The prophet Jeremiah, often referred to as the “Weeping Prophet,” by American Evangelical standards, was an utter evangelistic failure. Over the course of his ancient, storied and God-honoring ministry he saw a total of two of his countrymen repent of their sin against God–Baruch (his assistant and scribe) and Ebed-Melech (an Ethiopian eunuch and servant in the palace of King Zedekiah). But even the most ardent support of modern evangelistic methodology would be hard-pressed to see one of the greatest prophets who ever lived as a failure in his calling or a failure in ministry.
The following background of Jeremiah’s ministry is found in the MacArthur’s Study Bible:
“The dates of his ministry, which spanned 5 decades, are from the Judean king Josiah’s 13th year, noted in 1:2 (627 B.C.), to beyond the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon in 586 B.C. (Jeremiah 39,40,52). After 586 B.C., Jeremiah was forced to go with a fleeing remnant of Judah to Egypt (Jeremiah 43,44). He was possibly still ministering in 570 B.C. (see note on Jeremiah 44:30). A rabbinic note claims that when Babylon invaded Egypt in 568/67 B.C. Jeremiah was taken captive to Babylon. He could have lived even to pen the book’s closing scene ca. 561 B.C. in Babylon, when Judah’s king Jehoiachin, captive in Babylon since 597 B.C., was allowed liberties in his last days (Jeremiah 52:31–34). Jeremiah, if still alive at that time, was between 85 and 90 years old.
Background and Setting
“Background details of Jeremiah’s times are portrayed in 2 Kings 22–25 and 2 Chronicles 34–36. Jeremiah’s messages paint pictures of: 1) his people’s sin; 2) the invader God would send; 3) the rigors of siege; and 4) calamities of destruction. Jeremiah’s message of impending judgment for idolatry and other sins was preached over a period of 40 years (ca. 627–586 B.C. and beyond). His prophecy took place during the reigns of Judah’s final 5 kings (Josiah 640–609 B.C., Jehoahaz 609 B.C., Jehoiakim 609–598 B.C., Jehoiachin 598–597 B.C., and Zedekiah 597–586 B.C.).
“The spiritual condition of Judah was one of flagrant idol worship (cf. chap. 2). King Ahaz, preceding his son Hezekiah long before Jeremiah in Isaiah’s day, had set up a system of sacrificing children to the god Molech in the Valley of Hinnom just outside Jerusalem (735–715 B.C.). Hezekiah led in reforms and clean-up (Isaiah 36:7), but his son Manasseh continued to foster child sacrifice along with gross idolatry, which continued into Jeremiah’s time (Jeremiah 7:31; 19:5; 32:35). Many also worshiped the ‘queen of heaven’ (Jeremiah 7:18; 44:19). Josiah’s reforms, reaching their apex in 622 B.C., forced a repressing of the worst practices outwardly, but the deadly cancer of sin was deep and flourished quickly again after a shallow revival. Religious insincerity, dishonesty, adultery, injustice, tyranny against the helpless, and slander prevailed as the norm not the exception.”
Jeremiah’s was an uphill battle from start to finish. Some might say it was a losing battle, but it was not. No, Jeremiah was as successful a prophet and open-air herald as they come. His success wasn’t based on numbers or acceptance. His success was based on obedience and love–love for and obedience to God, and love for his Jewish countryman and spiritual brethren. Like every prophet before and after him, like the Lord Jesus Christ and the apostles, like Philip the deacon and evangelist and Apollos the capable yet novice believer, like the early church fathers and the Lollards, like the reformers and the Puritans, like the preachers of the great awakening and every great revival since, Jeremiah was a faithful, uncompromising, powerful, and loving open-air preacher.
Arguments Against Open-Air Preaching Revisited…..Again
Today, many Christian pastors, elders, and laypeople believe open-air preaching is passe, sociably unacceptable, and ineffective. Yet no biblical or historical argument can be made against the practice. None. At best the argument against open-air preaching is a philosophical, and pragmatic one with the majority, negative opinion of today’s evangelicals about the subject built upon the sandy foundation of personal preference. Some argue open-air preaching is unloving, if not in the content in the tone with which the message is conveyed. Some argue that those who engage in open-air preaching lack love because they do not take the time to establish relationships with those they are trying to reach. These arguments are subjective at best and, at worst, a bit prideful. It is prideful, even arrogant, for one Christian to assert he or she is more loving than the open-air preacher because the open-air preacher does not engage in evangelism with the same tone of voice, or with the same emphasis on relationship, or with the same methodology as the Christian subjectively writing open-air preaching off as unloving.
