Friday, September 28, 2012

Pharisaical Evangelism

It's pretty easy to throw around the "Pharisee" label within Christendom and apply it to people we don't like.  Where it is more difficult is when it comes to applying it to ourselves.  I've been a Pharisaical evangelist.  They say that confession is good for the soul.  We'll see. 

The self righteousness of the Pharisees is legendary for anyone who has read the Gospels.  Jesus had some memorable run-ins with them throughout the Gospels.  He had some memorable words for them in Matthew 23.  My personal favorite: white washed tombs full of dead mens bones.  Outwardly beautiful, inwardly full of corruption.  It's just a great word picture. 

There are many marks of Pharisaism and this essay is not intended to cover all of them.  However, I do want to cover a couple of them as they can apply to street evangelists.  At least they have applied to me.  Maybe they apply to you too and we can repent together. 

I found myself up late at night earlier this week and got to listen to an excellent sermon on Pharisaism.  I am preparing to preach Mark 7:1-13 (which I will refer to later) which is one of those run-ins between Jesus and the Pharisees, so a sermon on this topic could be helpful and give me some material for my own sermon.  Little did I know it would give me some material for my own repentance.

Luke 18:10-14

One way you can know that you are in danger of Pharisaical thinking comes to us when we, like a Pharisee, see some other believer who does not meet our own high (and often unBiblical) expectations and think something like, "Thank You, God, that You did not make me like other men.  I am not Emergent, Word of Faith, easy believism, doctrinally oblivious or even like that well meaning but non-evangelizing fellow church member over there.  I share the gospel with everyone I know and spend my vacations at big outreaches.  That guy hasn't shared the gospel with anyone in his life!" 

Meanwhile your fellow church member who serves in ways you don't know about because he does not have a blog or a website telling the world about it is praying, "Oh, Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner." 

Let's ask ourselves the question:  who do you think is going to go back to his house right before God?   Check out Luke 18:10-14 and decide for yourself. 

Too many times I have thought of my fellow believers as complacent, lukewarm, pew-warming and loving it.  I have thought of myself more highly than I should have simply because I spend a few hours per week standing on street corners preaching or engaging people in one-to-ones.

Don't get me wrong.  Evangelism is good and we should do it.  By all means, let's do evangelism.  But let's not use this as the standard by which we judge others or ourselves by.  I've done it.  It's nothing but some of the worst sort of pride which says that my work in evangelism is more important than teaching a fifth grade boys class or cleaning the church.  I don't see a whole lot of blogs about cleaning churches or whole communities of people who clean churches posting videos of their work on Youtube.  I wonder why that is?  Could it be that these people aren't doing it to build a reputation or a ministry, but are doing it simply for the love of the Lord?  

Mark 7:1-13

In Mark 7, Jesus rebukes the Pharisees when He says, "You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition" (Mk. 7:9).   Jesus is attacking the "tradition of the elders" taught in Jewish writings like the Halakha and the Aggadah.  Later in the passage He brings up the teaching from the Mishna that stated that money declared "Corban" (devoted to the Temple) could be withheld from one's parents even if they were in need.  Consequently, the fifth commandment could be ignored with the sanction of the tradition of the elders.  In essence, their tradition trumped the very Word of God. 

"Traditions of the Evangelists"

It gets one thinking, doesn't it?  I mean, extra-Biblical traditions that we hold that in essence, trump God's Word as evangelists.  Examples?

  • If someone shares the gospel but does not use the "good person test" we think they've compromised or haven't shared the gospel at all. 
  • If someone doesn't show up each week for our outreaches we think they have backslidden or wonder if they were false converts.  
  • If our pastor has never come out for one of our outreaches we secretly (or not so secretly) suspect that he is lukewarm. 
  • If our church friends glaze over every time we come into the room as a defense mechanism against our starry-eyed, rapid-fire account of Friday night's encounter with a drunken mob of satan worshippers we judge them as not supportive of evangelism.  Maybe they are not.  Or maybe they have heard so many stories from us that all sound the same, only with a different cast of characters and that all end with the good person test.  Even more, perhaps they don't understand how anyone would actually choose to spend their time arguing presuppositional apologetics with drunken satanists.  Believe it or not, those stories don't exactly inspire newbies to come join you.  There's a reason why I was referred to in one evangelism conference by a dear friend as the church's "commando evangelist." 
  • If someone asks you about follow-up or discipleship, we think that they don't "get it."  In the meantime they think, "I wonder why he doesn't care enough about people to spend time with them?"  
  • If someone gets a little nervous with the idea of street preaching, they are a false convert. 
As a result, we come up with an extra-Biblical tradition which says:

  • You MUST always share the good person test if you are doing evangelism.  Preferably with a New Zealand accent.
  • You MUST do a formal outreach at least once a week.  
  • A good church MUST have a cheer leading squad for the evangelism team and the pastor's role on the evangelism team MUST resemble that of coach, general manager, starting quarterback and water boy.  
  • If you disciple the people you minister to on the streets you are not trusting the Lord in the spirit of Philippians 1:6.  
  • Street preaching is a spiritual discipline like praying, going to church or reading the Bible.  
In short, we have fine ways of rejecting the Word of God for our traditions.  The good news is we're described in the Bible!  The bad news is we're Pharisees. 

Now, I am sorely tempted to try to explain how the things in the above lists are not commanded in the Bible.  Also, how, in fact, some of the things are commanded in the Bible.  The fact that this would need to be explained in some circles illustrates just how little of the Bible we actually read and how many sermons by a strange little Kiwi we have memorized.  So I am not going to do it.  I don't need to.  It's self evident. 

