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Lent and the Sufficient Work of Christ

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 9:05 pm

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been inclined to focus on the practice of Lent.  I’ve seen my Roman Catholic friends do this for years, but I never gave it much thought.  Yet Lutherans, Anglicans, and other denominations inheriting the Reformation tradition also observe this part of the liturgical calendar.  Most people who practice Lent sacrifice something from their daily life (usually a food item) from Ash Wednesday until Maundy Thursday.

Its purported purpose is to imitate the suffering and temptation of Christ during His forty-day fast in the desert.  In centuries past, the methods of penance were much more serious compared to the types of self-denial we commonly see today.  Giving up sweets (for example) during the Lenten season may indeed trivialize the sufferings of Christ, but that’s not my main reason for opposing the practice.

Of the many theological errors before us, one of the most common is the confusion between historia salutis (redemption accomplished) and ordo salutis (redemption applied).  The former represents those once-for-all, unrepeatable events in redemptive history.  Roman Catholicism, for example, makes the serious mistake of confusing historia salutis and ordo salutis with respect to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross (i.e., their practice of the Mass in which Christ is “re-sacrificed”).  Charismatic movements do the same thing with Pentecost.

Similarly, the practice of Lent takes the historia salutis event of Christ in the desert and turns it into something which can be counterfeited on an individual level.  In doing so, it fits perfectly with a works-righteousness mentality.  Inherent within Lent is the idea that its practice brings one “closer to God,” making a man-centered mockery of God’s grace.

Another unbiblical aspect of Lent is the very public manner in which it is practiced.  Jesus condemned hypocrites for their outward displays of piety (Matt. 6:1-18), revealing the self-righteous nature of such gestures.  Lent is very legalistic as well and Paul warns us against binding the conscience in areas which God has left free (Rom. 14:1-12).  True sanctification involves the recognition that our consciences are liberated by Christ’s teachings (Mark 7:17-18) while also understanding that the corrupt, sinful heart is what separates us from God (vv. 20-23).

Looking at this unbiblical practice of self-imposed legalism, one can easily see why the Puritans decided to scrap the liturgical calendar entirely.  The human heart loves this type of legalism and it greatly obscures the Gospel.  There is something seriously wrong when people begin to see the Christian life in these terms.  Having a meatless Friday isn’t going to bring us closer to God.

Indeed, the Christian life involves a daily introspection coram Deo that is much deeper than giving up chocolate or television for forty days.  It’s understandable that Roman Catholics would keep this practice given their view of justification, but it pains me to see fellow Protestants engaging in Lent because it completely goes against the grain of Reformation theology.

Sacrificing a favorite food or pastime is not a means of sanctification.  We must allow the simplicity of the Gospel to break through the traditions of man, even the seemingly innocuous ones.  There are much bigger issues out there than Lent to be sure, but it’s a man-centered legalism which has no place among the people of God.  The work of Christ is sufficient.

Josh Dermer

Josh is a student at Reformed Theological Seminary, Washington DC and a member of Covenant Reformed Baptist Church, Warrenton, VA.

To Lent or reLent? Some thoughts on a recent post at The Gospel Coalition

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 9:00 pm


Recently, The Gospel Coalition (TGC) site posted a blog entry entitled – “Lent Is About Jesus: A Free Devotional Guide.” No, I did not make that up. You can read the whole thing here. As I read the post and thought about it a bit, I concluded I would like to respond to it. So, as many of you do on various blogs, I sent a comment to that post. Before sending the comment, however, I sent copies of my response to a few friends, just to make sure I was responding correctly and clearly. They encouraged me to post my thoughts. Here is (below) what I sent to TGC’s site, which is still awaiting moderation, even though there has been at least one comment posted after I sent mine, I received notice of that post via email, and there were, at one point this afternoon, 25 comments and now there are only 24, as of 2:41pm Pacific time. I hope that changes, but in case it does not (which will not be the first time my comments at TGC have been deleted, if, in fact, that is the case), here it is.


This is not helpful to me as an individual or, especially, as a pastor. It creates more work for me.

Though there are many, many problems I have with this post, I will share but two.

First, moralizing John’s preparatory ministry is terrible–hermeneutically, theologically, and practically. Your post says:

“At the onset of Jesus’ ministry, John announced his coming in fulfillment of Isaiah 40: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” This is the cry of Lent: Prepare the way of the Lord! Make room for him in your thoughts and activities and affections.”

