Tuesday, July 13, 2010

How Does Levi's Feast for Jesus Apply to Evangelistic Methodology?

Luke 5:27-32 records the account of Jesus' eating with sinners:

27 And after these things he went forth, and saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he said unto him, Follow me. 28 And he left all, rose up, and followed him. 29 And Levi made him a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them. 30 But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners? 31 And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. 32 I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

Verse 32 is one of the most pivotal, defining statements that Jesus ever made. He said it in response to criticism His disciples received from the scribes and Pharisees for eating and drinking with publicans and sinners. The circumstance that led to this attack was a great feast that Levi (Matthew), a new believer, had made in honor of his new-found Savior, Jesus. Matthew's only acquaintances at that point, fellow publicans or tax collectors, came to the great feast for Jesus too.

Tax collectors were hated by everyone at that time. No other rabbi except for Jesus would have offered them his presence. They were excluded from society, even as seen in the reaction of the scribes and Pharisees in this event. They were in need of forgiveness and perhaps also saw their need for it, unlike the religious leaders who criticized them.

Can we conclude that the great feast of Matthew was actually an evangelistic technique or strategy? Can we conclude from this example that a legitimate scriptural practice would be for believers to determine the physical attractions of an unsaved society and attempt to draw people from the world to a gathering by luring them by one or more of those attractions?

The verses say nothing about the great feast being a strategy. The verses say nothing about a great feast being a means of attracting a crowd. The great feast is almost incidental to the story. We don't know that Matthew's fellow tax collectors wouldn't have come if he hadn't been throwing a banquet on behalf of Jesus. I think we can assume that his fellow tax collectors were invited. We know the feast was made for Jesus. That's what v. 29 says. It wasn't made for the publicans.

We know from v. 32 that Jesus called sinners to repentance. Matthew made a banquet in His honor and He used the occasion to preach to sinners. Jesus used every occasion to preach to sinners. He was always preaching to sinners. Because He preached to sinners in every occasion, doesn't mean that each of those events were concocted for evangelistic opportunities. The banquet wasn't a device for evangelism. It was a way to honor Jesus. Matthew had no one else to invite to his banquet meant to honor Jesus. No one else was interested in being a friend of a tax collector except for other tax collectors, Jesus' disciples, and Jesus. Other tax collectors were the only ones that Matthew could call upon to join him in honoring Jesus. Jesus and His disciples were rare non-tax-collectors who would meet and eat with other tax collectors.

Tax collectors knew they were sinners. They couldn't find a solution for sin through Judaism. They weren't welcome. They could, however, find relief from Jesus. Matthew now knew that very well. That spiritual relief, the forgiveness for sin and guilt, would interest them. It had interested Matthew enough.

Why make the banquet, the feast, the thing of interest here for these tax collectors? I think this is so much like our modernistic society or culture, that is, to see the great feast as the draw instead of Jesus as the draw. We would just assume that they were there because of the free food and revelries available. The text says nothing of that. Nothing. We have no indication that this was the offer and yet now men will use this as a proof text for using even crass promotions for vulgar interests. Why not assume that they were there to meet Jesus? Jesus was a great enough figure, and a sympathetic and accepting enough Person, enough that their acquaintance, Matthew, would be willing to make Him a great feast. Food was not the attraction. It was incidental. Jesus was the attraction. Why not the following thoughts? "Let's go meet this man. He must be extraordinary. And this is a rare thing that a well-known rabbi would acquiesce to meeting with us."

This passage should not be used to defend certain promotion and marketing for purposes of evangelism. Recently here at What Is Truth we had discussed this in the comment section of a short post asking questions about a particular Fun Fair promotion being used by a church. Someone was comparing these two situations. A Fun Fair flyer designed in carnival-like color and style, emboldened with the capital ABSOLUTELY FREE, and offering sno-cones, carnival games, hot dogs, and tractor rides, was sent to thousands in the community to bring unbelievers to the grounds where the church meets. This Luke passage was referenced to justify that strategy, as if there was a true parallel between the Fun Fair and what Matthew did. At best, the example of Matthew with the feast is to do something great to honor Jesus. It, of course, should be something that would honor Him. Sno cones and carnival games are not in that nature. We might like those kind of things, but our thoughts should be something that He really wants. For the time being, that won't be a banquet. We can know what will honor Him by looking at His Word.

