While strolling through Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia, we could hear an amplified voice near one corner. From a distance, I could not identify the purpose of the speech, but I did have some idea that the speaker was angry about something. I was curious to see if it was a political protest or a speech about one of the hot button issues being debated on our society.
My curiosity turned to disappointment when I found out that the speaker was a street preacher who was spewing out condemnation on his listeners in the name of Christ. The preacher was using a combination of “hellfire and damnation” preaching combined with Don Rickles style abuse of the audience. When the preacher started verbally harassing a passerby for his style of dress, my disappointment became increasingly mixed with frustration at the misrepresentation of what it means to follow Christ.
Two errors in the preachers approach come to mind.
First, when confronted with a woman caught in the very act of adultery (see John 8), Jesus said to the woman “neither do I condemn you” before he commanded her to go and sin no more. The order of these statements is crucial to understanding Jesus and how we should go about the business of representing him in our culture. When we offer Christ to our culture, we offer him as the means of being accepted by a gracious and loving God. There is no need to be cleaned up before the offer can be accepted. Christ is more than willing to enter into relationship, no matter what the person has done or is doing at the time.
The preacher, on the other hand, implied that people need to clean up their act to be accepted by Christ. This is flat out wrong.
The second thought comes from Paul’s Letter to the Romans. In Chapter 2 of that letter, Paul lets us know that prideful, religious law keeping is no more palatable to God than prideful, irreligious law breaking. Law keepers and law breakers are both in need of the grace of Jesus that comes through faith. Paul goes on in Chapter 3 to remind us that all of us, religious and irreligious, have “sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We are all in need of God’s grace.
The street preacher failed because he misrepresented the very Christ that he sought to proclaim. The whole message of the gospel is that everyone is in need of Christ; the religious and the irreligious, moral and immoral, share the same standing.