The Open Air
Most people don’t forget the first time they witness a man preaching on the street. The scene conjures up images of Hollywood’s portrayal of the religiously bold where you have wild eyes homeless people walking around with cardboard signs that read “The End Is Near”. Many types of people stop to listen. By Gods providence, if the preaching man is faithful to the Gospel, for the first time many will hear about the condition of man and his dilemma before God and what He has done to bridge the gap. Yet in our culture of “tolerance” (though it’s intolerant of any views that dissent from their agenda) it causes many people who call themselves Christians to go into a tailspin at the sight of such a bold proclamation.
Defending the Defense
Apologetics means defending the faith. The term has an interesting Greco-Roman history involving Socrates and his understudy Plato, but that’s neither here nor there. Apologetics in one word means “defense.” Christians use it when they are giving a defense for their faith, as Plato did when he wrote the Apologia to defend his mentor Socrates. Interestingly, in this day and age one must first defend why they are defending the faith. Thus an apologetic is needed for apologetics. However, I am not just here speaking about giving a defense of the faith but also, in a proactive sense, why proclaiming that faith in a public space is necessary.
Typically when I am engaged in preaching in a public space (referred to as open air preaching) I find myself defending what I am doing to other professing Christians. More often than not, I will spend more time defending why I am preaching than I will spend actually getting to preach. To put it more plainly, a defense is needed as to why a person is out giving a public defense of the Gospel.
Open Air in Motion
A typical encounter will involve a person who is preaching in a public space, who openly is condemning sin and calling all men everywhere to repent; to agree they are sinners down to their very core and to put their faith in Christ alone. That simple truth is unpacked over and over during an “open air” message. Invariably, a professing Christian will challenge why I am saying these hard things. The normal postulations given in an objective form are:
Your life is supposed to be the 5th gospel. Don’t preach, just love.
God is a God of love who is not here to condemn people like you are doing.
This makes Christians look bad.
I see what your doing but can’t you take a different approach?
God loves everyone and that’s all you need to say.
I don’t think this is helping anyone (perhaps the worst statement in the bunch!)
I must make a parenthetical point at this juncture. Notice there is a bit of a theme to those objections; love. Love is the hermeneutic of the day, its the central interpretive motif, the very grid by which all things are measured in the liberal, secular and generally biblically uninformed mind. This love is nebulous, formless, baseless and quite dangerous. Love must show discretion, discernment and justice or else love loses its meritorious nature and is rendered void. It is because I love my wife that I must show discretion toward other women, discernment with my interactions with her and act justly in my dealings toward her.
More to the point at hand, notice none of those objections are based on any reference to the bible. Virtually without exception, in my dealings with defending why I am publicly defending the faith, I have never had a Christian come up to me and tell me why he objects to what I am doing based on a bible passage. The discussion doesn’t even lean in that direction. Every objection is either emotional, philosophical, pragmatic or based on abstract reasoning.
The Real Question
The ultimate question is: Does the bible show a pattern of proclaiming the Gospel openly and are we instructed to do likewise? Who cares what I, or anyone else says or thinks -that comes later. The immediate question is, for those who name the name of Christ, does our Lord command it?
Starting with the descriptive events where we see the message of Christ boldly proclaimed we find that Jesus stood openly to address crowds repeatedly in His ministry (Mt. 5:1 -7:27; 11:1; 13:1-34, 54; 15:10-20; 21:23; 23:1-39; Mk. 1:38; 2:13; 4:1-32; 6:2, etc.). Peter did the same when he open air preached in Acts 2:14-41 as Paul did in Acts 17:2-33. Clearly then a precedent has been set. A clear pattern emerges of standing in public to proclaim the Gospel. Whether preaching in streets, lake sides, mountains, synagogues, or otherwise; you have men on a mission given by God to tell those who are under His wrath that God has provided a way of escape.
A careful distinction should always be made between what we see explained in narrative form (mostly Descriptive: Matthew – Acts) and what we have been given as instruction (Prescriptive: Romans -Jude). Jesus walked on water, does it follow that I am supposed too? No, Jesus did such things because those acts authenticated He was God, the promised Messiah. A Christian needs to be very careful to rightly divide the Word (2 Tim 2:15) so that scripture interprets scripture (analogia fidei). Jesus’ witness in the narrative accounts show us that we are to do the same because He prescribed it to the disciples in the Great Commission in Matthew (28:19, 20). Further more, we see it stated in Acts 1:8 that the Holy Spirit would make those whom He resides in “Witnesses… to the ends of the earth”, and when that event took place 3,000 were made to do just that.
Paul writing to Timothy says “And what you have heard from me (Paul) in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). Paul previously said to young Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:13 “… devote yourself to the public reading of scripture to exhortation, to teaching.” Paul also tells him to do the work of an evangelist in 2 Tim. 4:5. How do we know these things Paul did and told Timothy to do are for us? Because Paul told us to “imitate [him] as he imitates Christ” (1 Cor. 1:11). For various reasons not everyone should open air preach but for those who can, do it because scripture is clear that public evangelism should not be neglected. Any arguments made against it cannot be made from a biblical standpoint.
When a professing Christian fights the idea of someone boldly, publicly and openly proclaiming the gospel, they simply have taken a reductionistic approach to scripture and are clearly more concerned, not with the biblical account and its commands but rather with their personal ideas as to how Christ should be proclaimed. In other words, they are failing to think their thoughts after God’s (Is. 55:8). For those who take a hard look at the bible and see what Jesus, Peter, Paul, Timothy and others did and said to follow them in doing, they must be ready to declare with the very authority of the Word of God that “The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation.” (Rom. 1:16).