I preached this sermon during the Herald Society at First Baptist Church of Milton (Milton, FL), on March 26, 2015.
Following the sermon manuscript, you will find the audio for the sermon.
I pray this is an encouragement to all Christians–pastors/elders, open-air preachers, and the Body of Christ-at-large.
The venerable pulpiteer and open-air preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, said:
“No sort of defense is needed for preaching out-of-doors; but it would need very potent arguments to prove that a man had done his duty who has never preached beyond the walls of his meetinghouse. A defense is required rather for services within buildings than for worship outside of them. Apologies are certainly wanted for architects who pile up brick and stone into the skies when there is so much need for preaching rooms among poor sinners down below. Defense is greatly needed for forests of stone pillars, which prevent the preacher from being seen and his voice from being heard; for high-pitched Gothic roofs in which all sound is lost, and men are killed by being compelled to shout till they burst their blood-vessels; and also for the willful creation of echoes by exposing hard, sound-refracting surfaces to satisfy the demands of art, to the total overlooking of the comfort of both audience and speaker.
“Surely also some decent excuse is badly wanted for those childish people who must needs waste money in placing hobgoblins and monsters on the outside of their preaching houses, and must have other ridiculous pieces of popery stuck up both inside and outside, to deface rather than to adorn their churches and chapels: but no defense whatever is wanted for using the Heavenly Father’s vast audience chamber, which is in every way so well fitted for the proclamation of a Gospel so free, so full, so expansive, so sublime.”
The Prince of Preachers was right. It is not necessary to make a defense for the public proclamation of the gospel—a defense for open-air preaching. The biblical examples span thousands of years. The post-apostolic examples span 2,000 years.
The arguments against open-air preaching are emotional, arbitrary, pragmatic, non-binding, eisegetical, and/or extra-biblical. And most arguments against the public proclamation of the gospel have as their sandy foundation a sinful fear of man, and a willful showing of preference to the King’s enemies over the edicts of the King.
Accusing me of poisoning the well at this point, a well already putrefied by the philosophical and traditional dung of American Evangelicalism, would be like accusing an open-air preacher of pushing lost people away from Jesus. Push them where? To hell? Every lost person, in compliance with his sinful nature that hates God, is already willingly running toward hell. Push him away from Jesus? By his very nature, a lost person wants nothing whatsoever to do with Jesus. He is running toward destruction and away from life eternal.
In order to push someone away from Jesus, I would first have to be able to catch them. But they already have a life-long, sinful head start on me, and they all are simply running too fast away from Jesus. The only way I could catch such a person to push him is if God the Holy Spirit stops him in his tracks, changes his heart, causes him to be born again, and changes his mind and direction 180-degrees—causing him to run the opposite direction, to run toward Jesus. At that point, any pushing I would do would be toward Jesus, through discipleship.
While God’s sovereignty in all things, including the salvation of the lost, does not give me license to behave poorly, communicate ignorantly, or otherwise run rough-shot over people’s lives, it is that same sovereignty that informs my understanding that there is nothing I can do to push a person away from Jesus. I have neither the ability nor authority to undermine the eternally predetermined plan of God for a person’s life.
So, in the time we have remaining in this session, with the before-mentioned presuppositions in mind, I will make a defense for the public proclamation of the gospel. And I will do so by focusing my attention on two Greek words: κηρύσσω and παρρησία.
Let’s begin by taking an extended look at the Greek word κηρύσσω.
As some of you know, I wrote a rather unpopular book titled, Should She Preach—Biblical Evangelism for Women. In the book, I make what I believe is a sound, biblical case against the practice of women preaching the gospel in the open-air. While I affirm a Christian woman’s role in evangelism, I believe the Bible not only doesn’t give a mandate for a women to preach in a pulpit or on a box at the corner of Walk/Don’t Walk, but the Bible also does not allow for a woman to do so. The three main points of my argument are: 1) God’s created order; 2) a Christian woman’s role not simply in the corporate gathering of believers, but in any spiritual enterprise; 3) the gentle and quiet spirit to which God has given to every Christian woman.
