Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

On Being Provocative in Christian Ministry

Jul 6, 2013

One could basically offer this as a truism: there are two sorts of people in the world: those who faithfully and courageously share their faith, and are doing something with the gospel of Jesus Christ, and those who just sit back doing nothing, and criticise those who are doing something.

This is of course a bit of a generalisation, but it often seems to be the case. The armchair couch potatoes can easily sit back and hurl abuse at those who are on the front lines, those who are actively living out their faith, those who are seeking to rock their world for the Kingdom.

I certainly have experienced this often enough, as have many others who are doing their best to do the work of Christ and the Kingdom. These armchair critics can be a dime-a-dozen. Many of them are not doing anything for the gospel, and are certainly afraid to rock the boat, or get out of the boat and walk on the water.

Yet they are happy to attack and criticise those who are seeking to make a difference. If they were out there as well getting their hands dirty that would be one thing. But I suspect most are just sitting back and enjoying taking potshots at the actual workers doing all the hard yards.

A perfect example of this took place just recently. It involves two street preachers who felt led to peacefully and quietly share the gospel of Jesus Christ at a homosexual pride gathering in the US state of Washington. Fortunately we have a record of what transpired, including a video record.

What you will see there is not pretty. Here is how one report covers the gruesome incident: “A street preacher was repeatedly punched in the head and kicked by two men at Seattle’s Pridefest this past Sunday – and the entire confrontation was caught on camera.

“In disturbing video footage uploaded on Youtube and reported by Seattle’s KOMO news, two Christian street preachers can be seen standing on a grassy area. One of the preachers holds a sign that says ‘Jesus saves and heals,’ and ‘Repent or else,’ while the other holds a Bible. At the beginning of the video a large man approaches the two preachers angrily, while another woman repeatedly shoves the man carrying the Bible and demands that the two men leave.

“The situation continues to heat up, until at one point a number of people attempt to snatch the sign away from the sign-wielding preacher. When one man succeeds, a melee ensues in which the angry man seen at the beginning of the video runs at and punches the preacher in the head several times while another kicks him repeatedly.”

The links below provide the video coverage of this nasty episode. Yep – more tolerance, love and acceptance from the homosexualists. I posted this elsewhere, and I thought to myself, “Before long there will be Christian critics coming out of the woodwork, attacking not the homofascists here, but the two Christians!”

And sure enough, within minutes that is exactly what happened. We had believers carrying on about how these two were being provocative and causing trouble. I knew this was going to happen, so I started writing a response. And since those critics did materialise, I have turned my response into this article.

Consider what one critic said: “Mess with intoxicated crowds (as I think the stout guy was…) and you can get hurt. I have to say, these 2 street preachers with the hell-fire sign…were unnecessarily provocative and confrontational. Was anyone there convinced or converted? It doesn’t excuse the pro-homosex attackers, none-the-less, we are to be wise as serpents, and innocent as doves.”

Hmm, being “unnecessarily provocative and confrontational”? Let me ask this critic a few questions:
-Were the prophets being unnecessarily provocative and confrontational when they challenged the false prophets?
-Was Jesus being unnecessarily provocative and confrontational when he went into temples and challenged the Pharisees?
-Was Paul being unnecessarily provocative and confrontational when he challenged Athens and its idols?
-Was the early church being unnecessarily provocative and confrontational when it went everywhere, proclaiming the gospel, and causing all sorts of commotion and disturbance?
-Was Wilberforce being unnecessarily provocative and confrontational when he challenged the slave traders?
-Was William Booth being unnecessarily provocative and confrontational when he tackled the pub and brothel owners?
-Was Martin Luther King being unnecessarily provocative and confrontational when he challenged the racists?

I for one tend to get a bit tired of all these limp-wristed evangellyfish who do nothing for the gospel, but happily criticise those who are doing something. They sit in the comfort of their own homes, never having known what it is to be on the coal face or the front lines, and they hurl their criticisms at those who do know the face of battle.

I am not very impressed with such critics. But sadly church history is full of this. Whenever on-fire believers step up to the plate and start doing great things for the Kingdom, plenty of these nominal and fearful believers will come out with all guns blazing. Happens all the time sadly.

As Charles Spurgeon rightly put it: “Oh, my brethren! Bold-hearted men are always called mean-spirited by cowards.” Or as D. L. Moody said to someone who criticized his evangelistic efforts, “Brother, I like the way I am doing evangelism better than the way you are not doing it.”


