Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Burden of Man-Centered Evangelism

Men have made a burden of evangelism not designed by God.  Where Jesus' yoke is easy, men have made it heavy.  The gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Rom 1:16) and it pleased God to save them who believe by the foolishness of preaching (1 Cor 1:21).   The method of preaching itself is the gauntlet through which people must come to be saved.  If they don't want preaching, they won't get saved.

It's not a movie.  It's not a special event.  It's not a concert.  It's not a hot dog or snow cone.  It's not a building.   It's not a children's program.  Preaching is the method God designed for the conversion of the lost.

What men have done, which they do so often, is to get on God's side of the equation.  We acknowledge Him and He directs our path (Proverbs 3:6).  But we want to direct our own paths and so we take on what is only God's part.  In this case, we preach.  He saves.  But when people are not being saved, we try to help God along on His side.

Men haven't been satisfied with just preaching.  They want to get involved in the "save" part to help improve the statistics or the numbers on that side.   Earthly and temporal renown hasn't come for faithfulness in preaching.  It has come from the supposed results, what appear to be the consequences of the work.  Success for us has been attached to the part that God does.  Not by God.  No, not by Him.  By men.

So if men see more results, they are considered to be greater in some fashion.  They are a better preacher, better leader, have more power, are more clever, or are worth imitating or emulating.  The ones with the biggest numbers get the attention.  They must be better at this, be doing something that is a secret that most don't know about.

What is true is that those who are helping God, which is a sort of oxymoron, are the ones with the weak faith.  They go outside the Word of God to reach their goal.  The ones with faith are those who keep doing it God's way with less significance.  They don't panic when they are not seeing the numeric growth that signals earthly success.  The just live by faith.

Yet, the ones who go faithless and veer from the biblical method receive the fanfare from the common man.  They get the kudos.   This is ironic, but typical.  Part of avoiding deceit on this earth is ignoring the urge to follow the crowd by chasing after some fad.

Preaching is the method God uses to save people.  God gets the credit through preaching (again look at 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5).  People understand signs and wisdom and those things like them.  Preaching isn't signs and wisdom and those things like them.  Despite that, men trade preaching for signs and wisdom and those things like them.  Those things work.  They get results.  In the end, the men will say that God did it, because that is part of what is necessary to get the credit that God deserves.

Preaching is the means God uses to show who wants Him.  Men are in rebellion against God.  Preaching comes, the Word of God works, and when people reject preaching, you know it's time to move on to someone else.  God didn't say, change or add to the method or even the message.  He said dust your feet.  We dust our feet of those who say "no" to the preaching.  But we'll never know who those people are when we won't even preach to them.  We can't find out who does or doesn't want preaching except by preaching.

Man's new methods are attempts to create good listeners.  It's not "he that hath an ear, let him hear."  It's "if you don't have the ear to hear, that's OK, because I've got a corn dog to give you instead."  It's an attempt to try to take away the offense.  We shouldn't be trying to take away the sting of preaching.

All of this has added a burden to evangelism.  We can do preaching.  That's our part.  We can't do the results, but now we're responsible for the results too, and that puts a lot of pressure on men.  I'm sure many men are no longer preaching because they have felt the burden of the results.  The results are not a burden you are supposed to be carrying.  Part of the result of someone not wanting to hear is the result that God wanted you to get.  God is not just glorified by men hearing.  He is glorified by men not hearing.  He is glorified because someone was faithful to preach.  He is glorified because it won't turn out very well for people who won't hear.  It shouldn't turn out well for them.   Since it shouldn't turn out well, He is glorified by that result.

Men won't preach anymore because they don't think they have what it takes to be a success.  They see whether men listen to preaching or not to be up to them.  It isn't.  Men should just preach.  But we've made evangelism about men---about how good they are, about how talented they are, about how clever they are. It should be about how faithful they are.  Paul said he was a galley-slave (minister of Christ), who was a steward of the mysteries of God.  We are stewards.  We are faithful dispensers of truth.  That's all we are.  When we understand that, that removes the burden from us.  The burden is where it belongs---on Christ.

Paul wrote that the one who planted wasn't anything and that the one who watered wasn't anything.  The One Who was anything was the One Who gave the increase.  That's God.  You can sow.  You can water.  But you can't give the increase.

Men.  Even those who call themselves Calvinists or reformed, have taken that responsibility upon themselves.  No one says they believe more in God's sovereignty than these.  No one talks about gospel-centeredness like they do. And yet they contextualize.  They do missional things.  They bring in crooners and operatics for a Christmas concert that will attract the lost.  They bring in the kegger to the church party.  They emphasize casual dress. They shape the building like a theater.  So much pressure is put into brochure and web design.  All of these things are the signs and wisdom that attract men.  They've got to help God along, help the gospel along.  It's obviously not truly good enough for them.  Paul said he didn't come with excellency of speech.  Today its all about excellency of speech.  The packaging has become so, so important.

The proof that these new measures, these additions to preaching, have really worked are the results.  The ones who use them get bigger than the ones who don't, so they must be right.  Have you considered that churches today are full of unsaved members?

God is Omnipotent.  He doesn't decrease one iota in power when our burdens fall upon Him.  However, rather than having Him carry the burden of salvation, men have taken that upon themselves.  They've got to get creative. They've got to make everything more attractive.  It's on them to see everything grow.  If it doesn't get bigger, something must be wrong with them.  Maybe they weren't called.  Perhaps they didn't have the gifts.  Maybe they're just a loser all the way around.  Rather than have that said or thought, it would seem better just to get with the program.

On the other hand, those who just preach unleash the saving power of God everywhere.  A few want to hear.  Most don't.  It's not up to you though.  If there is going to be a church there, we'll wait and see.  We'll wait to see if people want to listen.  That's a prerequisite.  The pressure isn't on you.  You just have to be faithful.

But meanwhile, while men are brainstorming new methods that might work with a different demographic, people aren't getting preached to.  Has everyone in your area heard the gospel?  Are you working at preaching it to everyone?  The likelihood of that occurring isn't going to be increased by your joining a hobby group to build bridges with the lost.  But while you do, and spend all that time, your area is still unreached.  And when I say unreached, I mean unpreached.

Go.  Get the gospel out there.  I've been challenged here about whether the New Testament teaches us to get the gospel to everyone.  The intimation is that isn't effective.  The gospel is effective.  If that's true and you try to preach it to everyone, then you are doing everything you can do.  You are effective.  You are having the maximum effect that you possibly can have.  But when you won't preach to everyone where you live, you aren't effective.  You are unfaithful.  I don't care what new fangled idea you've cooked up to make your evangelism work, you're an unfaithful steward of the mysteries of God.  That ought to matter to everyone reading this.

26 comments:

Art Dunham said...

Brother Kent,

This is good. It is at the heart of every problem with "church growth" philosophy.

I just watched a video about Spurgeon's life, and how simple his services were: One hymn, prayer, another hymn & then preaching. No musical instruments even.

The point being that the preaching was the center of the service, and that preaching to lost people in our services and in our daily service is the point.

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

"The pressure isn't on you. You just have to be faithful."

Great article.

Bobby said...

Amen.

Much of the problem is the sensuality that has come among the Lord's churches. This has been brought in by the "certain men" referred to in Jude. They are sensual and they promote sensuality. Success is about a look, a feeling, a number . . . They forget that faithfulness to the glory of God is the truly big deal. So, they have to come up with all kinds of ideas to get the look, feeling, number . . .

Your article is opposite of what you get from Hyles, Hutson, Sexton, Chappell, Trieber, Schaap, PCC, BJU, and almost all of fundamentalism. It is Biblical.

Marty said...

Amen! Very well put!

Anonymous said...

