“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God.” (2 Tim 1:8, the Apostle Paul, emphasis mine)
Don’t be ashamed of Paul’s bold proclamation of the testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ. Don’t be ashamed of Paul’s many arrests and subsequent imprisonment for publicly preaching the Law of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Reject self loving, self preserving shame and share with Paul in the ministry of the Gospel according to the plan and power of God.
To their great shame there were professing believers in the early church who were ashamed of the Apostle Paul. They were ashamed of his bold, unsophisticated Gospel message. They were ashamed of his evangelistic methodology of preaching the Word of God publicly and house to house, calling all men, everywhere, to repent of sin and idolatry, and to confess Jesus Christ as Lord. They were ashamed of the ruckus that his evangelistic ministry caused in the world at large and/or their particular city. They were ashamed of his status as an arrested criminal and a prisoner of the state. In fact, at one point in Paul’s amazing evangelistic ministry he was universally forsaken:
“At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear.” (2 Tim 4:16-17, emphasis mine)
“Crying Wolf,” a recent Christianity Today article (http://tinyurl.com/ottevto) by Pastor David Robertson, is a modern day example of the church being ashamed of and forsaking a faithful evangelist when persecution and arrest come. Robertson explains that he is offering “another Christian perspective” on Evangelist Tony Miano’s recent arrest in Dundee, Scotland. True to his word, Robertson does offer an alternative perspective, it just isn’t Christian, not by a Biblical longshot. The title and content of Robertson’s article are clearly antagonistic of Miano’s message, methodology, and motives.
With confused contradicting conviction, Robertson defends Scotland as a land of Christian liberty:
“We are not banned from preaching the Word of God, nor are we restricted (for now) in doing so. So whatever else the arrest of Tony Miano means, it is dishonest and wrong for Christians to say this means that the Gospel cannot be preached in Scotland today.”
Despite the fact that an evangelist was arrested for preaching the Biblical Gospel, Robertson confidently asserts that Scotland hasn’t “banned” or “restricted” the preaching of God’s Word. He is so confident of his freedom to preach the Bible that he ends his sentence with the qualifying words, “for now.” Even more self-contradicting, a few paragraphs later he writes:
“you cannot stand on a street corner and shout out a sentence which includes homosexuality and sin in the same phrase, without expecting some kind of violent reaction.”
Which is it? Is Scotland wonderfully free of bans and restrictions or is it so anti-Bible that preaching certain portions will certainly win you violence from the populace and the police? How is Scotland both a bastion of Biblical freedom and a place where Robertson guarantees a “violent reaction” to the proclamation of Biblical truth? Bear in mind that the “violent reaction” he is referencing is that of an evangelist being arrested for publicly preaching a basic Law and Gospel message in which “homosexuality and sin [were] in the same phrase.” So Scotland has indeed radically “banned” and “restricted” the preaching of certain portions of God’s Word after all. Imagine if an evangelist, filled with love for the eternal souls of homosexuals and lesbians, stood and preached a message from Romans 1:24-32, warning LGBT sinners of God’s judgment upon what He calls “uncleanness…lusts…dishonor…vile passions…against nature…shameful…error…debased…wickedness…evil-mindedness” calling them to repentance and saving faith? In a nation where you can’t publicly mention “homosexuality and sin in the same phrase” without being arrested, how long will it be until you can’t mention it in the pulpit, on your Christian website, or in your Christian home as you instruct your children from the Bible about sexual immorality?
It is clear that breaking Scotland’s ban on what the Bible says about homosexuality will result in Christians being summarily arrested and treated as criminals. It is also clear that some pastors are willing to subjugate the ministry of the Word of God beneath “homophobic” legislation and LGBT cultural sensitivities. Scotland should be very thankful that John Knox did not submit to the prevailing “Catholic-phobic” legislation and Catholic sensitivities of his day. Long before John Knox led the Reformation in Scotland he was the loyal bodyguard of an insensitive street preaching reformer named George Wishart. Later in his life, Knox boldly and insensitively declared Bloody Mary to be a “wicked English Jezebel” and exposed the Catholic Mass as “an abomination” and rank idolatry. When Mary Queen of Scots took the throne, Knox again took to the pulpit to cry out against soul damning sacramental Catholicism lest Mary be allowed to elevate Catholicism to its former glory and deadly authority in Scotland. While many of his contemporaries compromised and stood mute, John Knox threw sensitivity into the dung heap and spoke loudly and clearly against the heresies of Rome in private conversation, public meeting, and the pulpit.
