EVANGELISM AND SUNDAY SCHOOLS


Among the issues that Christians do have to consider from time to time are Sunday Schools and Evangelistic Campaigns or Crusades. Now, contrary to what some brethren may think, these issues are, in essence, the same, because the objective is the same and the thought process involved is the same. Arguments, or criticisms, put for one are equally valid for the others. In these issues the arguments proposed in favour are usually;-
1) There is a great need for people to hear the gospel.
2) We believe that God has used, and blessed, these activities in the past;
we cannot ignore what God has done previously.
3) We know that Godly brethren have supported and promoted these practices in the past,
we must honour the memory of our Godly forefathers.
4) You are not succeeding at present, your church membership is declining
and many other churches are actually closing down,
And, very convincing are these arguments too, in fact they cannot be argued against.

Some of the textual arguments, from Holy Scripture, presented usually include;-
“ Train a child in the way he should go; and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22;6..” “The harvest is truly great, but the labourers are few; pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest.” Luke 10;2.

The first of these texts is excellent advice and should be heeded by all parents, for that is, essentially, the direction in which it is given it is not a ‘church teaching’. The second is exceeding important and set in the context of the entire passage, including “I send you forth as lambs among wolves. Carry neither purse, nor script, nor shoes.” Without that caveat the first text has no force. It will be seen that these texts have other applications and to use them in a way that God has not intended does not enhance Scripture. Indeed the practice of preaching from a text without reference to context is a distinct failing in many pulpits, particularly among ‘Devotional and Experimental Preachers’, ‘Expository Preachers’, whatever their doctrinal bent, tend to get closer to the meaning of the message..

These, however, are circular arguments and can be used to support any project, good bad or indifferent; this type argument can be used in favour of State Religious Systems, with their Infant Christening Rituals and Baptismal Regeneration Practices, etc.

Put the issue another way, every argument for or against Sunday Schools could be used for or against Evangelistic Campaigns and these can then be duplicated for such schemes as ‘Christian Rock’ ‘Christian Drama’, Choreographic Worship, etc. Now we do not suggest, for a minute, that all believers who have come from any of these systems are false believers, we know that this is not so. However, as far as we can see, and we do not profess to have perfect sight, the main effect of these schemes is to introduce dead carnal professors and frivolous shallow converts into congregations; as a result we have seen gatherings that had once been doctrinally sound and spiritually alive becoming totally Legalistically Pharasaical, doctrinally wayward and spiritually dead..

Much has been written on these subject, both for and against the propositions, and we see no reason to repeat any of it. Also, many of the writings about these schemes, that we have seen, has been based on texts out of context, anecdotes and emotions rather than the sure Word of God. We shall also eschew any pragmatic argument.

We shall seek to pursue The REGULATIVE PRINCIPLE, which is
“ Whatsoever God has not commanded in His Word for His worship is not allowable in divine Worship.” This was in keeping with John Knox’s dictum. “All worshipping, honouring, or other service invented by the brain of man in the religion of God, without His own express command is idolatry.” That principle is, to put it simply, Scripture Alone. This principle is stated in The Nonconformist’s Catechism of 1741;-
36. Q. Is nothing to be required in the worship [or service] of God but what is commanded in Scripture?
A. Nothing but what is either expressly commanded, or necessarily implied in a command.
The apostle Paul, and Apollos also, encouraged the Assembly, Congregation, Gathering, at Corinth ‘not to think above that which was written’. 1Cor.4;6
If this principle is offensive, then, so be it.

But, first, let us look at some practices.

Recently my wife and I were in Canterbury, the ancient English Cathedral City, and while walking through the market place we heard the distinctive sound of someone preaching in the open air. Turning a corner I discovered that my ears had not deceived me. There, among the peddlers of cloth and vendors of cabbages, stood a youngish man and he was preaching; he was alone, he had no supporting musical group, he had no pulpit not even a box to stand on, nor did he wear clerical clothes, he was alone save for the well used Bible that nestled in his right hand. Now, his theology was a bit defective and his terminology left something to be desired, at least in my opinion and I don’t claim perfection of knowledge on these matters. But, he was preaching the gospel as he knew it, with conviction, and he was backing up his statements with Scripture. Now, and I want you to think about this for a moment, a hundred paces away there was a great cathedral, the oldest in England, dating back to Bishop Augustine (also known as Austin), with its many sub-organisations such as Sunday School and Mother’s Union, many ordained incumbents and so many rituals that I would not wish to number them plus much other religious paraphernalia besides, including The Year Of Evangelism. By contrast here, within hailing distance of the great religious establishment, was a man preaching, just preaching. Which of these, we should ask, was the New Testament pattern?