Agreed: preaching is effective for sharing the Gospel and glorifying our Lord.

But..... women don't preach. Yet I presume they are not off the hook when it comes to sharing the gospel.

Are you meaning the word "preach" in a different way? Or do the women hand out the hot dogs and share at their hobby group?

Jon Gleason said...

"We can't do the results, but now we're responsible for the results too, and that puts a lot of pressure on men."

Is that one of the best things I've ever read from Kent Brandenburg? I think it is.

Thanks, Kent. Really good article.

Joshua said...

There is no verse that says women can't preach...

It is clear that they are to keep silence in the churches, and cannot elders, but they can preaching Christ to those they meet from door to door.

William Dudding said...

Kent,
I agree with what you're saying here, but I'm getting the vibe that you're against anything that creates opportunities to preach. Have you ever read the book "Peacechild"? I'm sure you have, it's a classic missionary work. That missionary had to do all kinds of "missional contextualization" to get those people to the place that he could preach the gospel in a way that they would understand it. The first time he just preached the gospel, they thought that Judas was the good guy and Jesus was the bad guy.

Anyway, you live in a similar area that I do, being that we're both in the Bay Area. Giving out a hot dog and a water bottle isn't because I don't have faith in the preaching of the gospel. We did that to show people we love them because Jesus loved us.."now let me tell you about Jesus" (IE Preaching the gospel). One lady gave it right back to my wife when she found out that we don't pray to the virgin Mary. She said: "I don't want anything from you if you don't pray to Mary". Even a act of kindness didn't soften her up, and we were prepared for that kind of response to people.

Again, Jesus did the same thing, except He used His God powers of creation to make food for over 5000 and then He preached to them. If that's being considered a compromise in your opinion, I'm sorry. Jesus did the same thing and my conscience is clear.

If you think that's a compromise

Kent Brandenburg said...

Anonymous,

Everyone is commanded to preach the gospel, the word being euangellizo, to give the good news. Our church places the responsibility of preaching the gospel to everyone upon men, because that's the model in Scripture. We have women go door to door, but we instruct them not to preach to men, just to women and children. When we run into women door-to-door as men, we often send a woman back to talk to a woman.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi William,

I've read Peace Child.

I do think that behavior relates to the message and I think of 1 Peter 2:12: "they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation." If we're talking about helping eskimoes understand what a sheep is, because they have never seen one, I get contextualization. But this has been taken way past that point today in evangelicalism.

I have written a lot about the subject you are addressing and have done what you are talking about. I also have had association with others who use the same reasoning you are espousing here in your comment.

I don't equate what you are describing with anything Jesus and the Apostles did in the way of "feeding people." I don't see anything about "creating opportunities to preach" in the Bible. Jesus wasn't creating an opportunity to preach when He fed the 5,000. If He was, He would have kept feeding them. He didn't. It was a sign miracle that fulfilled Messianic predictions like the virgin birth did.

Giving out hot dogs, small toys, soda pop, or whatever is a man-centered technique. It's not something as bad as what some do, but it is a carnal weapon nonetheless. People are being motivated to listen by the item you're giving them. It's attempting to take away the offensiveness of what you are doing. It's not regulated by Scripture, but by human reasoning. When people are given the gospel, they are given something of great value, and something like a hot dog should not be used to elevate its importance in the losts' minds. It can't elevate it, only diminish it.

I think you are sincere in doing it and have good intentions. I believe the method comes out of the burden and pressure that I'm talking about. And then a person does make a profession, the hot dog idea takes some prominence and God gets less glory because of your extra-scriptural method.

And then at what point do you stop? If the hot dog "works," then why not go further and get the jumper and then the clown and then the water slide and then the carnival. The gospel is good enough. Just preach it.

I appreciate your interest in this discussion.

Lance Ketchum said...

Brother Kent,

You are a blessing brother.
Good article!

