We’ve all seen and heard street evangelists. I have some very good friends who were very active on the streets and whom I actually met when one of them offered to pray for Fiona*. They are now missionaries in Uganda and I love them dearly. We don’t see eye to eye on all our beliefs or doctrines, but still we recognise each other’s faith and love for Jesus. And that’s the way it should be.
But it can be embarrassing when, as believers, we walk past people preaching a fire-and-brimstone, repent-or-perish message in the streets. Personally, this is because I feel that my God is being misrepresented; that’s just my point of view, but it still makes me squirm in embarrassment as I walk past.
And, I’m sorry to say that, sometimes, public evangelism can be carried out on a deceptive basis. I am sad to have to confess that I was once – and only once! – involved in such a thing, where we were doing ‘pub evangelism’. The tactics used were quite blatantly deceptive, and after seeing it in action just once, I decided then and there that I’d never do it again. I met some of the most wonderful, lovely people in that pub, and I was deceiving them. Nothing else has ever made me feel as disgusted with myself as I did that evening – but I am free from the guilt now, if not the lessons learned!
I recently read a wonderful article by a chap who just happens to live fairly near me in Devon. His blog is called RedPillRev, doubtless referring to the Red Pill/Blue Pill concept from the movie ‘The Matrix‘. I’m planning on meeting up with him for coffee sometime soon. And the article he has written, which I share here, is about a recent ‘form’ of street evangelism which has been used in the UK and probably elsewhere too. It’s nothing new, really, but it’s the way it’s presented that got me thinking about how this sort of thing works, and what sorts of things it can lead to.
Anyhow, I have reproduced his article in its entirety, graphics and all, below. Copy and Paste is a wonderful thing; I wish I’d invented it. And I will comment on the article afterwards, too.
A couple of years ago Church leaders in Reading reported an ‘unprecedented’ openness to the gospel with some 1200 people reportedly making commitments to Christ.
Whilst these church leaders did not call it a revival, they are calling it a ‘gospel awakening’.
American evangelist Tommie Zito was in Reading holding meetings when this ‘awakening’ first appeared.
I noticed that on Zito’s website was the catchy quote,
“If we don’t burn they will…”
Since then a ‘movement’ has been launched called “The Turning” where places within the UK and Europe are invited to be trained, to “soak in God’s presence” and then take to the streets with a script, the aim to get people to pray a sinner’s prayer.
Here are what the local Christians are using on the streets,
The problem with calling this a ‘gospel awakening’ is that the gospel has not been announced here! This is not the gospel. This is pseudo-spiritual sociological manipulation, preying on people’s fear and vulnerability, assuring them of eternal rewards in return of a short prayer.
We live in a culture saturated with fear, a desire for security and hope for reward. This whole methodology is simply an outworking of a cultural phenomenon, and example of how deeply saturated within consumerist ideology we are, convinced that our purpose is determined by the results we get.
So many churches in the UK are locked into this sacrificial deity who demands blood from us, a god of exchange who will bless us IF we say the right prayer, give money, sacrifice our lives. This god is to be feared for what might happen to us if we do not get in line. This god is both great and terrible, loving and full of wrath, merciful and vengeful. And it is this god being declared on the streets of Reading.
And it’s all bullshit.
Jesus called his followers to quietly and simply get on with loving others; no need to shout about it; God knows, that’s all that matters.
There are people everywhere, of faith and none, quietly getting on with loving others and serving their communities. No need for a ‘turning’, and Jesus makes it quite clear that it’s those who just get on a do it who regarded as his followers, even if they don’t see themselves as his followers.
And if your sole purpose to speak to someone is to manipulate them into a prayer, then you know nothing about unconditional love, grace, nor kindness in its truest sense.
“The Turning” and its endorsement by my own Baptist denomination is a prime example of the consumerist desire for quick fixes to deep and painful wounds.
Are people being awakened to the Abba of Jesus who is wholly Love, total forgiveness, eternal grace, Unconditionality?
Are people being awakened to the Trinitarian Life of nonviolent action who absorbs the totality of OUR violence and overcomes it with everlasting love and peace?
Are people being awakened to the One who says ‘I desire mercy not sacrifice’?
Are people being awakened to the One who is lifted up and will draw ALL to Life, none excluded, all welcomed in as children of the living God?
Are people being awakened to the One whose YES and AMEN is greater than our every NO?
I would argue that this is something of the Good News those involved in The Turning need to hear first before they make their way onto the streets.
Thanks, RedPillRev. The link to the original article is here and the article is reproduced by permission.
The photos of the ‘prompt sheet’ in the middle of the article are what I find really disturbing. It’s a prescribed, set-in-stone script that takes no account of where the victim is at in her/his spiritual walk; it’s a rubber-stamp ‘ticket to heaven’ which bears no resemblance to the real Gospel. It makes me mad. All you have to do is to read it to see why. And, as I commented on the blog post itself,
“Even then, the stuff they have on that script is not actually what they believe. Because this is just the beginning; you’re now ‘sure’ you’re going to heaven but before long you learn of all the other hoops you have to jump through to get there. You have to follow certain rules, abstain from certain things, agree to certain doctrines. It’s classic bait-and-switch: baiting people with a promise of freedom from worry about life after death and then switching to good old fashioned legalism again. And it’s sickening.”