The unloving Christian is the Christian who does not share the gospel with lost people. I would rather share the gospel the way I’m sharing it than not share it the way so many Christians are not sharing it. When I’m open-air preaching, most Christians who approach me and say I’m doing evangelism wrong are often people who are not doing evangelism at all. Yet I’m the one who is unloving.
Some argue open-air preaching is ineffective because people walking by do not hear the entirety of the preacher’s message. The passerby may only hear of the wrath and judgment of God, or equally problematic, only hear about the love of God. Some argue open-air preaching is ineffective because today’s open-air preachers do not report either frequent or numerically significant professions of faith in Jesus Christ by the masses. Pastor Greg Laurie preaches in open stadiums filled with tens of thousands of people. Thousands make their way to the stadium floor to make professions of faith each night of Laurie’s Harvest Crusade meetings. Is his well-advertised open-stadium preaching more effective than that of the nameless, unknown herald standing at the corner of Walk and Don’t Walk? No. In fact, I would argue Laurie’s method of public preaching is not only less effective. It is unbiblical. Thousands of people make professions of faith after repeating a “sinner’s prayer” and then Laurie assures them of their salvation by welcoming them into the family of God, with the stadium’s giant screens serving as massive, electronic welcome mats. It is utterly irresponsible for men like Laurie to declare people saved because they made their way to the stadium floor and then prayed a prayer with him.
The ineffective Christian is the Christian who does not share the gospel with lost people. I would rather share the gospel the way I’m sharing it than not share it the way so many Christians are not sharing it. When I’m open-air preaching, most Christians who approach me and say I’m doing evangelism wrong are often people who are not doing evangelism at all. Yet I’m the one who is ineffective.
Barring the breakout of true revival, how does one quantify effectiveness? Even in the cases of true revival, it has never been the methodology of man that has brought about, sustained, or validated revival. True revival is brought about by a sovereign act of God, whereby the Holy Spirit falls upon the church, then a community, and maybe then a nation. (The Holy Spirit causes the Revival – His Sovereign act). If we all believe salvation is of the Lord (that God is truly and ultimately sovereign in salvation and alone is the one working in the salvation of the sinner), and if we believe we cannot know another person’s heart with absolute certainty, and if we understand the reality that a profession of faith (in and of itself) is not a guarantee of conversion, then how is effectiveness based on numbers in evangelism ever truly quantifiable?
The answer: effectiveness in evangelism is not quantifiable based on the number of professions of faith in Jesus Christ brought about by any effort of man. While churches claim to be effective in their evangelism efforts and base that effectiveness on the number of people who come to their community events, the number of church members engaged in lifestyle or friendship evangelism with their neighbors, how many missionaries they have in the field, or even the number of people baptized as a result of the aforementioned efforts, the open-air preacher sees the real and tangible results of American Evangelicalism’s evangelistic box scores. The typical American Evangelical church–utilizing pragmatism as the fuel, preference as the match, and seeing decisions as the resultant flame–is nowhere near as effective as she thinks. If the open-air preacher received a dollar for every time an angry heckler identifies themselves as a Christian and asserts their attendance at a Harvest Crusade or some other large-scale Christian event, their participation in a church’s small group system, their utterance of a prayer, or their baptism as their spiritual bona fides, the open-air preacher would never again have to worry about raising financial support for his ministry. A bit hyperbolic? A somewhat exaggerated statement? Not so much.
American Evangelicalism, by and large, gauges effectiveness in evangelism by the numbers–the number of professions of faith in Jesus Christ seen as a result of preferred evangelistic methodologies, knowing full-well that many of those who make professions of faith in Jesus Christ, regardless of the manner in which the gospel is communicated, are not regenerated–are not born-again–are not saved. Therefore, it is hypocritical for Christians to assert open-air preaching is ineffective when the standard by which they judge open-air preaching, when applied to their own evangelistic efforts, makes their results no more quantifiable and no more worthy of esteem.