I think another anomaly is that "preaching" is defined as what goes on in the church house during regular local church gathering times. This was not the intent of the "preaching" in the Great Commission. The "preaching" in the Great Commission is on the go "preaching" or as your are going along your way "preaching."

We have taken "Go" out of "Gospel" and changed it to come and hear.

Steve Rogers said...

Bro. Brandenburg,

Sometimes I read your articles and scratch my head, but you've sure nailed it this time! I felt great conviction, but because if we are honest, this philosphy and mindset has saturated independent baptists for over 40 years. As you pointed out, the new evangelicals, with the brewing parties and rock bands, have pushed the limits even further than fundamentalists have, but only because fundamentalists were taught some form of separation. God help us to exchange this earthly, fleshly, wisdom for the wisdom that is from above. May our focus be faithfulness, and leave the fruitfulness to God! Sad to say, I think many of our church members have been so immersed in this perspective, that it will take some time to teach them again the true what and why and how of evangelism according to the Bible. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go cancel my Monster Truck exhibition scheduled for next week...just kidding!

Kent Brandenburg said...

Thanks for all the comments. I'm thankful for your reading and considering. I agree that this major today. I'm convinced that to stop this, we've got to do away with every scintilla of it. It's why I criticize all of it. Leaving a trace will justify more and then there will be no end of it. It's sort of like leaving just two flies. You leave just two and you'll soon have a fly problem.

Gary Webb said...

William,
I agree with everything Brandenburg has said here. I do not, however, have a problem with an individual giving someone a hotdog out in public for an opportunity to speak to him about his soul. I might help my neighbor cut up some firewood so I will be able to witness to him while we are working. I don't think that Brandenburg would be against that.
However we cannot use Jesus feeding the multitude as a defense for doing something to get a crowd and then preaching to them. Jesus fed those who had already heard him preach. On one occasion the crowd had been with Him 3 days. If you have people listen to you preach for 3 days, it is a good idea to try to feed them.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Brandenburg,

Thought provoking article. I suppose we all have our inconsistencies. One of the comments following this article mentioned several individuals and institutions by name. And in one of your comments you state,

"I'm convinced that to stop this we've got to do away with every scintilla of it. It's why I criticize all of it. Leaving a trace will justify more and then there will be no end of it."

You have a link on your blog to the blog of Jeff Voegtlin of Fairhaven Baptist College. Your link takes you to an article he wrote entitled, "Spurgeon on Bribing Kids to Sunday School." In this article the bribing is with a potato, not a hot dog. But I still don't get why you link, especially with your scintilla statement.

Bob

Kent Brandenburg said...

Bob,

I'm open to whatever criticism necessary as to inconsistency. Someone made a non-comprehensive list of names and left out Fairhaven from the list, and I said every scintilla needs to be hit. No one who really knows me would say that I've left them alone on this. And if you read the comments in the 'bribing with a potato' article, you'll see that I was a prominent critic in that thread.

I don't cut people off who do this, but I have not been silent. I actually don't think I've been inconsistent.

William Dudding said...

I don't want to make a big deal about giving out hot dogs. But, as an act of kindness to gain someone's ear...what's wrong with that? People don't owe us their attention, and we're not entitled to them listening to us. When a missionary goes to a poor tribe and helps them dig wells and teaches them how to plant crops before preaching the word to them, do you object to that? After all, they don't need bread that perishes! They need bread of life!

You said: "It was a sign miracle that fulfilled Messianic predictions"

Well, what do you think the purpose of the fulfilling Messianic predictions was for? Jesus' mission was to seek and save the lost. Gary Webb made a valid point, they had already been listening to Jesus when he fed them. My question is, when is it ever appropriate to do something kind for the unbelievers? And to do something kind for them would be for what purpose if not for the saving of their souls?

Peter and John healed the lame man at the Gate Beautiful and met his physical need in the name of Jesus. Sure, that's an apostolic sign, but they still met the guy's physical need to point him to His need of Jesus.

