Public preaching is the purest and plainest definition of the word “preach” in the commandment “preach the gospel”. It is almost comical to watch those that wish to break loose of its shackles attempt to say that preaching means anything other than preaching. I see little problem with classifying door-knocking, or personal evangelism, or even friendship evangelism as preaching the gospel, but for heaven’s sake (literally) do not declassify preaching as preaching the gospel.
Public preaching accomplishes more than just affording more people the opportunity to listen. It actually demands of people to choose to not to listen, as listening is the involuntary choice of circumstance. Listening to the gospel being publicly preached is not an opportunity, but an experience that must be escaped from in order to not hear it. Very few other methods offer similar tactical advantage to the gospel, and none so naturally and so forcefully.
Public preaching, like no other form of evangelism, brings to the forefront that required element of the gospel: The point of contention. Obviously this does not mean that we seek or should seek to be contentious. However, the contention between God and the sinner is the necessitating fact behind repentance and reconciliation; and methods of evangelism that are designed and preferred because they mitigate or even cloak this contention are detrimental. Because of this, overtly non-contentious forms of evangelism like friendship evangelism–and even less overt forms like handing out tracts–must be consciously infused with the presentation of the contention of the gospel. Otherwise, the evangelism is nothing more than two competing department stores that distinguish themselves from each other merely based on the attractiveness of their window displays, drawing no direct comparisons with their competitor, and offering no advantage that would cast the competitor in a bad light. Whereas, public preaching is born of the contention between God and man. It doesn’t have to even try to bring the point of contention to the forefront, it embodies it, hence the repudiation of the method itself. Evangelism without a point of contention is akin to morality without the law. The law’s dogmatic severity both elevates morality into an unreachable stratosphere, and at the same time upbraids those who, without the law, fancied themselves as morally competent.
Public preaching makes gospel preaching pertinent. Too many preachers seek solace from the pangs of their conscience in the regular gospel sermons they preach to their congregations. Such sermons are important as well, but no substitute for preaching the gospel where it is most needed and to whom most need it. Gospel preachers who minster exclusively to sympathetic audiences are hardly accomplishing much at all. They are physicians who specialize in healing the healthy. They undervalue the example of the Christ who came to call sinners, not the righteous; to leave the 99 and go and seek the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Anyone who has confronted a unsympathetic, even hostile, audience understands the attraction of preaching the gospel to a predominately saved gathering, but is that really where our efforts are most wisely invested or are we laying up our talent in a napkin? Is this really the ministry that God had in mind when he imparted the gift of evangelism and gospel preaching? What ever happend to the persuasion of striving to preach the gospel where Christ has not been named? How granular do you think this compulsion in Paul was? I would postulate that it must be very granular in us to mean anything at all in our age. If we take this to mean nationally, then let’s pack it in; there isn’t a country in the world that isn’t evangelized. As we granulate the principle we must reach the point that we accept that only a very localized application will make any sense of it at all. And if we indict those that flock to the evangelical “hot-spots” of the world, literally tripping over each other to find an unlearned man amongst them, what does that say of those that do the same in the infinitely more minuscule “field” that is their church? How ridiculous we must appear, and most certainly do appear, sitting around preaching the gospel to ourselves, longing for the casual visit of a lost soul. And then… o how we pounce on him, ecstatic at the opportunity to abandon the shooting gallery and frolic for a bit in actual combat! And on those slow days when no unsuspecting soul wanders into our lair, we long for the opportunity to preach the gospel to those who most need it–even as they mill around in the parks, and streets; the buss stops and metro stations; the chief places of concourse–all around us.
I have both heard and personally exploited all the objections and rationalizations uttered against street preaching: It is not effective. It is offensive. It is out-dated. It is not my gift. It doesn’t work in this environment. It is against the law. It alienates the brethren. It looks ridiculous. Most of these are mostly true; but they are also inconsequential. I could traverse this list and wax long with rebuttals to each severally, but the real problem does not lie in a laundry-list of truthful objections against this ministry. The real problem lies in the heart of those best described as “non-practicing preachers”. I have come to terms with the fact that not everyone is called to be a preacher of the gospel. It is a special gift. If any of us have not been blessed with such gift, that is fine, but let us not pose as preachers. There is an old maxim amongst aspiring writers, “writers write”; well, preachers preach. But let us preach, not as one that beateth the air. If we are going to arrogate the ministry, then we must also accept our share of the yoke that accompanies it.
Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel!