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Biblical Evangelism - Laying an Axe to the Root of Contemporary Humanistic Evangelism
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Biblical Evangelism
Laying an axe to the root of contemporary humanistic evangelism

by Dr. J. Patrick Johnston

INTRODUCTION

When I was a boy, my father used to carry his Bible, a portable sound system, and a folding pulpit downtown to the steps of the State Courthouse in Tallahassee, Florida, and preach to those waiting in front of the bus station. My mother and father would sing together to open up the service, and the crowd would draw. I will never forget the way my dad was spit upon, cursed, and mocked by a lady one day, and how he was so proud of me for distributing tracts as he preached. I will never forget the drunkard that knelt down on that dirty sidewalk and asked Jesus to save His soul with tears in His eyes! I was twelve years old when I first testified with trembling voice and shaking knees on those courthouse steps. How I wanted to serve the Lord! Unfortunately, as the years passed, my zeal for popularity, sinful movies, sinful music, and the lusts of the flesh quenched my zeal for God. Yet I felt no fear of God as I continued in my sins and played the hypocrite in church. I thought I was “eternally secure” in spite of my wickedness!

The first week of my freshman year at the Florida State University, I was getting drunk for the first time in my life, dancing at lewd parties, and I lost my virginity with a sorority girl I hardly knew! This was the life I had longed to live, but was never able to due to the restraints of my religion. Nevertheless, I was still attending church my freshman year, even leading dorm Bible studies for the Baptist Student Union! I comforted myself in my pseudo-Biblical excuses for sin: “Nobody’s perfect, but Jesus - I was born with a sinful nature - All sin every day - If any says he is without sin, he deceives himself - God sees me through the blood - I’m forgiven for all my sin, past, present, and future - I'm saved because of Jesus not because of anything I have done - Once saved, always saved...” GREAT excuses for sin! (if true).

It was the Fall semester of my freshman year in 1989 when I first encountered “Brother Jed”, who had been preaching the word of God on the campuses of America for over twenty years! I was walking to class and saw a large, noisy crowd of students gathered together in the center of campus. I thought there was a fight, and rushed to the scene. There was Brother Jed, contending for the faith of Christ! I had never heard such condemning speech in all my life! He was rebuking students for their sins, calling them names, yelling and pointing his finger, telling them they were going to hell for their crimes against God... I was aghast! How could this “self-appointed judge” claim to love God and do this? I mustered up enough courage to make my way to the front of the crowd of about 100, and boldly told him, “Jesus said in John 3:17, that He did not come into the world to condemn the world, but to save it! So why do you come here to condemn us?!” Boy, I thought, I sure put him on the spot! How embarrassed he must be, I thought, as the crowd began to applaud my pseudo-Scriptural defense of their right to sin without any condemnation. He responded, “Yes, it is true, Jesus did not come to condemn but to save, but let’s finish the passage, young man: ‘He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation (listen, students - if you go to hell, this is why) This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be manifest, that they are wrought in God.’ Students, I did not come to bring condemnation, but the light of the truth. Your rejection of truth brings your condemnation. You have hated the light, today, you have hated my reproofs, because your deeds are evil! And God’s condemnation of you is just! I did not come to bring condemnation - you were condemned before I ever got here!”

I was thoroughly humbled, and I made my way to the back of the stilled crowd. I listened all day, and most of the week. Within a month of that time, I repented of all my sins, praise God, and was ushered into the glorious liberty of the Kingdom of God! Within a year and a half of that time, I found myself preaching from the same spot where Brother Jed reproved me!

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“It would be very easy to prove that revivals of religion have usually been accompanied, if not caused, by a considerable amount of preaching out of doors, or in unusual places.”

CHARLES SPURGEON, the “Prince of Preachers”

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“GO YE AND PREACH”

“Go ye into all the world, and PREACH THE GOSPEL to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:15).

“All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and TEACH all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: TEACHING THEM TO OBSERVE ALL THINGS WHATSOEVER I HAVE COMMANDED YOU...” (Matt. 28:18-20).

Jesus said, “Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that REPENTANCE AND REMISSION OF SINS SHOULD BE PREACHED in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46-47).

“What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light, and what ye hear in the ear, that PREACH YE UPON THE HOUSETOPS” (Matthew 10:27).

“The PREACHING of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God... It pleased God by the foolishness of PREACHING to save them that believe” (I Corinthians 1:18,21).

What does it mean to PREACH? Noah Webster defines it as “ to proclaim publicly... a sermon urging acceptance or abandonment of an idea or course of action, specifically in an earnestly tiresome and officious manner.” The word “officious” means “marked by excessive eagerness in offering unwanted services or advice to others.” So PREACHING the Gospel means urgently proclaiming the message of Christ and the need to abandon sin in an earnestly tiresome manner marked by excessive eagerness, and doing so in a public place where the preachers are often unwanted and uninvited! This manner of PUBLICLY PROCLAIMING THE KINGDOM OF GOD IN THE STREETS was the MAIN METHOD of the prophets’ communication to the multitudes, the MAIN METHOD of Jesus' communication to the multitudes, the MAIN METHOD of the Apostles' communication to the cities they evangelized, and the MAIN METHOD of communication to the lost during times of spiritual awakening throughout church history. However, it is the least taught, least attempted, least supported method in contemporary Christianity. We bring in over-priced Big-Name evangelists and expensive singing groups and invite sinners to these special meetings. We pass out tracts, wear Christian T-shirts, fund Christian radio, have open-air drama shows, march in the streets with Christian banners, financially support "professional evangelists", and the more radical "evangelists" even go door to door uninvited. We have embraced every way except the primary Biblical way - PREACHING TO THE MULTITUDES. Our Great Commission is to GO INTO ALL THE WORLD AND PREACH THE GOSPEL!