This goes against, for example, what Dr. Carson’s Commentary of the New Testament Use of the Old Testament advocates (and I think rightly). The Gospels narrate these kinds of things for us because they are telling us what happened in fulfillment of the OT and in relation to John the Baptist and the incarnation and ministry (i.e., His sufferings and glory) of Christ. Drawing these kinds of “practical” applications from these types of texts is simply wrong. The Epistles are God’s theological commentary upon and ecclesiastical applications of some of the events depicted for us in the Gospels. Nowhere do we see John’s preparatory ministry interpreted and applied as your post does in the Epistles (or anywhere else in the Bible). The fact of the matter is this: The way has already been prepared for the Lord by John and in fulfillment of God’s Word via Isaiah. We don’t “Prepare the way of the Lord!” John already did that. We can certainly gain confidence in the veracity of the Word of God due to this and connect the dots between the OT, John, and Jesus; but to tell people “Make room for him in your thoughts and activities and affections” based on John’s preparatory ministry is, at best, naive and at worst, a moralizing/allegorizing of a text that ends up creating new laws for God’s people–laws invented by man. “God alone is Lord of the conscience.”

Second, the following words are very troubling to me:

“The practice of giving something up for Lent is a way of entering into the wilderness with Jesus. Don’t worry about whether your sacrifice is a good one. It’s not a contest. Just make your aim to know Christ more fully, and trust him to lead you.”

“…entering into the wilderness with Jesus”? What does that mean and where has God revealed that it is His will for us to enter such? The fact is that Christ already entered the wilderness for us and won! This statement betrays a hermeneutic that is too horizontal, allegorizing, and misses the point of Christ’s wilderness experience. He was driven there to be tempted as our representative and win; unlike Adam in the garden and Israel in the wilderness, Jesus does not give-in to the devil.

TGC brothers, this post makes more work for local church pastors. It is destructive. It erodes confidence in those involved with TGC. Recently a Mark Driscoll interview was posted on TGC blog where he gave somewhat of a “pass” to Joel Osteen. Check this out by Mark Dever. This is what we need from TGC; a clear sound for truth and against error.

I hope you will consider these things in the spirit they are intended. I think this post should be deleted and a humble apology posted in its place.


Richard Barcellos
Grace Reformed Baptist Church
Paldmale, CA

What is a divine covenant and what is the New Covenant in contrast to the Old Covenant?

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 6:52 am

What is a divine covenant? A basic definition of a divine covenant is as follows: A divine covenant is a relational arrangement, initiated by God’s sovereign dispensing of his kindness, goodness, and wisdom toward man. In other words, divine covenants start with God and come to man. They come from him to us. In this sense, they are not contracts or pacts between two equals. There are no negations between God and man concerning these covenants. Divine covenants are the means through which God reveals his kindness, goodness, and wisdom to man. The specific concern of divine covenants, in the words of Nehemiah Coxe, is “the benefits [God] will bestow on [man], the communion [man] will have with [God], and the way and means by which this will be enjoyed by [man].”[1] Divine covenants are concerned with the benefits God’s bestows, the type of communion man may have with God, and the means to obtain these things. When divine covenants demand conditions of obedience on man’s part, they can be viewed as covenants of obedience or works. When a divine covenant provides all it requires, it is a covenant of grace. In the discussion below, you will notice that I view the Old Covenant as a conditional covenant, a covenant of works, and the New Covenant as the covenant of grace.

Our second question is: What is the New Covenant in contrast to the Old Covenant? To answer this question we will look at how the Old Testament promises the New Covenant and how the New Testament explains and applies the New Covenant. Consider Jeremiah 31:31-34, which says:

31 “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah– 32 “not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. 33 “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 “No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying,’Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (NKJV)

This New Covenant is promised to be revealed as a covenant and be formally or historically inaugurated in the future (v. 31). This covenant is “not like the covenant” at Sinai, a covenant which could be and was broken by Old Covenant Israel (v. 32). The New Covenant cannot be broken. The New Covenant secures various blessings for all in the covenant–(1) the law written on the heart (v. 33), (2) the universal saving knowledge of God within the covenant community (v. 34a), and (3) the universal forgiveness of sins within the covenant community.

Another Old Testament text which speaks about the New Covenant is Jeremiah 32:40. The LORD says through Jeremiah, “And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from Me.” Notice the language of “everlasting covenant” (cf. Isa. 61:8; Heb. 13:20). God will not turn away from those in this covenant, like he did when Old Covenant Israel broke the covenant, turning away from him. God will work in hearts and none in this covenant will turn away from him.

