ in repentance and faith must enter their waters. By virtue of that, Evangelical churches have more adult baptisms than Reformed Churches. This is, of course, nothing new. This is the Anabaptist way. The fanatics (as Calvin called them) were doing the same during the Reformation as they are doing in our day. By the looks of things, they will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Does the fact that we do not see more adult baptisms really mean that the Reformed Church is bad at evangelism? Au contraire; it may simply mean that we have a different way of evaluating and calculating effectiveness. Simply put, this difference stems from a different way of viewing baptism.

Last Friday, September 2, 2016, a group of students at Clemson University gathered to protest the suppression of free speech by campus officials. Christian evangelist Robbie Roberts had been removed from campus for sitting in a chair with a small sign marked, "Prayer" (see video and Wall Street Journal coverage). According to Clemson officials, Roberts was not in a "free speech zone," even though he was seated in a public park. WeRoar, a student group in support of first amendment rights, saw this as a violation of the US Constitution, as well as a betrayal of the spirit of inquiry for which a university exists. Many of the protesters were Christians, which has raised objections from some observers.   Let me respond with five questions and answers on the theme, "Should Christians Roar?"

  1. Q: Some observers have claimed that this is a safety issue for colleges. Is safety a valid reason to limit free speech in public places? A: Only if we believe that ideas are dangerous. Of all the nations that have ever existed, America stands out as a nation that does not believe that people - university students least of all - need to be protected from ideas.
  2. Q: Is it sinful for Christians to protest against government (or university) actions? Doesn't Romans 13:1-2 forbid civil resistance or disobedience? A: Romans 13:1-2 is often cited against Christians who resist or protest, since God has established the secular sovereign over each nation. However, in America at least, our sovereign is not a king but the United States Constitution. This is why government leaders enter office by swearing to uphold and defend the Constitution. Christian students who protest campus officials in defense of the Constitution are fulfilling the requirement of Romans 13:1-2, as in the case of the WeRoar protest, by showing loyalty to the authority God has established for our blessed land.
  3. Q: Should church leaders or campus evangelistic groups enter into campus protests? A: As a rule, the answer is No. Churches and their evangelistic auxiliaries on campus are charged by Christ with the Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20), which focuses their calling on the spread of the gospel and the discipling of believers. When their members are involved in protests, pastors should of course provide them with counsel and prayer. Sometimes, the issues behind the protests will need to be illuminated by clear teaching from God's Word. But in general, the mission of the church is not well served by its direct involvement in government action.
  4. Q: If the church is called to proclaim the gospel, are Christians betraying the gospel when they protest about matters like free speech? A: The answer is 'No!' for the simple reason that Christians have multiple duties, one of which is their duty as citizens and members of a secular society. The idea that ordinary Christians should refuse to involve themselves in important public controversies, so that the gospel may be seen in an attractive light, has little support from history and often masks a culture-accommodating cowardice.
  5. Q: The conflict at Clemson started when an evangelist went onto campus and publicly practiced his faith. Should Christians be doing this? Isn't it obnoxious for us to preach and pray in public places where people are trying to take a break? A: Not if we believe that the eternal destiny of souls is at stake, as Christians do believe. Consider the example of Jesus during the Feast of Tabernacles in John 7:37-38 and John 8:12. Consider the public witness of the apostle Paul in Athens (Acts 17:16-21). Culturally trendy Christians may loathe the label of "proselytizing," but the Christian faith has always sought to bring the saving message of Jesus, and the peace that he gives through prayer, to where the needy sinners are.
I. Virtue: a brief introduction

In my previous post, I briefly noted the threefold grace that Paul unfolds in Titus 2.11-14: (1) "saving grace," which flows from God's free mercy toward sinners in the redeeming death of Jesus Christ, (2) "training grace," wherein the church becomes a school of virtue, and (3) "hope-inspiring grace," which births in our hearts hope for the beatific vision. In the present post, I want to focus a bit more extensively on the second dimension of grace, and specifically upon the promise of virtue for Christian ministry. 

Virtue has not been an especially prominent topic in modern Protestant thought. Reasons for this are fairly easy to identify: a one-sided emphasis on justification to the neglect of other aspects of soteriology (e.g., sanctification, glorification), worry about moralism and salvation by works, and a generalized sense that virtue is a topic of Catholic rather than Protestant concern. The relative neglect of virtue in modern Protestant thought nevertheless constitutes a departure from earlier Reformed theology and, more importantly, from New Testament teaching. 

Consider, for example, the place of virtue in the Pastoral Epistles. There Paul numbers the virtues among the manifold graces that flow to us in Jesus Christ and that are to be exercised and strengthened through communion with Jesus Christ in the context of the church (1 Tim 1.14; 4.7-10; Titus 2.11-12). 

These gracious virtues not only include "faith" (1 Tim 1.2, 4, 5, 14, 19; 2.7, 15; 3.9, 13; 4.1, 6, 12; 5.8, 12; 6.10, 11, 12, 21; 2 Tim 1.5, 13; 2.18, 22; 3.8, 10, 15; 4.7; Titus 1.1, 13; 2.2, 10; 3.15), "hope" (1 Tim 1.1; 4.10; 5.5; 6.17; Titus 1.2; 2.13; 3.7), and "love" (1 Tim 1.5, 14, 2.15; 4.12; 6.11; 2 Tim 1.7, 13; 2.22; 3.10; Titus 2.2). They also include "sound-mindedness" or "self-control" (1 Tim 2.9, 15; 2 Tim 1.7; Titus 2.12), "gentleness" (1 Tim 6.11; 2 Tim 2.25; Titus 3.2), "peaceableness" or an "uncontentious" spirit (Titus 3.2), "sobriety" (1 Tim 3.2, 11; Titus 2.2), "justice" or "righteousness" (1 Tim 6.11; Titus 2.12), "strength" (2 Tim 1.7), "patience" (1 Tim 1.16; 2 Tim 3.10; 4.2), "endurance" (1 Tim 6.11; 2 Tim 3.10; Titus 2.2), "godliness" (1 Tim 2.2, 16; 4.7, 8; 6.3, 5, 6, 22; 2 Tim 1.10; 3.5, 12; Titus 1.1; 2.12), "contentment" (1 Tim 6.6), "generosity" (1 Tim 6.17-18), and "hospitality," literally, "love of strangers" (1 Tim 3.2; Titus 1.8). Based upon Paul's other letters, it is probably correct to conclude with Augustine that, except for faith and hope, the preceding panoply of virtues are but various forms of "love" (1 Cor 13.4-7; Gal 5.22-23), the pinnacle of Christian virtue and the goal of Paul's instruction (1 Cor 13.13; 1 Tim 1.5).

The virtues, biblically understood, are not merely subjective attitudes or emotions. They constitute subjective dispositions or qualities of character that rightly orient us toward objective realities, namely, God and all things in God. Faith perceives, receives, and rests upon God as he offers himself to us in the gospel. Hope eagerly anticipates and patiently awaits the fulfillment of God's promises in Christ. And love, stepping onto the path opened up for us by faith and hope, delights in the manifold goods that God presents to us in and through Christ and orders our steps in appropriate relations to these manifold goods: rendering worship and thanksgiving to God, demonstrating love and concern toward our neighbors and their needs, and moderating our use and enjoyment of creation's goods. The virtues are dispositional requisites of moral excellence that flow from the gospel, by which we are reformed and renewed in the image of God, for lives that glorify God and benefit our neighbors. 

II. The virtue of virtue in theological conflict

Virtue is profitable in many ways (1 Tim 4.8). To give one example, we may better appreciate the virtue of virtue by considering how it equips us to engage theological conflict outside the church. 

In a couple of articles posted earlier this summer (see here and here), Todd Pruitt discussed a common temptation that churches face in attempting to take a welcoming posture toward unbelievers who hold doctrinal and moral views contrary to biblical teaching. The temptation, briefly stated, is to relativize the difference between morality and sin and between truth and falsity in the name of presenting a hospitable invitation to outsiders. 

The problems with such an approach to evangelism are many. I mention two. 

(1) Fundamentally, this approach fails to perceive the internal logic that informs the twofold apostolic charge to preserve (1 Tim 6.14; 2 Tim 1.13-14) and promote the gospel (2 Tim 4.2, 5). We are not commanded merely to preserve the gospel. Nor are we commanded merely to promote the gospel. Either activity, taken by itself, constitutes unfaithfulness to the gospel and to the gospel's God. 

Why is this the case? Because of what the gospel is: "the pattern of healthy words" (2 Tim 1.13). The gospel is God's merciful cure for sin-sick creatures, the medicine of immortality (2 Tim 1.10). The gospel's status as the medicine of immortality constitutes the reason why it has to be preserved and promoted if it is to be effective. The only way the gospel can function as a remedy for sin-sick creatures is if its message is preserved pure of corruption: spoiled medicine cannot heal anyone. Moreover, the only way the gospel can function as a remedy for sin-sick creatures is if its message is communicated to those who need it: medicine that remains in the pharmacy cannot heal anyone either. 

(2) Such an approach also fails to perceive the nature and necessity of repentance. To paraphrase C. S. Lewis: Repentance is not something that sinners must do before they can be welcomed back by God. Repentance just is what it means for sinners to return to the welcoming arms that God holds open to us in the gospel. There is no returning to God without it (so WCF 15.3). 

The New Testament does not condone watering down or degrading the message of the gospel when facing theological conflict outside the church. For such situations, the New Testament commends virtue:

The Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth (2 Tim 2.24-25). 

We must "fight the good fight" in seeking to promote and preserve the gospel in the world (1 Tim 6.12; 2 Tim 4.7). But we must fight in a manner characterized by the virtues of peaceableness, kindness, patience, and gentleness. These too (along with the virtues of hospitality, etc.) are the weapons of our warfare for tearing down the strongholds of unbelief (2 Cor 10.4; compare with 2 Cor 10.1). 

When faced with theological conflict and opposition outside the church, the solution is not to dilute our message. The solution, according to Paul, is to clothe ourselves with virtue. In doing so, we imitate our redeemer, who displayed "perfect patience" in extending the merciful cure of the gospel to us (1 Tim 1.16), and we honor the one "who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light" (1 Tim 6.16).
How many baptisms upon profession of faith have you administered or seen? I asked my church, as well as fellow pastors and ruling elders in the PCA, the same question. Overall, the answer was, 'very few.' Now, one of the easiest things to do is rationalize the numbers by explaining why they are so low (e.g., We do not re-baptize. Therefore, if someone was baptized as a teenager but came to faith in her thirties under our ministry, we do not administer the sacrament again). Examples like that do occur, but with the growing number of non-Christian households in this nation (i.e., USA), we would need far more instances like the aforementioned to sweep our shallow numbers under the proverbial rug.

I have announced to my congregation, on several occasions, that we want to see non-Christians come to saving faith and be baptized. And as I have been considering how to mold our church, humanly speaking, into a people who are zealous to see that occur, I was struck by the exhortation found in Colossians 4:5-6. Here is Murray Harris' expanded paraphrase of that passage.

"Be tactful and wise in all your relations with unbelievers; buy up every possible opportunity to influence them for the kingdom of God. Let your conversation always be graciously winsome and seasoned with the salt of wit and pungency, so that you may know how you should give an answer suitable for each occasion and each need to each separate individual" (198).

Before considering that a bit more, however, please allow me to say, 'thank you.' This is my final post at Reformation 21. No one has asked me to leave. In fact, I am surprised that I was never asked to leave. Next to Carl Trueman and Mark Jones, I may have caused the most trouble, especially with my posts about ethnicity and sex. Despite the unrest I may have created, I will no longer write for this blog simply because I have decided to refocus my attention a bit. Having a young family, planting a church, working toward my PhD in Hebrew, and many other things keep me quite busy. And writing for this great blog does take a percentage of my time that I can utilize in other places. Regardless of my reasons for leaving, again, I say, 'thank you.' Thank you to the readers, but also to Robert Brady, Gabriel Fluhrer, and Derek Thomas. You all have been great to me. You took a risk. You knew that I would write about things that are unpopular in our circles and that have not been previously considered on this blog. So again, thank you. 

At any rate, in a sermon titled, "And the Nuts and Bolts," Dr. Dale Ralph Davis, of First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina, in response to Colossians 4:5-6, said that Paul is exhorting Christians to responsive evangelism. Dr. Davis said, 

"Keep walking in wisdom toward those on the outside. Now, those are pagans, those who are not Christians. And you're snapping up the opportunity. Well, what opportunity might that be? Well, he mentions in verse 6 [that] your speech must always be with grace, seasoned with salt that you may know how you ought to give an answer to each one. It's talking about your relationship to pagans, those who don't share your faith. Don't look on them as a hurdle; don't look on them as a hinderance; don't look on them as a frustration; nothing like that but snap up the opportunity that they may give you. Dick Lucas makes a helpful point. He says basically what you have is responsive evangelism.... There are opportunities that come to you. You don't have to concoct them; you don't have to try to worm your way into them. It's something that comes as presented to you and you snap up the opportunity. And you did it with speech that is both gracious and seasoned with salt."

Provided Paul's exhortation to the church, at least in this epistle,  is to integrate 'responsive evangelism' in their, and our, lives, how can we do this if we do not spend much time with non-Christians? How can we do this if we do not cultivate relationships with pagans so that we can snap up, or buy up, every opportunity to "influence them for the kingdom of God"? 

This is another deterrent to evangelism: Christians do not spend much time with non-Christians. 

Christian fellowship and hospitality are amazing. The glories of spending time with other saints is one of the blessings of being a part of Christ's Church. And yet I believe we should also spend time with non-Christians. We need to snap up the opportunities that are given to us in order to share the gospel and invite non-Christians to church. How can we do that if the majority of our interactions is with Christians?

If that is you, that is you spend very little time with non-Christians, let me suggest two ways to change that.

1) Start local. Unless you live in Grand Rapids, MI, (that is a joke), you have non-Christians on your street. Begin by reacquainting yourself with them. Invite them into your home for a meal. Get to know them better than you do now. That will require you to spend more time with them.

2) Consider those at work. Consider inviting those at work into your home for a meal. Be hospitable to them.

As you begin getting to know other image-bearers, it is my prayer that the Lord will enable you to snap up every opportunity to influence them for the kingdom of God, and in his perfect timing, may he bring those persons to saving faith that you may rejoice with the angels in witnessing their profession of faith and baptism.

Living in Athens

|

A couple of times a month, as God enables us, the church which I serve attempts to proclaim the gospel in the centre of our town, preaching in the open air, handing out tract-invitations, and engaging in conversation with those who have a few moments to spare. Today was one of those occasions, and it gave a fairly representative glimpse into the spiritual battleground on which we are fighting.

On our arrival, we found the Jehovah's Witnesses established just along from our usual patch. They have been unusually active in our area recently, and have begun to employ some new techniques and hardware - well-designed portable leaflet stands which are put up in prominent or busy places (just outside bus, train and tube stations seem to be favourites, though obviously not limited to them) with a couple of well-spoken Witnesses manning their stations.

As we began to set up and hand out our invitations some distance away, a passing gentleman pointed out to me that we had a little competition. Trying to seize the opportunity, I plunged into what became a conversation with a French philosopher of sorts (literally French, philosophical by inclination), a thoroughgoing humanist for whom all was relative and death alone was absolute. We ranged hither and yon, with the usual shoal of red herrings as I tried to address his objections and bring him back always to the scriptural realities of sin and salvation. He parted with my contact details, and expressed a willingness to consider getting in touch so that I could speak with him further. I hope, too, that he will accept the invitation to come to our church services and to see what kind of people are true Christians, and so learn the character of the God we serve.

His claim that we had competition (to which I will return) was further and sadly enhanced by the arrival of another local group, wild-eyed Arminians with a thoroughly worldly programme and a range of heresies to proclaim and a great deal of health and wealth to promise. They saw us, sounded us out, got their gear out about twenty yards away and planted themselves all around us. Their basic approach is to set up something like a street party, invite people to another party, and then try to sweep people further into their clutches on a wave of emotions. There is a lot of Bible speak, but not a great deal of biblical truth. The noise of their contribution bordered on the overwhelming.

Interestingly, they were drowned out by about forty devotees of Hare Krishna who were making their way into and around the centre of the town with drums, bells and cymbals. We heard them coming a way off. Given that our Arminian friends had bordered on the aggressive in their locating of themselves, a troupe of orangey chanters trampling pretty much through and over them might have caused a snigger in less high-minded chaps than ourselves. One quick-witted of our number managed to get in amongst them and hand out a few tracts, but the poor fellow was almost drowned in the tangerine tide.

It did not appear, on the surface of things, to be our most successful endeavour. It certainly underlined to us the nature of the battle. As we prayed, we asked the Lord to save those who are trapped in these godless and heretical environments, and to bring all these systems of error to nothing. As one of our number pointed out, there was something Athenian in the situation: our spirits were provoked as we saw our town given over to idols (Acts 17:16) and so we tried to reason with them, preaching to them Jesus and the resurrection by means of tracts and conversations (less so by open proclamation on this occasion, given the nature of the environment). It is interesting that all the artwork I have found of Paul in Athens gives the impression of a rapt audience seemingly enamoured of a potent speaker who has his hearers in the palm of his hand. I wonder how near or far those images are from the reality? We are not Paul, we know that, but maybe it was not quite as neat and pleasant there as some of our imaginations make out.

So, are we in competition? Are we, as my Gallic interlocutor suggested, just one of a range of equally valid voices all clamouring for attention? As I pointed out to him, we are not.

First of all, we do not compete in terms of method. We are not going to attempt to out-suave, out-dance, out-shout, and out-beat those who come with their empty messages and vain offers. We are not playing that game and we do not need to. Just because the world suggests that we are one among many in the marketplace of ideas does not mean we have to prostitute our message with the same froth and filth as everyone else. We are not competing in terms of our method.