One of the most common affirmative arguments concerning women open-air preaching stems from the biblical appearance and use of the Greek word kerusso, which is usually translated in the verb form “to preach.” Kerusso appears 60 times in the New Testament. The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon defines the word this way:
“To be a herald, to officiate as a herald; to proclaim after the manner of a herald; always with the suggestion of formality, gravity and an authority which must be listened to and obeyed; to publish, proclaim openly: something which has been done; used of the public proclamation of the gospel and matters pertaining to it, made by John the Baptist, by Jesus, by the apostles and other Christian teachers.”
Having read all 60 New Testament verses in their context that use the word κηρύσσω (to preach), I did not find a single use of the word by a woman, of a woman, or as instruction to a woman. To point this out is not to put forth an argument from silence. Not only is the primary Greek word for preaching never used in the New Testament in relation to women, there is not a single instance in the New Testament of a woman engaging in the biblical practice of heralding the gospel in the open air.
Undoubtedly, some will balk, maybe even wince. Some will immediately object to my assertion, using Mark 16:15 as their authoritative reference. “And he [Jesus] said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim [preach] the gospel to the whole creation.’”
Preaching is teaching. Preaching is teaching with authority. Preaching is teaching people, believer and unbeliever alike, the way of eternal life, and doing so with a level of authority that calls the hearer to listen and obey. To preach the gospel is to teach the gospel. To preach repentance is to teach repentance. Any open-air message that does not explain (teach) the meaning of sin, righteousness, the coming judgment, Hell, the deity and hypostatic union of the Lord Jesus Christ, the cross, propitiation, regeneration, justification, salvation, grace, mercy, forgiveness, and eternal life is what? It’s unbiblical babble. It’s not worth the air being moved across the vocal cords.
Now granted, not every open-air preaching opportunity allows for the articulation of all of the before-mentioned doctrines. Things happen (i.e. hecklers and other distractions, police contact, etc.). But the goal of every open-air preacher, during every message, should be to articulate these precious doctrines in terms his listeners can understand.
Whoever stands to proclaim the truth of the law and the gospel is teaching that which he proclaims, whether they are doing it off the top of their head or with an open Bible in hand and expositing a text from the Word of God. Preaching is not the mere regurgitation of words void of emotion, meaning, message, explanation, and authority. Preaching is teaching.
As stated in the above definition of kerusso, preaching is “always” accomplished “with the suggestion of formality, gravity, and authority which must be listened to and obeyed.” One thing that is lacking in the open-air preaching community is formality. Fortunately, I see positive changes happening in this area. Open-air preaching is not a game, sport, or hobby. It is not merely an opportunity for the Christian to exercise their liberty in the form of public expression. It is a calling, not a curiosity. It is a weighty responsibility, not a whimsical form of recreation. It is a privilege, not a right. It is for the glory of Christ, not the personal satisfaction of the preacher.
The open-air preachers of old preached sermons in the open-air. Yes, great preachers like Charles Spurgeon called for brevity in the message, but not for a lack of sobriety.
The bench, rock, horse-drawn cart, or tombstone upon which these blood-bought, Spirit-driven, Bible-wielding titans stood was reverenced like a hand-carved pulpit behind which a shepherd of a flock stood. They treated the ground upon which they stood as holy ground, for from that spot the Spirit of God would move upon the herald and the hooligan, in a manner the Father desired, for the glory of the Son and the gathering of His Elect.
Open-air preaching requires gravitas. Gravitas is defined as “seriousness or sobriety, as of conduct or speech.” Gravitas is also defined as “seriousness, solemnity, or importance,” “a serious or dignified demeanor.” To preach (kerusso) is to articulate the Word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ with a sense of gravity. Open-air preaching should be conducted by men with gravitas, men who understand the weightiness and the gravity of what they are doing. These men, by their demeanor and voice, can convey the gravity of the situation in which lost souls find themselves.
The open-air preacher must carry himself with a very real air of authority. Even the lost, God-hating heckler should see that the open-air preacher speaks authoritatively, knowing the preacher ought to be listened to and obeyed. What I’m describing is known in law enforcement and military circles as “command presence.” A good open-air preacher is part orator, part herald, part diplomat, part street cop, and part field general. A good open-air preacher is one who does not manipulate a crowd, but can control a crowd with the sheer weight of his Holy Spirit-wrought, authoritative presence. People in the crowd will do what the street preacher says (i.e. “stop,” “wait,” “answer,” “be quiet,” etc.), at times, without even realizing they are obeying the preacher’s commands.