Finally, consider Ezekiel 36:24-27. This is clearly a promise of the New Covenant.

24 “For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. 25 “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. 26 “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.27 “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.

Everyone in this covenant is forgiven of all their sins (v. 25). Everyone in this covenant has a new heart (v. 26). Everyone in this covenant possesses the Spirit of God as the effective cause of their obedience (v. 27).

Everything promised by the New Covenant is given. Several times God says, “I will.” The result of those “I wills” is pardon of sin, a new heart, and power to obey the law of God. Everything required is provided. In this sense, the New Covenant is not like the Old Covenant. The blessings of the Old Covenant were conditioned upon Israel’s obedience to the law of Moses (cf. Exod. 19:5-6 and Lev. 26:3ff.). In the New Covenant, God bestows all the blessings of the covenant upon all its members. As a result of what God does to them and in them, they obey. However, their obedience is not a condition to be met in order to be blessed; it is the result of having been blessed. It is the fruit of covenant membership not the condition.

The New Testament confirms this understanding of the New Covenant. The New Covenant is formally or historically inaugurated by the shed blood of Jesus Christ (see Matt. 26:26-29 [Mark 14:22-24]; Luke 22:19-20). In Matthew 26:28, Jesus said, “For this is My blood of the new covenant.” In other words, Christ brings the blessings of the New Covenant to us through what he does for us. The blessings of the New Covenant are conditioned upon what Christ does, not us. Its blessings are enjoyed by those in the church–Jew and Gentile (2 Cor. 3:1-3, 6). Its virtue is that by which all true believers were saved prior to its formal, historical inauguration. Listen to Hebrews 9:15 and 10:1-4.

15 And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. (Heb. 9:15)

1 For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. 2 For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins. 3 But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. 4 For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins. (Heb. 10:1-4)

Anyone saved prior to the formal or historical inauguration of the New Covenant were saved by its saving virtue. This is why the 2nd LCF says in 8.6, “Although the price of redemption was not actually paid by Christ till after his incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefit thereof were communicated to the elect in all ages, successively from the beginning of the world, in and by those promises, types, and sacrifices wherein he was revealed, and signified to be the seed which should bruise the serpent’s head; and the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, being the same yesterday, and to-day and for ever.”

The New Covenant is permanent, unlike the Old Covenant (Heb. 8:7, 13; 13:20-21; cf. Isa. 61:8). It is better than the Old Covenant because it has better promises (Heb. 8:6). It ensures the justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification of all its participants.

11 But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. 12 Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. (Heb. 9:11-12)

The benefits of redemption include justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification and these benefits are enjoyed by all in the New Covenant. It is all of grace, apart from any and all works of the law (Gal. 2:16 and Eph. 2:8-9). We do not receive these benefits of redemption by doing to earn but by believing in Christ. It is not conditioned upon our obedience to God’s law.

The saving efficacy of the New Covenant is based on what Christ did for us and has nothing to do with what we do for Christ. It secures all the blessings promised by it through the work of Christ. Christ earns the blessings of the covenant by obeying (Rom. 5:19; Phil. 2:8; Heb. 10:5-10). He fully satisfies all the demands of God’s law. He also exhausts damnation for us on the cross (John 19:30; Rom. 3:25-26; Heb. 1:3). He earns the gift of the Spirit for us as well (Acts 2:33). And He confers upon believers in the gospel all these benefits through faith alone (Eph. 2:8-9). The New Covenant is a gracious covenant, the covenant of grace.

The difference between the Old and New Covenant is not one of an administration of the same covenant (e.g., from stage one to stage two or from a legal administration to a gracious administration of the same covenant). The difference between the two is one of kind or essence. The Old Covenant demands obedience to secure its temporal blessings or promises; the New Covenant confers its blessings or promises, which are eternal. The promised blessings of the Old Covenant depended on the obedience of its citizens; the promised blessings of the New Covenant depend upon the obedience of Christ. The Old Covenant is conditional for its citizens; the New Covenant is unconditional for its citizens. The Old Covenant is temporal; the New Covenant is eternal.

Richard C. Barcellos
Grace Reformed Baptist Church
Palmdale, CA

[1] Nehemiah Coxe and John Owen, Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ (Palmdale, CA: Reformed Baptist Academic Press, 2005) 36.