Second, as I made clear, we are not merely offering another alternative to a range of spiritual or intellectual placebos. In that sense, we are not competing in terms of our message. Every other offer he was hearing - indeed, his own notions and his own system in which he so ardently believed - called out to mankind to look to themselves, to work harder, do better and climb higher. Ultimately, and in many cases sooner rather than later, every other one of those systems and claims will crash and burn. Ours is the one distinctive message: a call to look out and up, to look to Christ who has accomplished all, finished the work, having climbed down to save his wretched and rebellious creatures by suffering and dying in their place, exhausting God's curse against sin and providing his own righteousness in order that we might stand before him with peace and joy. We call men away from everything else to the one true and living God, and to his Son, who loved us and gave his life for us, and rose from the dead in triumph on our behalf. We see and feel and loathe and mourn the clamour of falsehood and idolatry that swirls around us, but it is not a competition between parallel vanities. It is a battle between the truth of God and the range of damnable errors and heresies and emptinesses that masquerade as hopes for the hopeless and helps for the helpless.

May God grant that within and without the walls of our church buildings, he would give us grace to give earnest, winsome and unflinching testimonies to the truth as it is in Jesus, demonstrating in our lives the truths that we confess with our lips! May God's message and God's method prevail, and may the light overcome the darkness!

Doing and being

|
It is too easy to make our witness to Christ programmatic and mechanical. There is no doubt that some measure of order and organisation is often profitable. There are many right and proper endeavours that demand structure, planning and management in order to do them well. People must be gathered and equipped, instructed or trained or encouraged, informed where to be and what to do, and so the programme begins. I am by no means suggesting that all such endeavours need to be culled - far from it!

However, could it be that too often we think of doing evangelism rather than simply being evangelists, of being fully and readily evangelical? We are, after all, gospel people, are we not? We are the ones who have been called out of darkness into God's marvellous light in order that we might proclaim his praises (1Pt 2.9). In a sense, our witness to grace ought to be the most spontaneous, instinctive, natural thing in the world.

There are times when - because of fear, weariness, laziness, busyness, sickness, doubt or other reasons - we have to take ourselves in hand and stir ourselves up and spur ourselves and others on. Nevertheless, we should not need to be beaten into testifying of the grace of God in Christ. It bubbles out of a man like the apostle Paul under a variety of motivations, but it rarely seems to need to be drawn out, only directed as it flows.

Again, it is worth bearing in mind that we might wish to ensure that when speaking to unconverted men and women of the Lord Christ and his death and resurrection there are certain truths that we strike each time, every time, and time and time again over time. There is a certain core of truths that needs to be held up and pressed home. Here once more is something of fixed substance. But at the same time, there need be no rigidity, no dry formula, in speaking of him whom not having seen we love. It should be a ready, cheerful and unforced testimony - the sort of enthusiasm which we would struggle to quell in almost any other sphere.

And how do we cultivate this relatively artless and effortless expression? By meditating much upon the person and work of Christ, by walking closely with him, communing with him, and delighting ourselves in all he is in himself and to us.

Let us be less about doing evangelism and more about being evangelists. Let the truth flow from us readily as we go about our business. "Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing" (2Cor 2:14-15).
We all desire non-Christians (i.e., pagans) to come to saving faith in Christ. Sometimes, however, our lament is that we are not seeing this occur in our churches as frequently as we would like. Here are 6 ways to help develop an evangelistic culture in your church.

1. Example: The officers, and all other ministry leaders, should set an example for the congregation. When church leaders are sharing the gospel and inviting non-Christians to church on a consistent basis, those sharing the good news normally talk about their experiences. One's witnessing encounters can be a catalyst to encourage others to imitate you in your evangelistic witness.

2. Events: Some churches use events (e.g., car washes, church booths at county fairs, church tables at malls, door-to-door, etc.) for the purpose of being intentional in one's evangelistic witness. This is a great option for those who desire to be stretched in witnessing, as well as those who do not mind contact evangelism.

3. Public prayer: Those involved in praying from the pulpit on the Lord's Day should pray for the salvation of non-Christians. That assumes, of course, people are inviting non-Christians to church. Along with praying for non-Christians, ministry leaders should also pray for increased evangelistic zeal in the congregation and a sense of urgency for the gospel to be spread locally. 

4. Accountability: Men and women, boys and girls, keep each other accountable for many things (e.g., contentment, marriage, sexual purity, Bible reading, etc.). Consider making evangelism a part of your accountability efforts. Whatever the frequency, we might ask each other the question, "Have you shared the gospel lately?" Then, we can use that as a point of discussion to keep each other accountable.

5. List: Hopefully we all know non-Christians and have cultivated a relationship with them. Consider creating a list of 2-3 persons whom you desire to see saved and added to your local congregation. Once the list is created, exchange it with others so that people in the church can pray for those on the list. As you are praying for their salvation, be sure to also pray that the Spirit would provide the boldness for the list's creator to share the gospel and invite those on the list to church. Be mindful that the list is not about turning people into numbers. Rather, it is a way for the church to pray for these individuals, as well as a way for others to pray that you would have the boldness to witness to those on your list.

6. Preach the gospel: I am a firm believer that the gospel should be preached in every sermon. If the minister is consistent in this God-given responsibility, the congregation will grow more familiar with the contents of the good news. That way, when they have the opportunity to share the gospel, it will be that much easier for them to witness to the person and work of Christ because of the consistency with which they hear it from the pulpit. It is a catechesis of sorts.
The military is a place for both young and old to find their way in life. As a navy instructor in San Diego, CA, between 2005-2008, I saw numerous recruits--who recently graduated from boot camp--and long-time veterans, who were desirous to better develop the skills of their vocation, save money, travel the world, and, most importantly, find their purpose in life.

Veteran's Day is an opportunity to thank military personnel for their service. Many of the freedoms we have in the US is because military servicemen put their lives on the line to defend us. And yet many of the same military men and women who defend our freedom are some of the same servicemen who want to find their purpose in life. Is it simply to travel the world? Is it only to save money? Is it to better understand their vocation? While all of those things are good, one's purpose cannot be defined by how much money a person saves, her vocation, or where she's traveled in the world. Our purpose, ultimately, is found in the scriptures (cf. WSC 1).

Therefore, as you thank military service members for their service today, consider doing more. Consider extending hospitality to them by inviting them into your home and getting to know them. As a former servicemen, I can assure you that many of them will appreciate it. As it stands, I know many military members who feel under-appreciated in this nation. A home cooked meal, especially for new recruits, will speak volumes.

In addition to opening your home, consider sharing the gospel with them. I have had numerous witnessing encounters in the military, and most of the conversations were fruitful. Those with whom I shared Christ were searching for something. Most did not know the thing, or Person, for whom they were searching, but they knew there was something greater to be desired outside of military service, something that provided purpose. As you know, hope, ultimately, is found in Christ. Do not overlook the witnessing opportunities you may have with military personnel. God works miracles, as he has with you and as he did with me while I was in the navy.

It is Veteran's Day! Celebrate with military members! Be hospitable to them and be a witness to the gospel.

Sharing the Gospel is Inconvenient

|
As I was walking from the restaurant to my car, I had one gospel tract in my pocket. I had purposed to give it to someone in route to my vehicle. Literally, that was my plan. I wanted to place the tract in someone's hand, continue walking, get in my truck, and leave. That did not happen. When I gave the tract to a man standing in my path, he asked, "What's this?" 

"The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps" (Prov. 16:9).

When he asked me to explain the material newly placed in his hand, I felt like he was inconveniencing me. I did not have time, or so I thought, to explain the law and the gospel to him. If he had just read the card, he would have received all the information he needed.

Although I felt inconvenienced, I am thankful the Lord ordered my steps in a different manner. I was privileged to share both the law and the gospel with him. Once the conversation ended, he said, "This is what I needed." I was shocked. He later began attending church with me.

Sharing the gospel takes time, time we often do not believe we have. Sometimes we are so concerned with ensuring our plans are completed, we do not stop to consider that the Lord may have other ways he would like to utilize us. Sure, we know in theory God "establishes [our] steps," but when the theory becomes a reality, it rattles our me-centered paradigm. That is one reason why some of us may not share the gospel very much, if at all. It is inconvenient, rattles our self-centered approached to life, and thwarts our plans. 

It takes time to answer people's questions about the Bible, sin, judgment, and Christ. It takes time to establish a relationship with people, invite them into your home, not just on your good days but also when your house is messy and your children are ill-behaved. It takes time to call people, particularly unbelievers, and remind them of the law and gospel and set up times to have coffee with them. It takes time to invite them to church. It takes time. 

Do you have it? More specifically, will you make it?

If this is true about you (i.e., sharing the gospel is an inconvenience), what can you do to avoid this mentality? One suggestion is to pray because you have a heart problem. Ask the Holy Spirit to change your disposition toward how you see your time and how you see non-Christians. I am certain he will answer your prayer.
In 2011, hip hop artist, Shai Linne, released his album, titled, "The Attributes of God." In one of his songs, "Taste and See," he said, "The world is not subtle, why should we be subliminal?" Good question - why? I believe many Christians are conditioned to retreat into the cocoon of quietness. "Don't talk about religion," many people say. Therefore, in an attempt to keep peace with our neighbor in the world, we embrace that mantra. But "the world is not subtle, why should we be subliminal?"

I wear Christianity on my sleeve. That is what helps me evangelize. Whether it is with my neighbors or those whom I newly meet in the marketplace, I look for ways to insert my religion and declare the gospel (Col. 4:4-5). Depending on the circumstances, the way I approach the conversation may look different. Regardless of my approach, however, I do not want to seem forceful. In other words, I do not desire to fit an unbeliever's image of what it looks like to "force my religion down his throat." That is a difficult balance, and in some cases it is unavoidable, as the mere mention of Jesus may seem like you are being forceful. In those instances, there is really nothing you can do.

One of the things that helps me share my faith and invite people to church, all of which can be subsumed under the category of wearing Christianity on my sleeve, is be observant. Watch and listen. Look at what people are reading and wearing. Look at their tattoos. Listen to what they are saying, publicly, to the barista at Starbucks. Observe what people are purchasing at the grocery store. Look at their jewelry, body language, and just about anything else you can observe. As you do this, remain as natural as possible. You do not want to seem as if you are staring or being rude. Despite the potential awkwardness this may bring (i.e., watching and listening), chances are you are already doing this; however, it may not lead to a witnessing conversation. How do you get there?

As I am watching and listening, I try to determine if I have anything in common with those who share the same public space, or if there is anything they can teach me. If I notice tattoos or interesting piercings, that is always an easy icebreaker. "What do those mean?", I ask. The person, in turn, responds and teaches me something about his or her life. Since I have tattoos and piercings, we share those similarities, and during the conversation, Lord willing, I may be able to talk my tattoos, which entails a brief history about their significance. The significance of some of my tattoos naturally leads to the gospel message. For those who do not have tattoos or piercings, this may not help. Take the principle of finding ways to relate or be taught by others and apply it.

The shift from a general conversation to a spiritual one is likely what makes things the most difficult. How do you transition from talking about a football game to Jesus? How do you take a conversation with your neighbor about high school and move it toward the gospel? To be clear, a one-size fits all approach should not be adopted. What I do may not work in your context. It may, therefore, require some adaptation.

Despite all the programs that are available, which ensure easy icebreakers and a fluid conversation from the natural to the spiritual, I am tired of the artificial segues to conversations about Christ and his Church. In my opinion, they are a disaster waiting to happen. For instance, if someone is drinking a glass of water and you desire to engage them in spiritual conversation, entering a conversation by asking, "Have you heard of the living water?" is not likely the best approach no matter how closely you desire to resemble the conversation in John 4.

An approach more natural to my personality, which still allows me to wear Christianity on my sleeve, is to ask questions. In the midst of a normal and general conversation, I will ask people, "Do you attend church?", "What do you think about religion?", or "Do you mind if we talk about God?" It is a simple and straight-forward way to approach the subject. Interestingly, at least in my context, most people are willing to have those conversations with me. Perhaps they respect my direct approach, or maybe they have been wanting to have this conversation, but no one approached them about it?

Since there are so many ways to approach a conversation about Christ and his Church, it is difficult to state, concretely, how it ought to be done in all circumstances. Tailor your approach based on your personality and discerning the situation. Keep in mind, however, conversations about spiritual things may not happen immediately upon meeting someone new or even with a neighbor. Perhaps discernment dictates that the conversation should wait until you get to know the person more. Regardless of how the conversation unfolds, remember, "The world is not subtle, why should we be subliminal?" It is okay to wear Christianity on your sleeve. You have nothing to hide regardless of what the world says.

Sharing the Gospel Simply

|
How many non-Christians do you converse with face-to-face on a regular basis outside of normal working hours? With how many of them do you share the gospel? In my experience it seems that many within Presbyterian and Reformed circles do not have very many acquaintances outside of the Church. Unfortunately, this negatively affects the way one shares the gospel. Before I go any further, however, you may be wondering how I know that many Christians within our circles do not have numerous unbelieving acquaintances and/or friends with whom they converse and with whom they spend time on a regular basis. While I am not implying this universally, I know this because I have asked people how and with whom they spend their time. Overwhelmingly, outside of normal day-to-day activities (e.g., employment and family time), the Christians to whom I spoke are otherwise at church activities or spending time with other Christians. In other words, they do not spend very much time with unbelievers.

I, for one, am extremely thankful that brothers and sisters in Christ spend time together. I repeatedly emphasize to the saints at our church that they need to open their homes to each other and spend time together. It presents great opportunities to get to know each other, break bread, and talk about our Triune God. If, however, the only ones with whom you spend time and to whom you talk about God are Christians, it can negatively affect your ability to share the gospel simply.

Several years ago, I took students from Westminster Seminary California (my alma mater) to the local university on a regular basis. The point was to share the gospel, invite college students to church and/or into our homes, and get to know them. On several occasions, the seminary students were shocked at just how willing the university students would converse with them about Christianity. That was the good news. The bad news was that some of the seminary students did not know how to talk about Jesus without using words like justification, imputed righteousness, consummation, the kingdom of God, or Christian cliches like, covered in the blood. In fact, some of the students admitted that they could not share the gospel simply because they had been immersed in using seminary/biblical/theological language or categories.

I am sure words like justification and consummation seem easy enough to avoid, but what about other parts of our vocabulary that we so easily use and, perhaps take for granted, that those words need to be explained? Words like God, judgment, sin, gospel, and righteousness also require explanation. What is sin? Who determines its definition? Sin against whom? God? Which god? Perchance there was a time in the United States when many of those words did not require a definition and maybe an illustration, but they do now. Walking up to someone, therefore, on a college campus or anywhere else (e.g., during a conversation with your neighbor) and saying, "Have you heard the gospel?" or any derivative thereof is not the most effective way to enter a conversation about the Lord. What is the gospel? Many, maybe most, unbelievers do not use that language, and unless they have had a religious upbringing, the word gospel means nothing to them.

If you have shared the gospel with unbelievers for any length of time, you have likely found yourself in this position (i.e., having to explain everything in relation to the gospel). Our culture, at least in my experience, demands that. If you are not, at least partly immersed in the culture, particularly as it relates to non-Christian friends, you will use the language of the Bible, without explanation, to share the gospel and you may miss your target. 

The biblical and theological language that we utilize with our Christian friends is good, but please consider altering your language and explaining what you say while sharing the gospel with unbelievers. If not, you may as well be speaking in tongues to them (1 Cor. 14:20-23).

Gospel ripples

|
In our efforts to make Christ known where God has put us, we have regular meetings to preach the gospel in a village outside our town. It is a hard place, not surprisingly given that it is full of hard hearts, many of which are cushioned by a false assurance derived from long-term empty religiosity. But I digress.

Last night, I took my son to hear the gospel being preached. We were two of the three in the congregation, the other being another man from the church which I serve. The brother leading the meeting spoke to us simply and earnestly of Christ as the resurrection and the life. No doubt he longed to be preaching to more, including many of those to whom we have gone in our efforts to declare the good news throughout this village. At present, I believe that there was at least one unsaved person in the room, and it was good and right that he preached to him, and I was grateful for it.

On our way home, my son and I stopped for the treat of giving my car a quick wash. It may not sound like much of a treat, but two males with a filthy car and a couple of pressure hoses makes for some fun. At the garage where we stopped was a man with a flat tyre and a wrecked wheel, a driver with a private hire firm, waiting for a recovery vehicle. Clearly bored rigid, our chatter drew him over and into our conversation. We spoke, I bought him a coffee, we spoke some more, and I had the opportunity briefly to explain to this man that Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life, leaving with him a copy of Mark's Gospel and a little more information. I simply passed on what I had learned that night, having been freshly prepared to do so.

My friend at the village meeting looked into the faces of those present and might have felt discouraged. He preached to us nonetheless. He did our souls good. And, he left our hearts warm and our heads full. He primed us to go and preach the same gospel to others.

Here are reasons why the saints need to go on hearing the gospel. It brings back to our hearts and minds the truths of our salvation, stirring us up to love and prompting us to serve. It emphasizes spiritual realities, the enduring facts of man's sin and God's grace, of heaven and hell and the sacrificial Lamb who stands between them. It reminds us of life and of death. It reinforces and freshly adorns our convictions. It prepares us to make Christ known.

Tomorrow, let those of us who preach remember to preach the gospel. We must always preach evangelically; we must also - regularly, often - preach evangelistically. The gospel note must be sounded every time. Not every sermon needs to be a Calvary sermon, but it must be a distinctively, richly, earnestly and practically Christian sermon. However, you may prepare to preach to the lost, and look out and see rows of faces - or perhaps only a few seats of faces - of faithful believers. There may be no-one there who you are confident needs the gospel as an unsaved person (though that should not be presumed). But preach it nonetheless, to stir up love and prompt service, to emphasize spiritual reality, to remind of life and death, to reinforce and adorn conviction, and to prime the heart and head.

And let those of us who believe and who hear the gospel again not wonder why we are back with the same truths. Let us not look up and down the rows and wonder why we are hearing this all over again. Whether or not you think that there is anyone present who 'needs' to hear the good news, you can sit and soak in it. Let it stir up love and prompt to serve, emphasize spiritual reality, remind you of life and death, and reinforce and adorn your convictions, and prime your head and heart. Let it do good to you, and then let it do good to others. Go home, and tell others what great things the Lord has done for you, and how he has had compassion on you. Go out, and tell others the good news of Jesus Christ that you have just heard. Go, and let the gospel ripples spread.
Church planting requires many administrative tasks. From setting up email accounts and registering the church's 501-C3 status to fundraising and sending update letters, one can easily spend over one-hundred hours on the front end tackling these necessary duties. In addition to these important matters, a church planter must also find a meeting location. Will it be a storefront or an elementary school, a hotel or existing church? Recently I secured a location for our church plant, but what I found along the way was quite interesting.

