A story caught my attention a couple of days ago and I have been sitting with it, thinking about it and praying for God’s help with it… I’ll link to it at the end but let me tell you first the gist of it and what it has been doing in my heart and mind…
It was a story about an American “street-evangelist.” He had traveled to Great Britain to spend time preaching to people on busy streets about the dangers of sexual immorality… in the article, he was quoted as saying that the focus of his preaching was not just on homosexuality but any sexual activity outside of a marital relationship. England has a specific law, Public Order Act, Section 5, that prohibits using “homophobic speech that could cause people anxiety, distress, alarm or insult.” I’m not sure if the pastor that was arrested knew about this specific law or not but ignorance of a law is never a sufficient defense and so he was arrested and held in jail for the violation of this particular law. Long story short – he was released about 8 hours later with no explanation other than the inspector decided not proceed with pressing charges.
So what do you think has been upsetting me about that story? If your guess is that it was over the arrest and detainment of this preacher… you’d be wrong. I mean, I certainly don’t want the guy spending time in jail over preaching, but that isn’t what has been sitting so uneasily with me from this story.
If you guessed that I was upset because England has a law that potentially prevents preaching from certain parts of God’s Word… you’d also be mostly wrong. I don’t want any country, anywhere, to pass laws that prohibit free speech of any kind – let alone what some might interpret as a targeting of Christian faith. Free speech shouldn’t just be an American right – it should be a basic human right. This law in England is ridiculous and needs to be repealed or adjusted at the very least… But even so, while I don’t agree with that particular law, it is not why the story has been rattling around in my skull.
The reason I have been wrestling with it – is because of what I don’t understand in the story in the first place… The street corner evangelist’s focus. He told the police that he was preaching from 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12 and it is an instruction from Paul … part of which concerns living a life free of sexual impurity. Once you link to the story, you’ll get to hear a clip of his sermon, just as I did… and in that brief clip, there was no smoking gun of heresy or apostasy or anything like that, but it certainly didn’t seem to be something anyone would actually stand on the corner with him and listen to… and so my question to him, or anyone else who would choose this method of evangelism is this: “Why?”
I guess for me this really goes deeper than just this guy’s blip in the news feeds. It really goes deeper for me to a core of what is happening to The Church where 2 camps inevitably end up being identified: The 1 camp that says we must preach “The Word” with no apologies, with no filters, with un-bending, un-swaying, hard-as-nails truth… and anything less than that leaves you in the other camp of the seeker-sensitive, Gospel-lite camp. In reality, there really is just 1 camp but some want to kick all of the Gospel-lite crowd out completely. So which view is right? Should we all be going out on street corners and preaching about the dangers of any number of sins? Or should we take the gentle, laid-back approach that says non-believers or seekers can’t handle the full-on bluntness of scripture so it needs to be doled out in smaller, easier to understand bites that more closely align with today’s culture?
Being the contrarian that I always seem to be – I don’t agree with either. I
usually always simply go to Jesus’ instructions and try to take them at their face value. For example, Jesus says in Mark 16:15, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” Now you could read that and say – “Well the street preachers have it right then. They are doing that.” Some certainly are. But the reality is that Jesus said “preach the gospel.” The gospel is purely the message that Jesus died for our sins, was buried and rose again (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) … all so that we could have eternal life. As much as some want to point me to Scripture that would tell sinners they need to be reprimanded and awakened to the reality of their inevitable destination of eternal torture if they don’t repent… the only things I am reminded of is how Jesus most effectively reached people… just being with them. I love Matthew 9:10 where we see this seemingly innocuous picture of Jesus that says he was reclining at a table in a house with many tax collectors and sinners. That’s hugely important… he was relaxing and just hanging out with a bunch of societies worst people. No admonition. No condemnation. Just reclining.
His anger, and harshness, and reprimand most always seemed to be reserved for the religious – not for the “sinners.” He certainly instructed and gave amazing parables that spoke to people where they were – but it was always combined with compassion. Even the greatest act of street-evangelism in history when he taught to 5,000 men on a hillside was combined with an act of compassion to meet basic hunger for food in his audience – read Matthew 14.
Standing on a street corner and preaching – absent of the same compassion Jesus lived in – is worse than a waste of time, it’s destructive. The reality is – that we are all sinners, regardless of what our individual propensity is to any number of sinful acts against God, we all commit them… every single day, multiple times per day. Anything outside of God’s instruction is sin – and He can’t tolerate any of it. But that’s why He sent His Son. To pay a price we could never pay. And Jesus died on a cross of torture to pay for all of them… not just some, but all. The only catch? We have to choose it. We have to claim Him and then more than that – we have to follow in His footsteps. Striving to live our lives in the same way Jesus lived His… loving God and loving His people.
How many more people would be reached if instead of standing on street corners shouting warnings of the ramifications of failure to comply with God’s Word… we went into orphanages and loved the unloved, or to widows homes and helped them in their place of need, or into impoverished neighborhoods, apartment complexes, trailer parks and spent time just providing for needs – how many more people would desire to understand the God we follow? Perception is 99% of the human experience… what we say doesn’t matter if it isn’t perceived as being said in love. Truth will never be heard if the easiest assumption someone can make is that you speak it in hate.
Can you imagine if you went to a doctor and when you walked into his office he got up on a wooden box, grabbed a microphone and began to shout all of the things you are doing wrong and how they are all bad for you and if you don’t stop doing them immediately YOU WILL DIE!!! Yikes… even if you know he’s 100% right – chances are you walk out and never go back… maybe he scares you enough that you stop the bad habit he pointed out… but probably just for a time. Because ultimately, fear doesn’t lead to life long change… it leads to temporary avoidance. We want our doctor to be truthful with us… but we hear the truth better when he walks through it with us, explaining it, giving us instruction gently, with follow up and a relationship built on trust.
India is a great example of how street evangelism affected a group of people. When India was colonized by Great Britain, Christian Missionaries poured into the “pagan country” to save the lost sinners. They swept through villages that had never seen anyone who wasn’t Indian and had never heard of Jesus. Their goal was to preach to everyone and baptize as many as they could and then they would move on to the next village. Sounds great right? Have as many people hear about Jesus as humanly possible. Except what happened over the years was that no one followed up with them. Lots of villages were left with Scripture they didn’t understand and Jesus became one of hundreds of gods that they worshipped… often ranking him amongst their personal gods. The Good News was preached – but it wasn’t lived out.
I believe in the inerrant, perfect Word of God. From beginning to end – I accept it as His instruction for us. I am sure that this pastor has the correct interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 4… but my encouragement to street evangelists, stage preachers, soccer moms, college students, kindergartners, every believer everywhere is to not just tell people the Truth – but show it to them. Then, just as in Acts 2:42-47 people will want what you have … Instead of preaching the Gospel MEGAPHONE STYLE… do it Jesus style – in loving relationships.
If you want to check out the original story I saw online – you can read it here.
Jason Rehmel is the Lead Pastor at Eastside Christian Church on the east side of Cincinnati. If you are someone who has had a terrible experience(s) at a church or churches – stop by some weekend and give it one more shot with Eastside. Whether you have felt judged, or dismissed, or unwanted – wherever it has been – Eastside is different.