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Archive for the ‘Gospel Proclamation’ Category

The following passage comes from the Memoirs of James Fraser of Brea (1639-1698). In it, we hear the heartbeat of a true fisher of men, a pastor-evangelist that all pastors should strive to be. Also, note that he urged the duty of the minister going beyond the four walls of the church into the “highways and hedges” to speak to the lost.  This is the good old parish way – ministerial house to house evangelistic labor in a fixed, geographical district. Would to God it may be recovered! (Italics below mine.)

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God did not send me to baptise, but to preach. But that which I was called to was, to testify for God, to hold forth his name and ways to the dark world, and to deliver poor captives of Satan, and bring them to the glorious liberty of the sons of God: this was I to make: my only employment, to give myself to, and therein to be diligent, taking all occasions; and to be plain, full and free in this charge. I was called to enter in hot war with the world and sinners, to fight by my testimony against them for God ….

He is [in addition to public preaching] to execute his commission by exhortation, private and occasional instruction, whether for reproof, comfort, or in formation and direction. And this is it which I suppose I was moſt called unto, viz. to take all occasions with all persons in private discourse, to make the name of Christ known, and to do them good, and to do this as my only work; and to do it boldly, and faithfully and fully: and this to do is very hard in a right and effectual manner; to do this is harder than to preach publickly; and, to be strengthened, directed and encouraged in this, is that for which I ought to live near in a dependence on Christ, without whom we can do nothing, and of whom is all our sufficiency. In preaching there are a great many whom we can not reach, and there are many to whom we have no occasion to preach publickly; we may thus preach always, and speak more succesfully than in publick, where the greatest part of hearers do not understand the minister tho’ he speak never so plainly. This likewise we are called unto this day, seeing we are by force incapacitate: but oh how is this neglected! were ministers faithful in this, we should quickly fee a change in affairs; but, alas, with grief of heart I speak it, it is in this thing that I challenge myself most of any, it is in this that I have most come ſhort, and I suppose it may be so with others too. The Apostles went from house to house.

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“Is the end and effect of the work of the ecclesiastical ministry only the confirmation of those who are already converted and true church members, so that ministers of churches are not more obliged by virtue of their ecclesiastical function to convert the straying souls of such as live in the world and in sin out of church communion, than are all other believers endowed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit by the common duty of Christian love? Do they never convert any by virtue of their ecclesiastical ministry except by chance? …

“The end and effect of the work of the ecclesiastical ministry is not only the confirmation and edification of those who are already converted and are true church members, but by virtue of their ecclesiastical function ministers of churches are obliged to convert the straying souls of such as live in the world and in sin out of church communion. Their obligation to do so is far greater than that of any of the rest of the faithful endowed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit and bound by the common duty of Christian love. And when by virtue of their ecclesiastical ministry (divine grace cooperating) they make converts, the conversion is an effect of their ecclesiastical ministry as such and is not by chance.”

-John Norton (1606-1663)

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Die Predigt Johannes des Täufers (Bruegel)The following comes from a report of the Committee of Local Evangelism in the OPC in which Professor John Murray played a major role prior to World War II. It was drawn from this source.

There is an acute problem that confronts the open-air preacher in our day and age. The great problem is to get and hold a sizeable audience. In Whitefield’s day the masses thronged to hear his message. This is not true today; the multitudes pass us by. What is the cause? What can be done to assist in the solution of the problem?

Various factors may be said to contribute to the listlessness of those whom we seek to reach with the gospel. There are the many attractive forms of pleasure. No age of ministers has had to compete with as many enticing modes of pleasure as has the minister of the twentieth century. It is reported of Moody that he looked with apprehension on the popularity of the bicycle, fearing its effect upon evangelistic meetings in America. The automobile, the radio, the moving picture, and television have done much to make the average open-air meeting appear unattractive. Another factor that has engendered a spirit of indifference to the open-air preacher is the attitude of the average educated person. He considers such a method as beneath his intellectual level and personal dignity. Even Wesley at first recoiled before the thought of open-air preaching for this reason. He knew that immediately he would be branded by many as an “ignorant and unlearned” man. But perhaps the most basic reason for the average American’s antipathy toward open-air preaching is that he has been educated, however unwittingly, into a prejudice against the Christian gospel. America’s antitheistic public school system and the deadening influence of modernism within the visible church have had their deadly effect upon the souls of men.

