BY MICHAEL REYNOLDS
There is a right method of gospel declaration and there is an incorrect method. I think that it is easy to assume that since so few will even mention the gospel that we should be grateful for any methods that are employed in sharing it. I am grateful that God often sees fit to cause fruit to grow from unbiblical methods, but I am not grateful for the methods themselves. God is willing to do much in spite of us and that is to His glory, but we are given a way of doing things in the scriptures that are not promised just to be most effective, but to bring the most glory and pleasure to Christ. We must not have a utilitarian view of evangelistic methods, we must not just praise what simply works, but what is prescribed for us to do to the pleasure and glory of God.
In 1 Corinthians 1:21 the Apostle says, "For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe."
It pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. Has God saved people in other ways besides preaching? Perhaps, but the New Testament describes preaching as the method that pleases God. It is the wisdom of God that He designed it this way and it is for the pleasure of God that we do it this way.
There is evangelism that is from above and there is evangelism that has its origin and beginning in man. There is the wisdom of God and there is the wisdom of man. For a long time now it has been assumed that it is wise to share the gospel in the context of an established relationship and through a long and relational process introduce the subject of the gospel. Friendship Evangelism. In what text of scripture would justification for this be found? I wager that it doesn’t exist apart from something twisted from its surrounding context.
There is also an prevalent idea about westerners reaching Muslims slowly through a gradual introduction to Christian doctrine and sometimes even a forfeiture of Christian doctrine to establish common ground. Regardless of the degree of this particular form of contextualization—whether moderate or extreme—I think Paul presents a better way, a better and more pleasing method.
Preaching has been the means by which true Christianity has spread for the history of the Church. It is set out as unto God’s pleasure (1 Cor 1:21), from his design (Rom 10:14-17), Christ’s own precedent and command (Matt 4:17, 11:1; Mk 1:38; Luke 4:43, Acts 1:8) and the historical means employed by the apostles (Acts 2:14, 3:12, 4:1-12, 29-31, 5:42, etc).
In light of the necessity of preaching I want to highlight some parameters for what makes preaching Biblical and unbiblical. We must preach the truth (John 1:14, 17, Titus 2:1) and we must preach regardless of circumstances (2 Tim 4:2). On top of these plain parameters of Biblical preaching there are two verses that have always struck me when I read them.
"At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.” - Colossians 4:3-4
“and [pray] also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.” - Ephesians 6:19-20
Paul uses this phrase twice in all of his writings, “as I ought to speak” (ὡς δεῖ με λαλῆσαι). In the first instance he seeks prayer for the clarity of the message and in the second he is seeking boldness to deliver it. For clarity he is asking for φανερώσω which is simply the power to make the gospel plain and manifest to his hearers and in the second he is asking for παρρησιάζομαι which is to speak freely and boldly. It is a profound set of requests here, in them we see two key ingredients that are unfortunately not assumed in modern Christendom: clarity of the message and the boldness to deliver it.
The consequences of Paul's boldness and clarity are seen clearly in the passages themselves for he says "on account of which I am in prison" and also "for which I am an ambassador in chains." This still did not quench Paul's desire for clarity and boldness. We ought to learn from his example, regardless of the cost and without self-preservation we must employ the methods of evangelism that are most pleasing to the Lord.
It seems that in the prayer request itself it is a Pauline way of setting an example and command for his readers. He says that proclamation with clarity and boldness is his way and elsewhere he says that his way ought to be our way (1 Cor 4:6, 11:1). He believes that this is the right way of doing it, not only for himself, but also for us.
Humanitarian aid will not be enough. Secretive methods in evangelizing Muslims will not be enough. Teaching kingdom values without the cross will not be enough. There are souls dangling by a thread over the fire of hell—1.6 billion Muslims and 2.5 billion in the least reached geography in the world—that will not put their faith in Christ unless He is preached to them in theological clarity and in boldness.
This doesn’t mean that we must become street preachers (though I commend them). What it does mean is that when the door for the gospel to be preached swings wide open to me, then my bow should be drawn and ready to fire with clarity and boldness.
In closing I remember these choice words of Paul,
"Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” - 2 Corinthians 4:1-2