As I left work today and headed for my car, I ran into a street preacher, his shirt reading, “Jesus Saves.”
My initial reaction to this was commending him on his courage to stand for his beliefs and convictions in a world unconvinced and disinterested in the gospel message, regardless of his intentions, be they selfless or selfish.
As I approached, I could hear the megaphone his partner yelled warnings into, despite my headphones, though it was muffled enough to only make out every tenth word or so.
I held a crate full of parfaits, and the one in the yellow “Jesus Saves” shirt tried to hand me a tract as I walked just past him to the crosswalk, waiting for the light to change.
I said, “Oh, I’m a Christian.” He may have said something after this(my headphones blocked out most of the sound), and then he tried to place the tract on top of the parfaits. I sort of moved the crate backward, and said, as I sort of chuckled, “I don’t need one, but thank you.”
I understood his persistence and the difficulty of the job he was doing, so I tried to make it obvious to him that my beliefs were the same as his, as far as salvation in Christ was concerned. It was a pleasant exchange up to this point, as far as I could tell.
He sort of shook my arm as a gesture of understanding(as my hands were occupied), and then he asked my name. This is where everything started to devolve back into an ever-growing cynicism for street preaching.
I told him my name, and he asked, “How do you know you’re a Christian?”
For a moment, I suppressed my instinctive eye-roll, because I had already seen this youtube video a hundred times, and I knew exactly where it was heading. I did my best to catch him off-guard and said, “By pursuing the statutes of Christ.” The implication being - one in pursuit of sanctification is an example of Christ, made evident by the fruit of his spirit.
He said “Amen, brother,” but that wasn’t enough to convince him that his tract had the answers I had been searching for all my life. He continued to tell me things I already knew. Things like, “anyone who says he’s a Christian, but doesn’t live like it is a liar.” He sort of shouted these at me, as I walked across the street toward the parking garage, passing dozens of other people…with my headphones on.
This is where I will have to differ with street preachers. Shouting your message awkwardly at a headphone-ed, parfait-carrying fellow Christian in an attempt to…what? If your intention is to “share the good news of Jesus Christ” with those who are unaware, why shout warnings at me as I walk away?
It seems that anger and self-righteousness are a great fuel for taking to the streets when it comes to Christian street preaching. Such is the, “SINNERS! REPENT! SEE YOUR GREAT TRANSGRESSIONS AND BE LIKE US!” attitude instead of the: Christ can only work through contrition and repentant hearts attitude. There is a place for explaining sin and the need for repentance, and it should ALWAYS be done in love, not in judgment. i.e. Look at the plank in your own eye before examining the speck in someone else’s, judge not, lest you be judged, etc…
I am of the belief that tracts aren’t the greatest means with which to supply a message, not because God is incapable of intervening through this method, but because it is highly impersonal, relies on the understanding of the person reading it, and worst of all, requires the interest of the person to even bother taking it and reading it. I understand WHY they are used and that they have been effective on occasion, but I worry that we are simply submitting to a world of impersonal methods in order to grasp at straws of relevance. It seems like the use of tracts is based in fear and not in love.
The question, “How do you know you’re a Christian?” really gets under my skin. Not because he was questioning my salvation, but because of what the question implies. We have people calling themselves Christian and not carrying the weight of the title. Of course he would ask me that question. How can he trust the word of a stranger in a world where a man’s word means absolutely nothing?
I’m not saying this to discourage street preaching nor going and sharing the message in whatever way you’re lead or believe to be best, I am saying it to caution anyone against self-righteous, angry, fear-based preaching. Always speak from reliance in love, selflessness, and confidence in GOD’s influence, not your own power.
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