There is no accident that unsaved people would want to attend a "carnival," with special attention to the "carn" in "carnival." The carnival attracts the flesh. It isn't a spiritual attraction. For Levi's gathering, Jesus was the attraction. The Fun Fair, and fun, is a physical attraction. Jesus is a spiritual attraction. Using fun and carnival entertainment as a church attraction associates the church with these. I'm not saying the world won't like that. The world will. And we know they will. That's why we do it. However, does God want to be associated with that? No.

God didn't choose things impressive to the world to save the world. He chose the base things, the weak things, the foolish things. He chose preaching. He didn't choose preaching plus a carnival. The carnival makes sense to the world. With the carnival, perhaps the flesh can now glory in God's presence. God doesn't want the flesh to glory. If any man glory, let him glory in the Lord. Methodology matters. The carnival takes glory from the Lord. People will mistake success in evangelism for the carnival. We see many modern examples of this. Men are looking for the latest new idea that will bring success in church growth. How we do it matters, however, because it affects the glory of God. It does.

In the end, the world won't know why men were attracted to Jesus or His cross. To them it's foolishness. This is how God gets glory---the incomprehensibility of the simplicity of the method. You have to stand back and say, God must have done this. It really must have been God. Men don't like preaching, so how did preaching attract them? Because God was at work. It was a miracle. And God gets the credit for that.

With the Fun Fair, we get the credit. I was reading some of the comments under the Fun Fair. Here was one: "What a wonderful turnout, Chris! God’s hand is moving in this. I think it is *no doubt* the sincerity of you and your church folks that has drawn people to this event." I wouldn't think that. I would think it was because of the flyer and the offer of free games and rides and food. That's what was used to get them to come and that's why they came. That isn't God's hand moving. You see that even spiritual discernment is affected by using these methodologies. People say that it was God Who was moving when it was actually the promotion that moved. Someone may counter, "I think it was the people, their testimony." I answer, maybe, but we don't really know now, do we? Do you see what happens?

The one commenter and the pastor involved talked about the sincerity and graciousness of the church people. It takes zero faith to hand out a flyer offering free food, rides, and games. That is not the work of the Lord. And yet people in fundamentalist and evangelical churches today think it is. The pastors have told them it is. They have done God's work, they think, when they have bribed people to come to the church grounds. The pastor of this church commented that they were able to gain a "positive reputation" in their community. The end justifies the means. The community is thinking positive about the church because the church has given them the kind of church the community would like them to be. That's not really positive. It's a fake positive.

Another point made was that the gospel was preached on the other side of the flyer. I'm not unhappy about a gospel presentation on the back. Anybody who would say that is just attempting to distract from the issue. That's not the point, is it? The point is that the gospel is stuck on a sheet of paper that looks like a carnival and is offering a carnival. I don't think evangelicals and fundamentalists even notice this any more. And the gospel that was presented, I noticed, didn't mention "Hell." I realize that Jesus didn't always use the word "Hell," but there was plenty of room for it on the flyer. Most of the gospel doesn't fit with that medium of presentation. I would contend that absolutely changes the nature of the message. The gospel has nothing to do with "fun." Jesus said that if you come to Me, you deny your self. Self-denial really does get lost in a carnival-like presentation. How we do it, again, does matter.

The whole thing brought back to memory a situation in which our church was out going door to door evangelizing and an area Hyles' church came to the same door at the same time. The Hyles representative was dressed up like a clown. A clown. The clown was going around representing the church and the gospel. Would you say there was no problem as long as the clown was preaching the gospel? Just asking. I don't think so, but I see these two things as the same.