In our church planting location, there are several neighborhood churches that were built in the 1950s and 1960s. These are beautiful structures with amazing worship auditoriums, fellowship and dining halls, classrooms, and just about every other amenity one can imagine. 

As I visited these churches to inquire into renting their facility for Lord's Day worship (our first service is October 26, 2014), I typically received a tour of the premises by either the minister or some other church officer. I found myself daydreaming throughout the tour hoping that Crown and Joy Presbyterian Church would one day own such a beautiful facility. In most cases when I snapped out of my trance, I asked how many people attend the church. With such large worship auditoriums, many seating 600, I expected to hear a large number. However, the numbers reported were shocking.

50...40... 

When I asked a church officer why the numbers were low despite the large worship auditoriums, he responded, "People don't go to church anymore." In conjunction with this same sentiment, another church officer responded, "Our people are old and dying."

After these moving statements, these church officers reflected upon, in narrative fashion, the golden years in the 1950s and 1960s. There was a time, they suggested, when their churches were full. One could expect those in the neighborhood to either walk to church or make a short drive to arrive. All you needed was a building in the community and people came. Now, more people walk by the church than attend. Unlike yesteryear, when people move into the community, most of them are not churchgoers. As a result, some intimated, our church buildings remain in the community awaiting closure. 

In the 1950s and 1960s, I can only imagine no one thought their church would be virtually empty in about fifty years. They expected the preaching of the word to continue and their congregation to thrive. What a difference fifty years can make?

What does this have to do with you?

You may not have Lord's Day service in an auditorium that seats 600 (or perhaps you do); nevertheless, I wonder in what state your church will be in fifty years? Will you be telling the same story as those church officers?

Since we are no longer in a culture that can expect people in the community to attend our churches, will we experience the same shift numerically? Let's face it, our exegetical preaching, proper administration of the sacraments, and church discipline will not compel people (i.e., unbelievers) to come in. They are not seeking what we offer. By the way, if we are expecting generational succession to keep our doors open, we may be expecting too much. Our children may not stay in our town once they leave and cleave, find employment, or attend college. 

So what should we do, humanly speaking, to ensure our church doors remain open? "If we build it, they will come" no longer works. And while I am not suggesting we do things in the church simply to keep our doors open (see WSC 1), if we want the gospel to advance in the community, we need to be there. 

My suggestion is simple. We must remain committed confessional Christians who adhere to the proper preaching of the word and administration of the sacraments, as well as be active in prayer, evangelism, and mercy. Yes, I know God is sovereign, and he orchestrates which church doors open and close, but that does not grant us access to laziness in order to neglect the aforementioned. 

My hope is that not only will our churches thrive numerically now (whatever that looks like in our context), but in fifty years our churches will continue thriving as we see the gospel further embraced by those in our churches and the good news advancing to unbelievers in our communities. 
As far back as I can recall, Christians have utilized the phrase, "personal relationship" in evangelism. It is oft-times used as a synonym for "salvation." Perhaps pressing the phrase to its unlikely meaning, we might suggest that the phrase, "personal relationship" includes one's union with Christ, justification, sanctification, reconciliation, and eventual glorification. At a minimum, if the former is meant by the phrase, it seems like an acceptable set of words to utilize in evangelistic outreach. 

The problem I have with the phrase, however, is not which theological categories it includes but which categories it obviously does not. I can only base my observations on personal experience, but I have yet to hear testimony, whether while witnessing or some other published work/blog/Facebook post/Tweet, that the "personal relationship" language epidemic includes both the wrath of God and the Church.

The Wrath of God

While believers (i.e., Christians) have a reconciled relationship with God through Jesus Christ, unbelievers do not. Despite this contrast, unbelievers, nevertheless, have a personal relationship with God. In fact, it is an extremely intimate relationship. It is one of strife, enmity, and hostility (Rom. 8:6-8). The Lord knows their every thought, word, and deed (Ps. 14:2-3). He knows their sin and guilt, and he will no by means clear the guilty (Exod. 34:7). This relationship travels in two directions, however.

As the Westminster Catechism suggests, "There is but one only, the living and true God" (WSC 5). Unbelievers know this God because the work of the law is written upon their hearts (Rom. 1:18-23; 2:14-15); they are made in his image and after his likeness (Gen. 1:26-27; 5:3), and his glory is constantly declared to them in the heavens above (Ps. 19:1-6). The scriptures even suggest they hate God (John 15:18-25).

From both perspectives (i.e., God and the unbeliever), therefore, the personal relationship that exists is one of of wrath. God's wrath abides upon the unbeliever (John 3:36) and the unbeliever hates God (Rom. 8:7).

The Church

Like many things in the United States and other parts of the world, ideas are personalized. Those in marketing desire to tailor-fit their product to individuals. "You" in advertising campaigns is most often utilized in the second person singular.

Similarly, one might make the same claim about the phrase, "personal relationship." It is an individualized phrase that makes salvation solely personal. But is it? On the one hand, it is. No one will be saved based on the faith of another. Individuals are called to repent and believe upon Jesus Christ (Acts 17:30-31). Yet, while we are saved based on the righteousness of Christ imputed to us individually, we are not saved to remain individuals. As I have put it elsewhere, we are not saved to be spiritual nomads. We are saved, among many things, to become a part of a community, the Church. God calls us to serve each other in various ways (1 Cor. 16:1-2; Heb. 10:24-25), submit to church leadership (Heb. 13:17), attend to the means of grace (Matt. 28:16-20; Acts 2:42), etc. etc. This is done in community; this is done in and as a church. 

New Phrase

If the phrase, "personal relationship" does not include these important categories, should we consider altering, perhaps no longer using, it?

Although I have not given this much thought, if we want to continue using similar phrases, perhaps we should use, "saving relationship"? Instead of telling people they need a personal relationship, we could tell them that they need a saving relationship. That may beg the question, "saved from what?" The answer: God's wrath. Digging a bit deeper, it could also elicit the question, "saved with whom"? The answer: the Church. 

Even if those questions are not raised by the unbeliever, Christians can just as easily answer those questions for the unbeliever as they share the good news of Christ and declare, "You need a saving relationship with God"!

The Beauty of HOA

|
Depending on where you live, you may not be affected by HOA (i.e., Home Owner's Association). There are typically two items involved in HOA. You are responsible to pay annual fees and you are entitled to attend HOA meetings. I, like all of you who incur HOA fees, can do without the former. Many can do without the latter as well.

If you are enrolled in a home owner's association, allow me to plead with you particularly regarding HOA meetings. While home owner's association meetings may not be the funniest thing to do on a Saturday afternoon, or whenever it is scheduled, you get to learn a lot about what is going on in your neighborhood. Besides that, you also get to meet people in your community. That is the beauty of HOA--people, and what can potential come from meeting those people.

People are great for many reasons. They are made in the image and after the likeness of God, though not in their originally created form; many are friendly; we can learn from them; we might discover we have the same hobbies and enjoy the same movies; our children may be the same age and can spend time together; and there is one more thing. You likely have something they do not. They need it; you have it--the gospel.

Whether you are the type to share the gospel immediately after meeting someone or you prefer to build relationships before introducing them to Christ, HOA affairs are a great place to begin that process. It is hard, however, to do that (i.e., share the gospel with unbelievers) if you know few of them. 

On numerous occasions I have heard believers say, "Most people I know are Christian." They have surrounded themselves with the saints. Their home school cohorts, weekly Bible studies, Sundays, and just about everything they do--lest work--is replete with believers. While it is a blessing to have Christians in our lives, we should also be concerned, and motivated to action, to meet unbelievers so that they might share in the goodness of the gospel with us. One way to do this (i.e., meet people), get to know them, and share these truths with them is at HOA meetings.

If you do not have an HOA, there are probably other community events that are held monthly or annually that can expose you to meet others. Get out and make yourself available! You might be surprised at some of the neat people you meet in the community. And if in God's providence you have the privilege to share the gospel, praise the Lord!

Come, you children

|
Just around the corner from our church building is a junior school. We have a reasonable relationship with the school, extending to taking occasional school assemblies, depending on who is responsible for arranging them.

Over the last fifteen years or so, since the neighbourhood was established and our church building erected, we have built up something of a routine with the school. Every year or so, as part of their religious education classes, about 120 ten and eleven year olds visit our church building in two groups. The idea seems to be that they visit a number of "faith communities" nearby for the purposes of comparison and contrast. Yesterday was such an occasion.

With each group I get about half an hour, sometimes a little more. My usual pattern is to set out a few key facts and then to invite questions. My introduction centres on three things. The first is the pulpit, on which sits a Bible which is the Word of God, which tells us the good news about the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who came into the world to save sinners, dying in their place and rising again in victory from the grave. The second is the baptistry. Here those who - having heard the good news and been persuaded of their need of a Saviour - have trusted in Jesus Christ to save them from their sins are baptised in the name of the triune God, testifying publicly of their union with him in his death and resurrection and becoming members of the local church. The third thing is the communion table where there is a cup and a plate which would normally contain wine and bread, a meal for those who belong to Christ's church, in which we enjoy real fellowship with him, a meal which points us back to what he has done, up to where he now is, and ahead to the day when he will come again. We thus seek to make plain that the church is centred around Jesus Christ - he is the beating heart of all we are and do. We seek to make clear the need of sinners to turn from their sins and trust in him to be saved, and invite the children and their families to come to learn more.

Obviously, the main benefit of this meeting is the chance to preach something of the good news to the pupils and any teachers and parent helpers who come along. In addition, it means that the children know us a little, meaning that we might be able to make some more connections in our other evangelistic labours. Furthermore, it means that they have actually been into the church building, which strips away some of the barriers that some feel who have no experience of a nonconformist place of worship. Finally, there have been occasions when - years after their first exposure to the truth - we have met these pupils on the streets and at their doors, growing or grown up, and have been recognised and been able in some measure to pick up where we left off.

However, these occasions also give them a chance to ask some questions. This is where things can get fun. The standard questions are fairly straightforward: building design and furniture, differences between this and other buildings, and the like. But every so often, and yesterday was one of these, things kick off. Usually, it is a particular question that gets the ball rolling, something a bit more substantial or insightful. Then another child will pick something up from the answer, and then the hands start to shoot up, and it turns into a bit of a feeding frenzy. It is almost as if the kids suddenly get the sense that they can ask this bloke in front of them just about anything and he will try to give them a straight answer. It demonstrates a freshness and depth of thinking that often surprises the grown-ups, and reveals a willingness to hear and consider the truth that has sometimes been hammered out of adults. The fact that these things bubble up almost unbidden from their souls is a powerful reminder that God and eternity are written into our humanity.

As this process develops, the teachers, assistants, and parent-helpers can go through quite a fascinating range of emotions (and skin shades). Some of them are grinning as the preacher mentally leaps about like a cat on a hot tin roof, trying to cover all the bases. Some of them are stunned that such questions are pouring out of the minds and hearts of their charges. Some of them are infuriated by the answers that are given. Some are terrified that we are trampling merrily across the hallowed boundaries of political correctness. Some of them are simply bewildered by what we believe. Some of them come up afterwards and ask their own questions more subtly.

Our prayer is that all these things might serve, in the Spirit's hands, to convince the lost of their sin and misery, enlighten the minds of those in darkness, and renew the wills of those mired in spiritual death, so persuading and enabling them to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to all in the gospel. If I might borrow the words of the psalmist, "Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord" (Ps 34:11).

For interest's sake, I attach below a record of various questions that have been asked in these kinds of meetings. Some of them come out of the blue, others are built upon previous answers. It is worth our while to consider how we might answer them.

  • Who made God?
  • What does God look like?
  • What does it mean that God is a spirit?
  • Where does God live?
  • How is God everywhere?
  • Is God the air? Is God nature?
  • How can we know God if we can't see him?
  • How can God see everything?
  • Where did the world come from? Did God make it?
  • Why are some people different to others? Why did God make them that way?
  • Did God make space? Why did God make black holes?
  • Did God get baptised?
  • What is a pastor?
  • What is the difference between a pastor and a vicar?
  • Where does the word "pastor" come from?
  • What does a pastor do?
  • How much do you earn?
  • Can ladies be pastors?
  • Must a preacher/pastor/vicar be a Christian?
  • What is a disciple?
  • When you become a Christian, do you have to do what the Bible says?
  • Do you have to be a Christian to come to church?
  • If you belong to another religion, can you become a Christian? [and vice versa]
  • Does God love people who aren't Christians?
  • What happens when you become a Christian?
  • Is the baptistry a bath? A swimming pool? A birthing pool?
  • Can you go for a swim after you've been baptised?
  • What do you wear to be baptised? Can you wear goggles?
  • Is there something special about the water in the pool?
  • If baptism uses ordinary water, why is it so important?
  • What does baptism mean?
  • Can children be baptised? Can girls/ladies be baptised?
  • What's the difference between christening and baptism?
  • Is baptism safe?
  • What is the church?
  • If the church is people, why do you need a building?
  • Why doesn't the church have a bell?
  • Why don't you have stained glass/statues/pictures?
  • What happens when we die?
  • What is the difference between burial and cremation?
  • Why don't you have a graveyard?
  • Why are other churches different?
  • Why do you have an organ?
  • Why are most churches the same shape? Why are churches in other countries different shapes?
  • Can disabled people be baptised?
  • Can you worship God outdoors?
  • How can deaf people hear sermons?
  • When is the church open? How often do you meet?
  • How long has the church been here?
  • If you stop being a Christian, do you get "unbaptized"?
  • Why does the Bible talk about "drinking the cup"? You can't drink cups.
  • How do you know that the Bible is true?
  • How do you know that Jesus is real?
  • Why do you trust the Bible?
  • If God is good and in control of everything, why do we have wars and tidal waves and earthquakes?
  • What is sin?
  • If you have sinned, can you still get to heaven?
  • How do I escape from hell?
  • Doesn't God give you a second chance?
  • Does God have to make you a Christian?
  • If God is all-powerful, can he make a rock he could not lift?
  • How does someone stop being a Christian?
  • If God is in control, why do scientists say that everything began with a big bang?
  • If God cannot die, how can Jesus die?
  • How can you be God and man?
  • How do we know that Jesus is real and/or rose from the dead?

Upcoming events

|
A few things coming up . . .

First, today and tomorrow is the Grace Baptist Assembly, meeting in the wilds of Derbyshire, on the theme of "Building Healthy Churches." I am a reasonably last minute replacement for Alun McNabb, kept away by illness, and my topics in two sermons will be the nature and purpose of the church. Though it is probably a little late for interested parties to book, I am sure that prayer will be much appreciated.

Then, on Monday 2nd June is the Effective Evangelism Conference at Grace Baptist Church, Edlesborough. Four men will be addressing various aspects of the labours of the church to reach the lost: door to door work, open-air preaching, small groups, and dedicated seasons. The emphasis will be on the principled and practical equipment of those eager to preach the gospel for the task in hand. All are welcome.

Finally, in the evening of Monday 2nd June at 6.30pm is the Annual Lecture of the Evangelical Library. Andrew Atherstone of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, will be speaking on Burying George Whitefield: Eulogies And Elegies in England and New England. Again, all are welcome.

Witnessing to Homosexuals

|
How do you witness to homosexuals? The answer is, "Like anyone else," but perhaps for some that is an over simplification. Regardless, we can at least agree on two things. 1) The use of the law in witnessing does not change, and 2) The gospel does not change. As an aside, regardless of the person to whom I am witnessing, there is a particular format I utilize. It is simply, God as creator, God as judge, and God as redeemer. You can learn a bit more about that here. You can see an example of that here.

Years ago, my wife and I used to visit an area in San Diego, CA that was heavily populated by homosexuals. We made a routine visit to this area at least once per month to share the gospel. Personally, it was a rich time. I had some amazing conversations with those who embrace the homosexual lifestyle.

During that time, and since then, I have realized you have to be prepared to do two things while witnessing to some homosexuals. In part this was discussed in Rosaria Butterfield's book. Each of these things can tend to make you a bit uncomfortable, one more than the other.

In my experience, it almost never fails that homosexuals ask some version of the question, "Is my lifestyle sinful?" If you are reading this blog I hope we have the same answer; however, I am reminded of what my mother used to say, "It is not what you say but how you say it." You can respond with, "Of course it is! The Bible says..." or you can be more sensitive to the situation and brace, or prepare, that person for the answer so that you have a greater chance the conversation continues.

I have responded with the former enough only to know the conversation hardly remains after that point. Now, I say the same thing (yes, homosexuality is sin), but I attempt to prepare that individual for the answer by making a statement and asking a question prior to providing the answer. Borrowing from D.J. Kool, "It goes a little something like this."

"Is my homosexual lifestyle sinful?"

My response: "That is a good question to ask, and I intend to answer it, but you have to promise me that whatever my response we will still continue our conversation and even development a friendship afterward. Will you make that promise?" Depending on that person's response will dictate how I proceed in the conversation. 

Some homosexuals have a hard time being your friend if they know you believe what they are doing is sinful. They cannot maintain that level of discontinuity in their relationships with others. Notice I said, "some." It is not all. Either way, I want to establish that we should not think less of each other, especially as image-bearers, though we do not have identical convictions.

The second area, which for some tops the charts with an astounding, "I will not do that," is one that I find extremely beneficial.

Invite them into your home.

Have you invited homosexuals into your home?

This probably raises all types of questions. "What if he brings his boyfriend?" "What if she uses inappropriate language?" "What if he wears inappropriate clothing?" They are sinners; what do you expect? Asking "What if" questions is the responsible thing to do, but often times it can lead you into doing nothing.

In my experience, homosexuals are not as terrifying as some sections of the media portray them. They bleed red like everyone else and they have a conscience. In fact, some homosexuals have told me that they know their lifestyle is wrong. They prefer to live this way because they enjoy it.