While Robertson won’t readily admit Scotland’s blatant “banning” of Biblical truth in the public square, he does offer up a solution to the problem. His suggested plan is that the church revive and follow the Apostle Paul’s example of culturally sensitive evangelism. The significant problem with Robertson’s solution is that you can’t actually find an example of this culturally sensitive, non-offensive, idolatry friendly, sin friendly evangelism in the Bible. With grand emphasis he asks two questions that the Bible doesn’t directly answer regarding Paul’s evangelistic message and methodology. His questions, and the nonexistent answers, are meant to show that Tony Miano and Biblical evangelists like him, who boldly preach the Law and Gospel in the public square, have gone astray of Paul’s instruction and life example. Robertson pleads his case:
“Did the Apostle Paul stand on the streets of Rome and yell out ‘Caesar is not Lord’?! Did he parade the streets with banners declaring ‘Down with the antichrist Emperor’?!”
Sure enough, the Bible does not record Paul doing either thing. This is an argument from the silence of Scripture, but what do the Scriptures actually say in answer to similar questions. For instance, how would Paul evangelize in Ephesus, a city passionately dedicated to the soul damning idol Diana? Did he ignore the pagan idolatry? Was he culturally sensitive to the cult of Diana? We don’t have to speculate, we can read the actual account of Paul’s evangelistic ministry in Ephesus:
“’Moreover you see and hear that not only at Ephesus, but throughout almost all Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that they are not gods which are made with hands. So not only is this trade of ours in danger of falling into disrepute, but also the temple of the great goddess Diana may be despised and her magnificence destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worship.’ Now when they heard this, they were full of wrath and cried out, saying, ‘Great is Diana of the Ephesians!’ So the whole city was filled with confusion, and rushed into the theater with one accord, having seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians, Paul’s travel companions. And when Paul wanted to go in to the people, the disciples would not allow him. Then some of the officials of Asia, who were his friends, sent to him pleading that he would not venture into the theater.” (Acts 19:26-31, emphasis mine)
The Apostle Paul’s public ministry of the Law and Gospel in Ephesus, all Asia, and the world was effectively a full frontal assault on idolatry (false gods) and sin (drunken debauchery, sorcery, theft, lying, coveteousness, fornication, adultery, temple prostitution, incest, homosexuality, lesbianism, etc.) calling all men everywhere to repent and confess Jesus Christ as Lord. Demetrius the silversmith was feeling the financial effects of Paul’s effective evangelism as people “turned away” from idolatry and Diana was “despised.” Their cultural sensitivities were necessarily and deliberately trampled upon through the faithful ministry of the Law and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Even after the idolaters of Ephesus were enraged, Paul desired to further risk life, limb, and liberty by publicly preaching in the midst of the violent mob.
At least one more question should be asked regarding Paul’s evangelism message and methodology. How would the foremost Biblical Evangelist of all time reach a multicultural city of staunch, stiff-necked, sometimes violent monotheists (like Islam today) and the polytheistic, broadminded, philosophically hip folks (like the average Starbucks or Scottish pub customer today)?
“Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols. Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there. Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some said, ‘What does this babbler want to say?’ Others said, ‘He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods,’ because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, ‘May we know what this new doctrine is of which you speak? For you are bringing some strange things to our ears. Therefore we want to know what these things mean.’ For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing. Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything…we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.’ And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, ‘We will hear you again on this matter.’ So Paul departed from among them. However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.” (Acts 17:16-34, emphasis mine)
The Apostle found the people where they were at, in their place of worship or in the market square. He proclaimed the one true God. He exposed their idols as the useless creation of man’s hands. He lifted up Jesus Christ, fully God, fully man, crucified for sin, resurrected on the third day. He called them to repent of their idolatry and to confess Jesus Christ as their Lord. You can be sure that Paul carried out the same ministry in Rome. Some mocked, some wanted to hear more, and by God’s amazing grace, some believed unto salvation. That is Paul’s example of evangelism in a mixed monotheistic and polytheistic/philosophical often “violent” culture. Robertson’s argument from Scripture’s silence is a good way to promote “another [so-called] Christian perspective,” but it isn’t a Biblical perspective.
Robertson goes on to malign Tony Miano’s motives and ministry:
“Being put in jail in Scotland for ‘preaching the Gospel’ will play well with the supporters back home and Christians in the UK who are desperate to jump on the persecution bandwagon…to be honest it does the church and the gospel, harm, both in the short and the long term.”