I think it is even worse when a passage is taken hostage for a purpose it wasn't intended. This passage gives us a great truth from the lips of Jesus. He came to call sinners unto repentance. Let's not get our eyes off of that truth. That's the message here. So let's everywhere call sinners to repentance.

22 comments:

Jeff Voegtlin said...

I agree with the main point of this post, but it seems like this issue bothers you so much that you would rather have had Jesus boycott the dinner and just preach to the sinners on the way in or out. I get the idea from reading you that if there is ANY earthly element in proximity to the gospel, it's the same as using carnal methods to accomplish a spiritual task.

That's just the tenor that I hear in the reading of the post.

Could you describe a 2010 era parallel to this incident with all the facets present in it? That might help me get a better understanding of where you stand on this issue.

Hopefully, this doesn't come across as an attack. I just wonder if the impression I'm getting is the one you intend to convey.

Christian said...

Appreciate much of what you had to say about Luke 5, but it appears that you have completely misunderstood my points from the meta of the previous post...but alas this is often the case with this form of communication.

Christian said...

"Could you describe a 2010 era parallel to this incident with all the facets present in it?"

Excellent question Brother Voegtlin. This is what I was trying to get across earlier. The very point of my bringing up the passage. Let me be clear it was not to justify a FunFair. It was to apply the passage to modern life without FunFair tactics and strategies.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Jeff,

I think Jesus was both fine with being honored and with eating with the sinners. I think the meal was incidental to the preaching. We should preach everywhere---meals, gas station visits, concerts, baseball games we're at, etc.

It would be hard to parallel in 2010 because Jesus won't be able to be physically honored with a meal, and perhaps we have no sociological situation like the tax collectors in the sense of societal castigation. But let me give it a shot---I evangelize my next door neighbor, he's saved, and then he feels such a debt of love that he honors me with a huge meal and invites everyone he knows to tell them how much he cares about me. At the meal, I preach to them.

My illustration can't fit exactly. I think that what we should get out of Luke 5 is: (1) Honor Jesus, (2) Preach the gospel to sinners when you're with them, (3) We're just sinners saved by grace so none of us are too good not to eat with sinners.

I didn't feel attacked at all.

Christian,

I don't know what I may have misunderstood of yours, but I'm fine being shown that. This really did need to be written, whether we even conversed in the meta.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Christian,

I just got your comment after writing the last one.

OK. How to apply this? Don't hide your light under a bushel. Let your light so shine before men. Preach the gospel to every creature. I think that the best ground for preaching the gospel are people who are interested in spiritual things. These publicans were, unlike the Pharisees. Everyone has their circle of influence and those are situations where Jesus can be introduced. Friends, relatives, neighbors, co-workers, classmates, associates. Evangelize people in those circles of influence. Introduce them to Jesus. I think that is the evangelistic application. This isn't door-to-door, or a kind of seed-casting, type of evangelism, but preaching right where you are at.

d4v34x said...

A few things.

First and formost I think CA is about calling sinners to repentence.

There is nothing inherently wrong with a snow cone, is there? Giving a kid a snow cone is a nice thing to do.

Completion of a house of worship is a great reason to celebrate. I don't think it has to be understood as, "We'll lure them in all unuspecting with the Tilt-a-Whirl and funnel cones, and then, when they're all dizzy, we'll spring Jesus on them."

What did Christ's first miracle have to do with proclaiming the gospel? He graciously and generously gave something unnecessary yet enjoyable at least in part because it was in his power to do so.

And I guess now I am justifying the FunFair to some extent.

Kent Brandenburg said...

D4,

I think your comment would be the best possible defense of Hyles' methodology there is, that is, "What's wrong with giving a kid a sno-cone, a kite, a root beer, a rodeo, a pack of baseball cards, ice cream, or a pumpkin?" Of course, nothing. If that was all there was, then why not fan out into the community and just give those things to everyone unattached to anything that you are expecting now that you've given it? It's sort of like calling people into a Charismatic service for healing when you could just go to the hospital? If you want to give kids things, go do that. And why not cable TV, just basic, or do something really helpful, like clean their house while you are at it?