For some, inviting a homosexual into your home is much different than a heterosexual idolater or adulterer. For my family, it is not. By that, I do not mean to remotely infer that all sin is the same; however, my family has decided that we want to dine with sinners (i.e., unbelievers) of all stripes. In our home, drug dealers, prostitutes, homosexuals, bankers, professors, and homeless persons are all welcome. Or as one rapper put it, I want to hang out with the wild things.

Our children will grow up around all brand of sinners (i.e., unbelievers) in our home, but that is okay. Can it be dangerous? Should we be cautious? Yes! But in most cases, that caution has not stopped my family from befriending sinners and inviting them into our home in order to get to know them and share Christ with them.

Ministry is messy. All you have to do is read the Gospels. Based on my experience, if you are hospitable to homosexuals, like anyone else, that enables the potential for a friendship to develop and for conversations about the gospel to continue. This is what has worked for my family.

The Death of Witnessing

|
There are many impediments to witnessing (i.e., sharing your faith). Many of us are absolutely terrified. Beads of sweat begin to moisten our backs merely at the thought of evangelistic outreach. Sometimes we think it is better left to the professionals. They will say the right things; they will have all the answers; they will navigate the witnessing conversation appropriately. The list of impediments, some of which may be better categorized as excuses, is extensive. However, when you finally muster the courage to talk to others about Jesus, there is another force that prohibits you. In fact, it is not something you can control. It is technology.

Laptops, cell phones, loud stereo systems - I enjoy it all, but unfortunately some technology is the death of witnessing. Of course that is an overstatement; nevertheless, that is how I sometimes feel. To make matters worse, the technology to which I am specifically referring is one for which I have an affinity. It is the "i." If I had the money, my home would be full of "i" everything: iPads, iPods, and iPhones. They are all glorious. 

Prior to getting married I was a PC guy. My wife quickly and effectively converted me. I am thankful for her persistence, but as I go into the community to witness of God's marvelous works in Christ it is the "i" that causes me trouble.

Earlier today, when I boarded my flight from Washington, D. C. to Atlanta, Georgia, I was pumped to talk to the person sitting next to me about the gospel of Christ. He was not going anywhere; I was not going anywhere. We had over an hour to talk about the truths of scripture, but that did not happen. The "i" got in the way.

At one point I tapped him on the shoulder to ask him a question. He removed his earbud, answered my question, and quickly thereafter placed his headphones back on. He hardly gave me the time of day. He was not interested in having any type of conversation, let alone a religious one. I do not blame him. I blame the "i." I am quite disgusted that something I enjoy is contributing to the death of witnessing. Therefore, it is imperative that I get something off my chest.

Dear iPod,

I love you. I think you are great. You provide a variety of music and videos. You are there when I need you. You help me get through my work out, but sometimes you get in the way. Will you please be more sensitive? There is something much more important than your music, namely the gospel. In the future, will you consider when I am in your presence and quickly shut down? I want to talk to that person. Hopefully he will not be upset if you malfunction. If you condescend to my request, I will forever be grateful.

Yours truly,

LMB

Ministering to the middle classes

|
A little while ago, a friend wrote an article entitled "My Ministry is Harder Than Yours (and Other Lies We Tell)." The author, Mez McConnell, is a pastor in Edinburgh and one of the architects of 20schemes, a ministry seeking to establish gospel churches in some of the poorest communities in Scotland. Mez has a hard line to walk - straight as a die himself, he has to deal with the fact that his conversion story appeals to the seekers of the spectacular and that many people in more outwardly comfortable circumstances perversely think that there is a certain glamour to really hard ministry and, frankly, that helps to win some attention and some funds to the cause. After all, paying other people to go where you don't and do what you won't really eases the conscience.

One of the ways that Mez deals with this tension is to mock the middle classes. He is happy to do this in general and more specifically and personally. Recently, he lampooned (I can hear him sharpening the knives just because I used that word) the outlook and attitude of those who applaud him for having such a hard life. His response?
When I listen to men battling away around Europe (and the states) in well off areas, it makes me break out in a cold sweat.

How the heck do you evangelize in an area where everybody has a decent paid job, a nice place to live and possibly a car (or two) on the drive?

How do you break through the intellectual pride of a worldview that thinks religion is beneath them and that science has all the answers?

How do you witness in an area where the average house price is over £250k? How do you talk to a guy who feels no need for Christ because he is distracted by his materialism?

How do you make it work in an area filled with nice, law abiding citizens, who don't cheat on their wives, beat their kids and spend their days stoned on the sofa watching reality TV?

Now that's hard.

That's more than hard. That, my friends, is brutal.
He went on to sing the praises of the straightforward, straight-speaking Schemer, the noble savage of the Edinburgh wilds, a square-jawed all-round good egg (come on, Mez, rise to the bait), open of heart and hearth.

Now that Mez has publicly admitted that I am harder than he is, I thought I might offer a friendly rejoinder - better, a supplement - to Mez's piece, confident that we probably see eye to eye on these things and the principles that underpin them.

I am writing not from the soft streets of Niddrie but from the rocky spiritual wastelands of middle England, from the London commuter belt, from . . . Sussex! Admittedly, I live in a 'new town' called Crawley, which has a reputation - perhaps unfairly - for being the local sinkhole (the descendants of London's dregs rehoused after the Second World War), so perhaps I get a little more credibility from those who count filth and crime as badges of honour. Indeed, Crawley is so little esteemed that one of the neighbourhoods to the east of the town, a richer part of this area, has removed the name from its signs so that it does not get dragged down to our level. That said, even though it is notoriously difficult to classify the middle classes (even the BBC says so), I don't think that there is much doubt that I try to reach many middle class people with the gospel. Many of my labours outside the church building are either in the town square, or door to door in a neighbourhood which calls itself - perhaps inappropriately - a village. Our church planting endeavours are currently centred on an undeniable village outside of Crawley that is the very picture of middle England. All this to demonstrate that I am, largely, in the environment that Mez describes as so unpromising a field for gospel labour.

And it is.

Mez's questions are good ones. He puts his finger on some of the real problems that exist. There is a carnal self-sufficiency that cushions many against the truth of the gospel. There is an educated arrogance that disdains the facts of scriptural revelation. You can encounter either a high parochialism that considers you to be and wants to keep you as a rank outsider (village life) or a sort of soulless suburbanity - the nurseries and daycare centres fill up first thing in the morning and then the place seems to lie empty until the school run (town life). Some streets seem designed to militate against community - houses with drives and garages but no paths that run from one property to the next. It is not just the homes that are detached and semi-detached, but the people themselves. Many of those to whom I speak are horrified at any suggestion that they are sinners. They love to look down their noses at the vulgar, and equate sin with a certain class of person, and certainly not their own. They are desperate to keep up appearances. They avoid admitting any need or weakness. Most speak to you through half-closed doors. Many have tasted religion, and found it empty or even bitter. They will put you off with polite fictions: they don't have time right now, or something similar. You say, politely, that you will try to come back another time. "That would be lovely," they say. Then you turn up again, and that's when they start getting offended - after all, you weren't mean to go back, it was all just a social game, surely? People fill their schedules with all the clutter of a comfortable life, so that they have a ready excuse not to chat, and a raft of excuses as to why they cannot give any time or effort to hearing more of the gospel. If you do get an opening, they might have a free window (delightful phrase!) in about three months time. Many homes are fenced, guarded and alarmed, and so are the hearts.

Truth be told, working in this environment only stokes the fires of my antipathy to the idea of a state church because so many of its teachings and practices at ground level militate against real and robust religion: witness the gentleman who informed me that he had been born as a Christian into a Christian home, baptised as a Christian, attended and served in a Christian church all his life, and certainly did not need someone like me telling him that he needed to be saved. I asked him how he faced the fact that the Bible tells him that he must be born again. "The Bible," he spat, "says no such thing," as he slammed the door in my face. I am not suggesting that this is true of all Anglicanism, but it is representative of the kind of Anglicanism and other ingrained religiosities, including Dissenting ones, that I face day after day. Mez says that people in the schemes are hostile to the church as an institution, a posh person's club: I have to contend with that and with the people who walk away because a simple nonconformist service is simply not churchy enough - they want more smells and bells.

But I would like to take you, for just a few moments, beneath the veneer, for that is all it is. And this is where I take issue with one of Mez's questions: "How do you make it work in an area filled with nice, law abiding citizens, who don't cheat on their wives, beat their kids and spend their days stoned on the sofa watching reality TV?" You don't, because that's not the real world of middle England (or middle America, or anywhere else). (For the record, I know Mez knows this, and I know he's having a cheerful little dig at this point, but it is precisely this that I want to address.)

Stroll with me, briefly, down some of the streets I know. I would like to introduce you, anonymously, to some of the people I meet.

You see, behind those manicured lawns and mock-Tudor frontages, behind those nice townhouse exteriors, behind those saccharine portraits of domestic bliss, are hearts full of sin. The people I go to are not nice, law-abiding citizens. Some of the tensions and feuds between neighbours are scarcely believable, fought out with icy silences and letters to local authorities rather than with bottles and bats, though the tensions often break out in angry, vicious speech that would make a docker blush. There are women and men and children with bruised bodies and battered spirits, the victims of family members. There is the abuse that leaves bodies more or less intact, and souls crushed and lives trampled. These men do cheat on their wives, they cheat on them with their PAs and their secretaries and their colleagues, and with Mrs Smith across the street.

They will cheat and steal with the best of them, but these are crimes to be winked at. They substantially disregard the law when it cuts across their comfort or their schedule. There is a double standard that reigns in many, in which others are to be considered despicable, while they excuse precisely the same spirit in themselves. They will lie through their teeth, often very politely. There is widespread drunkenness. Some of the most outwardly and ostentatiously religious are loathed by neighbours for their cruelty and callousness. As far as the people around them are concerned, that is the Christian religion, it is synonymous with hypocrisy, and they have learned the hard way to have nothing whatsoever to do with it. Worldly religion feels like the bane of the evangelist's life - it gives people every excuse they look for to spurn the truth. There are in-crowds who defend their social territory like Rottweilers. There is every world religion imaginable, in purer or more bastardized form, all manner of false gods and foolish notions. You might also be surprised at the prevalence of witchcraft and Wicca and occult practices - and not mere game-playing - in middle England.

But there is more. You learn to identify the homes where that beautiful sports vehicle on the drive is clearly a status symbol, purchased and maintained at the expense of any real home life in the expensive but crumbling property behind it. Perhaps sadder still is the decaying house and the rusting car, often indicative of the man or woman who has over-reached, and has no time to do anything but earn the wage that keeps them clinging to that rotting rung of the social ladder.

There is the man on the pleasant suburban street who opens the door, pale, sweaty and shaking, underdressed, looking like he has the mother of all hangovers or is craving his next fix, or both. There is the man who politely tells you that he has been involved in spiritualism for years, is a fully fledged medium, and he is happy to talk for a while, but you should be warned that it might not always be him who is speaking. There is the frightening number of people who are dabbling, more or less, in all manner of paganism and utter godlessness, creating "my own religion" out of a horrible and damnable hodgepodge of alternative spiritualities, a sort of pick'n'mix approach to the soul. There are those who have an aggressive disbelief - they do not want to know. There is the flagrant homosexual, who wants to flaunt his or her lifestyle choice as deliberately as possible. There are men who have a string of women coming and going, and women with the equivalent. Some of those nice homes are actually, literally, brothels. I can walk you down a street where there live, behind what seems like a delightful facade, a dying churchwarden who has no time for anything from outside his religious traditions, an angry and aggressive atheist who hates humankind and especially Christian humankind, a man who exists in utter disorder and thoroughgoing squalor, surviving - barely - on the benefits that run out sometime in the middle of every week, and a pleasant older couple, the wife disabled, the husband who dresses as a woman for their mutual entertainment most evenings. I can take you to the parks where the kids - from those nice, middle-class homes - mope about with a joint during the day, largely abandoned by parents; many of those same kids roam the streets at night, offering themselves body and soul to one another, seeking some kind of companionship where the family has utterly failed. There are porn addicts and sexual abusers and drug peddlers; there are desperate, highly-strung, cut-crystal families trying to keep it all together and to keep up with the Joneses. There are dear old ladies with a blue rinse who spit venom at you because you dare to call them sinners. There are pillars of society who warn you that they will call the police, or even threaten physical violence, unless you remove yourself before you are removed. There are the people who know it all, and who - in truth - know nothing of eternal value.

As Mez says, it is hard:
Hard is trying to build authentic community among a scattered congregation. Hard is trying to foster meaningful relationships in a diarised culture. Hard is trying to engage in spiritual conversations with disinterested individuals. Hard is not having the freedom to pop into your friends house uninvited because it might not be polite.
So, how do you evangelize? Exactly the same way as you do anywhere else: you go to the people around you, you speak to the people in front of you, you seek to communicate to them in an intelligent and intelligible way the reality of man's ruin through sin and redemption through Christ, relying on the Holy Spirit to open the eyes of the blind to the truth as it is in Jesus.

I think that Mez would agree with me that, truth be told, you cannot glamorise the gospel ministry in any place. The fact is this: up and down every country, behind every door and under every rock, in every social class, behind the make-up of the whore and the society princess, under the street uniform of the thug and the suit uniform of the banker, lurks precisely the same lifeless and sin-spewing heart. Every man and woman, boy and girl, is by nature dead in trespasses and sins. Every one of them lies beyond every power to deliver them apart from God working by his Spirit through the gospel of Christ preached to every creature. All of them need the good news. All of them have their own spiritual cladding, have concocted their own sinful and proud defences, have armoured themselves one way or another against the truth about God and about themselves. Perhaps I might borrow some words from an impeccable source to describe the universal state of things:
As it is written: "There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one. Their throat is an open tomb; with their tongues they have practiced deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes." Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. (Rom 3.10-19)
Those are the facts. All the world is guilty before God; all the world needs the gospel. All are in darkness, and all need the light. That is the reality, wherever you are labouring. Every preacher engaging with the lost could tell you the same. As Mez sez,
please, let's not compare our ministries on who has it toughest.

I promise not to if you don't. Let's just get behind one another in concerted prayer and support. Let's get rid of this spiritual one up-manship and face the facts that it's all a privilege anyway.
However, Mez has already conceded the high ground. It is clear who are the real tough guys. What we do, we warriors of the up-class urbs and the beatific burbs, is "more than hard . . . [it] is brutal." We don't even have the glamour of being applauded because people (apart from Mez) think it's hard. So, if you want a really hard ministry, come and visit us here in Crawley. There is always more work; there are not so many workers.
In a recent edition of Christian Renewal (date: December 11, 2013), Ruth Vandyken, in her article, "Preaching Outside the Box and onto the Public Soapbox," interviewed Dr. Joseph Pipa--faculty at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary--and Dr. Cornel Venema--of Mid-America Reformed Seminary--requesting their thoughts on proclaiming the gospel openly on the 
streets. 

Joseph Pipa said, 

"We encourage it. Dr. (Anthony) Curto did his D. Min on street preaching and I think deals with it in evangelism class. We have some students going out on Friday nights in downtown Greenville."

Cornel Venema responded more at length.

"I imagine there may be some difference of opinion within our faculty on the question, depending upon how such street preaching is conducted. We should encourage our students to seize every opportunity to present the gospel, including the use of public fora where suitable to communicate the gospel and its call to faith and repentance. The work of the minister of the Word is a work of gospelizing, ordinarily (but not exclusively) in the context of the gathering of the people of the Lord (and others who may visit or come at the invitation of members) on the Lord's Day. We would not advise our students to present the gospel in street preaching, if the forum was unsuitable and likely to cause needless offense or be unduly aggressive in manner. Such preaching, when properly conducted, should be performed with gentleness and humility, focus upon the good news of salvation through faith in Christ, and honor the general encouragement of the Lord to be "wise as serpents and harmless as doves" in the conduct of our ministries. Our general exhortation to our students is that they seize every legitimate opportunity to present the gospel to all, in a variety of settings and circumstances. That might even include presenting the gospel, if no limits are placed upon the Word, in gatherings or groups whose practices we might not endorse as fully obedient to Scriptural standards (e.g. in an unfaithful church)."

Open Marriages and Drug Usage

|
My wife tells me that I frighten people. Whenever we are in public and I meet someone new, I ask, "What's going on?" in a somewhat loud voice. It is not the content of my initial greeting that frightens people but the volume. I do not plan on changing. It is a way to break the ice with strangers and make people laugh. Typically at some point in the conversation, I try to transition from small talk to Christ and his Church. As a pastor this is fairly easy to do. Once I tell those whom I newly meet my vocation, the dialogue eventually migrates to the things of God. I prefer to establish my relationship with strangers on the gospel, or perhaps more accurately put by telling them the gospel during our initial interaction, so that as we get to know each other and the topic is approached again, they will not be surprised. Matt Chandler put it well. (Watch the first two and a half minutes).

Today (January 6, 2014), I had the privilege to bring up the things of God with someone whom I have known for about a year and a half. This extremely nice lady knows that I am a pastor. Therefore, she expects our conversation to eventually move toward the Bible. Almost every time I see her, we dabble our dialogue about Christ and his Church. To my shame, I have not walked her through the entire gospel message. Perhaps it is because I continue to interact with her while she is working. I do not know. I pray, however, that I will have the privilege to share the life-giving message of Christ with her. 

Meanwhile, I said something to spark her interest today about church that I have never said to anyone else. Normally, I give people a hard time when they use novice one-liners to introduce people into a spiritual conversation. Perhaps you have heard some of those one-liners. Someone has a glass of water and in an attempt to break the ice and pursue a spiritual conversation, a well-meaning Christian asks, "Have you heard of the living water?" Or if you find out someone enjoys rock music, you eventually get around to asking, "Have you heard of the chief cornerstone?" Years ago you may have heard something similar to these one-liners slip out of my mouth. I am too sophisticated for that now. Instead, I say other ridiculous things. Today was one such example.

