Many Strong Men; One Weak Gospel

Recently, our town was visited by a traveling evangelistic circus of sorts: “Power Team“, a group of men who rip phone books in half, bend metal bars, and who break baseball bats and bricks (and I would presume some other stuff as well).  I did not attend the event, but my pastor did and he sent some of his thoughts and reflections to another member of our church, who put what he wrote on her Facebook page.  There was some pretty lively debate that took place amongst different members of several local churches.  Some defended the method of outreach, some disdained it.  In my extremely limited assessment, it seemed to be much more about the strength and power of man than the power of God.  I will not post everything that was said, but wanted to include a small exchange I had with a defender (I will respectfully leave anonymous).  My goal is to speak the truth in love, and my hope is that this will clarify what I think is a Biblical view of evangelism and salvation.

A Power Team defender wrote:
Having just lost a child, my religious views are somewhat perplexed, to say the least. I have however and open mind to somebody expressing their beliefs in some form. If this form maybe breaking brick or bending bars that is ok with me. That is the freedom of religion. To express and believe what we want. It is not for one pastor so sit and pass judgment on people who are trying to reach out to someone. Everyone learns different or accepts things in their heart differently. They think that doing so helps to reach out to these people. They are following their heart and I applaud them for doing so. It may not be right to some, but the only thing that matters is they are following what they love and believe. I had no interest in going to this, but I damn sure am not going to criticize their hearts.

I responded:
I am sorry to hear about your loss.  In response to your comment that what people do is good and acceptable as long as they are following their heart, I would like to offer some correction.  To be sure, Mormons, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and even Wiccans and New Agers are ALL following their hearts… and sharing their faith.  The problem is, they are not following Jesus.  Now I am not saying the same is true for the Power Team folks.  I do not know them.  Nor do I know you.  But I know that what the prophet Jeremiah said is still true today: “The heart is more deceitful than all else, and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

Do we condone someone if they

1) lead others into a pit; and/or
2) give them a false sense of assurance while God’s wrath increases against them…

simply because they are following their heart?  Jim Jones was following his heart when he gave posion to over 900 members of his congregation, killing them.  It is easy to see the wickedness in this man’s heart.  Yet there are many “ministers” today that are giving their congregations a much more subtle poison, killing them slowly–spiritually–all the while following their hearts.  Now I am obviously not trying to compare the Power Team with the People’s Temple, but to illustrate the problem with “following our heart” because its natural bent is toward sin and self.  Hence, our great need for the cross, and to repent and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The problem with methods that are designed to *manipulate* a response is that they play to this very nature of the heart.  Remember that it is deceitful and sick.  It wants to believe it is right with God… without really being right with God.  It wants to believe “I’m okay, you’re okay.”  But we’re really not.  It wants to believe that God’s love rests upon it, even though it does not desire God in the least.  The problem with the “raise your hand and come to the front” *technique* of modern evangelism is that more often than not it does not accompany a true gospel presentation, but is rather designed to make people feel good–both the “evangelist” for all the souls he is supposedly harvesting, and the “professor” because now he/she can continue on just as they were believing they are going to heaven becuase they just jumped through the evangelist’s hoop.

God says through the prophet Ezekiel, “And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them.  And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them.  Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God.” (Ezekiel 11:19-20)

The problem is that way too many people are given a pat on the back because they said a prayer, believing they are right with God… but God has not given them a new heart.  There was no heart transplant; the only difference is now they think they are “right with God”, so they are actually further from repentance and faith than they were before.  They are not following Jesus, but they are (as you said) following their heart… following the same old deceitful, sick heart they already had within them.  That is the problem that some of us see and are responding to.  It isn’t that we think we have the market on truth, but some of us have a good enough understanding of how wicked, deceitful, and sick our own hearts are that we worry and care for the hearts of others.  Jesus did not come for the righteous, but for the sinner:

But when Jesus heard this, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.  But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:12-13)

The defender replied back:
[You] are clearly prepared to quote scripture and state [your] beliefs and I applaud [you] for [your] knowledge. Good luck saving the world.

How else can I respond?
I can save no one, not even myself. What more can I do but quote scripture and tell about who God is, who we are, and what Christ has done to redeem us and reconcile us to God? I cannot rip phone books. I cannot break bricks. I can be broken, I can pray, and I can share the gospel. Pretty pathetic, huh? My name will perish, but the name of the Lord will live forever. I thank God that the foolishness of God is wiser than men… and that the weakness of God is stronger than men.

My intent is not to make anyone look bad–not the Power Team, not this anonymous poster nor any other defenders… nor anyone who may even enjoy their shows.  I do not know these people, and they may be devout, committed Christians.  I pray that they are.  My concern, though, is that the Living Water that is the gospel has been so diluted and polluted with other ingredients (such as fire, smoke, mortar, steel, brick, and raw muscle) that what people are being attracted to is not the power of God in the work and person of Jesus Christ, but the power of some really strong men and their own strength.  My concern is that all those people who “made a decision for Christ” a couple weeks ago are unchanged, unaffected, and unconverted… even further away from repentance today because they have been told by someone (and not the Holy Spirit), “Hey, you’re good… you’re going to heaven.  Nothing to worry about!”

Now, I know first hand that the power of God through the gospel of Jesus Christ changes lives.  But I also know that methods can be used to manipulate someone into responding a certain way, and there is a world of difference between someone responding to a method and someone responding to God.  All of us to a certain degree have learned how to use certain methods to manipulate others to get a response that we desire.  That is all with the power of our corrupt and fallen nature.  But the Scriptures are clear that the power of God is active through the foolishness of preaching.  To be sure, God did at times use miracles to validate the authority and teaching of his prophets, of Jesus, and the apostles.  But what did these miracles look like?  They were often miraculously providing sustenance, controlling the weather, raising the dead, giving sight to the blind, healing diseases and casting out demons… not something that a man could do; they testified to the power of God.  With the exception of Samson (who was far from a poster-child of godliness), I can think of no other example in the Bible of brute strength testifying to the display of God’s power.  Indeed, He often chose the weak to display His glory.

But in this microwave age of here-hot-now, this is just the sort of thing that appeals to the flesh.  *I* made a decision.  *I* prayed a prayer.  *I* am going to heaven because *I* believe Jesus died for *me*, God loves *me*, and has a perfect plan for *my* life.  Read through the prophets, though… again and again in the Old Testament they carried the message, even before the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  They spoke the Word of God to the people, warning them about the judgment to come, proclaiming their great sin in the sight of God, and urging them to repent and return to God.  Their message was not, “God loves you and has a perfect plan for your life”.  They often shouted their message to Israel and Judah during times of *prosperity*, and the people’s heart were full of covetousness, idolatry, wickedness, and lust.  And most often, they were shunned, ignored, or stoned because of their concern for their people.

Is it really so different in our day?  Look around!  This is not a righteous culture.  We are not a godly people.  If we think that is our identity, then the enemy surely has us deceived.  The message of the prophets to the people of their times was, “Repent and return to God!”  The message of John the Baptist was, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!”  And the message of our great Savior was, is, and will continue to be “Repent and believe… the Kingdom of God is among you.”

I will close with the words of Paul, most likely some of his last recorded to his “true son in the faith”:

Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some. Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.”
Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work. Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:14-26)

Father I pray that You would grant some repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, that they would come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil… no longer doing his will.  In Jesus name, amen.

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Filed under Culture, Evangelism, Gospel

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