Self righteousness, even in a good (wonderful, magnificent, worthy) cause is ugly.  Some of this can be chalked up to zeal without knowledge.  If that's so in your life, go get some knowledge to go with your zeal.  I think something like four parts knowledge to one part zeal is the right mixture.  And then go back on the street with passion and preach Christ and Him crucified.


Michael Coughlin said...

Thanks, Jon. Of course, it is also possible to have some of these thoughts and actually be right(eous), as well.

It is the preaching of some zealous folks that turned me on to the desire God placed in me to do evangelism.

Of course, the problem with the pharisees was their hearts, not their actions (necessarily).

So don't be too hard on yourself, but continue to honestly seek the Lord.

Jon Speed said...


Thanks for your comments. As always, they are appreciated.

I am a little confused by your response. Which thoughts listed are righteous?

I agree that the problem was their hearts, but their actions flowed out of their hearts. It is cause and effect.

My first inclination is to say that we shouldn't find any way to justify the behaviors listed here. Even if the Lord Sovereignly used them for good, when we think things and do things which are departures from the Word of God, we have sinned. The ends do not justify the means.

Michael Coughlin said...

I apologize for the confusion. Let me try to explain a little better what I meant.

First, I'll establish what I know you agree with, that the heart's intention is vital. The same action, for example, getting up and preaching in front of a crowd, could be a sin for one man and an act of humility and even obedience for another. We can each see scenarios where one man is being prideful, (saved or not)...and I hope we both know men and have experienced times where preaching was truly about exalting Christ.

I think that I can cheerfully and "sinlessly" provide a report of my Friday night witnessing (not that I've never erred). And I understand in your example what you meant - but I do believe that reports can be made with a pure heart. In fact, I get periodic reports from several ministers of the gospel, and I am grateful for those reports.

Also, I think it is ok to be excited about evangelism and encourage others to do so. I AGREE that it can be done pharisaically, and this is all too common, but I think it is possible for a preacher to simply exhort others from the scripture and have a pure heart in the matter. In fact, it is this type of preaching which lit a spark in my heart. I don't feel like the men who blatantly preached that I should be out proclaiming Christ were pharisaical. I think they were being responsible.

That being said, the instances I mention are likely fewer and farther between and I do not want to detract from the good points you made that these can be real problems in our hearts and in the church.

So again, I appreciate your conviction in the matter, and I probably think that 97% of what you said was unjustifiable...there were just a couple generalities where I think someone could have misunderstood. Or maybe I misunderstood them :)

Jon Speed said...


I agree with almost everything you've written here. It is possible to write reports that are God honoring. I trust that I did that just last week with our own ministry's email update.

I have spoken to other pastors who are doctrinally solid and generally supportive of Biblical evangelism. This essay, perhaps more than any other I have written, deals with the issue that many of them are concerned about. I used to write off their concerns as being overly critical and coming from outsiders. It's easy to justify what we do because of the nature of what we are doing. It is Scriptural, not many others do it, and we have seen fruit from it. As I am back to being a pastor again and dealing with the concerns of an entire flock and not just evangelism team folks, I am seeing what I did not see before. My motive here is to urge evangelists to look at themselves before being as critical as we have been of the church. If we can dish it out but not take it, that is yet another sign of hypocrisy. I am not accusing you of this, but I have seen it elsewhere.

The issue of motive is so subtle and has been an issue ever since WoTM started doing hands on seminar trainings back in 2004. A culture developed which involved weekly reports on internet message boards and email lists. Patterns began to develop where the reports seemed to get more and more detailed and in some cases, extravagant. I used to receive more than 100 of these reports each week in my position at The Great News Network. In the meantime, I wrote my own report for our own evangelism team in Dallas\Ft. Worth, which often had the same flaws.

Many of the evangelism team leaders from 2004-2006 are no longer doing street evangelism. Many are, but the issue of staying power (Tony Miano's message "Don't Quit") and motive (Emeal Zwayne's message on love in evangelism) weren't birthed in a vacuum.

Since then, social media exploded and with Facebook, iPhones, and other technologies the ability to report is almost instantaneous. The time between writing and reporting is minimal and the opportunity to state things which go into cyberspace permanently is unprecedented. Now is the time for us to be more careful on this issue and talk more about it.

There's nothing wrong with encouraging people to evangelize. However, if we use elitism to do it, that IS wrong. My comments here are not intended to discourage evangelists from doing their job by training the church. They are intended to discourage us from being self righteous as we do so.

Michael Coughlin said...

I agree and I understand.

I am also extremely blessed to have a great pastor. I'm glad your people do too.

Anonymous said...


Great post! I agree with you.

However, if Christians really believed that most people will go to hell, that is, the place of eternal torment where the fire never quenches and the worm doesn't die, don't you believe that they would stop making excuses for why they won't, can't or don't evangelize?

I think you should write a post about the other side. For example, those that take advantage of grace.

Jon Speed said...


So much has been written on that subject, and read on that subject, by the people who visit this blog that any more writing on it is superfluous.

But I have written and preached much on that subject already, over the course of almost nine years, so that I feel it necessary to address this side of the coin at this point.

In fact, here are a couple of posts to illustrate what I mean:

This should suffice as a sample.

Anonymous said...

I read all of them good stuff Thanks bro!

I'm gonna go get some tracts and your booklet.