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.