If you watch some of the men I consider the best open-air preachers of our generation, which include a number of men gathered here this weekend, you will see distinctly different personalities. You will see men who look and sound different from each other as they preach.
However, in addition to a love for Christ, a love for His Church, a love for His Word, and a love for the lost, you will see another commonality in all of them. You will see command presence. You will see men acting like men: mature men, fearless men. You will see men who rightly divide the Word of God in the heat of battle. You will see men who are truly meek: men who are Holy Spirit- enabled to exercise power under control (Matthew 5:5). You will see men who are willing and able to give a defense for the hope that is in them, yet with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). You will see men who are uncompromising with the message: men who will not back down from truth merely so that the yet unconverted, sin-stained hearts of lost people will be appeased and remain unchanged.
You will never hear God’s heralds of yesterday or today ask, “Can we all get along?” What you will see are men who rule their emotions, not men who are ruled by their emotions. You will see chivalrous men who defend and protect women, not men who act like women—not men who stand behind women, not men who are afraid of women. You will see men who speak with authority—an authority given to them by God—the authority that comes with their God-given gender-specific role as men and the authority that comes with the role of a herald of the King.
I believe, with all my heart, one of the reasons why a vast majority of American Evangelicalism is against open-air preaching is this. American Evangelicalism is effeminate. Weak and compromised churches are producing weak and compromised men. Men considered men of God these days by American Evangelicalism are men who do not command respect, but who beg for acceptance. They are not men who stand firm, but instead are often men who can’t wait to bow their knees to culture. They fear other men, but they don’t fear God.
Instead of spines straightened and strengthened by the rods of God’s Word and the proclamation of the gospel, men in American Evangelicalism are just like men in the rest of the world—spiritual invertebrates comfortable on the soft, pliable, conforming bean bag chairs of emotionalism, egalitarianism, ecumenism, and escapism. And they just comfortably sit there and wait—wait for a dying world to go to hell. For they care more about what people think of them than where people will spend eternity.
No. Open-air preaching and sound, biblical open-air preachers aren’t the problem. Cowards hiding behind the cross instead of denying themselves, taking up their crosses and following Christ: they are the problem.
Open-air preaching is biblical. The mere presence of the word kerusso in the Word of God and the various contexts in which it is used, is defense enough. Again, no defense need be made for the practice. Yet some insist that “it’s just too bold.” It’s too “in your face.” By open-air preaching, we are just “shoving Jesus down people’s throats.”
Look: if my heart ever stops beating and I stop breathing, I want someone trained in its use to shove a tube down my throat and pump air into my lungs. I want them to jump up and down on my chest, crack my ribs if they need to, and bring my ticker back online.
And if they’re able to bring me back to life, when I regain consciousness my chest is going to hurt and my throat is likely to be sore from the intubation. But I’m pretty confident of this. I’m not going to sue the paramedics who worked on me. I’m going to shake their hands and thank them for a job well done.
I will be glad that the paramedics were more concerned with my life than how uncomfortable my recovery might be. I will be glad that they were decisive, commanding, demanding, skilled, undaunted, and cared enough about a human being to fight for my life—a life that might never be of any personal benefit to them.
If Mahria or someone else were to find me clinically dead, I want some bold person to rush to my aid and do their job. The last thing I want is some faint-of-heart, fearful, shy, uncertain person strolling up to my body and vacillating about what to do, worried about what I will think of him if he engages in life-saving efforts without first getting my consent. I’m dead! I can’t consent! Do your job! Save my life!
Yes, American Evangelicalism is uncomfortable with open-air preaching; American Evangelicalism is afraid of open-air preaching because these days boldness in the church is seen as making friends with an unbeliever who looks like you, talks like you, shares some common interests with you, and won’t be too upset if five years from now you invite him to church.
American Evangelicalism is opposed to open-air preaching, not because it is unbiblical, but because the public proclamation of the gospel might draw unwanted, negative attention to Christian clubhouses across the country.
American Evangelicalism sees boldness as sending vacationaries—people who often think so highly of themselves that they actually believe people can see Jesus in them—to faraway places to take pictures with disadvantaged children at an orphanage, or to take pictures of driving nails into a half-built home, between trips to Starbucks. American Evangelicalism sees service without the verbal or written communication of the gospel as a bold statement for Jesus. It’s not.