To say all this is of course not to say certain other things. That is, I am not saying we should not be wise, careful and tactful in what we do. I am not saying that every single Christian confrontation with the world is always right, or done prudently or biblically.

I am not saying there is no place for proper timing, proper methods, and proper words. Nor am I saying that what these two did was necessarily 100 per cent correct. But the point is, unlike so many armchair critics, at least they are out there engaging the lost, taking a stand for righteousness, and seeking to proclaim the gospel.

That is a whole lot more than what perhaps 95 per cent of evangelical Christians in the West today are doing. Most believers aren’t doing anything for the gospel. They are just sitting there, watching TV, playing games, being entertained and amused – even in their churches – and taking cheap shots at those who are doing something.

Sure, every time we interact with those in the world, we need to pray for wisdom, discernment and the careful guidance of the Holy Spirit. Sure, we all do need to seek to apply Matthew 10:16 (the verse cited above by the critic). Sure, we all need to prayerfully consider how our public Christian witness is carried out.

But my point remains: hardly any Western believers today are standing up and being counted. Very few are willing to hit the front lines and take a Christian stance. Very few are willing to even open their mouths in public and share the gospel.

So yes, we should be open to criticism. We all need to hear from one another as to how we can be a better witness for Christ. We all make mistakes, all have blindspots, and all can do things better and more in line with biblical principles.

We in fact need biblical balance here: we need measured, careful and wise ministry, but we also need some Holy Ghost boldness and willingness to be made fools for Christ’s sake. We have plenty of the cautious and go-slow folks, but not nearly enough courageous saints who fear no man and will dare to take a stand, regardless of all the hate and abuse.

So without knowing any more details about these two street preachers, I say good for them. Forget your limp-wristed critics who are doing nothing, and keep on being a bold witness for Christ. We need more courageous Christians like you.

Let me conclude with the words of martyred missionary Jim Elliot: “We are so utterly ordinary, so commonplace, while we profess to know a Power the Twentieth Century does not reckon with. But we are ‘harmless,’ and therefore unharmed. We are spiritual pacifists, non-militants, conscientious objectors in this battle-to-the-death with principalities and powers in high places. Meekness must be had for contact with men, but brass, outspoken boldness is required to take part in the comradeship of the Cross. We are ‘sideliners’ – coaching and criticizing the real wrestlers while content to sit by and leave the enemies of God unchallenged. The world cannot hate us, we are too much like its own. Oh that God would make us dangerous!”

[1450 words]

18 Responses to On Being Provocative in Christian Ministry

  • I couldn’t agree with you more on your comments, Bill. Perhaps we can set up a Christian shop selling strong backbones to the limp wristed Evangicaljellyfish out there in the World who would rather standby and criticise those courageous enough to stand up in proclaiming and protecting their moral beliefs.
    Leigh D Stebbins

  • The homosexuals, perhaps more than anybody else, have mastered the art of playing the victim and acting the bully.

    Peter Barnes

  • Even if said critics are engaged in full-time Christian ministry, it has to be observed that perhaps 95% of all Christian ministry in the West in ineffectual. I say this on the basis of the undisputed fact that Western civilisation is rapidly spiralling downwards with no slow-down in sight. If every Christian had the courage and zeal demonstrated by the two witnesses at the Seattle ‘Pridefest’, perhaps we might see our culture transformed.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria.

  • As Lot’s family had to be ‘provoked’ into leaving Sodom and some of the prophets practised sometimes weird provocation so at times God will send preachers who will jar the sensibilities of many. We should be humble and wise enough to discern the truth of the doctrine and the passion of the warning not just take vain offence. keep in mind too that the Beast is likely to be very approving of our sensibilities,likely to provide all our earthly needs and salve all our temporary anxieties.

    Ian Clarkson

  • Standing strong and with our Lord for marriage as One man with One woman for LIFE. Where are others making, taking a stand and supporting marriage as God ordained?
    Bill, good reading, thanks for your support for Bible based and discipled way of life.