I maintain that all forms of evangelism are equally effective if the authentic gospel is proclaimed as a result. If a Christian biblically calls unsaved men and women to repent and believe the gospel, through the uncompromising, loving, and faithful proclamation of the law and the gospel, whether the vehicle through which such a call is made is a church service, a church event, in a one-to-one conversation, through open-air preaching, or by some other means, then that Christian’s evangelistic efforts were, are, and are going to be effective. Biblical evangelism is effective, not based on the methodology one chooses to communicate the message, but because of the power of the message. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). The gospel is the power of God for salvation, not the methodology one chooses to communicate the gospel. Therefore, to assert one method of biblically presenting the gospel is more effective than another is an exercise in subjectivity and is to give more credence and power to one’s chosen methodology than to the gospel message. This is by definition pragmatism. In pragmatic thinking, effectiveness is determined by what is perceived to work, by what seems to produce the desired results. Whereas biblical effectiveness is predicated upon whether or not the action taken is biblical, not the results of the perceived results of the action taken.
In an email conversation with Pastor Randall Easter (First Baptist Church of Briar, TX), Pastor Easter wrote to me the following:
“The question of effectiveness [regarding open-air preaching] has no relevance to me in the following aspect. When the King commands a subject to go to another country and deliver a message, he goes. His work is effective if he obeys the King. It makes no difference what the response is to the message and what others do with the message. The ambassador simply delivers the message. Obedience is effective and disobedience is treason. Our King says, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel!’ Done!”
What does any of this have to do with the prophet Jeremiah? Be patient. Stay with me.
Why So Few Conversions As a Result of Open-Air Preaching?
Any honest discussion regarding open-air preaching has to include the present reality that open-air preachers cannot point to large numbers of people making professions of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, on the streets. Quite frankly, most open-air preachers rarely see someone come to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, on the streets. Again, this is the most common argument made against the effectiveness of open-air preaching. While, as already shown, such an argument in no way undermines the evangelistic legitimacy of open-air preaching, the question does deserve an answer. And if open-air preachers are to maintain any appearance of thoughtfulness and integrity in the eyes of the larger Christian community, they must be willing to give an answer. Why are so few conversions seen today as a result of open-air preaching?
This question–this issue–was persistently, poignantly, provocatively, and even painfully addressed during the recent Herald Society conference, in Philadelphia, PA. One conclusion drawn during the conference, and rightly so, is that the open-air preaching subculture needs to grow up. It needs to mature…now. Its members need to stop settling for gimmickry and gamesmanship to draw crowds and instead get serious about the content of their messages. Open-air preachers must be more theologically precise in their preaching and less anecdotal. The subculture needs to work harder to unring the bells of egalitarianism and pragmatism, which are rife in a subculture known for its theological and philosophical conservatism. The subculture needs to work harder to unring the bell of encouraging any and all Christian men to open-air preach when, instead, the open-air preacher must, at a minimum, have the ability to teach and the character qualities of an elder in the church.
All of the aforementioned issues could, in some ways, contribute to the seemingly low number of conversion seen by open-air preachers on the streets around the world. However, the more I think about it the more I believe there is something far more significant that may explain why it seems so few people find the narrow gate and the hard way that leads to life as a result of listening to open-air preaching. I believe the time in which we live contributes far more to the low number of conversion as a result of open-air preaching than what is perceived by some inside and outside the church as a poor manner for disseminating the gospel message. In other words, our world today more resembles the days of Jeremiah than it does the days of Pentecost or the Great Awakening.
One’s chosen eschatological lens aside, the world is not getting any better. History is repeating itself as it always has. As went Greece, as went Rome, so too is going the United States and the rest of what would be deemed Western culture. The common denominator in the demise of great civilizations past and present: the increase of moral depravity, with an emphasis on sexual deviancy. Acceptance of same-sex unions (they are not marriages) is spreading throughout the United States and around the world. Street preachers are being arrested more frequently for daring to suggest homosexuality is a sin. It is now illegal in California to try to counsel a homosexual out of their deviance. University, college, and high school campuses are instituting gender-neutral restrooms. And transgender homecoming queens are becoming more normative each year.
Inhabitants of ancient Sodom and Gomorrah would blush at what is considered acceptable behavior, today.
It does not take a prophetic eye or higher education degrees in social sciences to see the world is in the midst of a Romans 1:18-32 form of God’s judgment.
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
“Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
“For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
“And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”
God has given up Western culture to the lusts of its heart and to the dishonoring of its body. God has given up modern, forward-thinking society to dishonorable passions and a debased mind. Western culture is filled with all manner of unrighteousness and more of it than ever before, not less. God is giving (or has given) the sophisticated people of the West exactly what they want and He is removing His gracious hand of restraint to do it. Pastor John MacArthur describes this form of judgment as the “wrath of abandonment.”