The Bible defines boldness much differently.
Acts 3-5 is one of my favorite sections of Scripture. It is three chapters of public proclamation of truth, prayer, and boldness—great boldness.
This particular episode began with Peter and John healing a lame beggar who was sitting outside the Beautiful Gate. The ever-growing crowd followed the apostles to Solomon’s Portico where Peter is preaching an extraordinary and convicting sermon in the open-air (Acts 3).
Turn with me to Acts 4:1-31 (READ PASSAGE).
The Greek word in verse 13 translated in the ESV as “boldness” is the word παρρησία. Various constructions of this word appear 31 times in the New Testament. Needless to say, time precludes us from looking at all of the references.
Παρρησία is a compound word: “pas,” meaning “all,” and “rhésis,” meaning “speech.”
By definition, the word means: freedom and unreservedness in speech; free and fearless confidence; cheerful courage; the deportment by which one becomes conspicuous or secures publicity. Public speech is imbedded deep in the meaning of this word.
The biblical definition of “boldness” is the very antithesis of what is common and encouraged in American Evangelicalism.
In his Pentecost sermon, Peter referred to his preaching as μετὰ παρρησίας, with boldness, with freedom, with confidence. He was unashamed. He was unafraid. He would not be deterred. Only physical death could stop him from testifying for the glory of Christ and the salvation of the thousands of people gathered in the open-air, in front of him. The Peter in the courtyard late that horrible night who, before 3 AM, as Jesus prophesied, would deny the Lord, was gone. Now, the Peter who the Lord would use to gather His elect during the infancy of His Church—was the King’s chief herald.
Luke the Physician would also describe Peter and John’s preaching as bold. First in Acts 4:13.
“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.”
Sadly, today the term “shock and awe,” when used in reference to open-air preaching has been hijacked by heretics—Pelagians, Open Theists, Sinless Perfectionists, false converts, apostates. Yet, in the eyes of the Pharisees, that’s just what Peter and John were—“shock and awe” preachers. Here were two men who the religious elite saw as village idiots—ἰδιώτης, uneducated men. Yet these two men who the Pharisees recognized as having been with Jesus astonished them. They marveled at how boldly Peter and John publicly spoke. The confidence, freedom, and courage with which the two apostles spoke caused the Pharisees to wonder.
The apostles were following in their Master’s footsteps—their Master by whom people were once astonished because of the authority with which He spoke.
“And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matthew 7:28-29).
Now these simple fishermen, turned disciples, turned evangelists, turned public heralds of the gospel spoke with an alien authority given them by their King, through salvation by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone.
Luke uses the word παρρησία again when recounting the prayer of Peter and John’s Christian friends in Acts 4:29.
“And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness.”
After Peter and John recounted for their friends the threats made by the religious elite if the apostles dared to preach Christ and Him crucified, the fledgling Church asked God not for protection. They did not ask for acceptance by their culture. They did not ask for a slick, man-centered strategy with which they could woo haters of Christ. They didn’t ask for wisdom and discernment for figuring out how to preach Christ without people knowing that’s what they were doing.
No. Peter, John, and how ever many Christians gathered at this crucial moment in Church history asked for more of the same—more boldness so they could look upon the threats of the haters of God and lovingly shove Jesus right down their fleshy open sepulchers.
And then, for a third time in Acts 4, Luke uses the word παρρησία. In Acts 4:31 we read:
“And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.”
These first Christians were not double-minded in their prayers. They were already bold. They asked for more boldness. They believed God, by faith. More boldness was given to them. And they acted upon their answered prayers. They “continued to speak the word of God with boldness.”
They spoke. These Christians opened their mouths for the glory of God and the proclamation of the gospel.
The lie had not yet been told in the Church that a Christian should live their life in such a way that would lead spiritually blind (1 Corinthians 2:14) and spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1-3) people to ask them why.
The lie had not yet been told in the Church that Christians should preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words.
The lie had not yet been told in the Church that Christians should wait until the enemies of God give them permission to obey God’s command to preach the gospel to all people everywhere.
The lie had not yet been told in the Church that before a Christian could proclaim Christ and Him crucified to a lost person, he first had to develop a relationship with that lost person so the Christian could earn the right to speak.
