Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"CLEVER" EVANGELISM AND THE GLORY OF GOD


Not surprisingly, there is a lot of talk about "evangelism" in the church world. Probably everyone reading this knows the English word is derived from the Greek εὐαγγελίζω--a compound word meaning "to announce or declare good news"......and Gospel means "good news"........So primarily , evangelism is declaring the Gospel. I would postulate that any effort which does not declare the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not evangelism, not matter what else it might be.

The so-called evangelical world has seen some strange practices in the name of this "evangelism" In my early days as a believer, there was a very prominent Baptist preacher who taught and practiced what I call "easy-believism"--an extreme form of decisional regeneration, which still infects the Baptist world. This fellow boasted of encounters during his door-to-door "soul-winning" efforts in which he duped confused people into saying the "sinner's prayer" and thereby, according to his theology, led them to Christ. This preacher regaled us with stories such as meeting with a young couple who were desperate financially, unable to pay their apartment rent. He offered to pray with them, those two unbelievers, about their plight and "cleverly" had them recite a form of the sinner's prayer during their plea for help paying the rent. Following that, he pronounced them to be "born again"! Similar stories abound but all are the same with regard to trickery and emotional sleight-of-hand being used to manipulate people into reciting the "magic words" of the sinner's prayer, as if that had any effect on the eternal state of those misguided souls.

A second area of cleverness is in church signs. Of course, these are quite a topic of conversation. There's even a blog dedicated to them. These signs are literally a "declaration"--too bad so few of them declare the Gospel. For the most part, they declare nonsense; they declare insipid sentimentality; they declare vulgar trivializations of the Word; they declare unscriptural, humanistic philosophy. It's a rare church sign which declares Christ. Above is a photo of one I saw recently. When I posted it on Facebook, without comment, there were actually favorable reactions to it. People think it's clever! The fact that it diminishes the Glory of Christ, equating His work and being to something mundane and worldly does not even register on some readers.

I have it in my mind that we are commanded to bear a certain attitude when approaching lost people with the Gospel. We are ambassadors for Christ, are we not? Does not a calling like that require us to behave in the manner appropriate to a servant of the King? Yet, in street preaching and other situations where opposition is met, there is too often a confrontational attitude which does no credit to our Ruler. We can also be tempted by the ways of the world, by the appeal of clever marketing, subtle trickery in order to gain the foothold we feel is necessary for "success" I saw a gospel tract recently designed to be distributed to shoppers--in a store or in a mall. The "gospel" aspect of it looked good, but the opening sentences were along the lines of "Welcome to this shopping facility. The management appreciates your business......" I'm sorry but that's just too clever for me. Does that not imply "management's" endorsement of the tract and the person handing it out? Does it not imply authority from the store/mall ownership to be there? And, more than that, I have to ask: Why? Is it even necessary? Why cannot one simply hand out a tract bearing the Good News without the deception? How dare any believer take it upon himself to speak with the authority of a business owner in a situation like that. Oh, you may say "very few will take any notice of that..." True, probably.......very few will read the tract at all; but how about the ones who do and see through this trickery? More ammunition for the enemies of the Gospel....giving the enemies of God cause to blaspheme. We are called upon to be blameless in our behavior, especially since we represent Him before this lost world.

Clever, clever, clever........men are so clever. In my book-selling business, I make lots of trips to the post office. Every time, no matter how familiar I am to the clerks, how many hundred packages I have mailed previously, they always ask: Does your package contains anything liquid, fragile, perishable, or potentially hazardous? It's their job; they have to ask that. I'm sure it's much more boring to them than it is to me. I heard about a preacher who was shipping a box of Bibles and decided that was a good opportunity for "evangelism"......During the question, he interrupted the clerk with clever comments like: "liquid?--it's the Water of life"......"fragile? well, no, but they contain the Ten Commandments and we've broken all them"......"perishable? unless you repent you will likewise perish..." Then he gave the clerk a gospel tract. Is that clever, or what? I am at a loss as to how exactly that behavior glorifies God, declares the Gospel, or is in any way the type of evangelism we are commanded to do. I've been embarrassed by the public performances of some preachers in the past but I am grateful I was not there for this monumental display of cleverness.

One more example.......just the other day, I saw one of those ubiquitous fwd emails with the recommendation that all believers send a Christmas card to the ACLU. Of course, this was motivated by the anti-Bible, anti-Christian lawsuits and so forth which the ACLU gets involved in. They are notorious for being on the "wrong side" most of the time. Most revealing in this appeal for the clever action was the statement, yea, the hope--that the great influx of mail would have a devastating effect on their operations and cause a great deal of inconvenience, expense, and so forth. So clever!......but is this the heart of Christ? Is this evangelism? Is there any indication of love for the lost herein? Or is this merely, as it appears to me, a way of retaliation, a bit of clever warfare.......harmless, right?

Harmless and clever. Are these the criteria for our efforts in the name of Christ? Is there Gospel in any of this? Where's the Good News? What does this say about the heart of the perpetrators? And, these things are from "the church".....this is what is offered to a lost, dying, hopeless world. No wonder the world laughs at "the church"....sometimes it's just as clever as the rest of the world.

3 comments:

Paul Thompson said...

Ed, good read here. When I first saw this show up on your facebook site I resisted with everything in me to jump in quickly and slam the sign and mostly question you for posting it. But I resisted, and now glad that I didn't show my self a fool (this time.) Good to hear you complete your thoughts out here. The 'clever' evangelism approach turns my stomach as it presents itself as a circus act or Christians thinking that the Creator of the universe needs some kind of opening act or side show to attract the lost world or grab their attention.
Ever wonder what would happen if God's people would humble themselves, pray and seek his face? What if the church put the King of Glory in front of lost people? Well, I could go on here for a while. Good post.

Shanna Locker said...

Great article Ed! And Pastor Paul, once you get to understand Ed and his strange, unique, ironic, and very un-opinionated sense of humor you would have...ooops, sorry Ed, I was thinking out loud again!!! :)
May you have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day and keep standing for the Truth my friend!

Prodigal Knot said...

Ed, just keep being a prophet, brother. There are still those who believe in keeping the gospel simple and powerful. I am, of course, completely with you on your distaste for the misapplication of the so-called "sinner's prayer" and somehow tricking people into becoming "saved".

I am also very glad to see you affirm what my reaction was when a brother fowrarded me that same anti-ACLU suggestion. I told him it was completely un-Christian to return evil for evil. It is something I would have done in my Moral Majority Republican days...before I was born again.

I detest formulas, of any kind, when studying or teaching people. I believe each and every situation is different. We can use guidelines and outlines, but we should not use cleverness of any kind when presenting the gospel. Only God can open a person's heart to receive the Word implanted.

Love you in the Lord!