These difficulties, however, are not to be taken as valid reasons for not engaging in open-air preaching. God is sovereign, and has enabled His servants to devise methods whereby the problem of drawing a crowd has to a degree at least been overcome. We present at this point the recommendations that have come to us from ministers who have had some degree of success in obtaining a good hearing in open-air preaching. They are as follows:

Go where the people are, not where we hope they will come. In most places where we have churches, the spring and summer are the only times that weather will permit the holding of outdoor services. During these seasons the people will be found in public parks and squares, at seashore and mountain resorts, by places of public amusement, and outside factories during lunch hours. Recently provision has been made in England to have chaplains for defense industries. In at least one large industrial plant in America permission has been granted for the preaching of the gospel to the men during their lunch hour. These examples may be straws in the wind indicating a tendency to recognize the need and the worth of bringing the Word of God to the working men of our nation. Here may be an opportunity to reach the heads of families whose very souls are being crushed out of them by long hours and Sunday work. In every city and town there are areas where large numbers of under-privileged and spiritually neglected people can be found. These areas should be sought out and surveyed with a view to securing a commodious meeting place. Most important of all, pray for an open door.

Go in absolute confidence in the truth and power of the gospel and in complete reliance upon the Holy Spirit to bless. Only as the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit can we proclaim boldly, convincingly, and winsomely the everlasting gospel. To this end, we need to pray that we might be filled with the Spirit. Nothing can draw and hold so well and so surely in an open-air service as the preaching of the Word in the power of the Spirit.

There are successful ways of gathering a good audience. One way is to have a nucleus of Christians to go with the minister. A crowd draws a crowd. When the passers-by observe that a goodly number are listening they will stop to satisfy at least their curiosity. From that point on you may depend upon the Word to elicit and maintain their interest. A method that has been used by some Roman Catholics with real success in drawing a crowd is the question and answer method. The minister seeks out a passer-by and requests him to ask questions from a specified distance. The minister then proceeds to answer the man’s questions. As others gather they, too, are requested to ask questions. When a sizeable group has been attracted by this method the minister may discourse on a subject of his choice.

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“Who cares about the Free Church, compared with the Christian good of the people of Scotland?  Who cares about any Church, but as an instrument of Christian good? for, be assured that the moral and religious well-being of the population is of infinitely higher importance than the advancement of any sect.”

-Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847)

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Only a few days away from Halloween, I’ve been thinking more about why we don’t celebrate it, as well as reviewing online why other Christians do. I realize that there are many good believers who don’t see a problem with the festivities, and I’m not prepared to discount the evident grace of God that they have. Further, we are, every one of us, filled with sins and blind spots, myself included. But it is troubling to me how little argument is made against Halloween within the Church. So if you’re on the fence – and even if you’re not – may I at least challenge you with the following questions, friend?

1. Are you open-minded about it?  For a Christian, everything is fair game for re-examination under the Word of God. I fear that too often, we are looking for tailor-made arguments to suit our conclusions. We must not trust, but ever examine ourselves and let the light of God’s Word shine on even our most cherished practices. The Bible not merely some encouraging how-to handbook for ‘living our best life now.’ It is also a floodlight to expose our sins, that we might turn from them and find pardon and direction for new obedience. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).

2. Have you educated yourself?  We really ought to understand why we do what we do. We must not be “as the beasts that perish,” unthinking and instinctive. Even if we conclude that it is harmless or even proper, we should “in understanding be men.” An unwillingness to inquire into the origins and development of Halloween for fear of what we may learn betrays a bad bias. We do not need to go on a witch-hunt for evil. But if we are going to adopt a practice, let’s do it with both eyes open. My wife and I recently watched a documentary about Halloween (with a bit of fast-forwarding) by the History Channel here. It only reinforced our decision.

Also, have you educated yourself about the biblical teaching on witchcraft and the occult, which Halloween unashamedly celebrates? For starters, read Deut. 18:9-14, 1 Sam. 15:23, 1 Sam. 28, 2 Chron. 33:6, 1 Jn. 5:21, and Acts 19:19. If you haven’t read them recently, re-read them. And note that witchcraft is branded in Paul’s catalogue of the works of the flesh, right along with other gross immoralities, “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” Even if we participate only in the ‘innocent’ aspects of modern, American Halloween, aren’t we somehow validating, or at least winking at the occult? We ought to have no fellowship with devils (1 Cor. 10:20) and should avoid even the appearance of evil (1 Thess. 5:22).

3. Are you leading or following?  We are always products of our environment. But we should never let environment, culture, the marketplace or anything else call the shots. The crowd is not always right. And more often than not, it just isn’t. Counting heads is risky business, even when we are counting the heads of Christian trick-or-treaters. Let’s get in line behind God! Let’s be Joshuas, fearlessly pioneering the path of godliness, not the path of least resistance. So if that makes us strange and even lonely (1 Pet. 4:4), so be it. Let them say what they want. Let’s follow the pillar of fire by night. He will guide us safely through the darkness without.

4. Are your following your feelings?  Believe me, I know this all too well. The older I get, the more nostalgic I find myself. I remember the brisk, cool evenings, the costumes and the plastic jack-o-lantern pails. I remember with fondness going door to door, and telling my buddies which ones were giving out full-size Snickers. Halloween is in my American boyhood bloodstream, running black and orange every October 31. But I am not my own any more. I am bought with a price. I am Christian first, and an American second. How does God feel about Halloween? If my feelings are at variance, then those feelings must be put to death.