When I saw this lady (let's call her, Susie), I invited her to church. Susie responded, "The church might burn down if I come." With a smile on my face, I said that she needs to come. "This Sunday," I said, "we are preaching about open marriages and drug usage." "What?" she asked. I repeated myself only to have her follow by saying, "I have not been to church in a long time; it will burn down." I retorted, "We have plenty of water." She laughed; I left. I did not think much of it. Minutes later she tracked me down and asked, "Can you tell me about what you are preaching on again? You have sparked my interest."

I do not know if I will ever tell anyone that I am going to preach a sermon on open marriages and drug usage again (see Genesis 29-30), but I am thankful that she was interested. I pray she accompanies my family to church this Lord's Day.

I guess you can throw this in the pile of, "Stupid things Leon says." Children: do not try this in your home town. 

The unbearable heaviness of being Levy

|
I am always - well, sometimes - grieved to grieve Mr Levy. Clearly I have burdened an already burdened man, and in ways that I have not (on this occasion) intended. And so a little comeback on his pushback: I agree that evangelising can become just another stick to beat people with. In some circles, it seems more acceptable to neglect almost any Christian duties except that of evangelism or 'mission.' If we do not think carefully, we can too easily introduce a new law and a new legalism, and that would be abominable.

I do think every Christian ought to be a faithful evangelist, but that is not the same as saying that every Christian should be a minister of the gospel, an open-air preacher or a door-to-door worker, for example. The faithful father who instructs his children at family worship and speaks to his neighbours about his Saviour; the earnest mother who 'preaches' to, pleads with, and prays for her growing children; the loving friend who gives a reason for the hope that is in him or her to friends at school: these are equally examples of personal evangelism - a true testimony to Christ.

However, I agree entirely with Paul when he says that the root of these things should be love for and delight in Christ. If we are Christians who know the joy of God's salvation then to speak of Jesus ought to be the spontaneous overflow of a heart full of love for God and men (cf. 1Pt 2.9-10). That is one of the reasons why saints need to keep hearing the gospel - it keeps their sense of these things lively, stirring them up to love and praise and spurring them on to make known the Christ who loved us and gave himself for us, and who will save whoever calls upon him. Our goal in witnessing is, first and foremost, the glory of God, the God who has pre-eminently revealed himself in the Lord Christ. When we lose sight of that, and slip into what Paul calls "an evangelistic frenzy," it is likely that we have dropped our gaze too low, and may downplay those truths which give the gospel its substance and edge.

But then something more follows: what happens when we ask, "How can I express this desire to glorify God in making him known for salvation?" That is where the question comes in, "How can I do this more effectively? How can I more thoughtfully, competently, wisely and righteously make Christ known to the lost?" I take it for granted that a Christian wants other people to be Christians; I therefore presume that they want to know, from the Word of God, how they might do that in the right way, with the right motives, employing appropriate means to legitimate ends. I acknowledge that my recent posts have focused more on the more public and formal means; I hope that those who use those means have found those thoughts helpful. Maybe I should also write some posts to encourage those using other means, and then Paul can complain about how long they are.

Finally, as a sop, and a means of removing another burden, I offer him the longed-for Christmas illustration (no, not the one about Santa Claus not being real). Like almost all illustrations, it falls short and has its inconsistencies, but I am sure a gifted man like Paul Levy could make something of it:
Amazon.com provide a service called Certified Frustration-Free Packaging. The idea seems to be that whatever it is you order comes ready to use right out of the box, eliminating that 'wrap rage' to which I am sure we are all endlessly subject. It is advertised with a video in which two customers receive the same product, one in traditional packaging and the other in frustration-free packaging. A troubled woman spends about fifteen minutes trying to put her item together and is left with a pile of waste and a pained expression; a cheerful chap pretty much pulls his out of the box and is left with oodles of happiness and more time to enjoy his gift. Now, what kind of salvation are you seeking? Salvation is an intricate, glorious, wonderful thing, needing to be complete and perfect if it is to be effective. But man's efforts are not unlike receiving a box with countless thousands of pieces but no tools and no instructions. Despite all our efforts, we can never put salvation together, and are left with nothing but frustration and waste. In Christ Jesus, the Lord of heaven has provided us with the finished article - there is nothing to do except to receive it, and to enjoy what has been given, full and final.
Levy, you owe me a kebab.

Recently, I published a book titled Words in Season: On Sharing the Hope that is Within Us. It is an introduction to sharing the good news of Christ that was birthed out of a Sunday school series. The book not only focuses on our individual privilege to witness of the person and work of Jesus but it also emphasizes the centrality of the local church. You can read more about it here.

In chapter 3, I focus on some of the common hindrances to personal evangelism. There are ethnic and cultural barriers; sometimes we wonder if our Bible knowledge is adequate; we are, perhaps, overly concerned about our reputation; we don't want to lose friends; we are nervous. I believe, in time, these concerns can be reduced or completely overcome. However, one of the biggest deterrents, which I only briefly mentioned elsewhere in the book, is one that is difficult to overcome. We cannot eliminate it. We cannot reduce it; it is there when you go to sleep; it is there when you awake; no matter where you go, it always follows you--time.

I've sometimes remarked the older I get, the faster time seems to move. Yet that is exactly what is required for personal evangelism, which is the very thing that it seems we often do not have--time. Our schedules are packed with many so-called obligations--children's sports activities, church meetings, personal hobbies and interests, writing blogs or other literature, spending time on Facebook, employment, sermon preparation, family vacation, education. With our massive to-do lists, where is the time to share Jesus Christ and him crucified?

It takes time to talk to others about Jesus. It takes more time to invite these people, with whom you share Christ, into your life so that they might see the realities of your faith (Col. 4:5-6).

Although time seems to move faster the older we get, we can change. We can be more aware of this great privilege to talk about Christ and invite others into our lives. It is much like our finances. Once we realize we are overspending in a certain area, we rearrange our budget to more accurately reflect what is important to us. Similarly, if sharing the good news of Christ and inviting unbelievers in to your life is important, you will rearrange your busy schedule in order to accommodate those priorities.

Jesus spent time w/ people; he entered their homes; he walked with them; he talked with them; he repeatedly answered their concerns and objections. I do not believe the point of the Gospels is help us calculate the amount of time Christ spent with unbelievers so that we might enumerate how much we should spend with them; nevertheless, the point is clear--Christ spent time with unbelievers. We should, too.

However, be mindful. There is a popularized phrase floating around called, "Friendship evangelism." The emphasis is on building relationships with unbelievers as a means to share Christ with them. (That is my understanding). This is dangerous. First, while it a fantastic idea to erect relationships with unbelievers, if we are developing those relationships for the expressed purpose to share the gospel, the friendship is simply a means to an end. We do not really care about them. We are not in awe that they are made in the image and after the likeness of God. We are simply befriending them to reduce our fears. Our underlying purpose in developing a friendship with unbelievers is to soften the impact of that initial conversation about religious matters.  

Is that true friendship?

This is one of the reasons I share the gospel with unbelievers almost as soon as I meet them. That way, when the topic is approached in the future, it is no surprise. There are instances, though, when we cannot share the gospel immediately. Providence seems to prohibit it. In that case, what do we do?

Chapter 8 in Words in Season is titled, "Hospitality: "One-Anothering" with the Stranger." It provides some practical tips on spending time with your unbelieving neighbors and those in the broader community.

God can save people immediately. He has done it in the past and he will continue to do so. However, there are times when he chooses to plant seeds over an extended period of time. It may take months, even years--it requires time. Are you willing to spend the time it takes to befriend unbelievers, plant the seed of the gospel, answer their concerns, and invite them to church? You may have to rearrange your schedule, but it is more than worth it.

"But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Pet. 2:9).

Effective personal evangelism: summary

|
Thank you for following through this series on effective personal evangelism. For ease of reference, here are the links and topics:


This is not an exhaustive list, by any means, but I am speaking out of a measure of experience myself and exposure to men I think are capable and faithful in carrying out this work. If we as individual Christians and members of gospel churches are to be effective personal evangelists, these are qualities that I think we must prayerfully pursue if we are to declare the gospel profitably and fruitfully. Not all Christians will be on the streets of our towns and at the doors of our communities. Some of us will do it sitting down over a cup of tea (other beverages are available) with a friend; some of us will do it around the dinner table or at the bedside, night after night, with our children; some of us will do it over a lunch time snack with a colleague; some of us will do it in a Bible study with our peers. However we do it, all of us have opportunities to make Christ known. I trust that these marks, rightly cultivated, will help us to be immediately effective in communicating the gospel faithfully to those who do not know our Saviour, and ultimately effective when we see God give the increase.

Effective personal evangelism: encouragement

|
Nearly there! So far we have surveyed the following marks of effective personal evangelism:  love, tenacity, boldness, consistency, understanding, prayer, faith and experience.

The ninth mark of the effective personal evangelist is encouragement. The personal evangelist needs support. Do you know how debilitating it is to be the only person doing this? Do you know how terrifying it is to stand alone, humanly speaking, and to preach Jesus Christ? Do you know how it sucks the gumption out of a man's soul if he is isolated in this work? If not, it may be because you have always avoided the work. I marvel at the grit shown by those men who work so largely alone in the cause of Christ: truly they must be walking with God, for it is hard to keep moving when no-one else is seen to be walking and working with you. It is far easier to stop witnessing than it is to start it. Perhaps someone becomes persuaded that they should take the opportunity to knock on a few doors in their neighbourhood. It does not take much bad weather, many bad experiences, or a couple of bad nights, to begin to undermine that persuasion. But do you know how compelling it is knowing that someone else will be there, and you feel a holy pressure to go and be a companion to that one, and to fulfil your promise to go with them? It helps us to know that we are helping others and being helped by them, that our presence is expected, even anticipated, and may itself be the spur to the conscience of the equally-wavering but equally-eager brother or sister. It is a compelling pressure. The fact that we are praying - not just saying we are praying, but really praying - is a great encouragement to such workers. It is one reason why effective personal evangelism ought to be embedded in the healthy life of a faithful local church. That is why church members are the most effective workers. If you need to prove this, go out to help those who are already engaged, and look in their eyes as you go to help them. "Ah," says the look, "Wonderful! Someone has my back!" You can pray while he speaks, you can make a thousand contributions, small and great. Why did Christ send out his disciples in pairs? Could it be that they needed mutual encouragement, support and friendship? Why does Paul surround himself with companions and friends? To be sure, there is a mentoring dimension, as the younger or less-experienced men see how a seasoned veteran goes about the work. But consider how Paul speaks when alone in a dungeon: "Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica - Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry. And Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus" (2Tim 4.10-12). Paul feels his relative isolation, and he wants his bosom friend and son in the faith, Timothy, to come to him quickly. Listen to the wisdom of the preacher:
Two are better than one, Because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, For he has no one to help him up. Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; But how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Ecc 4.9-12)
We do not need to super-spiritualize that text to say that, if you are to make Christ known, there will be times when your spirit falls, when your heart cools, when your mind blanks, when your courage fails. But two or three together, even three streets - perhaps even three towns! - away from one another, the mere fact that others are engaged in the same work with you, can make all the difference to the personal evangelist, seeking to be effective. It stirs up his love, provokes his tenacity, encourages his boldness, assists his consistency, aids his understanding, directs to prayer, stirs up faith, extends his experience, and helps him to keep going. As an aside, it is one of the reasons why it is so important for husbands and wives to be united in their aims and intentions in promoting true religion in the home. It is one of the reasons that vibrant evangelists draw in and draw on others into a similar pattern of going and speaking.

Effective personal evangelism: experience

|
As we move toward the end of this series, the marks of effective personal evangelism we have surveyed so far are love, tenacity, boldness, consistency, understanding, prayer and faith.

The eighth mark of the effective personal evangelist is experience. If we engage in this kind of gospel work, over time we should become more adept at it, humanly speaking. We ought to become more effective. Many of those engaged in such work on the streets, for example, find that, if for some reason there is an extended period in which they are not involved, the first time we go back again we get tongue-tied pretty quickly. I find that, if I let some sphere of this work go cold, I almost feel as if I am starting all over again when I take it up once more. If we become accustomed to these things, our understanding will increase. I am not speaking of some pat routine, as if you can thoughtlessly roll off certain phrases. You begin to gauge how certain people are likely to respond, to recall that there are certain ways to answer certain questions (that you have learned from others or developed yourself) which will enable you to make certain points or bring certain Scriptures to bear. Perhaps you have had an opportunity to go away and study some topic or read up on some issue, and you are better equipped to expose error and promote truth. You learn to spot the red herrings that swim through so many conversations with unbelieving people, you begin to anticipate the evasions that some will introduce when the gospel paints them into a corner, you learn how to prevent that conversation wandering away from what the sinner really needs to hear and the questions the sinner really needs to face. When people are trying to throw up all kinds of smokescreens, we will learn to press the question: "Will you please tell me how you intend to deal with your sin in anticipation of coming before God the righteous Judge?" There is a delightful and encouraging phrase in Acts 9, speaking of the early experience of Saul of Tarsus:
Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. Then all who heard were amazed, and said, "Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?" But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ. (Acts 9.20-22)
Paul got better! The apostle began as a recently converted Jew, a Pharisee of the Pharisees, his brain stocked to the brim with all the wealth of the Old Testament. Very quickly Paul began to understand how these things fitted together, as the Holy Spirit gave him increasing light and understanding. Paul began to explain what he was learning, and his erstwhile co-belligerents began to argue back, and Paul perhaps went away, and opened his scrolls once more, and read through them, and learned more and better of how Christ was revealed in the Old Testament, and how Jesus was the fulfilment of all those promises. Jesus is the Christ, and all these Scriptures speak of him, and there are answers to the denials and diversions of the unbelieving heart, answers that will - by the Spirit's gracious working - bring a repenting faith to birth. Paul, perhaps, would leave the synagogue one day with his head buzzing, and return the next to pick things up where he left off. Paul got better at proving that Jesus is the Christ. You may think that are not a very competent personal evangelist. You may be right. But, honestly, if you start, you will get better, God helping you. Engaging in the work will enhance your capacity for the work, if you go about it with a diligent and dependent spirit.

Effective personal evangelism: faith

|
The marks of effective personal evangelism we have surveyed so far are love, tenacity, boldness, consistency, understanding and prayer.

The seventh mark of the effective personal evangelist is faith. With prayer is allied faith. Think of how the apostle speaks at the beginning of the letter to the Romans: he is not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek (Rom 1.16). Is that your attitude? Do you believe that? I do not mean, "Do you nod because it is in the Bible?" but, "Are you fully persuaded concerning this gospel, this evangel, which we are called to declare, that when sinners hear God's truth, and the Lord is working in their hearts to invite and draw them to Jesus Christ, convincing them of their sin and misery, enlightening their minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing their wills, thereby persuading and enabling them to embrace Jesus Christ as he is offered to them, that they will be saved?" Is that not what we long for and can legitimately hope for when we make the gospel known? That when the truth is proclaimed and the Spirit is at work, the sinner's heart will be enlightened and enlivened, and will latch on to the Jesus that we proclaim? Do we believe that that is why God has given us a gospel? Are we persuaded that the preaching of that gospel is God's appointed means for the accomplishment of these ends? Do we confidently anticipate that God will bless his appointed means to his ordained ends? It is akin to the old story in a book of Spurgeon anecdotes of the student preacher complaining of his lack of fruitfulness. "And do you expect," asked the bearded man, "that the Lord is going to bless you and save souls every time you open your mouth?" "No, sir," replied the beardless youth. "Well, then," retorted the whiskered one, "that is why you do not get souls saved. If you had believed, the Lord would have given the blessing." However we might contend against the seeming simplicity of Spurgeon's logic, I think he would have said more than that under the right circumstances, and I believe that there is more than a grain of truth in the matter. "I go out, I preach the gospel, I knock on doors, but no-one listens, and no-one is likely to be saved. It is, after all, a day of small things. This is a dry place. There's a real spiritual hardness here. The people are carnally self-sufficient. Here I am, a gospel witness, absolutely assured that my labours are a grand waste of time." Is that attitude honouring to the God of saving grace? Can I really anticipate a blessing if I go about the business of making Christ known with the deep-rooted suspicion that this is the biggest waste of time in which I have ever been engaged? Such a spirit, should it seep out (and it will), is hardly going to endear the gospel to those to whom I speak! We need faith. We do not need to embrace novelties either of style or substance, abandoning the simple declaration of the truth as it is in Jesus, with love for God and men, seeking to make it known wisely and tenaciously, longing for God to do what he has promised to do. We must be galvanised by faith. If we go forth weeping, we shall doubtless come again with rejoicing. We cannot say when or how much blessing will come, but do we believe that if we go forth in the strength of God, in dependence upon God, with the truth of God, in expectation that God will honour his word, and that it will not return to him void, that there will be people - sooner or later - that God will be pleased to draw to himself? The seed brings forth fruit (Mk 4.28); ours is the sowing; the increase belongs to God, and that is our hope and expectation. We must wrestle with God in prayer, not just for those to whom we go, but for our faith as we go. Again, Spurgeon used to ascend to the pulpit in the old Tabernacle, and each time his foot hit the steps, he would assert with faith, "I believe in the Holy Spirit!" This was no mere mantra; he was reminding himself of God himself, laying hold of the truth concerning the means appointed and the agent engaged in blessing those means. If we are faithful in discharging our duty, God will glorify his name, and one of the ways he will do so is through the blessing of our labours to salvation. If it were not so, what would be the point? Why else do we go to men and women dead in their trespasses and sins? Why else do we keep reiterating God's saving mercies to our children? Why else do we go on preaching the same truths to people who so often seem unresponsive or even antagonistic? It is because we serve a saving God.

Effective personal evangelism: prayer

|
The marks of effective personal evangelism we have surveyed so far are love, tenacity, boldness, consistency and understanding.