With this coming or present wrath of abandonment, is it any wonder the biblically authentic preaching of the gospel would fall on more deaf ears than open ears? Could it be that the perceived relevance of open-air preaching has not diminished or otherwise changed over time? Could it be God is presently using open-air preaching in a way that is on par with how He used it in the days of Jeremiah? Could it be that the open-air preaching God used as a fragrance of life in the times of Pentecost and the Great Awakening, is today used predominantly as a fragrance of death, as it was used in the days of Jeremiah and most of the other prophets of old?
Today’s Weeping Prophets: A Fragrance of Life and a Fragrance of Death
The only change in the world from Jeremiah’s time to today is that there are more people sinning in the world now than there was then. Perversion was rampant in ancient Israel. Perversion was rampant in society in the days of Pentecost and the early church. Perversion was likewise rampant in society at the time of the Great Awakening and every other legitimate modern-day revival. Yet Jeremiah and the rest of the prophets saw little or no repentance come as a result of their open-air preaching. But Whitefield, Wesley, Rowland and others saw miraculous levels of repentance as a result of their open-air preaching, during the Great Awakening. Yet then again today it seems today’s open-air preachers are seeing as little fruit from their labors as did the prophets of old. Could it be that today’s open-air preachers are a new generation of weeping prophets?
The apostle Paul wrote the following in his second letter to the Church in Corinth:
“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:14-17).
These words from the greatest redeemed sinner who has ever served Christ as both a missionary and an open-air preacher should not only bring wonderful comfort and encouragement to the weeping prophets of today, but should also bring clarity to the hearts and mind of every Christian who questions the validity and effectiveness of open-air preaching. Paul’s words also serve as a clarion trumpet to remind all Christians that God alone is sovereign in saving souls. Salvation is always of the Lord!
The biblical, humble, loving, courageous, not yet fully sanctified, sometimes zealous to a fault, doulos and herald of the King, the man called to serve Christ as an open-air preacher, is always led by his King in His triumphal procession. Jesus Christ bestows upon his beloved heralds the honor and privilege of joining Him in the celebration of His triumph over sin and death. The King of kings and the Lord of lords includes His heralds in His grand procession around the world as He declares victory over His vanquished foes. This should never be seen by the herald as an opportunity to sin with prideful, arrogant, and haughty thoughts about himself. No, to have such an honor and privilege bestowed upon one’s self by the King, should bring the herald to his knees in humility, joy, love, thankfulness, faith, and continued repentance. The reason being that the herald of the King was once an enemy of the King. Instead of crushing him, the King extended mercy and grace to the once-enemy and now commands him to serve Him as a herald. The herald, once triumphed over, now joins the King in His triumph, announcing to the world, “The King is victorious! The Lord reigns! Every knew will bow and every tongue will confess the King as Lord!”
The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Commentary on 2 Corinthians 2:14 explains the ESV-rendered phrase “leads us in triumphal process” this way:
“causeth us to triumph—The Greek, is rather, as in Colossians 2:15, ‘triumphs over us’: ‘leadeth us in triumph.’ Paul regarded himself as a signal trophy of God’s victorious power in Christ. His Almighty Conqueror was leading him about, through all the cities of the Greek and Roman world, as an illustrious example of His power at once to subdue and to save. The foe of Christ was now the servant of Christ. As to be led in triumph by man is the most miserable, so to be led in triumph by God is the most glorious, lot that can befall any [Trench]. Our only true triumphs are God’s triumphs over us. His defeats of us are our only true victories [Alford]. The image is taken from the triumphal procession of a victorious general. The additional idea is perhaps included, which distinguishes God’s triumph from that of a human general, that the captive is brought into willing obedience (2 Corinthians 10:5) to Christ, and so joins in the triumph: God ‘leads him in triumph’ as one not merely triumphed over, but also as one triumphing over God’s foes with God (which last will apply to the apostle’s triumphant missionary progress under the leading of God). So Bengel: ‘Who shows us in triumph, not [merely] as conquered, but as the ministers of His victory. Not only the victory, but the open ‘showing’ of the victory is marked: for there follows, Who maketh manifest.'”
Understanding what Paul means when he writes “Christ always leads us in triumphal procession” helps us to understand what follows: a great encouragement and a sobering and frightening warning.
The Lord Jesus Christ–just as He uses any Christian who obediently, boldly, and lovingly proclaims the gospel to His vanquished enemies–has always used His open-air preachers to spread “the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere” (2 Corinthians 2:14). What good news for the redeemed saint of God! What wonderful news for the once-enemy-now-willing-slave of the Lord Jesus Christ! He sovereignly chooses to use those adopted by God the Father to spread the fragrance of the gospel to people everywhere! And what grace and mercy-filled news for the yet-to-be-saved Elect of God–those whom God will cause to be born-again, extending to them the gift of eternal life, the first fruits of which are repentance and faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation! What amazing grace! What an aroma of life for those who are saved and those who will be saved!