Now in our society, most people have everything taken care of. It's almost hard to do mercy ministry since most people are self sufficient, but everyone needs kindness, not matter how rich they are. Doing something like giving a bottle of water to someone on a hot day in order to gain their ear to preach to them isn't man centered, it's loving.

Kent Brandenburg said...

William,

We are to do good to all men. We are to love our neighbor. Love is kind. We are, as much as possible, to live peaceably to all men. We are not to be an unnecessary offense, and sacrifice those things that might be one. All of that, and more, I agree with.

Our lives should match up with the gospel. They should not contradict the gospel. People could misunderstand the gospel if we misrepresent it with something that is in conflict with it in our lives.

But none of these are a strategy or a technique for evangelism. They don't add to or help the gospel.

Neither are we taught in the Bible to do things to win a hearing. These are actually the strategies of the false teachers who make merchandise out of their hearers. I don't know of any Bible text that teaches doing things for people as a means of causing them to listen to the gospel. We live loving lives, but these are not to cause an opportunity to evangelize.

If the miracles of Jesus and the apostles were examples of motivating people to listen, giving us that model, except we're to use other means we have, like a snow cone, to get someone's attention, then you have an argument. But the attraction in the NT is the gospel. We go to preach and if they don't want to hear, then we move to the next person. If the gospel doesn't attract, we're not taught to find something that will to cause a conversation.

Thanks.

Jon Gleason said...

"I might help my neighbor cut up some firewood so I will be able to witness to him while we are working. I don't think that Brandenburg would be against that."

For what it's worth, Brother Webb, I would be against it. As Kent said, there is no Biblical basis for that motivation for doing good. We do good to glorify God and because I am told to love my neighbour.

That motivation risks fostering in us a manipulative mindset, and others usually see through it.

Helping your neighbour becomes a "strings attached" thing (he has to listen to you even if he doesn't want to, because you helped him). He feels an emotional compulsion, whether you intended it or not. It's a very quick way to arrive at the point where he doesn't want your help anymore.

Just love your neighbour, help him as you have opportunity, and give him the Gospel when he'll listen. Don't do things to try to get him to listen. Not Scriptural, and often damaging.

***

"People don't owe us their attention, and we're not entitled to them listening to us."

William, are you an ambassador of the Highest or not? If you are, they owe you their attention, whether they acknowledge it or not. They aren't going to listen unless the Spirit moves, no matter what we do.

You know what you've done here? You've taken responsibility for a different kind of result. The error is less obvious, but it is still there.

Some people take responsibility for the result of faith. "If you just do it this way, they'll believe." That's false, of course, and you aren't doing that.

But you are taking responsibility for the result of "hearing". If you just do the right thing, people will listen. That's not Biblical. They aren't going to listen, they don't want to, unless the Spirit opens their ears. You can't do God's job of getting them to listen. You just can't.

"My question is, when is it ever appropriate to do something kind for the unbelievers? And to do something kind for them would be for what purpose if not for the saving of their souls?"

1. Almost always appropriate (II John gives one exception).
2. Certainly not for that purpose, because no one was ever saved by a Christian being kind to them.

Gary Webb said...

Jon,
I didn't say that I would help my neighbor cut firewood so that he would listen to me. I said that I would help him cut firewood so that I could witness to him. It was not to make him indebted or to attract him to my "Christian love." It was to take an opportunity to witness to him. Do you really believe what you said? I might stop to help a guy change a flat tire - just so that I could witness to him. Are you arguing that that is manipulative or non-biblical? "Loving my neighbor as myself" would be a good Biblical motive for changing a tire, but I would show far more love to him by caring about his soul & using that opportunity to witness to him. Am I missing something in your argument?

Jon Gleason said...

Gary, questions:
1. Why do you need to help him cut firewood to witness to him? You said, "So that I could witness to him." This doesn't make any sense to me. We don't need to cut firewood to witness.
2. Where in the Scripture do we see this motivation for doing good? "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and you can witness to them"? The closest I can really think of is I Peter 3:15, where a holy response to persecution leads to inquiries about the reason for our hope....