The Panic Button

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on Monday, March 3, 2014 at 1:02 pm


The quickest and surest way to bring about change in a society is to instill a sense of panic.  In a nation, in a community, and yes, in the churches, if you can convince people that we are in peril, that their very survival is at stake, they will welcome many changes that under other conditions would not be tolerated.

For some time now church leaders have been hitting the panic button and issuing dire warnings about the future of the church in our society. We must get our heads out the sand, see what is happening and above all else respond with appropriate change. We can’t do things the old way, people don’t want that, they won’t embrace that, you can’t say it that way, we have to change, change, change.

The statistics regarding the number of churches closing and the rate of declension in membership among American bible believing churches should certainly have our attention.

I recently came across these words written by a prominent pastor, “Our lot is cast in an age of abounding unbelief, skepticism and, I fear I must add, infidelity. Never, perhaps, since the days of the early Roman persecution of the church was the truth of revealed religion so openly and unblushingly assailed — and never was the assault so speciously and plausibly conducted.” And then carefully consider these words that I came across on the internet a few weeks ago by another prominent pastor, “It is come to be taken for granted by many people, that Christianity is not even a subject of inquiry, but that it is now at length assumed to be fictitious. And accordingly they treat it as if, in the present age, this was an agreed point among all people of discernment, and nothing remained but to set it up as a principal subject of…ridicule, for its having so long interrupted the pleasures of the world.”

Pop quiz?   What prominent pastors wrote these dire warnings?

The first prominent pastor I quoted is J. C. Ryle. He wrote those words in 1879. The second quotation is from Bishop Butler who wrote  in 1736.

When Paul wrote to Timothy and told him to be steadfast in the faith and to preach the Word he did so against the prospect of great changes coming to the church. People would not want sound doctrine and if Timothy gave them sound doctrine he could anticipate that the flock would likely go elsewhere and find preachers and teachers to give them what they wanted.

There are certainly churches that need to change and that need to change drastically. The Bible calls for repentance and for reformation. Churches who are unfaithful to their calling and commission must change. Churches aware of sin in their midst and compromises in their doctrine and practices must change. But we must not change due to fear, and we must not alter due to the pressures of society. Every pressure we feel to change must be produced by the weighty pressure of exegesis and not the enormous pressure of an empty pew. Before we push that panic button, let’s remember it’s been there for a long time and let’s remember how faithful men responded in the past.

Jim Savastio, Pastor
Reformed Baptist Church of Louisville

An Orthodox Catechism by Hercules Collins

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 11:36 am

Orthodox Catechism

This catechism, first published in 1680, is a Particular (i.e., seventeenth-century Calvinistic) Baptist revision of the Heidelberg Catechism. The editors slightly revised the original for modern use.

The book includes the original Preface by Collins, a Foreword by James M. Renihan, and an Introduction by Michael Haykin and G. Stephen Weaver, Jr.

Here are the chapter titles from the table of contents:

  • Acknowledgements
  • Preface by Hercules Collins
  • Foreword by James M. Renihan
  • Introduction by Michael A. G. Haykin and G. Stephen Weaver, Jr.
  • General Introduction and The First Part: Of  Man’s Misery
  • The Second Part: Of Man’s Redemption (Introductory Questions)
  • The Second Part: Of Man’s Redemption (God the Father)
  • The Second Part: Of Man’s Redemption (God the Son)
  • The Second Part: Of Man’s Redemption (God the Holy Spirit)
  • The Second Part: Of Man’s Redemption (The Sacraments)
  • The Second Part: Of Man’s Redemption (Baptism)
  • The Second Part: Of Man’s Redemption (The Lord’s Supper)
  • The Third Part: Of Man’s Thankfulness (Introductory Questions)
  • The Third Part: Of Man’s Thankfulness (The Law of God)
  • The Third Part: Of Man’s Thankfulness (Prayer)
  • The Nicene and Athanasian Creeds

124 pages
Published 2014

A great tool for solid, doctrinal instruction in church and home.