The sixth mark of the effective personal evangelist is prayer. The place of prayer in this list is not a marker of its relative insignificance. Could it be that one of the reasons why, with our children, friends, colleagues and communities, we are less effective than we wish to be is because we have not proved to be men and women of earnest, pleading prayer, borne of a love for God that seeks his glory above all else and a love for people that longs to see them saved from sin? Think, for example, of our Lord's mourning over Jerusalem: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing!" (Lk 13.34). I know that this is not a prayer per se, but can we imagine that a spirit such as this would not find an outlet in prayers to his heavenly Father? Or consider the words of the psalmist: "He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him" (Ps 126.6) - is that merely generic and diffuse weeping, or does it not suggest some earnest and heartfelt pleading? Do you think that Paul taught men and women night and day with tears, and that there was no counterpart in his private wrestlings with God for a blessing on his labours? How often does the apostle assure Christ's people of his continued prayers for them, and how much would he have prayed for them to come to new life? He agonises until they are brought to birth and then to see them mature in the faith. We must be pleaders with God. Perhaps you think of the vast number of people to be reached, the great number of streets to be visited, the endless number of words that might be spoken, and you would be tempted to conclude that we do not have time to waste in prayer. I know one gifted man who would give the first hour of his appointed time in this work to poring over an open Bible and pleading with the Lord for a blessing on his efforts before he ever opened his mouth to men. Could it be that our relative prayerlessness lies behind both our faint appetite for the work and our feeble strength in it?

Effective personal evangelism: understanding

|
To date, we have looked briefly at love, tenacity, boldness and consistency as particular features of the effective personal evangelist.

The fifth mark of the effective personal evangelist is understanding. We have said that we do not need special training - a degree course, or formal, academic, theological instruction, for example - but the effective personal evangelist does need to be man or woman of understanding. We must be men and women of God's book, praying constantly for the wisdom that only God, through his Spirit, can provide to us (Jas 1.5). We need to know the truth about ourselves, about God, and about our hearers. We must understand our own limitations, gifts, and opportunities. So we might say, and rightly, that we are not particularly well-equipped to explain the gospel to someone, but we might be particularly effective in persuading or compelling others to come and hear someone who is so able. We need to understand God himself: how and what he speaks, and how and in what ways he acts. We need to understand our hearers, which will prevent us from becoming discouraged on the one hand while also, on the other, providing us with our proper 'targets' in making Christ known. We must be properly adaptable. When Paul said, "I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some" (1Cor 9.22), he was not giving us a model for the church's corporate activity, suggesting that the church needs to become more like the world in order to be effective. He means that as individual believers we need to show a righteous accommodation. For example, if I am invited to go and discuss something with a Muslim in a mosque, becoming all things to all men will involve me removing any hat and shoes I am wearing. I am able to eat any food that is offered to me, without asking questions. If I am going to win someone to Christ, adapting to their expectations and circumstances where there is no principle of obedient righteousness involved and not demanding what I am not entitled to expect may give me gospel opportunities I would otherwise have lacked. Furthermore, we must unfold the truth appropriately. There is, for example, a difference - in measure - between the way that you would explain the same saving truth to a Muslim, to someone brought up in nominal Christianity, and to someone who has never heard of Jesus Christ before. You do not change the essential substance, but you might have a different point of entry, a different set of illustrations, or a different emphasis. We need discernment in these things. We need to be wise as to what we say on the first occasion when we meet someone, and how far we carry our conversation on that occasion. Some will show immediate appetite to plunge on, others will be much more wary. We need to make sure that we say what is needful, but we do not always need to say everything, and might have opportunity to return on another occasion. So, in the part of Britain where I usually work, I might be told that someone is busy and cannot talk just now. I might then suggest that another time might be more convenient. "Oh, yes, of course," is the response, often a polite British way of communicating the hope that I will never darken the door again. Consistency and tenacity will, however, return on the basis of the promise made, hoping that the same politeness will eventually provide a more convenient time. We also need to understand when the time might have come to hold our tongues and move on. We do not often, literally, put our foot in the door. We might need to wait for our opportunity. So I think of one angry atheist of distinctive appearance who - after we had first spoken to her - visited all her immediate neighbours to warn them about us. Not long after, I happened to be present when a medical crisis arose in the same spot, and obtained an opportunity to explain to those very neighbours who I was, what we were doing, and how we were operating, in a context in which they could see we had no dodgy motives. One thing that would be profitable is to make it a practice to memorise our Bibles: the grasp of the truth and the ability to handle it reactively and proactively provided by such storing up of the Scriptures cannot be underestimated. We need a working grasp of the whole Bible, a grand overview of special revelation, and we need hearts and minds well stocked with the truth. This does not mean that someone cannot be effective until they know large chunks of the Bible, but we do need accurately to know God and his truth in order to communicate the truth effectively. We would do well to read books that help us to explain the gospel, equipping us with information that we can clearly communicate, teaching us how to counter typical unbelieving responses to divine truth. We need to understand in some measure the Lord himself, his truth, our own hearts and gifts, the character and situation of the people we are dealing with, and the circumstances into which we go.

Effective personal evangelism: consistency

|
So far we have considered love, tenacity and boldness as some particular features of the effective personal evangelist.

The fourth mark of the effective personal evangelist is consistency. If tenacity is an unwillingness to let go in the face of pressure and opposition, consistency is the simple virtue of endurance over time, just keeping going, maintaining the appointed means, method, manner and matter of God's gospel ministry, going back day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. If our tenacity can be undermined by our fear or doubt or laziness, so our consistency can be undermined by seemingly slow progress and apparent fruitlessness. But the effective evangelist keeps on going on, seeking but not demanding immediate results or definite responses the first time around. He keeps chipping away, not in the nagging sense, but there is something of the graciously dripping tap about him (giving forth living water, naturally!): he will be back running in the same places and flowing down the same channels. He will not readily give up. In Mark 4.26-29 we read that the kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. Many commentators suggest that he is not ignoring the seed, but going about his business. He takes care of the general business of the farm consistently because he knows that his task is to sow the seed and to anticipate the increase. So with the effective personal evangelist: he keeps sowing and keeps going about his business, urgent but not desperate. He keeps going on to the streets, he keeps inviting his friends to hear a man who can speak the truth, he keeps knocking on doors to tell people about the Lord Jesus, he keeps asking new neighbours into his home, he keeps engaging in the means that a lively local church uses to make Christ known, he keeps maintaining family worship so that his children might go on hearing about the Saviour. It is not always huge great hammer-blows that break the heart, but repeated taps with the gospel hammer. How long did Paul labour in Ephesus and what was his pattern of work? "For three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears" (Acts 20.31). The disciples did not fill Jerusalem with their doctrine by working in fits and starts, but by loving, tenacious, bold consistency, speaking the truth in love again and again, in this place, in the next place, to the first person and every other person, at every door and every day. You may be at times discouraged by slow progress, but you will not abandon the appointed means, method, manner and matter because there are no immediate results and definite declarations, because sometimes conversion is the result of countless hours of patient and prayerful instruction, progress comes about after weeks and months of tireless labour. We would love to see rapid results, and they are well within God's power and grace. But that is not the only way God works. Sometimes our consistency is itself a persuasive. Sometimes people will be more suddenly converted because they see and hear us going back repeatedly, or because we did not give up, and there came a day and hour when one of God's elect was in the appointed place at the appointed time, and what previously fell on deaf ears now falls into an opened ear. Whether it is in the sense of keeping doing it in the hopes of some particular barrier being broken down over time, or keeping doing it because God may change the circumstances and dynamics of a situation more suddenly, the effective personal evangelist is a consistent man. God gives us the message and we need to carry it forth, trusting in God to give the increase.

Effective personal evangelism: boldness

|
In looking at some of the features of the effective personal evangelist, taking for granted (as it were) the genuine conversion and growing holiness of such a person, so far we have considered love and tenacity.

The third mark of the effective personal evangelist is boldness. We often struggle with a righteous straightforwardness, a loving clearness, a holy bluntness. The context and substance of the gospel message is that - apart from Christ - you are a rebellious sinner, under God's wrath on account of your wickedness, and if you will not repent of your sins and believe in Jesus Christ, there is a fearful hell waiting in which God's righteous judgments will be eternally poured out on your deserving head, and the only way in which you can be saved is to leave aside every other imagined way of being right with the one true and living God, and trusting in his Son whom he has sent, Jesus Christ the incarnate Lord, who died on the cross, through whom alone we can be reconciled to God and so obtain life everlasting. God has provided the one way of salvation for hell-deserving sinners. It demands a response: you must therefore repent and be converted. The effective personal evangelist speaks all the truth clearly, holding back nothing needful. Paul could say to the Ephesian elders of his entrance to Asia, ""I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20.20-21, 26-27). How do you tell people the good news? When someone says that they like to think of God in a certain way, do not really believe in hell, or that they have been a good person, we are too readily inclined to start soft-pedalling the context, substance and demands of the gospel when dealing with ignorant and rebellious sinners who need to hear the truth. We are too much inclined to cut or shave off the rough edges off our gospel, to hold back what is offensive in society, or even to avoid those elements which we think we can get away with not mentioning. Is there anyone who does not need a whole gospel? Again, love will carry us beyond mere sentiment (on our own behalf or someone else's) and make us bold to speak the whole truth. I am not saying that we invariably have the time and opportunity to explain everything on each occasion, but we will seek to speak all needful truth with all clarity to the people with whom we have to do. This is not just the courage that the street-preacher or door-knocker needs. Some parents are afraid to tell the gospel to their own children because they fear their reaction, are concerned that they might not like it and might turn from it. But what of the risk of not speaking? They cannot be saved unless they hear the gospel, and - if we speak with love - this will in itself break down some of the barriers. Again, I know of one brother who is welcomed back with literal open arms at some of the doors he has knocked on once or twice, his affectionate and bold regard for sinners having won a hearing if not yet a soul. The same brother is chased away from some doors for the same reasons, but he keeps going back. This is not, then, a harsh courage but a loving boldness.

Effective personal evangelism: tenacity

|
So far in this series we have set out our stall and considered love as the first mark of the effective personal evangelist.

The second mark of the effective personal evangelist is tenacity. This is the spirit of a dog with its bone, fiercely attached to it to the extent that you could probably lift the dog off the ground simply by lifting the bone. It is a grip that is not easily broken. Fear, laziness and false expectations hammer at our tenacity. Perhaps rudeness and anger make us afraid to return to a certain house. Perhaps it is too much like hard work, and other things are far easier or bring more prominence or applause. Perhaps we have read of men in the past - men like Hobson or Spurgeon or Whitefield - and heard stories in which men and women and children are converted through their ministry at the drop of the hat, under the most inopportune circumstances, and seemingly without them trying. I would love to have such experience! I would love to knock on a door, hand out a tract, sit down for a chat, and find people rooted to the ground, overcome with the truth, turning immediately to the Lord, eagerly seeking baptism to be admitted to the church. You might have heard of Spurgeon testing the acoustics in a new environment by calling out, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!" and a workman hidden somewhere in the place hears the words and puts his faith in Jesus Christ. But these, remember, are not the norm even for these men. It is not how they began and it is not always how they continued. Read carefully, and you will see that they needed tenacity. For example, Spurgeon in Waterbeach - a village proverbial for its wickedness - spent his first weeks and months asking if there were any converts. Had Spurgeon simply wandered about testing his voice in the hopes that someone would overhear he probably would never have seen any converts. It was continual, laborious witness that won him his souls. He is not easily dissuaded, is ready to return to the hard cases. He will go again and again, in wider and wider circles. When the master sent his servants to gather guests for the feast (Lk 14.15-24), they first encountered all manner of excuses. The ineffective evangelist stops at that point, and begins praying mournfully about the day of small things. The effective man returns to his master and goes out again, and then - after a reasonably successful expedition, having caught something of the master's mood - reports that there is still more space, and so goes out again to compel others to come in. The effective personal evangelist keeps going back, to the same people and to new people. In Acts 17 Paul arrives in Thessalonica with the fresh pains of Philippi in his flesh, earned in preaching Christ. Would you not be inclined to find a way to avoid such pains in the future? Not Paul! He is tenacious - he enters the synagogue and preaches the same message that brought such trouble and such fruit in Philippi. Or again, in Acts 5.28, the authorities are infuriated that the tenacious disciples have gone on preaching Christ despite all formal and informal opposition, to the degree that "you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine." That's the spirit! For you and me, it might mean going back to the same house that you have visited twice before to see if they might heed you this time. It means going back to preach in the street when months pass with little or no response. It means sustaining a pattern of family worship when your children make it clear that they have no appetite to learn of Christ. If you know that making known the truth is too important to let go, you will hold fast. This is an unwillingness to be put off by opposition and difficulties.

Effective personal evangelism: love

|
In the introductory article to this brief series, we marked out the limits of our study, namely that we are considering how individual believers, in their various spheres, might faithfully communicate the saving truth to those around them still lost in darkness, and what are the features of attitude and action that mark out those who do this well.

I suggest that the first requirement for the effective personal evangelist is love. This love must stretch in two directions: up to God and out to men. His love to God is the love that desires God's glory at any cost to himself, and is provoked when the Lord is dishonoured (Acts 17.16), grieved by affronts to his name. If the glory of God is the supreme object at which the evangelist aims, this will do much to direct and sustain him. But out of a love for the God of love that derives from having been loved comes a love for other people. This is a Godlike, Christlike love, the love of John 3.16 and Romans 5.6-8. Our love for the lost is confident of and reflective of God's love to sinners. It looks like Christ weeping over Jerusalem (Lk 19.41); it feels like Paul being willing to be accursed from Christ for his brothers, his countrymen according to the flesh (Rom 9.3); it sounds like Paul warning the people of Ephesus (Acts 20.31). The true-hearted evangelist knows what is at stake and responds to the desperate condition of the lost. He desires to see sinners new-born of the Spirit and growing in grace (1Cor 4.14-15), and - like his Saviour - dismisses none, but receives and sits down with those whom others would despise (Lk 15) if - by any means - he might win some. This is simply the echo of God's divine love and a response to it. I have known men who love God so much that they cannot bear to see his person unknown, his glory despised, his name dishonoured, his truth rejected, and his gospel unheard. Because of this, they love people enough to take that good news to all men. Our love for God carries us from God to men with a real interest in their well-being. I think of one brother who spent several months witnessing to Christ in a small village. By the end of that time I have some confidence that, without notes, he could have walked down any street in the village and told you the names and circumstances of pretty much every person to whom he spoke. Whatever that says of his mental powers, I believe that they were enhanced by genuine love and exercised by specific prayers. Do we love our children? If we do, are we speaking to them earnestly of Christ? Do we love the children we teach in Sunday School classes? Do we love our neighbours? What are their names? What are their circumstances? Are your colleagues mere faces, perhaps with names, or real people who need a real Saviour? The reason why we are often so slow to go to the lost is because we lack love for God and men. Love will overcome many obstacles in order to secure a blessing.

Effective personal evangelism: introduction

|
Over the course of the last few years I have had every good and necessary reason to consider how I and the church which I serve might more effectively communicate the gospel of God to our neighbours round about us. In recent months, as we have tried to carry out our calling in this regard, it has been my privilege to speak and work with a few men of God who have seen a measure of blessing as they have gone about this work. It is out of that environment that I want to suggest some of the qualities and characteristics of the effective personal evangelist.

When I use the language of effectiveness, I am not speaking of guaranteed or immediate results: it is God who gives the increase (1Cor 3.7). Effectiveness, in this sphere, is a matter of the faithful communication of God's saving truth to those who have not known it either entirely or accurately. Of course, our hope would be that evangelism that is effective in this way would also, ultimately, be effective in bringing God's chosen ones into his kingdom of grace.

Furthermore, it is personal evangelism. Although there will be much overlap between these qualities and characteristics and the regular or particular efforts of the pulpit, I am focusing on a more immediately intimate communication: the conversation with a friend, the interaction between a parent and a child, the pastor's engagement with a visitor, the man or woman handing out tracts and striking up a conversation, the Sunday School teacher with his or her charges, the man or woman speaking to people at the doors and on the streets of a community, the home Bible study with a group of friends. Although this is not necessarily one-on-one engagement, it presumes a slightly less formal, perhaps less ordered, situation than the preaching of God's word to a gathered congregation.

The great pre-requisite for effective personal evangelism is our own conversion, our own experience of saving grace. An unconverted man trying to make known the gospel is like a starving man recommending food. He has no true sense of what he offers and everything about him speaks of his own lack of real experience. While the Lord might at times use such a man if he speaks strict scriptural truth, it would be against all normal expectations. I should also say that, while I believe that some have a particular aptitude for this work, and that it is possible to learn to do it more effectively, no special gift or formal training is a requirement for effective personal evangelism. Any Christian with a heart for God's glory can be, in some measure, an effective personal evangelist.

With that in mind, I want - over the course of the next few days - to suggest a few features of the effective personal evangelist.

Guessing and gauging the street preacher

|
A couple of interesting questions have come in following the recent piece on street preaching, and it might be helpful to offer some answers in this same environment.

First, no, I did not have any particular individual or group in mind when I wrote the piece. I began thinking it through a couple of weeks ago, and wrote it without studying or watching some of the more recent reports and pieces of footage, although I think some of them do bear out some of the comments and suggestions made. Also, bear in mind that a brother can be strong in some areas and not so robust in others, and often - for example - the gift that makes one man excellent in one-on-one discussions might not particularly equip him for preaching, or the same spirit that makes one man particularly clear in his gospel proclamations might make him a little cut-and-dried when interacting with the authorities. As I hope was plain, I have seen a number of men do things I think are sometimes unwise, and seek to steer clear of such mistakes myself. If the hat fits, wear it, but it was not designed for any one individual or group in particular.

Second, and more interestingly and valuably, someone asked about the relationship of the street preacher to the local church, and the matter of qualifications and calling. "Who," asks this thoughtful correspondent, "is qualified to open air preach?" It is a good question, and an important one.

Let me begin by stating that this is not the same issue as whether a man is qualified for the office of a pastor or elder. That is a different question, though it may at times be related. The Confession of Faith to which I subscribe, the 1677/89 Baptist Confession of Faith, states the following in its chapter on the church:
Although it be incumbent on the bishops or pastors of the churches to be instant in preaching the Word, by way of office; yet the work of preaching the Word, is not so peculiarly confined to them; but that others also gifted, and fitted by the Holy Spirit for it, and approved, and called by the church, may and ought to perform it. (26.11)
The texts offered as proofs are Acts 11.19-21 and 1 Peter 4.10-11, primarily proving the point that the preaching of the truth is not necessarily restricted to the elders of the church, but ought to be discharged by those gifted for and called to the work. Here the confession bears close resemblance to the Westminster Larger Catechism, which asks in Question 158, "By whom is the Word of God to be preached?" and answers, "The Word of God is to be preached only by such as are sufficiently gifted, and also duly approved and called to that office."

