Results tagged “open-air ministry” from Reformation21 Blog

Defending Door-to-Door and Open Air Evangelism

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I first met Nick Batzig in 1993 when I became the pastor of Golden Isles Presbyterian Church (PCA) on St. Simons Island, Georgia. Nick and his family were members of the church. Nick was sixteen years old and a member of our church youth group. I have always loved Nick and consider him a dear brother in the gospel ministry. Nick is very bright and an excellent writer and I have benefitted from a number of his posts. 

However, after reading Nick's post, "City to City Evangelism"--which recently appeared on Ref21--I believed that I needed to respond to it and defend the use of door-to-door evangelism and open air preaching. First, at the end of Nick's post he gives his "take" on how he believes a church can be most faithful and effective in evangelism. He mentions "equipping the congregation to be outward focused, intentional about inviting unbelievers into their homes and ultimately to sit under the preaching of the Gospel in the local church." He says this might look like a Christianity Explored course. . . hosting a Mother's of Preschoolers group. . . inviting friends to local church Bible studies. . ." And to all of these suggestions I say, "Amen. Wonderful." I have always said that I am in favor of any method of evangelism as long as it is doctrinally sound. By all means, we must equip our people with a desire to reach out to their neighbors, to have them in our homes, and hopefully to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to them. 

I take exception, however, with Nick's assessment that door-to-door evangelism is not for today, that it was probably not taught by Jesus, and that open air preaching was unique, reserved for "the intertestamental period which was a transitional period during which the New Covenant church was being established among unreached people..."

Nick objects to the notion that door-to-door and open air proponents use Jesus and the apostles as the paradigm for such ministry. He says, "The same line of reasoning is, interestingly, made by Charismatics with regard to many of the supernatural practices descriptively outlined in the book of Acts. Anyone reading the Gospels or the book of Acts must surely recognize that these were no ordinary times."

First of all, to compare Charismatic supernatural gifts with open air preaching and door- to-door evangelism is like comparing apples to oranges. Most of us would agree that the manifestation of the supernatural gifts at the time of the apostles were revelatory in nature and thus limited to the Apostolic era, whereas their practice of Apostolic evangelism was their way of "doing business." As Roland Allen states in his classic Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours, a Study of the Church in Four Provinces all pastors, missionaries, church planters must decide which paradigm of ministry they will choose to use. They may use what seems right to them, what the latest missiological studies may tell us, or they can use the paradigm of Jesus and His apostles. 1 I believe we should and must choose the method of Jesus and His apostles. Allen clearly lays out for us how the apostles and Jesus "got it done." The question is not, "What would
Jesus do?" Rather it is, "What did Jesus and His apostles do?"

Both Allen and Ray (The New Testament Order for Church and Missionary) are very quick to admit that the only explanation for the success of the early church was not their methodology, as important as that was, but rather the vibrant ministry of the Holy Spirit. While I am a strong proponent of door-to-door evangelism and open air preaching I am also very cognizant of the fact that if the Holy Spirit does not "show up" then our labors are absolutely and completely in vain. But the promised Spirit was poured out at Pentecost and every believer is baptized with the Spirit upon regeneration and every believer can and should seek the filling of the Spirit every day in their lives (Ephesians 5:18, Luke 11:1-13). May I state the obvious, the task of evangelizing the lost in any day, and that certainly includes today's post-modern western world, is impossible without the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It goes without saying, that such a truth must drive us to fervent, revival prayer.

Nick suggests that Jesus was not actually teaching door-to-door evangelism in Luke 10, that it was more city-to-city. At the very least, in this passage, we can say that Jesus was sending His disciples to the people of these towns and they did engage them in some form of door-to-door evangelism. Why? Because He told them, "Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace be to this house. . . and stay in that house, eating and drinking what they give you,'" (Luke 10:5,7). And when Paul gives his farewell address to the Ephesian elders at Miletus he reminds them that he did not shrink from declaring to them anything that was profitable, teaching them publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:20,21). That sounds like open air and door-to-door evangelistic ministry. Some may suggest that Paul is speaking pastorally here about ministry to believers, but again one does not normally testify solemnly of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ if he is only building up the saints. And after Peter and other apostles were beaten by the Sanhedrin, they were sent on their way, but every day in the temple and from house to house they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ (Acts 5:42).

