Tuesday, December 05, 2017

The Apostle Paul and Ethics in Evangelism: Exposing the Corruption of Modern Methods

What method is required to "preach the gospel to every creature"?  One, go to every creature.  Two, preach the gospel.  Done.  Of course though, we've messed this up for various reasons that are worth exploring more in other posts.  People haven't received the gospel because the church won't do either one or two or both.  Some would say, "It doesn't work to do one and two."

Christian leaders have discovered that Christians don't like one and two.  They want something else.  Jesus left heaven's throne, but they might have to leave their living room.  Since they won't like those two and they won't work, new methods are concocted, one of which I encountered again recently.  I say "again" because I remember seeing this as a teenager, the survey method.

You go to a door and you say, "We're taking a survey in the neighborhood on religion in America."  Genius, huh?  Is it really a survey?  You've got to get past that point, I think, to continue.  Is it right, is it ethical, to call something a survey, when you know it isn't one, no matter how you try to spin it?

Many of Paul's epistles contain a defense of his ministry.  False teachers attacked Paul's teaching and methods every where he went.  His opponents tried to hurt his reputation so his audience wouldn't listen to him or turn away from what he had already taught.  He had to defend himself to stop that from occurring, for the sake of the glory of God and eternal souls.  An ancillary benefit to Paul's defense of his ministry is an explanation of how Paul did ministry, providing authoritative guidelines for what to do and how to do it.  Since these defenses are God's Word, they are to regulate what believers are to continue to do.

The first part of Paul's first epistle to the Thessalonians provides one such defense of his ministry.  In 1 Thessalonians 2:3, Paul writes:
For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile.
These three words communicate three categories of attack from the false teachers.  They had said his exhortation was deceit, uncleanness, and guile.  He says they weren't and then he goes into a more detailed explanation of how not on each of them.  They relate to his content, his motive, and his methods.  He could be preaching the wrong thing for the wrong reason and in the wrong way.  He defends himself in all of these.  As a preacher, Paul himself believed it wasn't just what he preached, by why and how as well.

What I'm writing about relates to ethics and ethical systems, such as utilitarianism, pragmatism, relativism, etc.  I was reading something over at 9Marks on this in the last few days with an exposure of the ethics for firing or releasing a particular pastor in the late 19th century because he wasn't filling the balcony with people.  Motive relates then to methods, because if the motivation is wrong, the method most often is then wrong too.

Paul wrote the following about his method later in 1 Thessalonians 2:10-12:
Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe:  As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children, That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory.
I want to give credit to Jared Stager, one of our adult Sunday School teachers, for bringing this to my attention, while sitting in his class.  Besides managing two plants as an engineer, he's also doing an MBA and writing a paper on ethics, so they have dovetailed, this passage and his class.  Paul judges what he does, so he uses three adverbs:  holily, justly, and unblameably.  People like to judge motives, but Paul judges actions, which is a good lesson to learn.  He asks them to judge how he did what he did, something they could see.

I'm not going to go into depth on the meaning of the three adverbs that characterized the ethics of Paul in his work.  That is a worth endeavor, but I'm going to leave this at a simpler point, that is, he was concerned how he did what he did and could defend his methods.  Paul's methods were above board, transparent, sacred, and true, themselves honoring to God.  They mattered to him.  They should to you too.

Someone might say, "At least people are going door to door and preaching.  Why do you have to be so critical of how they do it?" Perhaps even further, someone might say, "There are far worse methods than giving a survey that really isn't a survey, so why not start by criticizing those methods?"  If you've been reading here for awhile, I do criticize worse ones.  To answer the first concern though, believers have to accomplish their preaching in the right way, an ethical way too.

Paul didn't say, "Stop judging methods; they don't matter!"  Preachers today might just say, "Stop being critical."  Paul didn't say that.  He could defend what he did.  If methods didn't matter, Paul could have said, "Go ahead and judge my methods; they don't matter."  He defended his methods.  He obviously implied that if he actually had the methods they said he did, they would have been right.  He didn't.  We should be able to defend what and how we do too.  When you are out preaching the gospel, you are not taking a survey on religion in America.

You should be happy to say, "I'm out talking to people about Jesus," or "I'm out preaching the gospel."  If people don't want to hear that, then you find out and move to the next person, just like Jesus did.  That is holy, just, and unblameable ministry, which matters, as Paul taught.


Tyler Robbins said...

I once went to a church that did the "survey method" of evangelism. I never did it, and thought it was juvenile, dishonest and insults people's intelligence. It's idiotic. Just tell them why you're there!

Kent Brandenburg said...

I would like to see the data collected, the survey results, and the scientific method employed. How is the information from the survey being used? More things have to be made up to cover for it not being a real survey.