Street Preachers

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I’m constantly amazed at how music is intertwined with so many aspects of my life.

Recently, as I was entering the venue for what turned out to be a fantastic Jeff Beck concert, I was confronted by several zealous proselytizers shouting that I and everyone else will be going straight to hell.  Unless we repent.  They had accompanying signs, of course.

A friend was angered, resentful of being judged and found wanting.  I didn’t like it either, and I’m a Christian.  And I said as much.  But this incident keeps coming to mind, and, well, here’s my forum.

Regardless of religion, political fervor, or other dogmas, I do respect those who believe what they believe strongly enough to take a stand, regardless of whether or not I agree with them (the caveat is that those actions do no harm to others).   I get more frustrated with people who do not seem to think fairly deeply about the things that should matter in their lives.  In sorting the existential questions of origins, morals, meaning and destiny, I find my faith to be quite a reasonable thing, but “evangelism” such as this does not resonate as an engaging method of persuasion.  For me, at least.

My reaction, then and now, is that this type of confrontational “witnessing” does far more harm than good.  To give credit, such people do put themselves in positions where they risk very adverse responses.   It is notable that the Greek root for “witness” is “marturia,” from which the word “martyr” is also derived.  While my reaction, I think, lies within the majority, it’s at least worth asking why street preachers do what they do.  

For those acquainted only with the bumper stickers of the Christian faith, they should understand that churches are full of sinners.  There is no magic “belief” button that changes a person to be a good, virtuous person.  Over time, people who truly believe in Jesus are supposed to “grow in the faith” and sin no more, but it’s granted in the Bible that even believers will continue to sin.  The central belief is that God loves us enough to provide a way out of the many ways we fall short of His expectations, and once received, our response should be an attitude of gratitude.  Those who are forgiven much should likewise forgive.  Much.

On topic, how does shouting at passersby fit within a reasonable context of an abiding faith, or of a faith that anyone would want a part?

It doesn’t.  And yet it does. 

Watch any pro football game on TV, and there’s usually someone holding john_3_16a John 3:16 sign (curiously, usually in the end zone).  Great verse. If you aren’t familiar with it, Google it.  It promises the good news of Christian belief. 

As often, there are signs that read, “Jesus Saves.”  The question that should arise is, “from what?”  The next several verses in John (and in other contexts and places in the Bible), point out that we (all humans) are judged already – our hearts are far from God or anything to do with Him.  It’s not a matter of a scale of justice where we hope the good outweighs the bad at the end of lives.  It’s a pervasive condition.  In about everything, we’d much prefer to do things our own way, thank you very much.  Adam and Eve take all sorts of ridicule by pundits who scoff at the simplicity of the story but miss the moral point.  A more straightforward story for demonstrating our desire to be autonomous (or a law unto ourselves) would be difficult to find.

Regardless of the Christian doctrine of God, many have their reasons for turning away from anyone’s “God” idea.   A few common objections include the presence of evil and suffering in the world, lack of visible miracles or presence, “believers” who are judged to be hypocrites, rejection of any notions of ultimate accountability, etc.  My suspicion though, is that most of these are secondary to an innate understanding that if there is a God, then he/she/it may actually have some obligations upon the way we live our lives.

For the Christian, this is okay.  God holds us accountable because we count.  In the grand scheme of things, I find that comforting.  I am not, however, a believer because I simply find it preferable to the implications of the great nothing to come.

Faith is life changing.  The Christian cannot boast of being a believer.  If it were not for God’s grace, we would never turn our hearts towards him.  His grace is in the little things – nature, the birth of a child, the coincidences of life that speak to love, charity, goodness, and the scriptures if they’re studied – that call us to recognize that something larger than our DNA is at work here.  Why do we have a conscience?  Why should anyone struggle with guilt for a transgression against another person?  Why does physical matter (humans) seem to be born with a built in moral compass?

Any truly held beliefs grow.  They have costs in some regards and benefits in others.  For Christians, faith grows, and it abides and ultimately becomes life changing.  And, at some point, it demands to be shared. 

Many get very frustrated with Christians who “witness” to them, regardless of the manner.  Some are just as offended when a friend mentions their faith casually as when they’re subject to the more confrontational curbside condemnation. 

The apostle Paul proclaimed the gospel publicly in the streets, but that was the customary method of the day to introduce and debate philosophies.  And Jesus?  The only judgmental attitude he demonstrated was for the self-righteous.  Otherwise?  He showed love and compassion for those in the lowest rungs of society and those who had moral failings, the same people that were shunned by the religious leaders.   Most modern churches have not forgotten this, but those that have make the news, in a bad way.

If faith (or any belief or non-belief system) is to be spread, it has to be talked about.  It has to be shared.  It’s not a burden, but rather a natural outworking of belief.  If the devil is in the details, it’s in the how.  St. Francis of Assisi said, “Witness at all times, and if necessary, use words.”  That’s not a biblical imperative, but the point is that no one should be surprised to find out when a person they know says that they’re a Christian.  Why?  Because the Christian message is best shared relationally and by actions, not at loud volumes to passing strangers.

But, you ask, who am I to judge the effectiveness of shouting the “saving message” of hell and damnation?  I would wager (not biblically approved, I know) that the corner “preachers” would consider it well worth the aggravation, the time, the derision, the stress on their vocal cords, civic fines and whatever other costs they incur if but one person is drawn towards their message.  Because they believe.

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