Are Crusades Biblical?

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.

The Gospels

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.

Conclusion

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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

  1. 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.

Jesus Crusade: Our Response?

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.

Healing Jesus Crusade: Are Crusades Misleading People in Africa Today?

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.