The lie had not yet been told in the Church that lost societies, lost cultures had the authority to play the spiritual FCC and determine for the Church where, when, and how Christians could talk about Jesus.
No. These Christians opened their mouths for the glory of God and the proclamation of the gospel.
Praise God! The formation of today’s unbiblical, anti-gospel American Evangelicalism was still 1,800 years away!
The biblical defense for open-air preaching is provided by Scripture. To boldly preach the gospel of Jesus Christ is to herald the message publicly, with one’s voice, sometimes loudly.
Now, this is not to say that the only Christians who boldly preach the gospel are open-air preachers. Far from it. The gospel can be boldly preached from a pulpit, of course. The gospel can be boldly preached across a sticky, wooden table at Starbucks. It can be boldly preached in a philosophy class term paper. It can be boldly preached by the homeschool mom at the dining room table. It can be boldly preached by the shaky, nervous hand distributing gospel tracts.
As I began this message, I say again: the defense for the public proclamation of the gospel from the mouth of a herald standing on a step-stool, park bench, or block wall is that no defense is necessary. From Noah to David, to the prophets, to Jesus, to the apostles, Scripture affirms the open-air proclamation of the gospel. Open-air preaching is every bit as biblical as the preaching of a shepherd from his pulpit, or as the one-to-one conversations between friends or strangers, or as the distribution of the gospel in written form whether letter or gospel tract.
Gospel preaching always involves speech, whether verbal or written. Biblical boldness always involves speech, whether verbal or written. There’s no getting around it. Biblical preaching and biblical boldness demands unafraid, unfettered, unapologetic, unflinching communication with words. And one cannot remove open-air preaching from biblical examples without first changing the definitions of biblical terms. Even the thought of doing so is sinful.
A Final Word to Bold Preachers
So, I would like to close with a word to the open-air preachers gathered here today.
The open-air preacher must have a boldness that is seasoned regularly and perpetually with humility. He must see himself as the least worthy to publicly declare the edicts of King Jesus. While he is indeed given a special privilege, he is by no means a special class of Christian. Paul understood this.
“Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory” (Ephesians 3:7-13).
Similarly, the open-air preacher must have a boldness that is exercised judiciously, giving deference to another brother or sister in Christ whenever appropriate and practical.
“Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus” (Philemon 1:8-9).
The open-air preacher must have a boldness that can be found well-beyond his favorite corner or campus. He must be bold in season and out of season. He must be bold if standing before a crowd of hundreds or locked alone in a cell. He must be bold without the limelight, without the attention, without the notoriety or publicity that being a public spectacle can bring.
“He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:30-31).
The boldness of the open-air preacher must be seen in his love for the Church, for his Christian brethren. His boldness must come from a heart that would never intentionally wrong, corrupt, or take advantage of a brother or sister in Christ. His pride should be in others, and not in himself. He should be willing to take a bullet for any of his eternal kin.
“Make room in your hearts for us. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one. I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together. I am acting with great boldness toward you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy” (2 Corinthians 7:2-4).
And I will close with this admonition.
While no defense is necessary for the open-air proclamation of the gospel, this does not mean that every Christian man is called to the age-old, biblical, and warranted discipline. Whether you are an open-air preacher today, or you see yourself as an open-air preacher one day, it is not enough for you to examine yourself, to test yourself. It is not enough for you to qualify yourself. And it is not enough for your fellow open-air preachers to examine you, test you, and qualify you. That is the role, responsibility, and privilege of your pastors/elders. Humbly, selflessly, sacrificially, and lovingly submit to the shepherds in your life.
We will talk more about his in my next message, in which I will ask the question, “Have you been sent?”
Finally, to my brothers and sisters in Christ gathered here who are not open-air preachers: your faith in Christ was never intended to be a private matter. The purpose of a lamp is always to shed light. Unless a lamp is lit, it is a useless ornament and nothing more than a decorative piece of furniture.
God has given every Christian boldness—some more than others—but every Christian has boldness as part of their new nature. The question is will you light the room by boldly opening your mouth to proclaim the gospel? Or will you settle for being an ornament, a decorative piece, serving little to no purpose.
But there is much more to bold preaching than public speaking. The public herald of the gospel must be a bold man with solid Christian character.
And here is the audio of the sermon.