5. Do you have the hearts of your children?  The prophecy “a little child shall lead them” (Isa. 11:6) is not to be confused with the curse of children-rulers (Isa. 3:4). Let’s face it. In America, Halloween is a day for children, and our age is the age of youth. But as adults, we must always be in the lead. And if we decide that Halloween is unwholesome at best or ungodly at worst, we should lead accordingly. I especially think this entails loving them demonstrably enough the 364 other days so we don’t cave on Halloween out of guilt. If we are in the lead, we can give alternatives and fill any void with deep, Christian, parental love, that will more than make up for any perceived loss.

6. Is Halloween really edifying?  Is this celebration of the dead (and the ‘living dead’) consistent with “whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report” (Phil. 4:8)? Does not the Halloween mask somehow mask over the obvious? As a rule, that which passes under cover of night is not worthy of those who are “of the day.”

7. Is Halloween really harmless?  I know that we sophisticated moderns dismiss ghouls, ghosts, goblins, and all things that go bump in the night. But are our secular, pagan neighbors really all that cut off from the reality and the draw of the Kingdom of darkness? I am of the mind that old, superstitious paganism is more alive than dead, like the Dracula of Halloween lore. It is a real, abiding threat. And as Christians who know better about the spiritual world, can we suggest that we are immune? We are not. If we flirt with the occult as though it were a child’s game, we may be drawn in never to return. Thus the ban on all paganism in both Old and New Testaments.

8. Are you being a good & effective witness?  This is a recurring argument, made no doubt by well-intentioned believers. I don’t impugn their motives. But having the only house with the lights out on Halloween is not inherently undermining our Gospel witness. Some apparently believe this rather strongly. But I fail to see how non-participation is necessarily boorish. If we go out of our way to get to know our neighbors as we should, show them the love of Christ, and speak the Gospel to them the rest of the year, I hardly see why I need Halloween to commend Christ. Our neighbors respect us, even if they don’t understand us.

Further, I am convinced that Halloween continues to be a heathen coping-mechanism, which I cannot endorse for their sake. That is, death is real, yet so troubling that they must somehow manage its reality – only on their terms, short of God. Laughter and frivolity are like the booze that drowns their troubles away. But on November 1, the specter of death still stares the sinner in the face. We, however, celebrate the Lord’s Day fifty-two days of the year. We celebrate life. New life – life over death!

Now there’s a celebration that calls for full participation. And invitation.

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In the following, we hear Thomas Chalmers echoing the sentiment of the inspired apostle, “I am debtor both to the Greek, and to the barbarian, to the wise and to the unwise . . . to preach the Gospel.” This is a timeless reminder to be a minister who is truly all things to all men, and not slavishly ‘relevant’ (beholden?) to a narrow slice of the demographic pie.

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“There is no doubt the vanity of popular applause; but there is also the vanity of an ambitious eloquence, which throws the common people at a distance from our instructions altogether; which, in laying itself out for the admiration of the tasteful and enlightened few, locks up the bread of life from the multitude; which destroys this essential attribute of the gospel, that it is a message of glad tidings to OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAthe poor; and wretchedly atones by the wisdom of words, for the want of those plain and intelligible realities which all may apprehend and by which all may be edified. Now the great aim of our ministry is to win souls; and the soul of a poor man consists of precisely the same elements with the soul of a rich. They both labour under the same disease, and they both stand in need of the same treatment. The physician who administers to their bodies brings forward the same application to the same malady; and the physician who is singly intent on the cure of their souls will hold up to both the same peace-speaking blood, and the same sanctifying Spirit, and will preach to both in the same name, because the only name given under heaven whereby men can be saved. . . . We hear of the orator of fashion, the orator of the learned, the orator of the mob. A minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ should be none of these; and, if an orator at all, it should be his distinction that he is an orator of the species. He should look beyond the accidental and temporary varieties of our condition; and recognise in every one who comes within his reach, the same affecting spectacle of a soul forfeited by sin, and that can only be restored by one Lord, one faith, one baptism.”

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“As when a fish is taken there are two actions, the bait alluring and beguiling the fish with hope of meat. This is like the working of the word which is Christ’s bait; but when He wins us to dryland, then, when the fish is hooked, there is a real action of the fisher, drawing and hauling the fish to land; it leaping and flightering [fluttering] and wrestling while it bleeds with the hook. And this answereth to the Holy Spirit’s powerful hauling and drawing of the soul in all the affections, that the soul feeleth joy, comfort, delight, desire, longing, believing, nibbling, and biting Christ’s bait.”

-Samuel Rutheford (c. 1600 – 1661)

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