This makes plain that the questions of divine gift and equipment go alongside the issues of ecclesiastical approval and calling in the matter of preaching, but that a man might be gifted for occasional or regular preaching in a variety of circumstances without needing to meet all the qualifications set out in Scripture for the elders of the church, and may and should discharge that gift and responsibility in a responsible and appropriate fashion. In other words, street preaching, like all other preaching, should be exercised under authority and oversight and after proper evaluation of gift and grace.

Street preaching is too often the preserve of the proverbial loose cannon. It may be that the man in question is simply zealous but uninstructed, or perhaps he is a man who cannot or will not be governed, but who is not willing that his voice should not be heard (if the church will not give him a platform, he will go out and make one for himself). He sets himself up autonomously - "Me Ministries International" or "Fire on the Streets" or "The Bellowing Prophets of Doom" would be typical of this approach - and cracks on with the job, apart from or even despising any kind of church authority. But street preachers are not some kind of disavowed secret service, working beyond the fringes of the law by rules of their own making. We need to ensure that this work is exercised under government with appropriate oversight - specifically, that under all normal circumstances it is carried out by and under the auspices of a local church.

Such identification and appointment is not the same as ordination or induction, if you practice such things. It is a recognition that Christ has appointed a particular agency for the spread of the gospel in the world, and that agency is his church. Any man seeking to exercise a gift for the public proclamation of the gospel should begin by submitting himself to the care and discipline of a faithful church. That is the proper environment in which his gifts and calling can and should be assessed. If he cannot or will not do this, then he ought not to be involved in preaching anywhere, for a man cannot exercise authority until he proves that he can submit to it. Now, it is possible that in some circumstances a gifted man, called of God, might be prevented by an unfaithful church or a skewed authority from the proper exercise of his legitimate gift. I am not addressing that situation, because difficult exceptions and hard cases make poor laws. Is it possible that God should raise up a man to preach whose gift and calling is not recognised or will not be recognised? Yes. But we are speaking first of a normal, healthy situation. Note that even the apostle Paul did not go out on his journeys apart from or against the church: under the influence of the Holy Spirit, he was set apart by the church , sent out from the church, and went back to the church to report on the work that he had done.

So, the church - first and foremost - should be responsible for assessing and employing the gifts and graces of a man. At the very least, I would suggest that this requires the intelligent, engaged, consistent oversight of the elders, even if it does not demand the full and formal assent of the church. Any man who stands to preach on anything like a regular basis should give credible evidence of consistent godliness in his life. Other faithful saints - ideally recognised elders of the church - should be aware of both the matter and the manner of his ministry, and able to guide and advise as appropriate. Not least, street preachers need to be sending those stirred or converted toward the local church to be further counselled and instructed and cared for. The church should therefore identify the gifted man, pray for him, send him out, support him appropriately, hear his reports, and anticipate a blessing by his labour.

In practice, I recognise that this might involve tensions. In our experience, I sometimes work with men who are part of a more responsible parachurch organisation. The man who heads up the work is part of a local church in which his gifts have been recognised, and - fortunately - he himself has a robust view of the church. There are men from the church I serve who are involved with me in the work. Not all of them would wish to stand up and preach, but neither would we simply permit one of our men to decide autonomously that he wishes to preach, anymore than we would let him roll up into the pulpit on a whim or - under normal circumstances - than we would want one of our brothers to preach in another congregation without the involvement of both churches and their elders. We would want to encourage, assist and instruct such a man, but not simply abandon him or set him loose in the hope that he will not do too much damage. And if someone else rocked up on the street and asked to be involved, some of our first questions would be about his relationship to a faithful gospel church, because this is one of the ways in which we would determine his credibility as a gospel witness.

This brings us to the proper evaluation of gift and grace. Again, too often street preaching is seen as something apart from or even carried out despite the local church, a work that can be taken up by anyone with a bit of grit and gumption, as if zeal is the only necessary qualification for the work. Perhaps the church can give the impression that a chap might not be quite up to the pulpit in the gathered church, but that he can be safely shunted off to the street to work off his energies. I hope that - in the same way as no-one would think, "We would not want this man to be our pastor, so let's send him off to preach the gospel where Christ has not been named" - no-one will imagine that we put the less gifted or plain awkward men on the street as the place where they can cause least trouble. Identifying genuinely gifted men is the work of the whole church. If I might borrow and redirect the cogent words of the Baptist theologian, John Leadley Dagg, "Every man who believes alone, that he is called of God to the ministry, has reason to apprehend that he is under delusion. If he finds that those who give proof that they honor God and love the souls of men, do not discover his ministerial qualifications, he has reason to suspect that they do not exist" (Manual of Church Order [Harrisonburg, VA: Gano Books, 1990], 248).

The church must therefore discharge this responsibility wisely and well. In doing so, we need to remember that there are degrees of grace and varieties of gift, and in this matter I would submit to the claims of clear revelation and sanctified common-sense. The street preacher must clearly be a soundly-converted man, one who knows and feels the gospel which he proclaims, wherever he does so. There are some particular aspects of the man's spirit worth considering. Unholy aggression, pride, hot-temperedness, machismo and bravado do not serve the man here any better than they do anywhere else. The church should not suspend its assessment of basic Christian graces under the impression that they matter less on the street than any other place.

With regard to practical qualifications, not everyone who is competent to stand in the pulpit and preach for 30, 45 or 60 minutes to a gathered congregation will be equally competent to preach on the street, and not everyone who is competent to preach on the street is necessarily equipped to preach from the pulpit. Of course, we would hope that there would be genuine and significant overlap. Nevertheless, it is possible that a man with a quickfire mind, catching at the attention of the people who hurry past in the street could not sustain the lively yet more systematic structure required to keep attention and make progress in the pulpit. Similarly, the man able to develop an engaging and reasoned discourse from the pulpit might be entirely flummoxed by the give-and-take of the street environment. Some men can do both, some either, some neither. Some of this can be learned, but some will be natural, and the church should take account of this. Again, zeal and desire are important, but are not the only consideration: a man might be full of zeal to play his rugby in the front row, but if he barely reaches five feet in height and weighs in at ten stone (140 pounds, American friends) then he simply has not been equipped for the task, and zeal must give way to prudence.

We must take account of the fact that the environment and dynamics are not the same as in the gathered church, and - while that does provide some room for manoeuvre - I would not go so far as to suggest that this suspends all normal principles for the proclamation of God's Word. I say this because I have heard it suggested that, for example, because it is not the gathered church, it would be appropriate for a woman to preach or 'speak' (i.e. preach but call it something else) on the street. I would not subscribe to this because of what I believe are the spiritual dynamics involved in the authoritative proclamation and application of the Scriptures. I recognise that in Acts 1.12-14 and 2.1-4, for example, all - including the women present - were "filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak." This is in accordance with the prophecy of Joel that  "your sons and your daughters shall prophesy" (Jl 2.28) - they would all declare the saving truth, "speaking . . . the wonderful works of God" (Acts 2.11). However, quite apart from the different setting, I do not think that this act of witness necessarily involved authoritative public teaching. When the time came for that, it was Peter who stood up to make the case. So, while I am always delighted to have the sisters labouring with us in this sphere, I would not anticipate that they would be leading the teaching and preaching, though they would, I hope, be personally engaged with various people passing by, speaking with and to others the wonderful works of God.

Returning to the capacity to preach, testing the gift is always a good idea. While this might be done in measure in the Sunday School class, the pulpit, the small group, or some other similar environment, preaching on the street is sufficiently distinct in some of its dynamics that it may be that a man should be given his opportunity there as well to see whether or not he has some potential. In all this, remember that - as in any other assessment - the man in question does not need to be the finished article, nor (again) are you necessarily assessing him for the pastorate. But perhaps this is a sphere, alongside other appropriate environments, in which a gift can be nurtured and prompted, a way of developing a man's spiritual and practical capacities in ways that would not otherwise happen. It may be that, in due course, you might find yourself with a cohort of gifted, courageous, principled men, all of whom are likely to be better for the experience, and some of whom might in due course serve as pastors or function as evangelists, to the praise and glory of God and to the prosperity and good of his church.

In short, then, without confusing the capacity to preach with the call to shepherd the flock, a church with the opportunity or demand for this kind of witness - whether because there are gifts becoming manifest among the saints, or because the church and her elders see an opportunity, or some other good reason - should consider, assess and employ appropriately gifted men in the work, providing them with the kind of prayerful support that will make the most, under God, of their particular opportunities and capacities. The church should not relinquish this task to some other group or individual, nor abandon her zealous and gifted men to their best but isolated efforts. In this, as in all else, the church is responsible for the identification, nurture and employment of the gifts that Christ has given to her.

Thoughts on street preaching

|
In recent weeks there has been a spate of arrests of Christian brothers in the UK involved in street preaching and other open-air witness. As someone who preaches in this way fairly regularly, this is obviously a matter of interest and concern, and that on a number of fronts. For the record, I do this because I think that it is a legitimate and potentially profitable way - one of many - of going outside the walls of our building to reach men and women, boys and girls, who have no appetite at present to come inside to hear the Word of God being proclaimed. I think we need to make a distinction between what we do in trying to gather a crowd to hear that gospel and what happened in, say, the Scriptures, when Christ had a crowd gathered with an appetite to hear him, or in the days of men like Whitefield when they were - initially - forced outside, and then had ready-made congregations. I also think we need to accept that, unlike somewhere such as the Areopagus, public discourse is no longer, in the culture of most in the modern West, an accepted mode of discussing and pursuing truth.

Street preaching is not necessarily the place to learn the art of preaching in its entirety, but it is a fine place to hone it, for it demands a liveliness and a vigour that you can get away with lacking in a pulpit where - generally speaking - most people are under sufficient cultural constraint to wait until the end of the sermon before they leave, however dry and dull you are. On the street (which must be distinguished from merely preaching to an attentive congregation outdoors) you have a moving congregation, and you must win and keep their attention, for the sake of their souls. With that in mind, here are some thoughts on street preaching. I do not pretend to be an expert, but an observer and practitioner, wishing to improve myself as well as help others.

Rights and liberties. Be aware of them, but don't make a song and dance about them, and don't go out determined to make an issue of and defend them. A hyper-defensive mindset is a good way to start a fight. In the UK there are helpful documents, drawn up by well-instructed Christians after careful research, that set out for your benefit, and - if need be - for the benefit of others, what you are entitled to do. Knowing this, and being able to respond intelligently if challenged, can be helpful.

Appearance. Clothing should be discreet and appropriate to the occasion. I am far from saying that an open-air preacher should always be in a suit and tie (indeed, given the appetite of certain cults for that kind of 'uniform,' it might be positively unhelpful). However, the open-air preacher should be, in essence, neat and neutral, neither shabby nor power-dressed, deliberately avoiding either extravagant or unintended statements by virtue of his dress. I say this because I think of one brother, a fairly energetic and loud preacher, who I have seen on more than one occasion preaching wearing a hoodie drawn up about his head, with the drawstrings pulled quite tight, and his hands thrust deep into his pockets, dragging the whole garment further down over his face. In most of the environments in which I saw him preach, that outfit gave him the appearance of little more than bellowing thuggishness in the eyes of most passers-by, and probably didn't endear him to anyone else wearing a hoodie either. Other men look, quite frankly, as if they have been dragged through a hedge backward. Appearing to belong in the ranks of the local odd-bods is not necessarily the greatest start to winning the ear of the man in the street. And if you stand up dressed like an Edwardian dandy or some other fop then you deserve everything that gets thrown at you, and I hope that you will soon stand down and let some sensible bloke get on with the business.

Voice. One of the great qualifications for street preaching is to be able to be heard, but that should not be confused with mere volume. After all, if you are bawling from the off, you have nowhere to go when you need to emphasise something. The great things to aim at are projection and penetration, with clarity and distinctness of speech at a premium. Extreme and sustained volume will make the most earnest pleading sound to some ears like little more than a harangue. Personally, I would avoid amplification: it tends to deaden the nuance of the voice, is difficult to judge, can be objectionable in itself, and is - in some instances - easily challenged as to its legality or appropriateness. Indeed, I know of one brother whose preaching is barely above the conversational level, and yet people come over to him in order to hear what he is saying. Bear in mind, too, the need for wisdom in adaptation. If you are preaching to a milling or streaming crowd, then a little more volume and projection is appropriate. But what if someone comes over to engage in more deliberate conversation, or you gather a little knot of more interested hearers? That will do its own attracting, and to continue preaching or speaking at the same level is to seem aggressive at the very least. Speak so as to be heard by those around you and a little beyond, and don't keep bawling at someone standing three feet away from you - it is unlikely to seem gracious to them or to others observing.

Verbal tics and physical mannerisms. These will be mercilessly lampooned on the street. Here the sanctimonious will be rapidly punctured and the posturing will be mocked. This is an arena in which, if not your sins, at least your foibles and idiosyncrasies will find you out. Here you will be given opportunity, whether you wish it or not, to be made aware of your tics and mannerisms, and be stirred to urgency in getting them under control. Be especially aware of rote ideas and stock or involuntary phrases. I know countless men who start well, get going, run out of steam, and immediately revert to the Ray Comfort, "Have you ever told a lie?" school of engagement. I am not here commenting on the helpfulness or otherwise of that approach, but it certainly militates against freshness and engagement when it becomes the default mode, either as the invariable starting point or whenever you have an empty head and a dry mouth. I also know some brothers who, when heckled, seem to be in the habit of verbally geeing themselves up. Perhaps they believe that they are acknowledging the contribution, but yelling something like, "Come on then!" whenever someone responds to you rather suggests - in my world, at least - that you are itching for a fight rather than willing to engage in a discussion, and escalates any trouble fairly rapidly.

Location.
Go where there are people, but do not make yourself unnecessarily obnoxious by assaulting a captive audience. For example, if you set up right next to an open-air café or coffee shop, you trap people who have no option but to hear: your fishing for souls becomes the equivalent of dropping dynamite into a barrel of the soggy beasties. Make sure that you are not on private property without permission, and be aware of various byelaws. For example, the place where I often preach is a thoroughfare where we have every right to be. If I move a few yards on I enter an equally public space where the local authority have a measure of additional jurisdiction to which I would be subject. Some like to use a board to provide a focal point (having some kind of statement that you have watched it for ten minutes in breezy conditions and it did not fall down might help if you get accosted by a health-and-safety Nazi); others simply stand and speak. Being visible is obviously helpful, but the habit of invariably standing on a small box to shout in an empty street is a bit pointless. There are times and places where a little elevation is a great advantage, but if you are of normal height, you will be fairly visible to most people most of the time. Getting on the box can make you seem intimidating, desperate, or simply silly. If you wish to, stand near a wall or some other construction, so that - if a crowd should gather - you have something to get on if you need it (bear in mind that being able to get on it nimbly and keep on it easily are of the essence here). Incidentally, keep an eye on your stuff, even to the extent of keeping your eyes open while praying: those with an animus against you or a ripe sense of mischief will gladly disappear with your gear while you are pleading for their souls.

Helpers. It is a good idea to have others with you, and not just to keep a permanent video record of your shenanigans. The preacher is, if you will, casting the net, but it does no harm to have a few brothers and sisters nearby with a hook and line, as it were, following after the ones and twos who pause for a moment. Those with you can pray, take turns preaching, hand out leaflets, head off trouble, and all other kinds of good things. Scatter them about and/or gather a few when you begin preaching: if you take a congregation of sorts with you then you always have someone to preach to, and often people will be happier to stop, even briefly, if they feel that they can be one largely hidden among others.

Style. You are not now in the pulpit with a group of people more or less willingly gathered to hear the Word of God preached. Quoting chapter and verse is likely to slow you down, and will not convince anybody (whatever you do, don't invite passers-by to turn with you to the second chapter of Hosea, or some other part of Scripture that many Christians struggle to find). Your approach must be condensed and concentrated, a model of well-governed intensity. Sometimes you will have barely a minute, often less, in which to get your points across, to grab the ear and grip the heart. Every segment of your sermon, more or less, needs to be a gospel grenade. Forget your rolling periods, weighty pauses, and great swelling paragraphs - they will not cut it on the street. Your notions of homiletics, in which, perhaps, a series of points builds to a great crescendo and telling conclusion, is worthless in an environment in which - until you have a group of people actually listening to you - much sense of development and structure is unhelpful. Your whole sermon must be a mass of gospel fishhooks baited with vivid words and pungent truths. Pointed and engaging illustrations and a bit of genuine wit will get you far. Get plenty of Bible into your words. Your gestures should not be remarkable for the forced, the theatrical, the manic or the grotesque - you are set out for display as a whole person, and there is nothing to hide behind, so you need to exercise control over all your limbs and use them naturally and effectively.

Attitude. Some brothers seem persuaded that aggression is a sine qua non for street preaching, but that is far from the truth. There are some who appear to labour under the conviction that they are called to make a scene rather than move a soul. Their whole manner is one that speaks of belligerence, forgetting that Christ's sons of thunder were, on at least one occasion, soundly rebuked for their destructive spirit. These are the men who seem to imagine that if they have only managed to get into some kind of argument, only succeeded in stirring up some kind of antagonism, they must be doing their job well. They seem intent on venting a measure of unholy spleen, determined harshly to probe the sensitivities of all who pass by at their most tender spot, and then applauding themselves because they are convinced that the resulting negative reaction is expressive of a heart set against God. Consider that the reason for such a reaction might just be that you are an offensive troll whose mission to stamp on as many toes as possible in the name of God has been overwhelmingly successful. Just because truth came from the mouth of Balaam's donkey does not make your behaving like an obstreperous ass somehow virtuous. You are there to do these men and women and children good: lifeboats and coastguards would not improve their success rates if manned by rough and angry personnel with harsh voices and complaining spirits.

