In my last update, I mentioned that I was traveling to Romania, Moldova, and Serbia. Here is an update on the recent trip. Thanks for praying for me and for your support that makes these trips possible. I am only providing brief summaries here. If anybody wants the extended version, I will be happy to provide. Continue reading
Every Training Leaders International (TLI) trip is different. The context, as well as the class composition, makes each trip unique. This trip to Douala, Cameroon is no different. TLI is here to help train French speaking pastors through the Dale Kietzman University of Douala. It has been a unique trip. Most unique about this trip is that we have been invited to provide training for pastors who are all from Pentecostal backgrounds, and we are three Baptists and a Reformed Church pastor. Continue reading
One of the most helpful things missionaries can do as they prepare to serve overseas is to go through cross-cultural training. Different mission agencies might go about this differently, but there is agreement that before a missionary sets out to leave lives in a different culture, there needs to be proper preparation. Thus, Cross-cultural training helps introduce the missionary candidate to the challenges they will or might face as they leave live in a culture different from their own. Continue reading
In Genesis 12:3, God said to Abraham, “. . . in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Commenting on this particular text, Paul says, “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’ So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” (Galatians 3:8-9). Continue reading
In the book Vernacular Hermeneutics, David Tuesday Adamo has a chapter on “African Cultural Hermeneutics.” His aim is to make a case for the practice of cultural hermeneutics in Africa. He goes further to apply this method to the Psalms. Adamo’s chapter illustrates what I call the danger of cultural hermeneutics and shows why this emphasis should be rejected if we are to continue to maintain the truth of Scripture.
Adamo argues that,
In African indigenous culture, the means for dealing successfully with traditional problems like disease, sorcerers, witches, enemies and lack of success in life, have been developed. Western missionaries taught African Christians to discard these indigenous ways of handling problems without offering any concrete substitute, except the Bible. Charms, medicine, incantations, divination, sacrifices and other cultural ways of protecting, healing and liberating ourselves from the evil powers that fill African forests were hurriedly discarded in the name of Christianity. Yet, we were not taught how to use that Bible as a means of protecting, healing and solving the daily problems of life. The Euro-American way of reading the Bible has not actually helped us to understand the Bible in our own context (p. 66).
Three things stand out in this above statement. 1) Christianity is a Western missionary thing. 2) Missionaries discarded African traditional practices and only replaced them with the Bible which is not a concrete substitute for dealing with their problems. 3) Africans should have been taught by the missionaries on how to use the Bible for protection, healing, and solving daily problems. Implied in Adamo’s argument, then, is that African cultural hermeneutics will enable Africans to interpret the Bible in a way that brings back such practices and makes use of the Bible to do what charms, medicine, incantations, divination etc. did in the culture.
Adamo’s approach (in line with those who argue for African cultural hermeneutics) is to begin with the African experience, then search the Scriptures to see if there is anything in it that could solve problems faced in that context. He states,
Faced with some peculiar problems as African Christians, we searched the Bible consistently with our own eyes in order to discover whether there could be anything in the Bible that could solve our problems. In the process of reading the Bible with our own eyes, we discovered in the scripture great affinities with our own worldview and culture. We discovered in both the Hebrew Scripture and the New Testament resemblances to events similar to African experience, especially painful experience (p. 67).
Applying his African cultural hermeneutics to the Psalms, Adamo points out that the Psalms, interpreted from the African perspective, can be used protection, healing, and success in life. Before the advent of Christianity, the indigenous tradition of Africa used incantations and charms to protect themselves against enemies and evil. Given this cultural context, he comes to the Psalms and applies his cultural hermeneutics approach. He argues that the Christianity brought by missionaries did not meet the need of Africans for protection, healing and success. What the missionaries did not give, African indigenous Christians found by searching the Bible. As he puts it,
“Using African cultural hermeneutics to interpret the Bible, they [African indigenous Christians] found secret powers in the Bible, especially in the book of Psalms. They used the Bible protectively, therapeutically, and successfully to fill the missing gap left by Eurocentric Christianity” (p. 74).
One wonders how Adamo sees the Bible, that he uses it as he describes.
Applying his methodology of cultural hermeneutics, Adamo identifies three groups of Psalms for the African indigenous churches. They are: 1) Protective Psalms (Psalms 5, 6, 28, 35, 37, 54, 55, 83, and 109. He argues that these are protective Psalms and thus should be used against enemies and evil. They can be used in the African context to defeat the evil plans of enemies. 2) Therapeutic Psalms (Psalms 20 and 40 [for swollen stomach]; 51 [to heal barrenness]; 6 [to relieve from pains and worries]; 1 [to prevent miscarriages] etc.). 3) Success Psalms include Psalms 4; 8; 9; 23; 24; 46; 51; 119:9-16; 134 (for success in examinations or studies).
In the end, Adamo has replaced the African traditional practices with the Bible. Rather than hearing what the Bible says to the African indigenous church, he wants the African indigenous belief system brought into the Bible. Cultural hermeneutics, then, is finding in the Bible those aspects that agree with the cultural practices and then using them, even to the point of using the Bible as a charm to protect from evil.
Adamo’s work may sound trivial to Western ears, but is a worry because what he says is reflected in so much of what is published in African theologies these days. Such hermeneutics will keep people comfortable in their belief systems, and they will never see the need to embrace Christ as Lord and Savior.
Cultural hermeneutics as a topic of discussion may be appealing to scholars, and the push for cultural sensitivity might keep us from challenging such arguments, especially when made by Africans. But that would be disastrous for the future of the church in places like Africa. We must know about these issues, as they serve to show the serious need for proper theological education.
 Rasiah S. Sugirtharajah, ed. Vernacular Hermeneutics (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999).
Teaching Hermeneutics to pastors on the mission field was a joy for me. Helping students see that there is indeed meaning in the text that the author intended to communicate, and that we can arrive at that meaning was a thing that students found significant for their own preaching. One day in class, a student remarked, “Now, I do not have to look for things to put into my sermon because the text gives me so much to deal with.” Contrast this with a pastor who got up to preach one Sunday and told the people, “I have had this sermon for a month but was looking for a passage to go with it.” The question is, should we train pastors on the mission field to go from text to sermon or from sermon to text? The answer is obvious. The text, rightly interpreted, gives the message, which should be preached, to the people.
The practice of hermeneutics (going from the text to sermon, going from author’s intended meaning to significance for our context , commonly known as application) is being challenged, and this is dangerous for the health of the church. This challenge comes in the form of what is called “cultural hermeneutics.” The challenge is coming from scholars in various cultures, as well as from the West.
At the Evangelical Theological Society meeting in Atlanta in 2010, there was a discussion group on New Testament Studies in Africa. It was a very helpful discussion, but I was shocked at one statement: that we need to make room for and be open to African Hermeneutics. I raised an objection to this statement and started thinking of the implications of such an approach. Recently I met with a seasoned missiologist who, after finding out what TLI is about, asked me, “Will you practice cultural hermeneutics or are you going to bring western hermeneutics and dump it on them?” He argued that we need to have the cultures interpret scripture the way they see it. We need to be comfortable with other cultures coming to the text and seeing different things. Again, this way of speaking is dangerous and will do damage to the church.
Who is being catered to in this challenge of cultural hermeneutics? I fear that those in the West jumping on the band wagon of this subject, have not carefully considered its origin and who is being served in advocating such a position. Take Africa for example, who in the African context is making the case for cultural hermeneutics? A casual reading shows that it is the liberal scholars, western trained, with no concern for the purity of the gospel, who are making the argument and rejecting the normal practice of hermeneutics as Euro-centric and uncaring for the African context. Are scholars in the West, then, promoting the demands of African Liberal Scholars? It seems so.
Those in Africa who advocate for cultural hermeneutics argue that Africans should be allowed to read the Bible for themselves, and will see things differently. They should be able to come to the Bible and see a different meaning in the text than a westerner will see. There should not be a western imposition on one’s right to see truth in the Bible from his or her own cultural perspective.