Available here

The Lord’s Day

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 9:15 am

Consider carefully the following evidence that the redemption accomplished through Christ’s resurrection determined the day for Christian worship:

  1. Jesus Christ arose on the first day of the week (Matt. 28:1). He entered into his rest from labor, not on Saturday (the seventh day), but on Sunday (the first day of the week). As Jesus entered into his rest on the first day, so he encourages us to begin the week by resting in the confidence that He will provide for all our needs for seven days with only six days of labor.
  2. Jesus Christ appeared to His assembled disciples on the first day of the week, as well as to Mary and to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (John 20:10; Luke 24:13). By these appearances on the first day of the week, the resurrected Lord set a pattern for meeting with His disciples. They began expecting to meet with Him on the day of his resurrection, which is the first day of the week.
  3. Jesus appeared to the assembled disciples one week later on the first day of the week, with doubting Thomas present this time (John 20:26). Already a new pattern of assembly for worship was emerging. God’s new covenant people were making it a habit to assemble together on the first day of the week, the day of Christ’s resurrection. Jesus honored these assemblies by appearing to the disciples at this time, and encouraged their faith in Him as the resurrected Lord.
  4. The resurrected Christ poured out his Spirit on the assembled disciples exactly fifty days after the Sabbath of the Jewish Passover, which was the first day of the week(Acts 2:1; cf. Lev. 23:15–16). The word Pentecost means “fifty,” referring to the fifty days after the Sabbath of the Passover. Forty-nine days would span seven Jewish Sabbaths or Saturdays, and the fiftieth day would then fall on a Sunday, the first day of the week. So it would appear that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit came on the first day of the week, when God’s new covenant people were assembled for worship. So the pattern would be established more firmly. Both the resurrection of Christ and the outpouring of the Spirit occurred on the first day of the week.
  5. As Paul spread the gospel of Christ among Jews and Gentiles throughout the world, the first day of the week was used as the time for Christians to assemble for worship.In Greece, Paul and Luke assembled with the people of God to break bread and to hear the preaching of God’s word on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). This was the day that the people of the new covenant assembled to hear God’s word.
  6. Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth to establish the pattern for their presenting of offerings for the service of the Lord. He ordered the Christians in Corinth to follow the pattern that had already been set with the churches in Galatia (1 Cor. 16:1). On the first day of every week they were to consecrate their offerings to the Lord (1 Cor. 16:2). This schedule for honoring the Lord had become the pattern for God’s people throughout the churches. The churches were not to present their offerings any time they wished. Rather, on the first day of each week, all the Corinthian Christians were to follow the pattern that had already been set among the Galatian churches. The first day of the week was the designated time for the presentation of offerings to the Lord.

O. Palmer Robertson

Why on Sunday? New Horizons, March 2003.


Typology: Adam and Christ

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on Friday, February 14, 2014 at 3:17 pm

 1.     A few introductory thoughts on typology

First, a type is a historical person, place, institution, or event that was designed by God to point to a future historical person, place, institution, or event. An example would be the sacrificial system revealed to us in the Old Testament. That institution was designed by God to point to Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice.

Second, that to which types point is always greater than the type itself. In other words, there is some sort of escalation in the anti-type (i.e., fulfillment). For example, “the blood of bulls and goats” could point to Christ but they could not and did not do what Christ’s sacrifice did – take away sins.

Third, types are both like and unlike their anti-types. There is both correspondence and escalation. The blood of animals was shed; the blood of Christ was shed. The blood of animals did not take away sins; the blood of Christ takes away sins.

Fourth, anti-types tell us more about how their types function as types. The blood of Christ takes away sins; the blood of animals pointed to that.

2.     Adam and Christ as an example of biblical typology

Adam was “a type of Him who was to come” (Rom. 5:14). Adam was a type of Christ in his prelapsarian state. Adam was a type of Christ as a public person (1 Cor. 15:22), he represented others. Adam’s failure is seen in the fact that he disobeyed or he failed to obey (Rom. 5:12ff.). But what if he had obeyed? Would he have stayed in the state in which he was created – able to sin and able not to sin? I don’t think so and, I think, for good reason. This is no mere speculative or abstract question. The Bible does give us answers to this question and understanding the typological relationship between Adam and Christ is one key (the key?) that unlocks the answer for us. Let’s think through this together.

In Romans 5:21, God says, “even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ.” Note the prepositional phrases: “through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ.” The righteousness that is “to eternal life” comes as a gift to sinners and is based on Christ’s obedience or “through [His] righteousness.” The life-unto-death obedience of Christ constitutes a righteousness “to eternal life.” In other words, in his sinless human nature as the anti-type of prelapsarian Adam, Christ earned eternal life for us. Listen to Guy Waters on this passage:

The fact that Christ purchased eternal “life” for his own, and that he did so for those who were eternally “dead” in Adam means that Christ’s work was intended to remedy what Adam had wrought (death), and to accomplish what Adam had failed to do (life). Paul emphasizes disparity in his argument precisely in order to underscore the breathtaking achievement of what Christ has accomplished in relation to what Adam has wrought. This means that if Adam by his disobedience brought eternal death, then his obedience would have brought eternal life. In other words, Christ’s “obedience” and its consequence (“eternal life”) parallel what Adam ought to have done but did not do. The life that Adam ought to have attained would have been consequent upon Adam’s continuing, during the period of his testing, in obedience to all the commands set before him, whether moral or positive. This life, it stands to reason, could be aptly described “eternal.””[1]

Eternal life was earned by Christ for us and given by Christ to us. The quality of life Christ attains for us and gives to us is not what Adam had and lost but what Adam failed to attain. Adam did not possess “eternal life.” Listen to Robert Shaw, commenting on the Covenant of Works:

There is a condition expressly stated, in the positive precept respecting the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which God was pleased to make the test of man’s obedience. There was a penalty subjoined: ‘In the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.’ There is also a promise, not distinctly expressed, but implied in the threatening; for if death was to be the consequence of disobedience, it clearly follows that life was to the reward of obedience. That a promise of life was annexed to man’s obedience, may also be inferred from…our Lord’s answer to the young man who inquired what he should do to inherit eternal life: ‘If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments’ (Matthew 19:17); and from the declaration of the apostle, that ‘the commandment was ordained to life’ (Romans 7:10).[2]

Just as Adam’s disobedience brought upon him a status not his by virtue of creation, so Adam’s obedience would have brought upon him a status not his by virtue of creation. Christ as anti-typical Adam, the last Adam, takes his seed where Adam failed to take his.

Consider the fact that Adam sinned and fell short of something he did not possess via creation, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). We know that, in Paul’s writings, Adam was the first man who sinned. The first man sinned and fell short of the glory of God; he fell short of something he did not experience via his created status. He was not created in a state that could be called “glory” and he fell short of that state by sinning. He failed to attain to that state because he sinned. In other words, Adam was created in a state that could have been improved. Listen to John Owen:

Man, especially, was utterly lost, and came short of the glory of God, for which he was created, Rom. iii. 23. Here, now, doth the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God open itself. A design in Christ shines out from his bosom, that was lodged there from eternity, to recover things to such an estate as shall be exceedingly to the advantage of his glory, infinitely above what at first appeared, and for the putting of sinners into inconceivably a better condition than they were in before the entrance of sin.[3]

For Owen, “the glory of God” here does not refer exclusively to what God possesses, but what God confers.

Listen to Paul in Romans 5:1-2, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God…and we exult in hope of the glory of God.” Charles Hodge says:

It is a[n]…exultation, in view of the exaltation and blessedness which Christ has secured for us. …The glory of God may mean that glory which God gives, or that which he possesses. In either case, it refers to the exaltation and blessedness secured to the believer, who is to share the glory of his divine Redeemer.[4]

We get glory because it is conferred upon us and that because of what Christ has done for us. This is that to which Adam fell short.

The Old Testament spoke about the Messiah who would come, suffer (due to Adam’s sin and us in him), and enter into glory (Luke 24:46; Acts 26:19-23; 1 Pet. 1:10-12). The Son of God incarnate both suffered and entered into glory, which I think means a glorified state in his human nature after his sufferings via his resurrection and due to his obedience. In other words, his human nature became what it was not at the resurrection. Sufferings and glory is another way of saying humiliation and exaltation. Paul speaks of the Son’s humiliation and exaltation in Romans 1:1-4 and Philippians 2:6-9. His representation in the state of humiliation started at his conception and ended at his death-burial. Upon his death-burial, because of his obedience to the point of death, “God highly exalted Him…” The incarnate Son of God obeyed and suffered due to sin; he entered into glory as a result or reward for his obedience and he did both as the last Adam representing those given to him by the Father before the world began.

Adam failed to comply with the condition of the covenant God imposed upon him and brought with that the ruin of the human race. He fell short of the glory of God, a state of permanent existence in God’s special presence he did not possess via creation. But here is the good news – another came, the last Adam, the anti-type of the first Adam, our Lord Jesus Christ, who suffered, then entered into glory at his resurrection, who will bring many sons to glory (Heb. 2:10), who will also “gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess. 2:14). Listen to Owen on 2 Thessalonians 2:14, ““The glory of our Lord Jesus Christ,” or the obtaining a portion in that glory which Christ purchased and procured for them…”[5] Christ purchased glory for all he came to save. He did so as the anti-typical, last Adam. He suffered to take care of the justice of God and his obedience-unto-death got him exalted, entering into glory, and all those who are his will enter into glory as well. The last Adam takes his seed where the first Adam failed to take his. The anti-type is better than or greater than the type.