When Nick suggests that the Apostolic period was unique and therefore that open air preaching worked then but not now, then again I must strongly disagree. Of course the Apostolic era was unique but this does not mean there have not been many other powerful outpourings of the Holy Spirit upon open air preaching, both before and after Pentecost.

We know the Old Testament prophets preached in the open air. While building the ark, where else would Noah have preached but outdoors? And Jude tells us that Enoch, from the seventh generation after Adam, came with thousands of His holy ones to prophesy, to proclaim God's judgment, and to convict the ungodly (Jude 14,15). There were no synagogues at the time. Enoch and his fellow preachers clearly preached outdoors. Even after the building of the Tabernacle, Moses preached outdoors. All the prophets almost exclusively preached outdoors. The revival in Nineveh through Jonah's preaching was done outdoors (Jonah 3:4). Ezra's sermon which God used to bring revival was preached in the open air (Nehemiah 8:1-6). And in the New Testament era, it is true that Jesus apparently preached His first sermon in a synagogue (Luke 4:14- 21), but after that He mainly preached outdoors. Where was His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) preached? How about the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24,25)? Furthermore almost without exception the sermons mentioned in Acts were all preached outdoors. Obviously we need preaching behind a pulpit in a church building on the Lord's Day. That's a no brainer. But where in Scripture are we ever told to preach only on the Lord's Day? The gospel is to go forth daily, everywhere people gather.

Okay, so now I hope you see my point that open air preaching was done in both Old and New Testament times. But what about in more modern history? In their book A Certain Sound: A Primer on Open Air Preaching,2 Ryan Denton and Scott Smith cite Michael Green who in his book Evangelism in the Early Church says there is ample evidence to prove that open air preaching continued from the time of the apostles through the second century A.D. To go further, a preacher named Aldan, in the seventh century went from town to town on horseback preaching in destitute regions. And of course George Whitefield, Daniel Rowland, Howell Harris, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, and William Tennent all preached to thousands in the open air in the Eighteenth Century. The great Reformed Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon devotes two chapters of his very instructive book Lectures to My Students on the viability and necessity of open air preaching. So to discount the practice of open air preaching is to dismiss a vital method of reaching the lost. I am not saying that open air preaching and door-to-door evangelism are the only means by which we should evangelize; but I am saying that we have no right to dismiss them as impractical in today's world.

I make a strong case for both open air preaching and door-to-door evangelistic ministry as well as answering the objections many have to open air preaching at Forget None Of His Benefits. 3 You may wish to read further there. 

I am sure Nick means no harm to the work of reaching the lost in our communities, but I fear that most of us, frankly, are looking for any excuse not to evangelize. Let's face it, most of us are cowards and don't want to face rejection and ridicule. I get it. So when a thoughtful brother like Nick questions the viability of door-to-door and open air preaching then it discourages people from actively engaging in regular, consistent evangelistic ministry. So, by all means, let's encourage our people to have an outward focus, to get to know unbelievers, and to have them in our homes, but at the same time let's champion those faithful evangelists who go door-to-door and who faithfully and Biblically proclaim the excellencies of Christ in the open air.

 

1. Roland Allen, a missionary in Uganda around 1925, wrote both Missionary Methods and The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church. Both are must reads for any missionary, church planter, or pastor. May I also recommend another book which goes into even more detail, The New
Testament Order for Church and Missionary, written in 1947 by Alex Rattray Hay, a missionary in Buenos Aires.

2. Published by Reformation Heritage Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
3. "An Irrefutable Argument for Open Air Preaching," April 18, 2019;
Answering Objections to Open Air Preaching, April 25, 2019; and "A Case for Door to Door Evangelism," July 6, 2017.

