The water of life freely given in Keswick
Is the Evangelism of the ‘ContemporaryChurch’ consistent with the New Testament?
Outline notes of paper given to FIEC Bolton Minister’s Fraternal Readings Acts 2 v 22 – 23, 36 – 38 also Acts 17 v 28 – 31
Notice in these reading the approach of the Apostle, two different audiences but one gospel message.
This pattern is seen throughout the Acts and church history, and we note the rapid spread of the church from Jerusalem to Rome.
I will call this the DIRECT METHOD.
There was only one message for those outside the church – Repent and believe the gospel – see Acts 20 v 20 – 21. Once people were converted they were brought into a wonderful caring society of believers.
The Contemporary church has transferred this type of care & support as something to be given by the church to the community, as a means of influencing them to attend.
They still give the message, but it is wrapped up in Social concerns. To justify this method we have the scripture taken out of context, such as the feeding of the multitudes, as if this was the purpose of the gospel.
Personal history – Liverpool
I was converted in 1966 from an un-churched background and I immediately began to share my new faith with my family, friends and workmates. In those days the church went out tracting, open-airs and visiting. The Baptist church had a ‘Coffee Bar’ once a week and we used to go out ‘fishing’ to invite young people in. They would sit around chatting and then we had a guest speaker to close the evening. Many found faith at that time.
The method was DIRECT, a clear presentation of the gospel and that in one of the toughest areas of Liverpool!
BibleCollege 69 – 71 Swansea.
Part of the Course was being involved with an evangelism team and I joined the Open Air team, we had a docks & University team also; once again the direct method of going to the people and seeking to share our faith giving out literature.
LiverpoolCityMission 72 – 76
Fourteen Mission centres and staff of missioners reaching out into many communities with the Gospel. City centre open air, visitation and contact outreach.
Pastor (Manchester) 76 – 89
With a Baptist church, and through many years seeing the church grow to a congregation in the 60s and children & youth in the 80s. Growth came by the DIRECT METHOD of evangelism, during my time I visited over 2,000 homes with a personal invitation.
Our only contact with the community was in presenting the gospel. We engaged in no kind of social work.
TES Evangelist 89 – 94
Working in the UK with 10 fulltime evangelist, supporting Evangelical churches in schools & mission outreach; also training for members to be effective in outreach.
Once again the DIRECT METHOD of presenting the gospel. All the evangelists were preachers.
Independent Evangelist – Greater Manchester. 94 – 20013
I was supporting local churches in helping them to ‘go and grow’; Starting children’s clubs & youth clubs; church mission to preach the gospel, with long term planning of evangelistic programmes.
In all of those years I have never worked without the support of the local churches. In whatever evangelism I have been engaged I have always pointed people to a local Evangelical church.
My ministry was going out to the people with the message of the gospel. That was the only attraction!
During these years of happy service I had noticed changes in the way churches have reached out. New methods being used and I have felt uneasy and uncomfortable with being involved. Many new books on church growth were being read and there was a clear move away from this direct Scriptural method. I want to mention some of these.
- Friendship Evangelism
We need to earn the right to share the gospel, let people see how we live, make friends and then invite them to church. Find out people’s interest and plan our evangelism around them. So we were now speaking for,
- Men’s nights
- Quiz nights
- Darts nights
- Beetle drives
- Sport evenings
- The people were to be attracted by something other than the gospel, which was tagged on to the evening. I noticed a clear dumbing down of the message. Of course there will be those who will tell you that they know of folk who have been saved by such meetings, so the means justifies the end.
The contemporary church is driven by pragmatism, not guided by Scripture!
It was not long before the main attraction became entertainment with the ‘Christian’ celebrities invited. Many churches turned their platforms into stages with lighting to match and one well known Baptist church have the lights turn down low as the proceedings commence.
The gospel is not enough on its own we need entertainers to give it credibility, and so we have,
- Pop Singers
- Sport’s personalities
- I remember a news item many years ago when Bob Dylon came to do a gig in London, allegedly he had been converted the year before. Although the gig was ‘secular’ he decided to throw in a few gospel songs. A chorus of boos rang around the arena!!
The Message Trust
I was a member of ECMA committee in the days when MESSAGE was launched. The Hawthorn brothers came and put their vision before the committee. They felt that the Manchester churches were not reaching the young people in their communities. The churches were out of touch with the culture etc.
Their first intended venture was to hire the Apollo Theatre for a month costing £30.000 and to bring the best ‘Christian’ bands in the UK, and of course they wanted ECMA to support them – a complete mimic of the world. I was one of the only members who expressed a doubt about this venture, pointing out that local churches should be responsible for reaching the teenagers in their areas.
Celebrities on the platforms giving their testimonies, this will attract people, even popular Christian evangelistic papers, headlining some famous person to attract readers. Many, whose conversion are doubtful, and some who go on to bring serious discredit to the gospel, as Christian’s In Sport discovered and were forced to withdraw DVS’s (Glenn Hoddle), and there have been others too!