Bait-and-switch. This is a common tactic, and, while I appreciate the there is nothing in the ‘script’ (that I can see, anyway) that encourages the victim to go to church, you can bet that there will be some sort of follow-on where that is encouraged. Of course, this bait-and-switch may not happen in all instances; when looking at The Turning’s website, I actually agree with some of what is on there. However, I am still concerned for the dangers of the legalistic approach. I am especially concerned with the nicey-nicey ‘contact us’ stuff which, depending on the church that is sending out the street evangelists, may well lead into indoctrination and legalism. Of course, it’s a conundrum: how do we get the Gospel out to the world and help people to realise the life they have in Christ, but without going into legalism and Rules? It’s a difficult one, to be sure. But this is not the way to do it, I feel.
Please let me stress that I am not saying that all churches and Christians are like this. We’re not. It’s not all deception. When the Spirit of God is working, there’s no need for deception – in fact, there is never any need for deception. I am not wanting to tar all street evangelists with the same brush. I’m not saying that any of them are intentionally deceiving. I’m just warning people to be on their guard against the Yeast of the Pharisees, as Jesus said to do (Mt 16:6). This is referring to legalism – following Rules – which the Pharisees were into, big-time. There’s a good article on this here.
And even this form of evangelism has its uses. Once someone starts to walk with Jesus, they are on the road that leads to Life – a better life here and now, and eternal Life when we die. But the true freedom of the Christian life can be snuffed out almost before it begins, by imposing legalism on the new convert right from square one. But still they are exposed to the influence of the Spirit, and become more conscious of His work in their lives. But the legalism can be hard to break free from once it is ingrained. Anyway enough of that 🙂
The other thing is this: the premise of that ‘script’ is that if you pray that prayer as prompted by the street evangelist, then you are on your way to Heaven. And I actually don’t argue with that; I believe that Jesus responds to a person’s heart. My beef with it is that this is likely not what the evangelist actually believes. I know I can’t speak for them all, but by and large the doctrines of these people are actually that not only must you say that prayer, but (as you find out later) you must also follow the Rules; and that right there is the ‘bait-and-switch’. You are, quite rightly, told that it is Jesus’s righteousness that ‘buys’ you your ticket to Heaven. I’ll go along with that for now. But then once you are ‘in’, you are told that there are certain behaviours, certain Rules, certain prohibitions, that you have to comply with or else you won’t actually get into Heaven after all. In short, then, this is the deception. You’re safe/you’re not safe.
You see, Christianity is not about following Rules at all. In fact, it’s the only one of the world’s great religions that, at its core, is dependent wholly on God’s Grace and what He’s done, rather than on what we either have done, have not done, or are ‘required’ to do. And of course these Rules vary from church to church, from denomination to denomination, and from religion to religion. They even vary from person to person within one single church!
But Jesus did not come to found yet another religion based on a set of Rules, albeit ones modified slightly from the Jewish faith He was raised in. No, He came to set us free from the Law of sin and death; the Law that brings death…in short, trying to follow the Rules always leads to failure, which is what Jesus came to address and to solve.
I’ve also noticed that if I get acosted by a street evangelist, on hearing that I am already following Christ, they then ask me certain questions which – and let’s make no bones about it – are designed to ascertain whether I believe in the ‘correct’ way; whether all my doctrinal ducks are lined up properly. And if I have one, yes even just one, doctrine even slightly out of whack, I get preached at anyway because I am obviously ‘wrong’.
Cheek of it!
So, if you are approached by a street evangelist, and they promise that if you listen to them and pray their ‘sinner’s prayer’, you will go to Heaven, ask them if that is really what they believe. They will say something like, ‘If you were to die tonight, do you know where you would go?’ The idea being that you would say ‘no’ and they would then try to ‘save’ you so that you can then say ‘Yes! I know where I’d be going!’. But actually a lot of the time they don’t actually believe that even of themselves. Ask them if they know where they’d be going if they died tonight. Ask them if it is possible that, having prayed that prayer, it is still possible for a person not to go to Heaven. Because if they are honest, chances are that they will say, “Actually, yes, it is possible for you to lose your salvation”, or something like that. Or, ‘No, I’m not sure where I’d go’. This is a sure sign of legalism and ‘bait-and-switch’. If they are selling an assurance of salvation that is based on you keeping to the ‘straight and narrow’, then it is no assurance at all. This is not sure and certain salvation. In fact this is not good news in any way!
No, I firmly believe in ‘once saved, always saved‘. What is ‘being saved’ (also known as ‘salvation’) anyway? I’m going to do a series on what salvation actually is, sometime in the future. But for now let’s just say it’s about gradually being made whole; being restored into being the person you were always intended to be. And you can’t lose that, because everything you do – or don’t do – becomes part of that process. And it doesn’t depend on you anyway. It depends on God.
And He doesn’t make mistakes.
*Actually, there’s a funny story here. My friend the street evangelist is called Mark, and we met him in Exeter as he and his wife Sabine were doing their street evangelism. I was wheeling Fiona in her wheelchair, as she was weak from the chemotherapy, and as we were trundling past Mark and Sabine, we encouraged them for their courage, and Mark offered to pray for Fiona’s healing. Once he’d prayed for Fiona, we asked Mark if they’d like a coffee as we were on our way to Costa Coffee, just 100 metres from where they were doing their evangelism. They would indeed like a coffee, so I trundled Fiona to the Costa cafe and left her sitting in the cafe while I took the coffees back along the street for Mark and Sabine. I had to take the (empty) wheelchair with me as there was insufficient room in the cafe for me to leave it there. Mark’s face, as he saw the empty wheelchair, was an absolute picture 😀 Naturally, he thought she’d got up and walked…which she had indeed done, as walking wasn’t a problem for her anyway; the wheelchair was more to conserve her energy levels because they were depleted by the chemotherapy. But Mark’s face… 😮
They came to our church the next morning, and I have kept in touch with them and watched their ministry; they are doing really well 🙂