“For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things” (2 Corinthians 2:15-16)?
Yes, the preaching of gospel by all Christians, including open-air preachers, is indeed an aroma of life to those who are being saved. But that is not all Paul had to say. The proclamation of the gospel is “a fragrance of death to death” to those who are perishing. The “aroma of Christ” is an aroma of death, the aroma of His gospel is an aroma of death to those who are perishing. This is so critically important for all Christians to understand, particularly those who fail to see the validity of open-air preaching in our present societal contexts. To the unwashed, unredeemed, unsaved masses, the gospel carries with it the stench of death.
Open-air preaching is not a stench in the nostrils of lost people, just as friendship evangelism, servant evangelism, lifestyle evangelism, on-campus church evangelism, or any other evangelism methodology is not a stench in the nostrils of lost people. The source of the stench is not found in the various evangelism methodologies used by Christians, today. The source of the stench in the nostrils of the unsaved (all haters of God) is Jesus Christ and His gospel! And there is no biblical warrant for Christians to assert their preferred, chosen evangelistic methodology is any less a stench in the unsaved sinner’s nostrils than any other methodology. To assert the gospel is better received by a lost person in the context of a relationship than in the context of open-air preaching simply isn’t true. In both contexts the gospel is a stench to those who are perishing. They hate the gospel. They hate Jesus. They love themselves. They love the aroma of their sin. To them, the smell of death is like the smell of a rose.
Some Christians, in all likelihood unwittingly, wrongly assume they can somehow freshen up the stench of death that unto many accompanies the gospel with their gregarious and friendly personality, with their sermons and songs designed to keep the unsaved in their church seats, with their ability to contextualize the gospel and make it more relevant to the masses, or with their ability to cultivate relationships. While Christians would never say it aloud or may never even think it, to assert the gospel’s aroma of life or death can somehow be salted, sweetened or freshened by human ingenuity is to deny the gospel’s power to both save the Elect (Mark 13:20; Romans 1:16) and to serve as a form of judgment upon the hearer (John 9:39-41; Romans 11:7). Neither Christ nor His gospel needs the help of Christians. The Christian simply needs only to biblically, obediently, and lovingly proclaim the gospel–not relying on his chosen methodologies, but relying entirely on the sovereignty of God in salvation and condemnation and the power of His gospel to accomplish both, according to His divine and unchallengeable will.
No Excuses, But a Plausible Explanation
What I’ve proffered in this article should in no way be seen as providing excuses for bad, unloving, unbiblical open-air preachers or open-air preaching.
Open-air preachers who always seem angry, uncharitable, and unsympathetic are without excuse.
Open-air preachers who do not take time to study, pray, and otherwise prepare to preach out of doors are without excuse.
Open-air preachers who have fallen prey to heresies like Pelagianism and Open-Theism are without excuse and are likely apostates.
Open-air preachers who lack the requisite spiritual maturity and qualifications to engage in the responsibility-heavy task, yet do so any way without care for such things, are without excuse.
That being said, I believe it is reasonable to at least ask the questions:
Could the world, certainly the world of Western Civilization, be in a season, not of revival, but one of tempered wrath, abandonment, and judgment?
Could it be the reason more true conversions are not presently seen as a result of open-air preaching and other biblical forms of evangelism (i.e. forms of evangelism that present the law to the proud and grace to the humble; present an unvarnished and untarnished biblical gospel; call people to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ without adding emotionalism, superficial sentimentality, or psychological manipulation to the effort; do not leave people with an unwarranted sense of assurance that comes from the praying of a prayer, the raising of a hand, the walking of an aisle, the pronouncement of a preacher, or any other effort induced or performed by man) is that God is removing His hand of restraint and allowing those who will perish to have what they want–hardened hearts toward God?
Could it be that we now live in a time where the proclamation of the gospel, whether from the pulpit or on the streets, is “a fragrance from death to death” to the vast majority of people on planet earth?
If I am right, and I think I might be, this is certainly nothing about which to rejoice. Why do you think many of the Lord’s men–men He has called to go triumphantly before Him, with the authority of the King’s Word in his hands and on his lips, as His heralds on the streets of this fallen world to preach both God’s wrath and Christ’s offer of salvation–often preach through a salty veil of tears? Or maybe you have been too critical of open-air preaching and open-air preachers and have never bothered to venture onto the streets with a man who calls your church “home.” How then would you have ever seen his tears?