It seems clear that Robertson would find happy union with the spiritual rebels and super apostles of Corinth who despaired Paul and his bold evangelistic ministry in a similar fashion while they won the world’s friendship, favor, and goods through compromise of the Gospel. Here is Paul’s warning and response to them:
“You are already full! You are already rich! You have reigned as kings without us — and indeed I could wish you did reign, that we also might reign with you! For I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last, as men condemned to death; for we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, but we are dishonored! To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now… Therefore I urge you, imitate me.” (1 Cor 4:8-17)
Were Paul, Peter, John, Stephen, and John the Baptist playing to the home crowd? Did Paul, Peter, John, Stephen, and John the Baptist do the church and the Gospel harm? Peter managed to run afoul of the law and get arrested, stripped, whipped, and stocked for insensitively preaching Christ to people who obviously didn’t want to hear it. What shame he brought upon the early church. What a stumbling block to the Gospel Peter was. In the same despairing light, the Apostle John would certainly be seen as a blight upon the early church and the ministry of the Gospel. We can all breath a little easier knowing John was exiled to the island of Patmos for an evangelistic time out where he could just sit and think about the ruckus he was causing with “the Word of God and the testimony of Christ.” The martyred Evangelist Stephen would clearly be relegated to Robertson’s “redneck” (his word) category of destructive unsophisticated evangelistic buffoons. Stephen was anything but “culturally sensitive.” Instead, he faithfully indicted his culture for their “stiff-necked” rebellion against God as evidenced by their murder of the prophets and Jesus Christ Himself. What did Stephen get for his efforts? He was stoned to death by a violent mob whose sensitivities were trampled upon. For Robertson to be consistent he would have to say that the big jerk got what was coming to him. Instead, the awesome reality is that the Lord Jesus stood up from His throne at the right hand of the Father to receive His faithful martyr! Consider that John the Baptist was beheaded for boldly standing against perverse sexual immorality, the very thing that Tony Miano was arrested for in Scotland. Was John the Baptist a bumbling “redneck” Jewish prophet, or was he the greatest of those born of women as the Lord Jesus declared?
Imagine the accusations, beatings, arrests, imprisonments, stonings, crucifixions, and persecutions the Apostles could have avoided by embracing and implementing Pastor David Robertson’s advice to package the Gospel in a creative, non-offensive, culturally sensitive, idol friendly, sin friendly way. No doubt, the Apostolic church would have been revolutionized by Robertson’s evangelistic instruction and example, but they would also have avoided the following glorious accusations:
“Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!” (Acts 5:28, emphasis mine)
“These who have turned the world upside down have come here too.” (Acts 17:6, emphasis mine)
What Robertson and those like him have missed is that we are not commanded to be God’s public relations experts, putting a bright and cheery, culturally sensitive spin on the Law of God, the Gospel of God, and God Himself. In stark contrast, with all authority in heaven and earth, the Lord Jesus commands “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations” (Luke 24:47, emphasis mine).
The Lord of the church did not leave us in the dark groping for answers about the mission of the church. We don’t need to ask, “What would Jesus do? We don’t need to ask, “What would Paul do?” We need to repent of creative, culturally sensitive, evangelistic rebellion that enables us to avoid dying to self and taking up the cross daily. We need to do what Jesus commands us to do in the Gospels. We need to do what the Apostle Paul commands us to do in the Epistles. We need to follow Jesus’ actual evangelistic example. We need to follow Paul’s actual evangelistic example. We desperately need to forsake safe, self loving silence and fill our cities with the doctrine of Christ! We desperately need to obey the Great Commission and turn the world upside down with the Gospel of Jesus Christ! If David Robertson, Christianity Today, or anyone else wishes to provide the Church “another [so-called] Christian perspective” insisting on disobeying the Lord Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul’s clear evangelistic command and example, let them abide in the shame of their rebellion quietly. Cease ridiculing and mocking those who by grace alone, through faith alone, for the glory of God alone, actually follow Jesus. Get behind those who are on the front line of the Gospel battle, or get out of the way.
I’ll give the Lord Jesus, Peter, the Apostles, and John Knox the final word:
“Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38, emphasis mine)
“‘Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!’ But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: ‘We ought to obey God rather than men.’” (Acts 5:28-29, emphasis mine)