You are going to run into theological problems when you tie in Jesus' miracles to promotions and marketing. Jesus did these things as signs to show He was the prophesied Messiah. And so again, this is where we conform our theology to our promotion and effect discernment.

I would be fine with a celebration of the completion of their church building. Very fine with that. I'm not going to explain again on this. I think I was clear.

We've got to argue based on what we see is done in scripture. What does God want? We don't look at the Bible to see what's in between the lines. These same fundagelicals are very critical of revivalist fundamentalists and here they do the same thing. If we're going to criticize, it should be based upon what scripture says, not based upon who we like and don't like and what we like and don't like---that's when it becomes political and that might be the worst thing about fundamentalism.

d4v34x said...

It may seem odd, but I don't disagree with really anything you say there, Bro. B., with one possible exception.

I don't think that because the primary purpose of something Christ did was to authenticate his ministry and Messiahood it is wrong for us to imitate Him in the generosity and benevolence of the same or similar act. Sure, we can't turn water to wine, but we can provide water, or wine, or a snow-cone when it is in our power to do so, and in His name, too.

Kent Brandenburg said...

And D4,

God loves us. He gives us stuff every day, every good and perfect gift, for which I'm thankful. We can't however use Jesus' miracles as an apology for evangelistic strategy. We have something on that 1 Cor 1-3 that tells us what we ought to think. And then a corollary in John 6.

Thanks.

d4v34x said...

Again, no real argument. I think at most, though, the Funfair was a tactic, not a strategy. Maybe not even that. I'd have to let the church leader speak for himself there.

You're welcome, and thanks yourself! :^)

Gary said...

D4,

Did you say that we should give wine when it is in our power to do so?

d4v34x said...

Yes, with specific reference to the miracle at Cana. I think we agree that wine was different than today's.

Anvil said...

Pastor Brandenburg,

I think you are jumping to conclusions a bit stating that the publicans that came to this feast were interested in spiritual things. I think it's just as likely that many of them came to see Jesus for the same carnal reasons that many others "followed" him (to be fed or see a miracle) or that unsaved people would come to a church function today (to salve their consciences or toss God a bone).

Even if you disagree, I believe there is a qualitative difference between a "Fun Fair" that is on a different day and not part of the church services and Sunday activities vs. having a circus atmosphere as part of the Sunday worship services.

Using your logic, wouldn't inviting a family over to one's house for dinner and then sharing the gospel with them be "Bait and Switch" as well? If not, why not?

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hello Anvil, nice to see you again. Thanks for coming by. I think this is an important discussion and a great opportunity for men to think about and then eliminate certain practices from what they are doing.

I'm not 'jumping to conclusions' about the purpose of the publicans visit with Jesus and Matthew. There are several textual reasons to take this position. Not necessarily in this order, but, first, Mark 2:15, parallel passage says that these publicans followed Jesus. In the Matthew passages, chapter 9, it says that they say down with Jesus and the disciples. It says nothing about sitting down for the feast. So we KNOW it was because of Jesus they came. Could it have been because of the miracles that He did? That's what you say is possible is the reason. People did come after Jesus for signs, and how was Jesus about that? He didn't like it. He said it was an adulterous, wicked generation that did that. It's clear that there should not be a methodology that plays on people's love of temporal things as an evangelistic strategy. Jesus didn't do that, it is clear---He repudiated it.

But I don't believe the publicans were there because of signs and wonders because Jesus differentiated them from the scribes and Pharisees. They understood they were sick. See Matthew 9. They were spiritually sick, looking for a spiritual solution. Jesus Himself said that. And Jesus called "sinners to repentance." The Pharisees didn't think they were sinners, so who did think they were sinners? The publicans did. So this was spiritual, Anvil (and anyone else reading).

Regarding the qualitative difference between the Fun Fair and a church service or Sunday activity. I can agree that there is a qualitative difference. Done on a Sunday and a church service it is worse. I'll grant that.

You seem to be ignoring a lot of what I've written to come to your point of defending the Fun Fair. I would hate to be defending it---I don't care if I got 500 lured into coming. That really does make it worse for me. Your defense is much like D4's defense, the same as the Hyles defense of these tactics or strategies.

