Through the Foolishness of Preaching…
1 Corinthians 1:21 states, “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe.” (Good ol’ KJV)
In context, I think Paul is referring here to the content of our preaching being seen as foolishness in the eyes of the world, not the mere fact that we’re preaching it, but street preachers the world over have used this verse to explain why they preach open-air, even though it seems offensive, foolish, annoying, or old-fashioned… and in that vein, I will use it too. 🙂
I get it that not everyone reading this will preach open-air, and probably a lot of you are even offended by the mere thought of it. I used to be just like you, so don’t worry, I’m not gonna get offended if you don’t wanna jump up on a street corner and start shouting about Jesus. But regardless of your persuasion, I enjoy it, and street preaching has never been classy or high-brow in the eyes of the world. It has, however, been one of the main ways the Gospel has spread, throughout history and the Bible. If you read the Bible without judging it through your modern perspective, I think you’ll have a hard time finding a method of spreading the Gospel that is more prevalent than open-air preaching.
- Proverbs 1:20 – “Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the markets she raises her voice…”
- Judges 9:7 – “When it was told to Jotham, he went and stood on top of Mount Gerizim and cried aloud and said to them…”
- Jeremiah 11:6 – “And the Lord said to me, “Proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem…”
- Isaiah 29:21 – “…lay a snare for him who reproves in the gate…”
- Matthew 3:1 – “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea…”
- Luke 16:7 – “And [Jesus] came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people…”
- Acts 2:14 – “But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem…”
- Acts 17:17 – “So [Paul] reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.”
- Acts 17:22 – “So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said…”
Charles Spurgeon once said, “It would be very easy to prove that revivals of religion have usually been accompanied, if not caused, by a considerable amount of preaching out of doors, or in unusual places.”
George Whitefield said, “I believe I never was more acceptable to my Master than when I was standing to teach those hearers in the open fields.” and “I now preach to ten times more people than I should, if had been confined to the Churches.”
John Wesley wrote in his journal once, “I preached on the green at Bedminster. I am apt to think many of the hearers scarcely ever heard a Methodist before, or perhaps any other preacher. What but field-preaching could reach these poor sinners? And are not their souls also precious in the sight of God?”
Anyway, our friend Alex Grigorescu invited us to join him in some street preaching near Piata Obor last week. I was excited to go, hearing horror stories from other ministers here of the dangers of street preaching. I overheard one seasoned missionary saying, like a salty old sailor talking about the whale that got the best of him, “If you wanna prove your stuff, just get out on the streets and do some preaching. You’ll find out what you’re made of real quick.” Others told me stories of having angry dogs let loose on them, boxes of knives thrown at them, and the usual rude comments and angry gestures. Needless to say, I was excited.
Well, to skip to the end of the story, it was a lot more mild of an experience than I expected. Maybe there’s something wrong with me, but I honestly was hoping for more anger, demonic manifestations, and fits. A riot would have been really nice. 🙂 Half joking. Though I have always liked Acts 17:6 – “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also…”
We did get a few people shouting, “Go back home!” “We’re all Christians here!” “I was born Orthodox and I’ll die Orthodox!” and some Romanian phrases I haven’t learned yet, probably because they’re a little more vulgar. Most people just ignored us, a lot looked quietly mad, a few shouted at us, and a handful were really open to the message.
Overall, it was an OK experience. I’ve had times of street preaching that were a lot better and times that were a lot worse. I honestly felt like I didn’t make a whole lot of sense at times, but some people were genuinely interested in hearing us preaching.
My favorite moment was when I passed a tract to a young man from Sweden who quickly asked in English, “What’s this?”
Let me preface what follows by saying I normally answer more intelligently than I did on this occasion, but for some reason everything got jumbled in my head and came out kinda’ mixed up.
Hear me out as I offer some lame excuses. I wasn’t expecting someone to talk to me in English, so all I had in my head were Romanian phrases I had been reciting silently to myself. Besides, I didn’t know how much English this guy spoke, so I was trying to think through what words he would be familiar with. On top of that, I figured he was Romanian, and Orthodox, so I was trying to answer in a way that was sensitive to his cultural background and wouldn’t just instantly make him closed to the Gospel. It was really noisy and people were everywhere, shouting, talking, running, and it made it hard to think straight. I was cold and my brain wasn’t working so well. All these factors combined to clog my thoughts and trip up what I was trying to say. At least, that’s the story I’m sticking with. 🙂
Regardless, I include this here first for your amusement, second for your instruction on what not to say, and third for your encouragement. If God can use this, He can probably use you.
“What’s this?” he asked.
“Uh, well, it’s the message of the Gospel,” I answered, feeling a little like Ned Flanders.
“What’s that mean?” he asked.
“Umh…” and this is where things got really stupid as I tried to explain the Gospel in a way that Orthodox Believers could grab ahold of without just ignoring it as “not Orthodoxy.” So I sputtered out something like, “It’s about Jesus, that He died for us… There’s Hell, and it’s real, and we all deserve it.” I don’t think I succeeded in explaining the Gospel in a way anybody could grab ahold of.
“I don’t want to go to Hell,” he said somberly.
“No, that’s good. I mean bad, Hell is bad, but it’s good you don’t want to go.”
“What do I have to do?” he asked.
“Just tell Jesus you want to live for Him, that you’re sorry for the sin in your life. And live for Him,” I explained poorly, resorting to Christianese and bumper-sticker slogans.
“It’s that easy?”
“Yeah, pretty much.”
After asking if we were Mormons (boy do I get tired of this question!), he had to run, but he gave me his phone number and said he wanted to get together and talk more about following Jesus.
Please pray for this Swedish college student, that God would continue to speak to him and lead him into a relationship with Himself through Jesus. And pray for me to make a little more sense next time! 🙂