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“I am well assured that I did far more good to my Lincoln-shire parishioners by preaching three days on my father’s tomb than I did by preaching three years in his pulpit”... “To this day field preaching is a cross to me. But I know my commission and see no other way of preaching the gospel to every creature”

JOHN WESLEY, founder of Methodism

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Do not misunderstand me: witnessing is important - I do it. Every believer should. I also pass out tracts, books, and Bibles. But the main method of evangelism in the Bible is the BOLD PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD. I can only think of three incidents in the Gospels where Christ "witnessed" one-on-one (Zachaeus, Nicodemus, and the woman at the well) - and the former two are after days of open-air preaching. Most of the time He was preaching to the lost multitudes, and He sent His disciples out to do as He did. How many times did the Apostles witness one-on-one in the Book of Acts? Not many - they preached in the open-air to the lost multitudes, often risking their lives! The world will not be reached with one-on-one witnessing! How do I know? Because Jesus wants the whole world to be reached, and He commanded His disciples to PREACH!

It is easy to see how PUBLIC STREET PREACHING is the most effective way to accurately present the character of God to those who have rebelled against Him. It is a demanding mode of presentation. It captures the spirit of our URGENT, “OFFICIOUS” MESSAGE. ALARMS and SIRENS that warn of an approaching EMERGENCY vehicle, or of a FIRE in a building carry with them a certain sense of urgency and importance. This is the same manner in which our Lord intended His message to be preached "from the rooftops". We must not be content with contemporary "fear of man" methods practiced by so many today; rather, let us be faithful to spread the word of truth the way God commanded it to be declared.

If your apartment complex was on fire, would you walk carefully from door to door, softly knocking and whispering for your neighbors to awaken from their slumber and flee from the flames? NO! You would RUN, SCREAM, SHOUT, BANG on their doors for them to quickly FLEE FROM THE RAPIDLY APPROACHING INFERNO! If your neighbors did not believe your warning of the fire, they might not "see the love in your approach" or appreciate the inconvenience you have caused them.

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“I believe I never was more acceptable to my Master than when I was standing to teach those hearers in the open fields” ...

“I now preach to ten times more people than I should, if I had been confined to the churches.”

GEORGE WHITEFIELD, 18th cent. Great Awakening evangelist

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But those who did believe you and were saved from the fire would be forever grateful! Why should preaching "FLEE FROM ETERNAL FLAMES" be any less urgent? The consequences of the sinner's rejection of this message are too devastating for Christians to casually accept - ETERNAL TORMENT, with NO RELIEF, FOREVER AND EVER! Sinners MUST REPENT - God COMMANDS THEM TO AND SO SHOULD WE (Acts 17:30-31)! It is their “whole duty” to FEAR GOD and KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS (Eccl.12:13-14). The church is commissioned to call them to account of it through PREACHING.

I am SICK of this nonsense that Christians are not to preach to or reprove the wicked, but just to “preach by example” - be nice to them, love them, and “share Jesus” with them in an inoffensive way if they ask. Those who teach this claim that if we shine the light of love around them enough, sinners will come up to us and say, “What is it about you that is so different? Your smile, your kindness, your love... I want to be like you! Tell me how!” And then we can say, “It’s Jesus! It’s Jesus! He makes me soooo happy!!!” This is just not Biblical! We are commanded to PREACH to the wicked and REPROVE them for their sins, and Christ foretold that the message will often offend them and cause them to HATE US, not like us!

We cannot fully fulfil the Great Commission behind a church pulpit! Jesus knew it! That is why He commanded His disciples to go out into the world and PREACH THE GOSPEL, beginning at Jerusalem! And when they were slow getting out of Jerusalem, He sent “a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem”, which drove them out of their comfort zone to fulfil the Great Commission (Acts 1:8; 8:1-4).

"FOR THOUGH I PREACH THE GOSPEL, I HAVE NOTHING TO GLORY OF: FOR NECESSITY IS LAID UPON ME; YEA, WOE IS UNTO ME IF I PREACH NOT THE GOSPEL" (I Cor.9:16). Necessity is laid upon us. WOE UNTO US if we shirk our duty and become unprofitable servants.

Hear the Master calling, “Go ye and PREACH!” Let’s get out of our comfort zones and obey the Great Commission of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

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“No sort of defense is needed for preaching out of doors, but it would need very potent arguments to prove that a man had done his duty who has never preached beyond the walls of his meeting-house. A defense is required for services within building rather than for worship outside of them.”

CHARLES SPURGEON

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