Thursday, August 22, 2013

When Open-Air Preaching 'Clicked' for Me


I was 11 when I started to take following God's commandments seriously. Not because I was wantonly disobedient before, but merely that the reason I was doing it changed. And to tell you the truth, I can't be completely sure I know the reason. I'm very hesitant to say that I wasn't saved before, lest I blaspheme and profess to say something about God that isn't true. But from a perspective of evaluating myself, I realized as I prayed last night, I don't think I can ever "know" that I was saved before, since the way to really know is to understand the theology of salvation, which I didn't have any incorrect ideas about, to my memory, but I certainly didn't have a complete understanding. So for the simplicity of language's sake, I think I can say that I know I've been saved, since somewhere between the beginning of 2011 and 2012, with confidence. That said,

Wake-up Call

It was even before I know that I was saved that I became "converted" to the belief that open-air preaching was not only useful, but important, and a necessity. I had lived most of my life having a basic understanding of God from whatever I'd gleaned from church and what I got from the books I'd read at my own leisure, which included Genesis, Exodus, Revelation and parts of Daniel. You know, the 'exciting stuff.' And though I had no shame in talking about God with others, as I can easily remember from my time in Boy Scouts, I never had the urge to evangelize--to go out and talk with people with the express intention of trying to explain Christianity to them, and if possible, convince them of its truth. This makes some degree of sense, considering that I didn't yet have the complete picture myself, whether it's the case that I had weak faith or vain faith. But I took for granted that Jesus was God and that the basic points of the Christian faith were totally understood by everyone in America, because of how widespread the influence of christianity is.

My wakeup call came in my second semester of college, when I passed by one of the street preachers. There was one guy who came regularly to my university, and another who traveled more widely and whom I know less about, and came less frequently. It was not the first time I'd seen a crowd gathered in a semi-circle around the speaker, but this time I wasn't in a rush and I took some time to listen. I can't remember to this day what exactly I heard, and I might be conflating several different moments into one, but I remember being utterly shocked at how ignorant the people challenging (heckling) the preacher were of basic Biblical facts. Further, my university had a very high minority population. There were substantial amounts of foreign nationals from Africa, the Middle East and the Orient, as well as students who descend from those regions and had been brought up in that culture in their home, but had grown up in America. One might expect a Saudi national at an American university on a royal scholarship to not be aware of Christian doctrine. But these were white, native-born American kids who couldn't tell right from left when it came to theology. And this was something I understood as soon as I saw it, even long before my 'awakening' in the spring of 2010. I was shocked. Shocked. 

That experience impressed upon me the belief that open-air preaching is an important service, getting the basic facts of the Gospel out there so that people can at least know what it is, in order to make an informed decision about it. Like the Bible says in Romans 10:14, "how can they hear without a preacher?" If it weren't for men like these, the message would be lost over time in the culture, because people simply don't look it up on their own. That is a lie. The only way they'll hear the truth is if someone annoys them with it when and where they don't want to hear it. 

The Preacher and the Preaching

After I began studying the Bible passionately a year later, I began to feel the effects of regeneration, I believe. A strong desire to share the amazing truth that I was learning took hold of me, and my feelings toward the street preacher went from affirmation to thankfulness and encouragement. I introduced myself to the preacher, who served the Mid-Atlantic region for the organization called "Open Air Campaigners." His name was Paul Adams, shown above, and would be very recognizable from a distance with his painting easel and the crowd that typically gathered in the middle of the day. I'm very happy to report that this preacher doesn't live up to his reputation among the students as the angry, loud, offensive bigot he supposedly is. It's funny, the cranks who make such comments confuse other students to the point where they're not sure they're talking about the same person! No, Paul's Gospel presentation is complete (not lacking anything essential), done in love, and just salty enough to not let people's consciences off scot-free. "If only" he didn't speak against people's favorite sins, they wouldn't be offended. But as 1 Corinthians 1:18 and 1 Peter 2:8 together say, "the Gospel is an offense to those who are perishing."

Another year later, after my initial immersion in studying Creation, Biblical Inerrancy, and then Islam, to cover all my theological bases, I had moved on to "meatier," more in-depth Christian theology. Throughout most of 2011, I eventually came to wrap my head around what is commonly called "Calvinism," but which is nothing more than the key parts of the Gospel, clearly emphasized in no uncertain terms. I also began to learn about pseudochristian sects and heresies, and came across the concept of false believers. This was early in the year and happens to coincide with the "P" part of TULIP (an acronym for the points of Calvinism): a video of Ray Comfort preaching on youtube called "true and false conversion." In it he asked  a young man if he "knew the Lord," when he was allegedly a believer. If he answers yes, he admits God exists, if he answers no, he admits he didn't know God. So any unbeliever who claims to have once been a believer, bottom line, never was. And that, I believe, is how I began to watch Way of the Master (Ray's ministry) videos and began watching their On the Box videos fairly regularly.

That was how I got to 'meet' the guys involved in their ministry, which at the time also included Tony Miano, who is now a freelancing preacher as well. I just wanted to bring this up to make the teensy-tiny observation that I think Tony and Paul are alike in a few ways. They:

* are sponsored by (and rooted in) the church they worship in to go out and preach
* have a similar testimony, in that they came to faith when they were a bit older. Paul was in the Marines(? if it was the Army, my mistake) and Tony was a Roman Catholic, but I'm not sure if they overlap here necessarily. But both were 'tough guys' whose regeneration produced highly noticeable changes in their character. 
* used to have a history of shouting and sounding angry, from which they've changed and now if you'd hear their typical open-air, they're some of the calmest, kindest, least-wrathful-sounding people there--the hecklers are the nasty ones.

I had a funny thought. That last bit made me think of Vulcans. From Star Trek--do you know that they had a reputation for always being highly in control of their emotions and never seemingly getting angry? But if I remember the backstory, Vulcans behaved that way because they were inherently VERY aggressive and angry people, and learned to 'stuff' their outbursts deep down over time and focus on logic over emotion. This isn't to imply that these guys are bursting with rage on the inside, haha! Just that from an observer's standpoint, they can take disrespect and aggressiveness from others with extreme calm and not return kind for kind. You can really see that particular fruit of the Spirit in each of them when they're in action.

It's from watching videos of Tony (and Ray Comfort and Todd Friel) online and from seeing Paul in person that I've come to believe from personal experience that open-air preaching, combined with tracting and the use of internet sites as tools to amplify your ability to reach people, is and is going to be the most effective way to evangelize the nation we live in. The mission field isn't in Africa. It's down the road from where you live, in America. It's time to hit the streets.

Some pictures of Paul preaching

 Heckler front and center

 A wide assortment of people turn out, gather around, and at the very least hear the Good News.

If you don't believe it works, then when you see the crowd it draws, and hear the questions that are asked, and the answers that are given, I almost guarantee you'll change your mind.

~ Rak Chazak

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