Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The Problem with Street Preachers

I was driving to a meeting yesterday when I stopped at a traffic light behind a man on a bike.  On the back of his bike he had a huge sign that had some kind of message about Jesus and a bible verse.  I didn't take too much notice to be honest because I find this kind of thing ridiculous.  

I've had conversations before with people about street preachers.  Most people find the whole thing strange and thoroughly off-putting. But I do meet the odd person who loves the idea of street preaching and thinks that Christians should be doing more of it.

There is good reason why Christians need to stop street preaching.

Street preaching really finds its root in the belief that everyone has the ability to understand the bible and 'make up their own minds' as to whether the gospel is true or not. It is the belief that if the preacher just tells everyone that God made the heavens and the earth then people will use their common sense and realise that what the preacher is saying is true.  It is the belief that if the preacher just tells you 'this' or 'that' about the bible then people will understand the text and then 'make a decision'.

The massive problem with all of this is that the street preacher is completely oblivious to the truth that Scripture is a text for the church community that is read and heard in the context of church community, where people are being transformed, where there is confession and forgiveness and where the Bible is understood through the life of community.

The Beatitudes for instance only make sense within the church community in that together we see that God has brought together into the church peacemakers, the poor, the meek and the persecuted. 

Jesus' call to love one another as he has loves us only makes sense when you know how Jesus has loved us.  And you only know how Jesus has loved us when you become his disciple and daily walk with him and see your own life in the shadow of his cross.

The street preacher does not realise that they are simply turning the bible into another rule book with a tick box of beliefs.  They turn grace into law and deny the very gospel they think they are preaching.

Scripture only makes sense within the life of the Church and the history of God's people.

That is why the street preacher and the militant atheist are so similar to each other and have so much in common.  They create a god in their own image that bears no resemblance to the God revealed in Jesus Christ.  Scripture is like a machine gun that they use to kill the god they have made in their own image. They go on and on about what the bible apparently says without any clue as to what the bible actually says.

When you see how much the street preacher and militant atheist have in common you realise how the bible belongs to the Church and the Church to the bible.


RDM said...

Reverend, I know what you mean. Here's a problem I've encountered over the years (before you were born my son): That every street preacher without fail, that I have met/known/stumbled upon has told me God told them to do what they do!

End of conversation!

I'll get my coat!

Tom Haward said...

My experience of street preachers are they are generally a bit moronic, but I'm a bit confused about your view of the Bible?

Do you think, therefore, that the Bible doesn't have a part to play in evangelism? I'm very rusty on the Bible now, but didn't the apostles uses Hebrew scripture when speaking to Gentiles? They may not have and simply relied on signs and wonders, but surely you would use the Bible on occasion?

Joe Haward said...

God told me to tell you to buy a new coat...

The thing with the bible is that people can often read it like they know what it means as a independent, autonomous human being without any need for tradition or study or community or insight from the Holy Spirit. Street preaching buys into this myth. So with evangelism it only makes sense in context of the church community. Mission is God's activity that he does through the church mainly (but not exclusively). So when using Scripture in evangelism you also need the church to 'flesh out' the Story you are sharing; that's ultimately what evangelism is, sharing God's Story. So the Bible's story is seen and lived through the church. And the church only makes sense because of who God is in relationship with himself calling people into relationship with him and each other. So evangelism is about the church telling and retelling the Story of God in the context of relationship with God and each other. The Bible will of course be heard but not in the detached way that street preachers and the like use it. Make sense?

Frank Madone said...

I'm not sure that having a definite answer to anything is within Christianity. Really the only definite (I think) Christianity proposes is when Jesus says "I am the way the truth and the life." -

To have a definite answer on anything always seems dodgy to me... and so to say people should or shouldn't be preaching in the streets is a bit silly. Regardless of wether that particular preacher is correct in doctrine or not, what is important, (and probably more important to God) isn't wether or not he's getting it fully correct, but that he's going out there and spreading the Gospel. CS Lewis says as much in Mere Christianity.

I wonder if your theory of Church and what Church is (it seems to me that you mean sunday or group community meetings) is in fact correct, maybe for that particular street preacher, this is his way of expressing worship or outreach. I don't agree with all street preachers, but at the same time I don't disagree with all of them especially if they just say (what may appear to be) random passages from the bible.

Yes you and other Christians who share your view may not get anything out of these street preachers, but how are you to know what someone walking past might need to hear exactly what that preacher was saying. What if those preachers are in the smallest of ways planting seeds that you and I can't see? And if they are, why should the stop? Because certain Christians feel awkward to seeing Preachers in the streets? Maybe that's the reason they're preaching, to make you feel awkward.

I wonder, if we aren't allowed to go and make disciples of all nations through "street" preaching, then how are we to do it? Wasn't Paul the Apostle one of these street preachers... Didn't he run the good race...

Absolutes, as your post seems to allude to is that street preachers should stop preaching, but is this knowledge coming from you or from the bible or from God? If its coming from you, I would hope you'd skew away from making your doctrine out of absolutes, as there is no difference in this sort or ideology and that of say Himmler's towards the Jews during WWII. In the end they lead to a darkening of ones sole, as its your way or no way, and that to me seems dangerous. Especially for a minister. I'm no expert nor perfect, but I don't put out blogs on the world wide web regarding doctrine.

Frank Madone

Joe Haward said...

Thanks for stopping by Frank.

To have conviction of belief is not a sin, indeed the gospels and Scripture reveal this. But to disregard mystery and not to recognise how when we talk about God we don't really know what we are taking about, now that is a problem. Theology is always about scrambling around trying to describe the indescribable. And that is my problem with street preachers.

Someone standing on the street shouting at passers by isn't spreading the gospel. The mission of God and the call to evangelism is modelled on the ministry of Jesus who certainly did preach, as well as eating with people, healing the sick, calling for justice. Ultimately the gospel is about re-orientating people back to God. If I take seriously Jesus' call on my life to love others then that HAS to involve sharing my life with them, laughing, crying with them. Shouting scripture at someone who walks past me in the street is not loving them like Jesus loved.

My concept of church is not about Sunday meetings, it is about life together as God's people.

Making disciples is a call to share the life of God with people through our life with people by the power of the Spirit. That is what Jesus did and that is what the Church has been called to do for the last 2000 years.

We all have conviction of belief. Your rant against me showed your conviction of belief, so to condemn me for showing conviction of belief is pure hypocrisy.
But all of your rant pales into insignificance when I read that you compare me to Himmler. That is astonishing!

If you read my blog regularly then you would see that I am someone who wrestles with theology, never believing that we have reached 'perfection'. But that does not mean I can't have an opinion on something does it?