In this brief discussion, we can see that both Adam and Christ were historical figures, Christ is greater than Adam, Christ is both like and unlike Adam, and Christ as anti-type (and the explanation of his work by the biblical writers) helps us understand Adam’s function as type better.

Richard Barcellos
Grace Reformed Baptist Church
Palmdale, CA

[1] Guy P. Waters, “Romans 10:5 and the Covenant of Works” in Bryan D. Estelle, J. V. Fesko, and David VanDrunen, Editors, The Law is not of Faith: Essays on Works and Grace in the Mosaic Covenant (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2009), 230.

[2] Robert Shaw, An Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith (Geanies House Fern, Ross-shire, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 1998), 124-25.

[3] John Owen, The Works of John Owen, Volume II (Edinburgh, Scotland and Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, Reprinted 1990), 89.

[4] Charles Hodge, Romans (Edinburgh/Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1983), 133.

[5] Owen, Works, XI:203.

Review and Critique: “Go Stand Speak” and the Contemporary Street Preaching Movement

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on Friday, February 14, 2014 at 1:03 pm

By Jeffrey T. Riddle

“Street preaching” appears to be growing in popularity, especially among many young evangelical and revivalistic-influenced Calvinists.  One mark of its rising popularity is evidenced by the release of a recent video, Go Stand Speak: The Forgotten Power of the Public Proclamation of the Gospel.[1]  In this essay I will be offering a review of the video but also taking the occasion of this review as a jumping off point to explore and critique the contemporary “street preaching” movement.

The “Go Stand Speak” video defends and encourages the practice of “out of doors, public proclamation” or “in-your-face” street preaching.  It is produced by Eric Holmberg of the Apologetics Group, a media ministry which has released, among other things, the popular video Amazing Grace:  The History and Theology of Calvinism and Pat Necerato of “Go Stand Speak,” a parachurch evangelistic ministry.

There is no question that Jesus and the apostles often conducted public ministry in the “open air.”  One thinks of Jesus teaching his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5—7) or of Peter preaching at Pentecost (Acts 2).  There is also no question that Christian ministers have conducted open air ministries at various points in the history of the church.  One thinks of Whitefield and Wesley, for example.  The question is whether or not the type of street preaching advocated by those within this movement is wholly consistent with the Biblical and historical practice of “open air” ministry.  We must ask, in particular, whether it is fitting to encourage men to engage in public preaching in any context who have not been ordained as ministers and office bearers approved and sent out by the local church.

Overview of Video Content

The two hour video is divided into five segments:  (1) Part One:  Introduction.  This section introduces the topic and advocates street preaching that is “public, out of doors, in-your-face.”  (2) Part Two: Thus Saith the Lord.  This segment attempts to provide a Biblical rationale for this ministry.  (3)  Part Three:   The Power of the Preached Word.  This section has a hodge-podge of material on the Biblical and historical practice of street preaching as an “incarnational” ministry.  (4)  Part Four:  The Man, The Method, and the Message.  As the title of this section indicates, this segment discusses the spiritual qualifications of the street preacher, the method he should pursue in this ministry, and the content of his preaching (the gospel).  (5)  Part Five:  Objections to Street Preaching.  This segment anticipates objections raised against this practice.  It advocates street preaching as the practice of Jesus, the apostles, and historic Christianity.  Perhaps the theme is best summed up in a quote from itinerant minister Paul Washer:  “We must go to them, because they’re not going to come to us.”

The video is primarily a collage of excerpts from interviews on the subject of street preaching from various contemporary practitioner and advocates of the practice.  Beyond Holmberg and Necerato, the video prominently features Paul Washer (HeartCry), Ray Comfort (Way of the Master), Jeff Rose (JeremiahCry), Sean Morris (YMBB Ministries),[2] and about a dozen others.  Of interest to Reformed Baptist viewers, the video features a few brief excerpts from Al Martin and John Reuther.

In addition to the main presentation, the video also includes three additional “special features”:  (1)  “Encouragement to God”:  various extra clips and interviews; (2) Footage of Eric Holmberg doing open air preaching outside the 2010 Kentucky Derby; and (3)  “Dr. Peter Hammond on the History of Open Air Preachers (Farel and Livingstone).”