The basic argument of cultural hermeneutics is captured by Professor Gosnell L Yorke, Faculty of Theology & Religious Studies, University of Eastern Africa, Banaton, Kenya. Writing for UNISA (University of South Africa) Online, he says,
Since it is now acknowledged that all theology is practiced* from a certain perspective, a space is cleared for an Afrocentric reading of biblical scriptures. Afrocentrism is an attempt to re-read Scripture from a premeditatedly Africa-centred* perspective which breaks the hermeneutical hegemony and ideological stranglehold of Western biblical scholarship. It is shown, furthermore, that an Afrocentric reading of the Old and New Testaments and an Afrocentric understanding of the figure of Jesus Christ undercut all Eurocentric pretensions.
*[English rather than American spelling of several words.]
This challenge of cultural hermeneutics is serious. If left unchallenged, it will affect the church and create problems in understanding the Word of God.
Responding to this challenge, we must not engage in debating such scholars, but in preparing future scholars who see the proper role of hemeneutics in their context. These will be people who can go from text (properly interpreted) to significance in their various contexts. It seems to me that the argument for cultural hermeneutics is confusing “meaning” (what the author intended to communicate) and application of the meaning in our own contemporary context.
The practical outworking of the cultural hermeneutics argument is disastrous. See the next post tomorrow on “Cultural Hermeneutics Applied.”
 See his full article online at http://www.unisa.ac.za/default.asp?Cmd=ViewContent&ContentID=7348
How does your church choose and send missionaries? How does one go about becoming a missionary? Are there principles to guide this process? In most cases, an individual realizes that God is calling him to missions. He approaches a mission agency, which agrees to send him. Afterwards, he tells his church leaders (or the missions board) that God has called him to missions. Then the church accepts him as called, and prepares to send him to the mission field after he fulfills whatever requirements they have in place.
This is not necessarily a bad approach, but it does raise questions about the role of the local church in choosing and sending missionaries. It seems obvious that the local church needs to be intimately involved in the process, both in recognizing those who are gifted in the work of missions, and in seeking God for how they could be set apart for that work. Missions ought to be a major part of the life of the church.
There are two texts that are helpful in knowing how a church should choose and send out missionaries.
Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.
While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after fasting and praying, they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
The following points and questions are based on the two passages above, and are meant to help you think specifically about the role of your own church in choosing and sending missionaries.
- The church should recognize the serious need for laborers. Jesus made it clear to his disciples that the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. That remains true today. Do you see the need and are you moved by the lack of workers in the field? How so? Can you think of specific ways that show you see the need and are concerned?
- The church’s response to the need is earnest prayer. Jesus asked his disciples to respond in prayer to the Lord of the harvest by praying earnestly for him to send out laborers. Are you a church that is earnest in prayer to God to send out laborers? What are specific ways in which you are doing this, and what are some ways you think you could do it better? Who are you asking God to send out?
- The church should be ready to obey the leading of the Holy Spirit. When the church recognizes the need for laborers and prays earnestly, the Spirit will speak. That is what happened in the church in Antioch (Acts 13:2). Is the vision for missions in your church such that it is evident in your worship services regularly? Or is it something that is only evident once a year? In your worship of God, and your fasting and praying, do you listen to the Holy Spirit? If so, what is he saying to you concerning missions and the sending of missionaries?
- The church should be obedient to the instructions of the Spirit no matter how hard they may seem. The church in Antioch responded in obedience when they were asked to set apart Barnabas and Saul for the work of missions (Acts 13:3). How can this be applied in your own church? In your fasting and praying, what has the Spirit said and how have you responded? Who are specific people in your congregation that the Spirit has called to missions? Have you affirmed that call? Are you willing to respond in obedience if the Spirit instructs you to set apart the best in your congregation for the work of missions? Barnabas and Saul were prominent people in Antioch, but when the church fasted and prayed and knew it was the will of God, they responded in obedience. How can you follow this example in your own church?
In sum, the role of the local church in the choosing and sending of missionaries is very important. The decision to send a missionary should be one that is made and affirmed by the whole church. When the church recognizes that many in the world are perishing without the gospel, and that laborers are few, her response is to turn to God and pray for him to send out laborers. We do so knowing that the Holy Spirit will ask us to set apart people from within our own congregations for the work of the gospel. The role of the church is therefore to worship, fast, pray, and set apart as the Spirit leads and to commission those thus set apart. This makes the choosing and sending of a missionary more than an individual decision: it is corporate.
The Other Equally Very Important Side of Romans 10:14-17
14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
Paul’s words to the Romans in this passage have appeared in many sermons on missions and in missionary reports. The argument often is that people must be sent to preach the gospel, since without a preacher, people will not call on the name of the Lord and be saved. The logic of Romans 10:14-15 is straightforward. This point cannot be debated. But, have we missed an equally very important point of this passage by focusing so much on the need to send? I think so.
There is another part of Romans 10 that, if taken seriously, will intensify the desire to bring the gospel to the nations. This point only comes into view when we take Romans 10:14-15 in the context of Romans 9:30-10:17. We want to ask, “Why did Paul say these words in this particular place?” To answer, we look in summary form at the development of his argument and make the following observations:
1.There is a situation of unbelief that is displeasing to Paul (9:30-33). The issue is that Gentiles have trusted God for righteousness. But Israel, by trying to pursue righteousness through works, has not obtained it (9:32). The actions of Gentiles and those of Israel are contrasted in 9:30-31. Israel failed to understand that being made right with God is a matter of faith and not works. It is the person who “believes in him” that “will not be put to shame” (9:33). Right away, we see that faith is necessary for a right relationship with God.
2. Paul’s response to the situation of unbelief in Israel (10:1-4). In response, Paul says, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (10:1). It seems that Paul is very burdened, desires their salvation, and prays that God will do it. His burden is because his fellow Israelites are zealous for God, but in ignorance. They do not know that righteousness with God is by faith and not by works, and so they labor to obtain it. In other words, they are lost and need the gospel that promises salvation through faith alone.
3. The message of salvation explained (10:5-13). In this section, Paul takes time to explain the message of salvation that is by faith. In order to do that, he contrasts righteousness by the law and righteousness by faith (10:5-6). As a matter of fact, the message is not so hard that one should wonder how he or she can possibly obtain it (10:6b-8). The message says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (10:9-10). This is the message taught in Scripture (10:11) and the same message holds for everyone (10:12). What is required is faith: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (10:13).
4. But how is anyone to hear unless there is a preacher (10:14-15). The words of Paul about the need for a preacher to be sent comes in the context of the unbelief of Israel and the faith of Gentiles, his burden for his people and prayer that God will save them, and his explanation of the gospel message that brings salvation.
In view of the above observations, we can note the following points:
- It is not enough to be eager to send people to preach the gospel. One can do that and not be moved by it at all. Anybody can give money for a preacher to be sent to the heathen. Instead, it seems that preceding the sending is a sense of the danger of the lost in seeking a righteousness of their own based on works and a burden for them; a desire and prayer that God will save them. Paul was burdened and so he prayed. He also knew how ignorant his fellow country people were, and sought to help change the situation. So, there needs to be an understanding of the situation of those needing to hear the gospel, a burden on our hearts that pushes us to pray.
- The message of salvation is clear and rooted in Scripture. Paul took time (10:5-13) to explain the message of salvation. It is not enough to know that people need the gospel, it is not enough to be burdened and pray, we must arm ourselves with a message. It must be clear and easily explained.
- After all of these, then we seek to see how that message will go to those who need it by sending preachers (10:14-15). Interestingly, the preacher must have a message because without a message there will be no faith. Note what Paul says in 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
As we strive to bring the gospel to the nations, let us ask God to give us a burden for the nations, be purposeful in prayer, confident in our message, and obedient in going and sending.
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me (Revelations 3:20).
This text from Revelation 3:20 if one of the most quoted passages in evangelism. The appeal is made to the unbeliever that Jesus is at the door of his heart, knocking, and that he promises to come in and eat with him. The only hindrance is the person not opening the door of his heart to Christ. But is this text really about evangelism?
Before arriving at a conclusion about what the apostle John meant when he wrote Revelation 3:20, we must resist the temptation to go directly from the text to the meaning. Rather, the way to know what a verse means is to study it in its context. When the author of a text writes it, he writes in such a way that we can arrive at what he intended to communicate by studying his words in context.
The Meaning of Revelation 3:20 in Context
First of all, we notice that the text is addressed to the Church in Laodicea, a church described as “lukewarm” (3:16). Jesus threatens to spit them out of his mouth (judgment) because they are “lukewarm.” Implicit in the words, “I will spit you out of my mouth” is a call to repentance. The church in Laodicea must repent or risked being judged by Christ. Contrary to how they see themselves, Jesus counseled them to turn to him and receive from him so that they may be rich (3:17-18). The call for repentance is made explicit in 3:19, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so, be zealous and repent.”
Obviously, the people in the church of Laodicea, though “lukewarm,” were believers. Nothing in the text says that they were unbelievers. In fact, Jesus says that he will discipline them because he loves them (3:19).
Seeing then that Revelation 3:20 was addressed to believers, we can then begin to seek an understanding of what the text meant. We can say that Jesus’ words to the church in Laodicea were addressed to believers who were struggling. Jesus promised them that he is ready to re-establish fellowship with them, “I stand at the door and knock, . . . I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” This fellowship is not possible unless they repent, “hears my voice and opens the door.”
The message and promise of this passage for believers is that if and when we stray far from the Lord, he is ready and willing to restore fellowship with us. Yet, it will not happen unless we repent.
We have a Savior who is there ready to forgive us our sins when we repent. He stands with arms stretched out to those redeemed by his blood.
Given our understanding of the passage in context, we conclude that it would be a misuse of the text to apply it to unbelievers. To do so would be to miss the words of Christ for the church.
One way to decide how to practice healings and other miracles in crusades is to look at how Jesus did it in his own ministry. Miracles figured prominently in his work. At the same time, there is a key point that makes the difference between his healings and those performed today. So, what was the place of healings and other miracles the ministry of Jesus and what should it be today?
The following are observations from the ministry of Jesus and the apostles:
- Primacy of the gospel: Priority is given to the preaching of the gospel. Healings are secondary, never primary. We see this in many places in the gospels. Jesus sent out his disciples to preach, and in preaching, to cast out demons and heal the sick (Matt. 10:7-8). Many people sought Jesus for healings, but he chose to go to many towns and preach, for that is why he came. When Jesus healed a demon-possessed man, the response of the crowd was to talk about his message and his authority (Luke 4:33-37). When those sent out by Jesus returned rejoicing that demons were subject to them, Jesus told them not to rejoice in that fact, but to revel instead in the truth that their names are written in heaven (Luke 10:17-20).
- Authenticate the gospel: Healings and other miracles authenticated the message of Jesus and the apostles. They brought wonder among the people as to who Jesus. They were often amazed and wondered if he could be the Son of David (Matt. 12:23; 9:32-34; Luke 11:14-23). The miracles showed that the message was from God and therefore true, and that the apostles were serving God (Acts 4:23-31).
- Opportunity to advance the gospel: Healings also provided an opportunity for healed individuals to testify about Jesus and to follow him. The demoniac desired to follow Jesus (Mark 5:17). He went about proclaiming “what great things the Lord has done” for him and how God showed him mercy (Mark 5:19, 20). His response to the work of Jesus was to testify about him.
- Authority of Jesus: Healings were performed by the authority of Jesus, that is, in his name and by the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:5-22; Matt. 12:28). He appointed and sent out people with authority to heal and cast out demons (Mark 3:13-15; 6:7-13).
- Demons approached Jesus: Demons that were cast out would often recognize Jesus as the Son of God. They feared him, and in some cases begged him not to destroy them. We see here that Jesus never went looking for demons to cast out. He confronted them when they posed a challenge in his preaching ministry (Matt. 8:28-34; Luke 4:33-37).
- It is possible to cast out demons and heal the sick other than by the power of Christ. This is what Jesus implied in his question to the Pharisees (Matt. 12:24). This is also clear in what Jesus says in Matthew 7:21-27.
From the above observations, healings and other miracles are a work of God. They were never set aside as a ministry in themselves. When Jesus and the apostles were preaching and there was need for one to be healed, they did so. The primacy of the gospel in the healing accounts is obvious. The focus is never on the one healed but on the power and authority of Jesus over demons and sickness, his identity as Son of David, and his mission as the one bringing in the kingdom of God. His healings brought amazement and pointed people to God. They advanced the gospel preached and those healed testified to the power of God or Christ in their healing. Jesus shows that to be healed is a great work of God and also mercy from God.
In the ministry of Jesus and the apostles, healings were never planned into the preaching ministry of the day. They went about preaching and doing ministry, and healed as the occasion arose. Their primary concern was to proclaim the gospel.
May we be like the apostles and pray to God to embolden us to preach the word without fear while HE (not WE) stretches out his hand to heal and perform wonders to authenticate the message we preach (Acts 4:23-31). God decides who is healed and when and for what purpose. We do not decide.
The place of healing and other miracles in our crusade ministries can be clarified by carefully understanding the methods of Jesus and the apostles. We cannot go wrong when we follow them. Like Jesus and the apostles, let us strive to proclaim the message of the kingdom first. Then, God will do the rest through us for his glory.
My last two posts (Healing Jesus Crusade and Jesus Crusade: Our Response) described a crusade which focused on healings. I indicated that while we cannot deny the healings that took place, we must be careful to focus on the gospel of the kingdom and draw attention away from the preachers and their healings. By saying that, I was not saying that crusades, as a means of outreach, are unfounded.
In this post I want to propose how crusades can be done in a way that is consistent with the teachings of the NT in order for them to be biblical.
We can make a strong case for the ministry of crusade from the Gospels if by “crusade” we mean open air preaching to large gathered crowds of people. Often, Jesus preached in open air situations to crowds that gathered to hear him (Matt. 4:23-25; 5-7). John the Baptist came preaching to multitudes and calling people to repentance (Mark 1:4-8). There is no doubt that the Gospels focused on Jesus’ and John the Baptist’s ministries of teaching and preaching to crowds.
But, we must note their method, message, and audience.
- Method. Their method was not so much, “Come and hear the man of God or the apostle of God preach.” If anyone qualifies to do that, Jesus was the one. Rather, both went about doing their work of preaching and teaching, and news about them spread.
- Message. Their message was specific. Both were known for what they preached. John preached the message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4) and Jesus preached “the gospel of God,” saying that “the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:14-15).
- Audience. Both John and Jesus preached to the crowds, who were mainly unbelievers. They called them to repentance.
Listening to Jesus and John preach, there was no doubt what their message was about: God, his kingdom, and the need for repentance.
The Book of Acts
The apostles in Acts preached in public gatherings, and in some cases thousands of people repented and turned to God (Acts 2:14-41; 7). So, there is evidence in Acts that public preaching took place as a means of evangelism/proclaiming the gospel. Again, we note their method, message, and audience.
- Method. Nowhere in Acts do we read that the apostles went out and invited the masses to come to a gathering to hear a particular individual preach. What we see are godly people going about ministry obediently, and preaching the gospel whole-heartedly whenever the opportunity was granted to them. Sometimes it was to crowds and other times to individuals and other times to small groups. They ministered humbly, never drawing attention to themselves.
- Message. They focused on how God has worked throughout history to send his son, who was killed for our sins (Acts 2; 7). They pointed out the need for repentance and faith, and promised the gift of the Holy Spirit to those who did repent (Acts 2:38-39). Those that believed joined the local church and committed themselves to the teachings of the apostles (Acts 2:42-47).
- Audience. Throughout Acts, the audience did not believe in Jesus, and needed to hear the gospel and be saved.
The Rest of the New Testament
In the rest of the NT books, the public preaching of the gospel as we saw in the Gospels and Acts is not as prevalent. With the church started, the focus became more on the health of the local church as each strove to live obediently to God and to make the gospel known to others. Emphasis was on the health of the local church, for when it is healthy, the gospel will be preached and the nations reached.
From the accounts of the gospels and Acts, there is a place for public preaching of the gospel in the form of crusade. Yet, there were specific methods used, specific message preached, and specific audiences targeted.