Churches look around their communities, what are the needs, how can they be effective in supporting people in the community. We are not only light, but salt, after all Jesus said let the community see, ‘your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.’ Matt 5 v 16, on the misunderstanding of this text we have the ‘Project’ driven church, and a whole host of ‘ministries’ to the community, welcomed and funded by Councils often, including,
- Taxi services to hospitals
- Gardening for elderly
- Clean up the community (Rubbish collecting)
- Street pastors (Guiding the drunken club goers safely to the taxi stands)
- Debt management
- Parent & Toddlers
- Feeding the homeless
- Night shelters
- Community celebrations…etc etc
- Slimming clubs
- Get fit
- Fun days and many more such schemes…
- All worthy causes and planned with the best of intention, I have no doubt, all much appreciated within the communities, but they are not the responsibility of the churches of Christ and they have nothing to do with the New Testament method.
Do all the good you can……..
That the members of the churches could be involved and seek to do as much good as they can to relieve suffering, I have no problem, it is part of the compassion of the Christian life – but is should not be on the leader’s agenda, the mission of the church is to preach the Gospel direct to the people, to call them to repentance and faith.
The tragedy is that so many of our Christian organizations are now promoting this ‘Social Gospel’ wholesale, and sadly many who were prominent in Gospel work are now becoming gurus in this ministry such as Tony Campolo. You can hardly find a Conference or Seminar which is not promoting Social concern. Those who stick to the teaching of Scripture are looked down upon as if they are not keeping up with the times.
There is no doubt that individual Christians should, do ‘all the good they can in all the ways they can by all the means they can.’ (John Wesley)
But it is not the work of the churches to join forces with the Social Services, we are to go direct to all people and make known the saving gospel. (Acts 4 v 12)
These are my observations after over 40 years in Gospel work. I started by asking a question and I hope my answers are clear. I know there will be those who will tell me of the many conversions they have seen or hear of – pure pragmatism.
a. Contemporary Church evangelism is non biblical, because its first aim is not to present the gospel, but meet the communities felt needs.
b. There is no clear message of repentance & faith in Christ.
When the churches are funded by Government bodies then…..
Using the time or resources for ‘converting’ is not allowed.
Contemporary Church evangelism does not depend on the Holy Spirit to convict and convert. See Acts 5 v 32.
It is driven by the celebrity culture of our time.
Note – the Apostles said, ‘we are His witnesses and so also is the Holy Spirit.’
Fountain with Gospel text in Keswick
Further reading, see John MacArthur’s, ‘Ashamed of the Gospel.’
A discussion time followed and the following are some of the points raised. The questions are directed to the guest speaker.
Q. Pastors do feel burdened that there is a lack of interest in church and ponder how they can be more effective at bringing people into church. As an evangelist how do you think we can attract more people into church?
A. Is it the role of the church to actually bring people in? The church is a home for believers. We need to go out to the unbeliever. Jesus came to seek and save that which was lost! ‘I will make you fishers of men.’ Have you ever seen a fishing boat with a sign on the side, ‘Fish are welcome to jump aboard here.’ The problem is not getting the people in but getting the Christians to pray and go out with the gospel. The Lord added to the church those who were saved! See Acts 2
Q. 1 Corinthians 14 v 23v24 implies that unbelievers will be present.
A. They may be, but it does seem in the context that it would be exceptional.
Q. You have used golf in the past as a means of ‘friendship evangelism’. How do you square that with some of your comments?
A. I suppose the question I raised was, ‘Where do you draw the line?’ If a clear gospel message is to be presented then I felt I was justified in planning Golf days, but since those days I have also had a rethink and I doubt if I would do a similar ministry again.
Q. A recent well known Evangelical Magazine recently highlighted two churches that had a community Event and also another church that had started a Debt management ministry. There was no critique.
A. It is very sad that there was no critique of these events. The leaders appeared to give approval. My own feeling is that these type of ministries are not to be used by evangelical churches, although individual Christians can support folk in need.
Q. I have seen Magic used very effectively with presenting the gospel, do you see this as an effective ministry?
A. I know some excellent evangelists who use this method, I have listened to them preach and teach the gospel and they are very gifted men. I don’t believe magic has any place in gospel presentation; it is a form of deceit, and we should never associate the name of the Lord with deceit, however sincere the evangelists might be. Can you imagine the Apostle Peter doing some tricks?
Q. There are well known Christian comedians such as Tim Vine, would they not attract people to hear the gospel?
As for Christian celebrity comedians I understand you can book one for a special event with a starting fee of £6.000! I accept that humour is part of the human make up and it does sometimes lighten up a message! Can you imagine the Apostle Paul giving Timothy an exhortation on booking a comedian to promote evangelism?
The New Testament says all we need to know about church growth.