    Judith Bond

  • Peter: “…mastered the art of playing the victim and acting the bully…” Yeah, must have learnt it from the Palestinian leaders…
    Thanks for the links Bill. We’ve all been clued to the importance of video evidence and a police presence. A tricky situation but very informative.
    And speaking of police presence: Hillsong’s Friday night at the full Allphones Arena + overflowing overflow tent + crowds watching on screens on the sidewalk…some 25k people and I saw a grand total of one police car. They guy was sitting in it watching for parking violations or lost kids I presume, trying to look useful. Yet this little gay assembly in Seattle of barely a few hundred had police swarming, and trying their hardest to act casual…

    Tim Lovett

  • In the same spirit as these two preachers, I’d love to set up a Christian prayer chapel at the annual “Mind, Body & Spirit Expo” (read: occult and New Age stuff) in Melbourne as a bit of a rattling of the cage! After all, the Holy Spirit is the most spiritual of anything you’d find there!
    Also to Tim: I saw the same thing when I attended World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney: 125,000 young people packed Barangaroo for the opening mass with Pope Benedict XVI and, while the police presence was noticeable (more as security to the Holy Father), there was not one arrest made. It’s a testament to our faith that young, joy-filled people can have fun without breaking the law or acting like louts.
    John Forster

  • The Gospel is bound to scandalise: It is a message which says we all are lawbreakers, guilty before almighty God – lawbreakers who need His mercy and grace if we are to escape our just sentence in the court of the universe.

    John Wigg

  • If someone held up a sign saying that all Christians were going to hell I would just laugh. I wouldn’t feel the need to go and belt the individual. That that person did says a lot for his his mentality. So I don’t know how they were being ‘unnecessarily provocative’.

    Damien Spillane

  • I am a Christian, but I am going to play Devil’s Advocate because there seems to be a double standard going on here. We don’t like it when homosexual activists disrupt church services to try to spread their message. What the two Christians here were doing would amount to the same, as viewed from the point of view of the homosexuals, who don’t, remember, believe in the Gospel.

    These are your words, Bill: “There have of course been countless other such meetings where the activists waltzed right in and disrupted, if not shut down altogether, similar sorts of events. And this sort of intimidation, bullying and obstruction is certainly not new. The activists have been doing this for decades now. They have become experts at disrupting and interfering with the rights of others to share their point of view in the public arena.”

    The same thing can’t be right when it’s a Christian doing it and wrong when it’s anyone else. We have to have a little perspective.

    The Archbishop of Canterbury in the UK has called for a more progressive dialogue with homosexuals, and if there’s to be peace, it’s the only way forward:

    Tim Grice

  • Thanks Tim, but let me call your bluff. You do indeed make a great devil’s advocate, but a lousy Christian advocate. The truth is, you are completely wrong. The two men of course were simply standing there, perfectly quiet and peaceful. They were not disrupting anything. A strange sort of “Christian” you are when you are so willing to bear false witness here.

    And forget the Arch – he is turning into a very nice apostate as well with his anti-biblical baloney about the need to get with the “times”. Yeah right; calls for group marriage, incest and child sex are also part of the times – next thing you know he will insisting that we capitulate on those as well. Sorry I just ain’t buying it for a moment.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • The Apostle Paul was accused of “turning the world upside down”. It is time for us to be accused of that again.

    Ian Nairn

  • “No-one ever erected a monument to a critic” [Voltaire – of all people]

    Murray R. Adamthwaite

  • Touche Bill, there are far too many ‘Christians’ trying to play devils advocate and make a case for the other side. Call it like it really is, the truth needs to be brought out into the open and of course they don’t like it, but truth is never easy to accept, even for people who like to think of themselves as Christians.

    Fred Merlo

  • Danny Nalliah’s mob have had, on 2 occasions, in different places, witches or warlocks come to them with this message – “you are the only outfit we fear”. Kind of says it all. We should all read the history of the Salvation Army in Australia. They were constantly being attacked by “evangellyfish” and the police, while they stood outside pubs and called back and forth to one another “what shall we do with the Publican when he gives his life to Jesus” or words to that effect. When they arrived in town, they would go straight away to the roughest part of town. That’s where they always started. I wept as I read the words of Jim Elliott – “would that God would make us all dangerous”.

    Ian Brearley

  • Thanks guys. A great piece on the lunacy of the Archbishop of Canterbury can be found here:

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Bill: With the Arch of C: One wonders how “God giving us the leaders we deserve” could apply, since in most cases (esp media, education, politics and even church) the leaders tend to be in the bottom 5% of the moral spectrum.
    According to that “truism”, surely God should punish us with middle-of-the-roaders – at worst, not populating the seats of power with 2 standard deviations from the moral mean.
    Or maybe this “truism” isn’t all that true here. Maybe it’s closer to another – “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”. (Edmund Burke)

    Tim Lovett

  • These days one would be very fortunate to find a church where even 25% of members would even monthly preach the gospel to someone. We need ministers that encourage their flocks to get over their own little lives and learn to put Jesus and the lost first.

    Mario Del Giudice

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