 

Al Baker is ordained in the Presbyterian Church in America, serving as an Evangelist with Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship. He is the author of four books--Evangelistic Preaching in the 21st Century, Seeking a Revival Culture, Revival Prayer, and Essays on Revival. Al has also served as the organizing pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church, West Hartford, Connecticut; and, prior to that, as the pastor of Golden Isles Presbyterian Church, St. Simons Island, Georgia.

City-to-City Evangelism

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Many of us who grew up in the D. James Kennedy era of Evangelism Explosion embraced the idea that spiritually mature Christians should be involved in formal and methodical one-on-one evangelism. The same is true of those who were influenced by the Way of the Master approach, spearheaded by Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron. I have personally benefited from both of these ministries at different times in my Christian life. As a young Christian, I had a compulsive zeal for door-to-door evangelism, as well as to preach extemporaneously in public settings. In seminary, I used to go with a friend to knock on the doors of the houses around the school I attended. On a rare occasion, we saw someone come to church with us and make a profession of faith. Additionally, my wife and I spent several summers working at the Boardwalk Chapel--an evangelistic ministry of the OPC in Wildwood, NJ. We would go out on the boardwalk many nights throughout the summer and talk with others on the boardwalk about the Gospel. I frequently preached from the stage inside the chapel to those passing by on the boardwalk. Once or twice, I tried my hand at open air preaching on the boardwalk. The last summer we were at the Chapel, a group of the staff members told me that a young man had come by asking for me by name. He told them that the summer before, he had heard me preach the Gospel and was, by God's grace, converted. 15 years later, I think of that with hope that he truly trusted Christ. I sometimes even wonder what it will be like for us to be in glory together for all of eternity. While he knew my name, I still don't know his. The Boardwalk Chapel was a special ministry tied to a wonderful local church. We need more ministries like it.

That being said, I have undergone something of a shift in my understanding about both door-to-door evangelism and open air preaching. For several reasons, I am not sure that they are as important or effective as I once believed. Most proponents of door-to-door evangelism appeal to Jesus sending out the 12 (Mark 6:7-13) and the 72 (Luke 10:1-5) into the cities and towns to which he was planning on going throughout Israel. Proponents of door-to-door and open-air evangelism have long insisted, "Since this was the example of the early disciples it ought to be the practice we follow." The same line of reasoning is, interestingly, made by Charismatics with regard to many of the supernatural practices descriptively outlined in the book of Acts. Anyone reading the Gospels or the book of Acts must surely recognize that these were no ordinary times. Many of the methods and activities of the early church were circumstantially unique to that time in redemptive-history. There is, however, another factor to consider when seeking to understand whether or not Jesus commissioned door-to-door evangelism in the Gospels--namely, whether the text actually teaches that  the disciples went door-to-door. 

Luke 10:1-12 is one of the great passages about the evangelistic ministry of Jesus. The kingdom of God had come and was growing and spreading. Jesus had already sent out the 12; now he is sending out 72. The number 72 is a symbolic number, drawing from the Old Testament leadership in Israel. However, it is also a multiple of 12. Minimally, we are to understand that Jesus is multiplying laborers for the spread of the Gospel. In fact, Jesus prefaces his commission by saying, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few." The Savior is equipping more laborers by giving them instructions about how they are to conduct the work of evangelism. He is also telling them what sort of outcome to expect. He sends them into the surrounding cities and towns. In a very real sense, Jesus is commissioning city-to-city or town-to-town evangelism, rather than door-to-door evangelism. In verse 7, Jesus says, "Do not go house to house!" I have sometimes jokingly said, "Jesus forbids door-to-door evangelism." What is the point of Christ telling the disciples not to go house to house? Simply put, he is telling the disciples that there will be cities and towns that will be receptive to the preaching of the Gospel and to His messianic ministry, and there will be others that are not. Being welcomed into homes in receptive cities and towns served as a sign that the Lord wanted them to stay and labor there. This is clearly a redemptive-historical provision for a special work to which Jesus was calling the disciples. Yet, some aspect of it continues to be paradigmatic of the advancement of the Kingdom of God until Christ comes. 

What then we do with the example of the Apostles in the book of Acts? Clearly, the Apostles were engaged in open-air evangelism. No one can read those sections of the book of Acts in which the great sermons of Peter, Phillip, Stephen or Paul are recorded and come away denying the role that extemporaneous preaching in public settings played in the advancement of the Kingdom after Jesus' ascension. I once held to the opinion that this was normative for the church and that, if we are faithful, we too would follow this example. What I failed to understand as a young Christian was that the intertestimental period was a transitional period during which the New Covenant church was being established among unreached people, primarily through the instrumentality of open-air, evangelistic preaching. As the church was formed and ecclesiastical government was established, we find less of this approach and more of the shepherding preaching within the context of the local church. This does not mean that it is wrong for men to be zealous to engage in open-air preaching. It does mean that we need to account of the uniqueness of the circumstances. The Apostle Paul, for instance, went into the Areopagus and reasoned with the philosophers and teachers there (Acts 17:16-34). The people there had never heard the Gospel before. There was no New Covenant church in Greece that could carry out the Great Commission. Perhaps the university campuses of our day would be analogous to the Areopagus; but, it would be impossible to carry over the exact cultural context of Athens in Paul's day into the 21th Century in our North American context where solid local churches have been established and are being planted. 

This necessitate a few further qualifications and thoughts. First, I do not believe that we have adequately committed ourselves to the teaching of our Lord Jesus about the evangelization of the world. What I have said above ought not diminish a zeal for evangelism. We can too easily write off our responsibility to bear witness to Christ because of methodologies with which we are uncomfortable. Rather, this ought to encourage us to think through ways that are consistent with Scripture and our own context to carry out the Great Commission faithfully. What would that look like in our context? I believe that the Great Commission should be properly carried out under the oversight of the local church. It should, first and foremost, be obeyed by ministers of the Gospel. The Apostle Paul told Timothy, "Do the work of evangelist" (2 Tim. 4:5). Evangelism is hard work. It take time, prayer, thoughtfulness and diligence. It is too easy to lag off with regard to an evangelistic zeal. It is too easy to write it off under the notion of other priorities in the local church taking precedent. We have to think through both the foreign and home missions aspect of the Great Commission. 

William Carey is a great example of what a modern day evangelistic ministry among unreached people should look like. He opened his home, started schools, planted churches and trained pastors to carry out the Great Commission. The carrying out of evangelism must begin with the minister of the Gospel himself having a vision for an evangelistic component built into the life of the local church. In some sense, it is a long term vision; whereas, door-to-door and open-air preaching can be a quick fix approach. 

In our own context of home missions, it would look like equipping a congregation to be outward focused, intentional about inviting unbelievers into their home and ultimately to sit under the preaching of the Gospel in the local church. It would look like committing to planting new churches where there is a need for a biblically faithful church. The people who say, "We have too many churches. There is a church on every corner" probably don't go to any church on any corner. My dad used to say, "Christ would be pleased if there were solid local churches in every neighborhood in every community on the face of the earth!" It might look like having a Christianity Explored course offered sometime during the week at the local church. It might look like hosting a Mother's of Preschoolers group in which the Gospel is taught to women who participate from the community. It certainly might include building out local church Bible studies in which the members are encouraged to invite friends, neighbors or co-workers. We have to think categorically about those with whom we rub shoulders on a daily or weekly basis. These, it seems to me, are far more effective methods than going door-to-door or to engaging in open-air preaching. 

While the disciples and Apostles did exercise their gifts of preaching and teaching among the unreached in unique ways and circumstances, they did so with the goal of establishing local churches. The local church, in turn, became the typical way in which the world would be reached with the Gospel. The city-to-city approach of Jesus supports the conclusion that the Savior is establishing His kingdom in communities and not simply among individuals. It would serve us well to rethink the biblical call to city-to-city evangelism, bolstered by the ministry of the local church in which we are committed. 

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Editor's Update: Al Baker has written a response to this article, which can be read here.

Living in Athens

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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!