The best known English Open Air preacher was, probably, George Whitefield. (However, there were special circumstances pertaining to his open air preaching which do not exist today.) “The step which --- gave a turn to the whole current of Whitefield’s ministry was his adoption of the system of open-air preaching. ---. After much prayer he one day went to Hannam Mount, and standing upon a hill began to preach ---. He writes, ‘I preached in Moorfields --- and after five went and preached at Kennington Common, --’ In Hackney Fields, Mary-le-bone Fields, May Fair, Smithfield, Blackheath, Moorfields and Kennington Common, there went Whitefield and lifted up his voice for Christ.”

Indeed there was a time wherever an opportunity to preach occurred it was done. John Bunyan preached “in Mr. Ainger’s barn on a farm just off the village street (where Mr. Spurgeon subsequently preached)” Learned, Episcopal, clergy from the Church of England opposed the humble itinerant metal worker from Bedford, they harassed him and eventually landed him in prison. Read Mr. Bynyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and find out where Evangelist and Help were. Were they safely ensconced in a pulpit, (sometimes known as the ‘Coward’s Castle) or sat in the splendid isolation of a Sunday School? Or, were these two characters drawing near to the pilgrim in need, were they waist deep in the mire of the Slough of Despond with a hand outstretched to help the floundering soul?

History records that Waldenses and Lollards went about the land speaking to individuals and preaching, wherever an opportunity occurred, risking ridicule, arrest, torture and even death itself,. But even the example of such Godly Servants is not sufficient pattern. We must search the Scriptures to see that whether these things are so.

So, just what did the early Christians do? That is the pertinent question. If there is any record of the early Christians arranging Evangelistic Crusades, complete with civic dignitaries, aspiring politicians, and self seeking entrepreneurs, then we should find it. If first century congregations started Sunday Schools then that will be in the Divine Record.

Well, we read in Acts of the Apostles several instances for our learning, and it isn’t necessary to examine each such incident here, provided we can discover the salient points..

Philip went down to Gaza, under the guidance of the Spirit, where he approached a traveller and took the opportunity to explain the good news of Jesus to him, including the teaching of immersion. Philip then immersed the traveller, when water in sufficient quantity was encountered. Having completed this mission Philip then travelled through the country announcing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Acts 8;26-40 But how many present day ministers would be so willing to engage a traveller in a gospel discourse then dip the recipient of the gospel in the first available water?

Paul, while he was in Athens, reasoned with those in the synagogue, spoke with people in the market place and he preached at Areopagus, the Hill of Mars. Acts 17;16-34 This later was an extempore address, starting with the situation that existed there. Can we hear some of our ministering brethren, seeing the state of things in any of our cities, thundering out to a crowd, “Ye men of Athens.” or “Citizens of Birmingham! etc.”

Apollos arrived in Ephesus, preaching the gospel as he knew it and was welcomed by Aquila and Priscilla. Acts 18;24-28 This young man went preaching in the synagogue, because there were people there to hear. The local brethren did not freeze him out, they did not ostracise him, they welcomed him and sought to instruct him further in the truth; this was no doubt a mutually beneficial two way intercourse, because they very soon engaged him in the ministry of the word. Apollos was then, without undue delay, commended into the ministry of the gospel by letter from the Congregation at Ephesus to the Gathering at Achaia, where he helped the Lord’s people. Now this raises an important question, how long would it have taken for Apollos to have got on to any of the denominational ministers lists that exist today , or by what process? Would Apollos, who watered where Paul had planted, been allowed to go out ministering in any denominations today? Now that is a very interesting question and those who organise ‘denominational ministers lists’ must need address it..

Paul called at Troas, Acts 20;5-12. “And upon the first day of the week when the disciples came together to break bread.” This is recorded so simply and naturally that it is apparent that the disciples came together for the purpose of Remembering their Lord in the Breaking of Bread. And Paul took the opportunity to discourse with, not sermonise at, the brethren. The word used here is dialegomai which is discourse, converse, etc. Paul sat down with his brethren and spoke with them about divine truth. By contrast, I recall one well known ‘Reformed Baptist Minister’ being asked a question by an enquiring brother and replying, “I’ll give you a sermon on that sometime.” This man was, apparently, afraid when outside of his ‘coward’s castle’! He simply had to get back to his study and read up Hengstenberg then get a few well chosen synonyms from his Roget’s Thesaurus!

So why is it that so many of us are anxious to run Sunday Schools or Evangelistic Campaigns but will not, like Philip, speak to a seeking soul, will not, like Paul and Apollos, stand up and preach in the marketplace and avoid discoursing with their brethren? The truth is we know the answer in our own hearts, what we lack is the courage to face up to the question honestly.

Not many of us have the gift of holy opportunism as did Philip or have the bold sanctified eloquence of Apollos, we cannot preach like Peter, or pray like Paul, but, perhaps, we can tell of the love of the Saviour to lost sinners. Yes, we are fearful; but let us remember that the bold and fearless Peter was once a craven coward who shrank from the challenge of a serving maid!

The Cross ---;

It makes the coward spirit brave,
        And nerves the feeble arm for fight;
It takes the terror from the grave,
        And gilds the bed of death with light. Thomas Kelly