Scripture does not give us a carefree approach to this ministry. If we desire to carry out public preaching of the gospel in the form of crusade ministries, we must watch out that:
- Our method is consistent with the teaching of Scripture. Do we call people to come and hear or do we pursue people to proclaim the gospel to them? Is the focus on us or on the one we preach?
- Our message is specific. What is the news in town concerning our crusade? Is the news about the message we preached or something else? Our message must be clear to be helpful to anyone. Jesus, John, and the apostles were known for the message they preached. Defining our message will protect against being distracted by other things in the ministry.
- Our audience is defined. Are we targeting unbelievers or are we calling “believers” to gather at the events? The public preaching of the NT focused on bringing the good news of Christ to the lost so that they would hear, believe, and be saved. How we define our audience will have implications for where we chose to carry out our crusades.
- Those who repent and believe are nourished. In Acts, those who believed joined the church and were taught. Crusade ministry is best done by the local people who know their fellow citizens, and will follow up in teaching them. When a famous preacher comes to town and carries out a three day crusade and leaves, to whom has he handed those who have believed? Are they not responsible for the growth of the new believers in grace and knowledge of Christ?
In Acts, the public preaching of the gospel was aimed at building the local church. The connection between the crusade ministry and the ministry of a particular local church go hand in hand.
- The church is healthy. From the rest of the NT, the importance of the health of a local church cannot be missed. Whatever the crusade aims to do, it should be to build up the local church. Healthy churches will be concerned for preaching the gospel to the lost.
The New Testament Church thrived on correct doctrine. Same is true for the church today.
All of this still leaves one issue unaddressed. “What is the place of healings and other miracles in this crusade ministry?” Next post.
As the “Healing Jesus Crusade” ended (see last post), the news of its success was all over town. Many in town confirmed the pastor’s account of the many healings. As we entered restaurants and listened to people on the street, the news was about the dumb woman healed and the hunchback man restored. In fact, the market place was packed with people going to see for themselves those who had been healed.
What are we to make of this? My students were impressed with the healings that took place. Like the pastor, they could not articulate the actual gospel that they heard at the crusade. It was their turn to question me, asking, “Are you denying the healings?
The question is not whether I accept or deny the healings. Let us accept the fact that they took place. The critical thing is what is missing in this development of events. The omission of the word of the cross that saves is troubling. What is remembered from the crusade is the signs performed and not the message preached; the emphasis is on the greatness of the preacher and not the great Lord who saves. What is missing is that healings are a testimony to the gospel message, not a testimony to the great success of the preacher. People came not to hear the good news of the gospel but to see and experience signs and wonders.
Additionally, this whole experience raised many critical questions in my mind. What is the place of crusades in the advancement of the gospel in Africa? Why are most crusades promoted on the theme of healing and not on the theme of deliverance from the power of sin through the power of the cross? I can just imagine banners saying, “Jesus Saves from Sin Crusade.” How many would show up to hear? Should the supposed evangelists invite people to come for healing? Would that not be putting God, Jesus and the Spirit to the test? Is there not a danger of leading people to believe that God and the Holy Spirit and Jesus jump and act at our command? Do we have a biblical mandate to do that? What is the testimony of those healed? It appears hidden. In the above case, those healed were there to be watched but they themselves were not testifying to what God has done or to the gospel that has saved from sin. All they can show is the absence of their sickness. All they can say is that the preacher healed them. What is the place of signs and wonders (healings) in the preaching of the gospel? How has the African church grown as a result of this event? Is the Church in Africa healthier as a result?
The church does not need more healings in order to be prepared for the return of Christ. When he returns, he will not be looking for healings but for faith.
My response to this? More questions and a commitment to theological training, which will provide pastors with the tools they need to respond to the growing climate of health and wealth gospel in their setting, and to the growing infatuation with healings at the expense of the gospel message.
On a very recent trip to train pastors in Africa, I was reminded again of the critical nature of this ministry for the well-being of the church. Upon arrival at the airport, we drove an hour to the capital city. All along the way were many-colored banners reading, “Healing Jesus Crusade.” They were all over the city as well. During our six-hour drive the next day to the small town where we were to teach, the banners colored the dusty roads and plastered the town. That evening, I learned that this country is only one stop for the crusade. Evidently, the preacher from Nigeria is crisscrossing all of Africa with his crusade.
As I looked at the title, “Healing Jesus Crusade,” I wondered what it meant and what was the connection between “healing,” “Jesus,” and “crusade.” Was this going to be a crusade about healing Jesus of something? With interest, I asked my students what they understood the crusade to be about. They were full of praise for the fact that it was coming to their town. I was informed that the preacher is a rich former medical doctor from Nigeria and since he is rich, he is not looking for money. That he loves God and only wants to serve him. Then I asked, “What do you know of the message he preaches?” They answered that he heals many people at his crusades. I tried in vain to get an explanation of the message preached. I then asked what they hoped to be accomplished at the crusade. The resounding answer was that many healings will take place.
This answer is exactly the problem, isn’t it? Crusades are supposed to be about preaching the gospel and calling people to repentance and salvation in Christ Jesus through the power of the cross. Yet, in this one place, and throughout Africa, crusades are more an occasion to perform healings. They are remembered more for the healings received than for the message preached, more for the preacher than for the person preached (Christ).
For example, a day after the three day crusade ended, one key pastor who attended was asked, “In one sentence or two, can you summarize for me the gospel that was preached at the crusade?” He answered that truly the gospel was preached because many people were healed. He was again asked, “Can you please not tell me about healings first but about the message that was preached?” The pastor replied, with a smile on his face, “Oh, yes, the preacher did a very good job preaching and so many people came forward and received healings.” The exchange went on for several minutes but in the end, a summary of the gospel was not given. A man with a hunchback was totally healed. A lady who sells in the market and has never spoken was now speaking. So, it was a wonderful successful crusade.
What are we to make of the response of this pastor? See the next post.
It is common to hear some Christians say that suffering is not something that should happen to God-fearing people. In some contexts, it is argued that suffering is a sign that God is not happy with you. Those experiencing any form of suffering are told that if only they trust God, he will take it away. Is this practical?
We all know that suffering is part of the human life, as long as Jesus tarries. The question is not whether we are to suffer, but how we should suffer. A most practical way to face and persevere in suffering without cursing God, as Job’s wife asked him to do, is to have right beliefs. It is best to embrace what Scripture says to us about suffering, and to affirm it when suffering does come. The starting point for this practice is first of all to accept the fact that as followers of Christ, we are called not to a suffering-free life but rather to expect it. What is the evidence for this?
- Suffering along with faith is God’s gift to us (Phil. 1:29).
- According to Peter, suffering is what we have been called to (1 Peter 2:20-21).
- Suffering provides us with an opportunity to make a defense for what we have believed (1 Peter 3:14-15).
- Suffering dishonor for the sake of Christ’s name is worth rejoicing over (Acts 5:41).
- True children of God will suffer, and we must suffer with Christ in order to enjoy eternity with him (Rom. 8:17).
- Suffering purifies our faith and prepares us for glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:6-7; Rom. 5:3).
- We are destined for affliction, and those who hear the gospel must also hear that they must expect affliction (1 Thess. 3:3-4).
- Our suffering testifies to God’s power (2 Cor. 12:8-10).
- We are not better than Jesus, who suffered for us not because of any sin on his part. If he was persecuted, how much more his followers (John 15:20)?
- We have the example of Jesus to follow in suffering (1 Peter 2:21-23).
- Our sufferings become a means of comfort for fellow believers (2 Cor. 1: 3-7).
- Suffering causes us to rely not on ourselves but on God who delivers us (2 Cor. 1:8-11).
The next time someone says to you that suffering is not your portion or that God does not want his children to suffer, tell them to get behind you for they are not speaking in accordance with the truth of Scripture. Those who shun suffering in the name of spirituality may find in the end that they have no place in the kingdom of God. It is indeed through much suffering and affliction that we will enter the kingdom of heaven.
You are I are called to suffer and to honor God in our suffering. We will suffer well (for the glory of God) only when we focus not on our present temporary afflictions but on the reality of our future glory (2 Cor. 4:17-18; Rom. 8:18).
May God grant us to suffer well like Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).