Am I arguing that such a motive for doing good is non-biblical? Well, perhaps it would be best to say extra-biblical. The Bible doesn't specifically condemn it, but I don't see it in Scripture, either.

Manipulative? No, I wouldn't say it is manipulative in essence, but I would say it can foster a manipulative attitude, and that it can be seen as manipulative.

I'm not saying not to change your neighbour's tire, and I'm certainly not saying don't witness to him when you do. I'm saying that doing so with a goal of witnessing has no Biblical warrant, and can foster a dangerous mindset. And even if we're not vulnerable to that mindset ourselves, if we teach that motivation for doing good, we end up leading others into danger.

Here's the flip side of it. If someone has rejected the Gospel, and told you they don't want to hear it anymore, so just leave them alone, would you then not help him cut firewood? I've actually heard a missionary take that exact position, because he had the view that we do good to get a chance to give the Gospel. It's a natural logical conclusion....

Jonathan Speer said...

I don't recommend everything by Dave Hunt, but one of his books that I found particularly encouraging several years ago was his "An Urgent Call to a Serious Faith". I was looking through it again and noticed a similar theme to that of your article.

In the front leaf the opening statements is as follows:

Are you working to hard for God?

The awesome sense of the greatness of God and the cosmic and eternal proportions of the work that He is doing seems largely absent from Christianity today.

Could this be why so many carry the self-imposed burdens of man-made "programs" they are trying to put into effect in order to "live victorious lives" or to "advance the cause of Christ"? When we see that the task is totally beyond our capabilities, then we cease from our striving and begin to allow Him to work in and through us by His mighty power.

Kent Brandenburg said...

It's good, Jonathan.

William Dudding said...

Jon,
By definition, an ambassador represents his King and must deliver not only the message of the King but his whole presentation, appearance and delivery must be in consistency with the King he represents. So, to deliver the gospel with an act of kindness is totally appropriate.

I suppose a "turn or burn" sign with an angry guy holding it would be more appropriate? Just get the words in the air, and we've done our job, right?

Jon Gleason said...

William, re: your first paragraph, where did I say it isn't appropriate to deliver the Gospel with an act of kindness?

I'll do you a kindness and help you knock down that straw man you've erected, if you need help. But perhaps your position isnt' quite so strong as you think it is, if you have to resort to straw man arguments.

I said this: "Just love your neighbour, help him as you have opportunity, and give him the Gospel when he'll listen."

So can we skip the dumb stuff?

Interesting that you mention appearance when on another thread you criticise Kent for mentioning appearance.... :)

Anyway, to more substantive matters, I have no objection to doing acts of kindness. I have an objection to NOT doing acts of kindness. It's commanded.

My objection is to a motivation for those acts which has no Biblical basis, and shifts our thinking into dangerous areas which often leads to serious error.

I'll ask again. Where does the Bible tell us to do good things for unbelievers so we can have an opportunity to preach the Gospel, or so people will listen to us? Can you cite any Scripture that says this should be the motivation for being kind? If you have cited a single Scripture on this thread supporting that, I've missed it.

We do not have to "earn the right to be heard." That is a human construction -- it isn't in Scripture. We have to honour God by obeying Him (which includes doing acts of kindness). He'll take care of whether or not we are heard.

William Dudding said...

Jon said: "I have no objection to doing acts of kindness. I have an objection to NOT doing acts of kindness. It's commanded.

My objection is to a motivation for those acts which has no Biblical basis, and shifts our thinking into dangerous areas which often leads to serious error."

Ok, I get it. I concede. We are told to preach regardless. The motivation is the glory of God, not to gain a hearing or earn their respect. If that happens through an act of kindness, great...if not, it doesn't matter, preach the gospel anyway and let God do the rest. You are right, brother.