The biblical open-air preacher knows that most who hear his voice will never repent and believe. He knows that most who hear him preach the law and the gospel will perish in their sins and spend eternity in hell. He knows that unless the people believe Jesus Christ is God and turn to Him for salvation they will die in their sins. He takes no pleasure in this knowledge. It is often too heavy a weight for him to bear. These terrible realities never put a smile on his face or a spring in his step. They are not a source of jocularity in his life. He relishes not that most of the enemies of the conquering KingHe mourns over the sinful unbelief of the lost as much as he mourns over his own sins against His risen Lord and Savior.
There are indeed weeping prophets throughout the world today. They do not prophesy new revelation. They speak the truth of God’s closed Canon. They herald truth already and forever inscripturated by the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us, the Author and Perfecter of both the Word and faith, the Lord Jesus Christ. They weep because as they preach to the unsaved masses they are constantly reminded of the truth (now to often seen and spoken as a cliche) “but for the grace of God go I.” They weep because the truly do not want anyone to perish–man or woman, the Jew or the Greek, the professed but not actual atheist, the Muslim, the Roman Catholic, the Mormon, the Jehovah’s Witness, the Hindu, the Buddhist, the Wiccan, or the false convert to Christianity. They weep because they Love Jesus and they love people, and they know it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
But aren’t those who are doing their very best to obediently and lovingly serve Christ through the biblical and historical means of open-air preaching important enough to the Body of Christ to receive the benefit of the doubt from their Christian brethren? Isn’t it important enough for Christian pastors and laypeople to take an honest look at the times in which we live and try to see what biblical open-air preachers see? Open-air preaching as a discipline isn’t and open-air preachers as a Christian subculture aren’t upside-down, backward, or otherwise out of kilter. Society is. The world is. Unsaved people are.
While open-air preaching is seen as uncouth, untoward, unfashionable, unsophisticated, and unwelcomed in the eyes of the world and even in the eyes of many Christians, it is not seen similarly by the Lord Jesus Christ. I can make this assertion not because I know the mind of the Lord or offer Him any counsel. I can make this assertion because the Lord Jesus Christ was an open-air preacher. His apostles were open-air preachers. Some of the deacons and laymen in the Church of the apostolic age were open-air preachers. The prophets who foretold about the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ were open-air preachers. And every real revival in post-apostolic history had open-air preaching as either an accompaniment to the ministry of the Word from the pulpits, or standing alone in sharp contrast or as a rebuke to the Christ-less preaching coming from the pulpits at the time.
Love and effectiveness. The best way to gauge both in one’s own life and evangelistic efforts, or the life and evangelistic efforts of another Christian, is not through the subjectivity and oft-discriminatory presuppositions of personal preference, but through the only true, uncompromisable, balanced, unfailing standard–the Word of God. The Word of God equates love with obedience (Exodus 20:6; Deuteronomy 7:9; Nehemiah 1:5; Daniel 9:4; John 14:21-24; John 15:10; 1 John 2:4-6; 1 John 5:2-4), not with effectiveness. The Word of God commands all Christians to proclaim the gospel to a lost and dying world. Open-air preaching is one of many biblically legitimate ways to do that. Therefore those who obey God’s command to share the gospel with the lost, regardless of how they go about it, are loving both God and sinners at the same time.
Isn’t love biblically applied the true key to effectiveness? Isn’t love the true barometer of whether or not any endeavor in the name of Christ is effective? Trying to understand this is vanity unless one begins and ends the matter with the sovereignty of God–the God who will soften hearts He chooses to soften and harden hearts He chooses to harden. He will show mercy and compassion to those He has predetermined to show mercy and compassion. Man’s will or exertion has no bearing whatsoever. Salvation is of the Lord!
“What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
“You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?
Love and obedience go hand-in-hand. Effectiveness in any spiritual endeavor, including open-air preaching is determined by God, for the glory of God–not by results tangible and acceptable in they eyes of men. To love God and to obey God, by loving people enough to tell them the message they will only want to hear if God gives them ears to hear it and hearts to receive it, is to be effective. Therefore, biblical open-air preachers, obedient to the call of God, are effective heralds of the gospel.
Please pray for today’s Jeremiahs, our modern-world’s weeping prophets–men who are both a fragrance of life and a fragrance of death. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).