So bear in mind that arrest is not the ultimate badge of honour for the open-air preacher, some unassailable confirmation of spiritual faithfulness, the ministerial equivalent of the Victoria Cross. Sadly, some preachers seem to think that there is some scale of awards in which the more they are abused or restricted, the more effective and faithful they have been:

"Somebody yelled at me the other day."

"Oh, that's nothing, I got spat at a few weeks ago."

"Really, well, they threw something at me just last month."

"All terrible, no doubt, but I got asked by the local authorities to move on."

"Gentlemen, I . . . [pause for effect] . . . I have been . . . arrested!" [Gasps of awe and a smattering of applause for the esteemed brother.]

I have seen and heard some and of some who, as soon as they are challenged by someone, invite them to call the police if they have a problem. Now, if that isn't unhelpful, kindly fax me an explanation of what is! Or, the police turn up to have a word, and the immediate response is to get up on one's high horse (tricky if you are already standing on a small box, but I have seen some brothers attempt it with panache), strike the martyr pose (again, if you are already on a box on your high horse, this becomes quite a high risk approach), and state that you are exercising your rights as a citizen and as a Christian, and the only way to muzzle you is to arrest you. Brother, you are probably not (yet) Bunyan before the magistrate. I know that some police officers, appointed to keep the peace and enforce the law, have mistaken themselves for moral guardians in accordance with the spirit of the age. Nevertheless, a friend of mine with the Metropolitan Police assures me that most of the police are likely to apply some sort of 'attitude test' - a bolshy street preacher invites his own trouble. A soft answer turns away wrath (Prv 15.1), and we would do well to learn that a calm explanation, a readiness to find another location, or perhaps - in some circumstances - even a willingness to come back another day, avoids unnecessary trouble. Stirring up trouble and inviting arrest is not being persecuted for righteousness' sake, but bravado. "Ah, but I was forbidden to preach Christ!" Really, was that before or after you made a stroppy nuisance of yourself? Often, they are not even forbidding us to preach, and - although I freely acknowledge that we should not bow to illegitimate pressures - a gracious response can defuse the situation, win the appreciation of the coppers in question, and spare us to fight another day. We are in danger of provoking conflicts that do not need to happen. When the time comes, by all means stand up for your right to make Christ known, but do not precipitate the confrontation before the hour arrives. Being arrested does not prove in itself that you are faithful or effective, it can draw precisely the wrong kind of attention, and it jeopardises not only your continued work but the work of others like you. The same Bible that tells you that all men will speak well of you only if you are in the train of the false prophets (Lk 6.26) tells you also to live at peace with all men, if you can (Rom 12.18), and to pray for those who exercise authority in the hope "that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence" (1Tim 2.1-2). We are sent out as sheep in the midst of wolves. "Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves" (Mt 10.16).

Substance. Brothers, when we preach, let us preach the gospel! You and I must not be mere noisemakers or Bible bawlers. Most of the faithful and earnest men who go about this work are not likely to smooth the edges of their messages, telling everybody who goes by that they are doing well and God will be pleased with their efforts. But some do swing to the opposite extreme. So remember that you are not the first chapter of a minor prophet on a bad morning, delivering God's message of judgement to his disobedient nation. You are an ambassador of Christ, pleading with men to be reconciled to God, a true minister of the new covenant. You must be a thoroughly evangelical evangelist - yes, that ought to be a tautology, but too often the evangelist leaves the evangel in the bottom of his bag. You are setting out to convince the lost of their lostness and to see them safe to Christ. You must, to be sure, set out the convicting context of the gospel, showing that - before God, and measured by his holy law - none is righteous, no, not one; you must set forth the glorious substance of the gospel, that God has revealed his own righteousness apart from the law, which is by faith in Jesus Christ; you must set forth the demanding invitations of the gospel, calling on sinners to repent and believe in order that they might obtain life eternal. You are not there to expose the flaws of the government, although if there are governors and officials in your audience, you might address them. You are not there to deride the culture, although you might identify the participation of your hearers in its sins. You are not there - and I hear this kind of thing too often - as God's official representative to light the touchpaper on all the flashpoints of our society. I am not saying that, to choose the most obvious and most harped-upon issue, that we should ignore homosexuality, but if you want someone to start yelling about hate crimes and start a real fight with you, this is one of the best places to start. So why start there? Why deliberately bait the vast majority with something that is going to stop them hearing the real content of your message? The prevalence of homosexuality in our society is more of a symptom of a disease than its cause. To make it the primary point of contact is like a doctor working himself up over a temperature rather than diagnosing and prescribing antibiotics for an infection. Strike at the heart! Do not fudge the truth, but do not pick fights. If men must be offended, at least let them be offended by the gospel you proclaim, and not by other matter that you have managed to be offensive about, or the offensive manner in which you go about proclaiming the truth or anything else. Let it be the truth as it is in Jesus which cuts men to the heart, whether it leads to them gnashing their teeth at you or crying out in desperation, "What shall we do?" There is plenty of straight talking about sin and wickedness that, if the Spirit carries it home to men's hearts, is going to stir up trouble: why pick the things that will stop men's ears before they actually hear what they need to, and face their particular sins? Street preaching is not a sustained harangue or an attempt to berate all who pass by. It is going out as Christ's proxies to further the seeking and the saving of those who are lost. If I am going to be heckled or spat at or arrested or beaten or whatever it may be, I want it to be for the right thing done in the right way, and not just because I managed to get someone's goat.

Having said all that, I shall probably be arrested next time I go out, but I hope and pray not. Ideally, I shall go on learning to preach Christ to those who either have never heard of him or who have no accurate idea of who he is and what he has done. I shall seek to proclaim Christ as crucified within and without the walls of the church building by all legitimate means that I can discern and employ, in accordance with my gifts and calling. I shall attempt to do so winsomely, accurately and courageously, to the honour and glory of God. If I must suffer for doing so, I hope that the Lord will give me grace to bear it well and respond to it righteously. And I hope that these thoughts will help those who are or think that they might be street preachers to do the same things to the same ends, always with much prayer and in dependence on the Holy Spirit, and so see many souls brought to Christ.

What is truth?

|
As part of our attempts to proclaim Christ in our small corner, we are investing some effort in a village near the town where I live. This village is, I think, fairly typical of our part of the world. It has a storied and pleasant-looking Church of England building nestled near the comfortably ancient pub at the centre of the village, and a good number of the villagers have some kind of association with the church (often a long family tradition). Some have lived in the village for years, if not all their lives, while others are newcomers. Many are simply apathetic, though some are sufficiently stirred to be hostile. There are agnostics, atheists, pagans and heathens all living cheek-by-jowl with one another.

It has been hard going to make Christ known here. In an attempt to engage a little more with the people that we meet and speak with, as well as to provide some kind of impetus and framework for some upcoming gospel meetings, we have been using a brief survey (six questions with multiple choice answers) to prompt discussion and thought as we go from house to house. We ask, on a number of points, "What is truth?" The results to date have been profoundly grievous.

Almost without exception, men and women of any and all convictions have assured us that - if there is a God, and if he communicates at all - he does so through impulses and feelings, and that there is nothing any clearer or more certain. Asked if life has any point, the responses are largely split between the assertion that life has no point whatsoever or that life is whatever you make it, no more and no less. God is in none of their thoughts.

The people of this village have no explanation for suffering, although some have accepted the possibility that it is the result of natural selection. What happens when we die? Several assert that it is simply the end, but most believe that it is impossible to know.

Although none to date have claimed that Jesus was a fraud, most will take him merely as a good man or great teacher rather than as the Son of God - and I will not begin to describe what they think that last option actually means. Most believe that the death of Christ was either pointless or a tragic mistake.

These answers are given across the board. Men and women who have been faithfully attending the Anglican church for decades give the same answers as the Muslim policeman who patrolled the streets one day and the casual mystics and dabbling Buddhists. We have found so few with any seemingly substantial faith and hope, almost none for whom their profession makes any more than a superficial difference to their patterns of life. With the exception of a few who attend churches outside the village, the professing Christians are as void of any accurate knowledge of the truth as those who claim to have rejected Christianity with all its trappings. Ardent religionists, angry atheists, friendly agnostics, earnest seekers, and those who cultivate their own private spirituality are all equally lost in the same moral morass, drifting lost without any anchors to drop, let alone any solid ground in which to drop them.

On one level, this is not surprising, for it is precisely what the Scriptures tell us to expect. On another, nothing can be more agonising, for there is a fearful judgement ahead for these needy sinners, many of whom are blithely skipping toward it, confident in their own strength and wisdom, or assured by false teachers of every stripe (including those who sail under cover of a Christian profession) that all will be well.

Christian friend, do you long to see God shake the secure, rattle the carnal, convict the careless and terrify the ungodly, to give them a present and pressing sense of their need in order that the gospel of Christ in all its sweet simplicity and saving security may become precious to them? Do you long to see them running to the great Physician as those who have become profoundly aware of their spiritual sickness? If we are to make any headway in this village and in the other places in which we preach Christ crucified, it must be as the Spirit of Christ opens the eyes of the blind, unstops the deaf ears, and gives life to the dead heart - we must pray to this end. It is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2Cor 4.6), and it is that same God with whom we must plead that he might do the same for others. Pray for us, and pray for yourselves, that God would do the work, shatter the chains of those in bondage, and bring the lost to their senses and then - through Christ as Saviour - to himself.

God in their thoughts

|
When I first saw the article on polyamory to which Carl subsequently referred I was grieved by its tone of everday reportage, the normalisation of sin. It is no consolation to be tickled by the notion that Prof. Trueman was, until recently, on some kind of presidential prayer shortlist, and now, having got away with everything to even date, and due to one inadvertent and much-mourned counter-cultural slip, has been regretfully sidelined by the powers that be.

Just to make clear, it is not that the UK is suddenly being swept by a polyamorous tide: this perverted series of relationships is unusual and would still be, I think, distasteful to many - the debated gag reflex. But the casual manner in which the article on polyamory was written, the confidence with which this aberration was presented as something to be accepted, if not now then at some inevitable future point, betrays a deeper problem.

The foundation is laid for this normalisation of sin in deed by the absence, or outright rejection, of God and his word. The world is perceived and interpreted entirely by human wisdom in all its various and specious forms: "The wicked in his proud countenance does not seek God; God is in none of his thoughts" (Ps 10.4). If I may borrow a controverted term, it is a worldview in which there is no place for God and for his truth.

So, for example, scroll down - please do, it will spare you - to the bottom of that article on polyamory, and you will see the giveaway line. What is the attitude that lies behind the action? "'But we don't have a choice. We're in love with each other,' they chime." Love, you see, is this overwhelming force, this insatiable and unbiddable desire that carries everything before it, ungoverned and ungovernable by reason or principle, certainly not conditioned by any moral reality.

Or try another headline: Children need more exercise - especially girls, study says. I am not suggesting that girls should be denied exercise, but - again - what seems to be the working assumption of those from the Institute of Studies, or whatever it may be, who has produced this work, and which is communicated by the article? That we should expect a uniformity in our children, regardless of gender. No space is given for the possibility that boys and girls, equally created in God's image but distinctive in their differing sexuality, might play in different ways and to different degrees. No, in this brave new world all gender distinction is a matter for grave concern, as we set out to sublimate all notions of sexual identity into some grey and androgynous mass.

Or again, consider the Olympic response to Russia's anti-gay laws: "On the question of gay rights though, there is no room for error. What politician - even a sports politician - would dare to swim against the tide on an issue of such sensitivity?" It is now barely possible for us to hear of this without being urged to paint our nails in rainbow hues, or seeing professional luvvie and dahling of the nation Stephen Fry recommending some symbol of resistance, or hearing the talking heads trotting out the standard liberal cant. There is, you see, "no room for error" - who "would draw [sic] to swim against the tide on an issue of such sensitivity?" Who would make the crass mistake of actually believing that God's intention for his creation should intrude into this discussion?

Love, identity, rights, freedoms - all are defined without reference to or thought of God. I am not picking on the BBC, it just happens to be an accessible medium. The same underpinning attitudes and notions can be readily gleaned from almost any mainstream media source, whether portraying its version of fact or fiction.

(As an aside, the problem is not with an unrealistic depiction of common grace. Take for example, the detective who, despite the drunkenness and immorality of his or her private life, nevertheless manages to track down the bad guys and give them a fairly stiff talking to. This character is not presented to us as a sinner who accomplishes some good. Rather, the wickedness of the life is usually presented as something messy and miserable, at best a sort of morally neutral morass. Or perhaps we have a teacher, kind and generous, committed and earnest. They are also committed and earnest in their relationship with the person with whom they live, to whom they happen to be happily unmarried. That fact is simply normal. Although we are repeatedly invited to exist in a realm in which there is good and evil, there is no fixed moral scale, certainly no divine standard.)

The problem lies not primarily in the behaviour: the behaviour is the product of the conviction that drives it. Sin is normal, and the most gross sins are increasingly normalised, because there is no thought of God. The transformation that occurs in a converted man is the transformation that begins when he is confronted with God and his world is turned upside down. Only then is that world perceived, interpreted and approached rightly.

The task of the church, in this regard, is to call the world to its senses. When the Lord through Isaiah says to the people, "Come now, and let us reason together" (Is 1.18), he is not suggesting that he and the unrighteous set out to discover some mutually acceptable and impersonal standard by which they can chat through the issues, but rather calling men to the bar of divine truth to perceive and interpret things as they really are.

When we are exhorted to "Be still, and know that I am God" (Ps 46.10) it might be considered a charge to stop squawking and wriggling, and to submit to the truth of God as he makes himself known.

This is anathema to a world that does not know God, but there will be no transformation of hearts until God is in the thoughts of men, not as a mere notion but as the reigning Lord of all. True reason does not judge God, but submits to him. I am not saying that there is no place for apologetics, but it must be an unapologetic apologetic. Like the humbled Nebuchadnezzar, sinners like us must come to "praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and his ways justice. And those who walk in pride he is able to put down" (Dan 4.37).

If we are to see sinners saved and righteousness advanced, we must strike at the root. The church must proclaim God in all his glory, truth in all its clarity, sin in all its misery, judgement in all its severity, Christ in all his mercy, redemption in all its majesty, and holiness in all its liberty. We must confront sinners with the Almighty and call sinners to the All-merciful: God must be in their thoughts.

Of sounds and silence

|
Like many, you may be appalled at how often the Lord Jesus issues a command to those whom he has healed to keep silent about what has taken place and the command is immediately not just ignored but thoroughly trampled upon.

"Horrors!" we cry, "Didn't they hear him? Weren't they listening when he told them not to say anything? If Jesus said that to me, I should be very certain to obey him."

Of course you would, friend, because it accords entirely with your current practice. You are very happy to say nothing about the Lord Christ. The problem is, of course, that the times have changed, and the Lord Jesus has given a command to you, not to keep silent, but to make public his person and his work, to declare the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.

Jesus commanded the healed men and women to something that was, in a sense, unnatural. They had just received a blessing of overwhelming magnitude, the crying need of their lives had just been addressed. Without entering into our Lord's reasons for the command, we should at least be able to understand why they disobeyed, even if we accept that their disobedience was inexcusable.

Our command is to something that ought to be eminently natural. The problem is that it is not always palatable. We have received an incalculable blessing. We have passed from death to life, from darkness to light, from blindness to sight, from deafness to hearing, from misery to joy, from condemnation to justification, and we are invited and instructed to spread abroad the wonders of God's grace in Christ.

Didn't we hear him? Weren't we listening when he told us to speak?

Which is the greater act of disobedience?

As I write, Thabiti is debating a Muslim on the subject "Who Is God and How Are We Saved?" The Muslim representative chose the topic! God is sovereign and gracious, isn't he? I won't disclose the location for obvious reasons. But you can pray!

FB Meyer and Melbourne Hall

|

I am just back from preaching at anniversary services at Melbourne Hall Evangelical Free Church in Leicester. The most famous occupant of its pulpit was its first minister, F.B. Meyer MeyerFB.jpg(of whom a recent biography by Bob Holman was published by Christian Focus Publications last year). Meyer led seventy-seven members in constituting the church in September 1878. His warm evangelicalism and social conscience were mightily used to draw thousands to Christ in the closing decades of the nineteenth century.

 

Leicester (following on from Phil's recent post on the Islamicization of Britain) is apparently set to become Britain's first white minority city, and the housing in the vicinity of the church building is virtually a Muslim suburb of the city. It brings added meaning to the words above the door as one exits the sanctuary: 'the mission field starts here'. Pray for its current pastors, Paul Bassett and Gurnham Singh, as they lead this congregation in its worship and evangelism.

Out of Africa

|

Just back from a week in the Pocono Mountains, speaking at Pinebrook Bible Conference.  While there, I met up with a retired missionary from Scott Theological College in Kenya.  And after some wonderful conversations with him, I decided to return to reading the Africa Bible Commentary for my morning devotional time.  No better place to start than Genesis, especially since the particular commentator on Genesis (actually, he's a cowriter of the article) is a fellow Westminster grad.

Among many things, two comments by Samuel Ngewa and Barnabe Assohoto struck me.  The first is the comment on Gen 2:15:

"This principle [to work and to take care of the land] applies to us today as it applied to Adam.  It is not enough to have been blessed with land.  We must maintain that land and control all that would destroy it.  Thus we need to stop destructive processes like soil erosion and deforestation and must not use chemicals that are harmful to the soil," (Africa Bible Commentary, 14) 

And secondly, on Gen 2:24-25:

"The marriage relationship provides the stable basis from which all other human relationships will develop," (ABC, 15).

I think there is a great deal here for us to consider when thinking of ethics or even thinking of what it means to be a disciple of Christ.  No Gnosticism here, this is rather straightforward and rather earthy.  God wants us to be his people in his creation.  To enjoy it (2:9:  God made every tree "that is pleasant to the sight") and to cultivate it as a good steward.  God has also gifted us with relationship and community, at the center of which is the marriage relationship.  The question is how well we are doing in these areas as a church. 

Indeed, they will know we are his disciples by our love, by our following the commandments of Christ, by being image bearers of Christ our Redeemer.  They will also know we are his disciples by being image bearers of our Creator.  For most of "them," they first see us in the role of image bearers of our Creator, before they see us as image bearers of our Redeemer.