First, this is different than inviting someone over to your house for dinner. I refer to your qualitative difference that works here as well. We're going to eat, sort of like people ate that day when Jesus fed the 5000. We eat 2 or 3 times a day. A carnival is targeting something else, and then it is associating the gospel with it. The two are not harmonious or complementary. So there is a difference, and a big one in light of the whole presentation with the Fun Fair and things like it.

However, I too think that a meal evangelism thing could be bait and switch too. I wouldn't invite an unsaved person over to my house "to eat." I would invite them over to talk about the Bible. The meal might be included because it might be the right thing to do in light of the timing. But I wouldn't invite them for a meal, silently knowing I was going to spring the gospel on them, and not tell them, because they might decline. They would know in advance that I was going to talk about the Bible.

Recently my wife and I were invited to a meal by the president of the Northern California West Point Parents association. Even he knew I was going to talk about the Bible, which we did. It's obvious to other people that I'm going to talk to them about the Bible.

This is really more simple than your making it Anvil. Let's just do what we see Jesus did. He didn't do all these tactics and strategies. And Paul said they were wrong in 1 Cor 1-3.

d4v34x said...

I'm making a tee-shirt that says: WARNING: I AM A CHRISTIAN; IF YOU INTERACT WITH ME I WILL PREACH TO YOU.

Just so no one thinks my rugged good looks and winsome personality are baits and switches when I witness to them.

d4v34x said...

Seriously, though, I don't defend the clown. I don't defend breaking boards with karate chops on the platorm. The saturday Fun Fair in celebration just feels different to me than those (boy, I wish I could articulate it better than that). And not just in degree, in kind, too.

Would I encourage my pastor to go that route, no. Does it raise my eyebrows, yes. And I guess that's as much as I'll say about this.

Kent Brandenburg said...

d4,

Lots of different things are different in degree, and some people who were really bad at this and are getting better, they're headed the right direction, that's different than someone headed the opposite way. We're just looking at one thing and evaluating it.

One reason I do this one is because there would be criticism of the Hyles-type philosophy there and from others in association with them. I'm saying that this is a Hyles method. We didn't get it from the Bible.

And then we can evaluate something that might just seem more innocent or better than the clown. However, when it's wrong, it's wrong. What makes it wrong is it's lack of alignment with Scripture, not the source of the idea.

You don't have to announce at everything you do that you are preaching the gospel. The events should be incidental. But when it isn't incidental and the point of a particular type of activity customized to attract the world, to get the world there, even for an opportunity of preaching, this is a problem. We know that's what's going on here, but sometimes it's convenient to talk like it's something else, when we all know what's happening.

Thomas Ross said...

Something that should also be kept in mind in terms of marketing and promotion techniques employed by the Lord's church is that such are a violation of the Regulative Principle of worship (Lev 10:1-3)--they are not commanded, so they are forbidden. So even if one granted the most any marketing advocate could want from the incident with Levi, it would prove nothing for what the CHURCH could do.

However, Pastor Brandenburg very effectively proves that the marketing advocate comes up very dry with Levi anyway.

Anonymous said...

Is it wrong to go to a church for harvest feastivals. I take my kids to various churches for harvest feastivals. I feel it is better than Halloween.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Anonymous.

Good question. A church, of course, is people, not a building. It's fine for churches to get together to eat (1 Cor 11). It's scriptural. If they want to celebrate something, it's fine. If they want to get together as an alternative to being at home during Halloween, that's good. If the men of the church want to get together to play softball, to run, to have a barbecue. That's all fine. I think readers here get the difference between that and the Fun Fair, used for evangelism, that we've been talking about merely as an example of a typical evangelical evangelistic tactic today.

Lloyd said...

I really enjoyed reading the posts on your blog. I would like to invite you to come on over to my blog and check it out. God's blessings, Lloyd

Kent Brandenburg said...

Thanks Lloyd and I'll check out your blog.