General Observations on Video Style and Content

In general I found the video to be overly long.  It might have conveyed the same message in briefer scope and perhaps, thereby, more interestingly.  Along these lines, some of the material, including the interview excerpts, were repetitive (the same persons making the same or similar points more than once).  Finally, the film at times lacks focus.  It dabbles in church history, analysis of contemporary culture, practical “how to” steps for street preaching, etc., often jumping from one topic to another without clear transitions, order, or conclusion.

In addition, for a video that represents many individuals and ministries that might claim to be Calvinistic/Reformed or, for that matter, even conservative evangelical, there were some distracting content elements.  This includes the use of numerous images (video and still pictures) depicting Jesus, without sensitivity to those who might have second commandment concerns about this practice.  It also includes the use of approving quotations and allusions to Roman Catholic “saints” (e.g., “St.” Boniface and “St.” Francis) and to non-evangelical writers, like Flannery O’Connor,[3] C.S. Lewis, and J. R. R. Tolkien.   In a discussion of the yearning for human freedom partnered with a clip from one of the “Lord of the Rings” movies, for example, Holmberg’s voiceover oddly states, “the message of true liberty and the defeat of Sauron and the return to Middle Earth offered by Jesus and his new creation kingdom may be one of our most effective tools in piercing hearts and calling the lost” [see the 1:00:20 mark].

Biblical Concerns

Beyond matters of style there are more significant concerns that might be raised with this video.  We begin with Biblical concerns, which will demand the majority of our attention.  We will then move on to doctrinal, historical, and practical concerns.  The first question is whether or not the type of ministry advocated in this video rests on a solid Biblical foundation.  Does the Bible mandate the necessity of the type of “in-your-face” street preaching advocated in the video?  Below are ten of the Biblical texts and patterns in the Bible that are cited in the video to support the practices they advocate:

(a)  The book of Proverbs speaks of “Lady Wisdom” standing and crying out in the streets (Proverbs 1:20; chapters 8—9).

(b)  In Isaiah 6, God is telling us to go even as he told the prophet Isaiah.

(c)   Old Testament prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Jonah were street preachers.

(d)  Jesus was a street preacher.

(e)  Jesus said we should proclaim the gospel from the rooftops, and this justifies “street preaching” (Matthew 10:27; Luke 12:3).

(f)   John the Baptist did street preaching and Jesus said that the least in the kingdom is greater than John (Matthew 11:11; Luke 7:28). Therefore, the least Christian should be able to do the kind of ministry that John the Baptist did.

(g)  Street preaching and other forms of evangelism are an act of obedience to Jesus’ command to love one’s neighbor (see Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27).

(h)  In John 7, Jesus preached publically in the temple during the Feast of Tabernacles.  He did this without any invitation and it was not usual for anyone to preach in the temple.

(i)   The apostles were street preachers.

(j)    Paul and the apostles advocated this form of ministry in their letters (citing passages like Romans 10:14; 1 Corinthians 1:21).

At first glance, this might seem to be a compelling list of Biblical prooftexts for “street preaching.”  We will look more closely, however, and respond to each of these points:

(a)   The personification of wisdom in Proverbs is undoubtedly a powerful metaphor.  Many have even seen in it the “pre-incarnate Christ.”  Does this image, however, have anything to do with “street preaching”?  Advocates seem to seize on the pictures in Proverbs 1:20 (“Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets:”) and Proverbs 8:1-3 of Lady Wisdom crying out while standing in the “high places,” on the “paths,” “at the gates,” and “at the doors.”  Lady Wisdom, however, is presented as a parable and metaphor in Proverbs.  In context, the setting is parental instruction of a son in the ways of wisdom (1:8). It has nothing to do with street preaching and everything to do with encouraging a son to heed the wise counsel of his parents.  To make this image a basis for street preaching is to engage in eisegetical misinterpretation.   Such a simplistic method might, for example, erroneously lead one to make a proof text for women as street preachers, since personified wisdom in the passage is a woman.

(b)  Isaiah 6 provides a narrative of the prophetic call of Isaiah.  It is a passage that lends itself to understanding the call to ministry and church office.  It says nothing about the means that Isaiah was to use in fulfilling his ministry and nothing about street preaching.  Isaiah was, in fact, a court prophet who exercised his ministry not by standing on the street corner preaching to disinterested passers-by but by standing before the kings and courtiers of Judah (e.g., most typical would be the setting described in 2 Kings 19:5-6:  “So the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah.  And Isaiah said unto them….”; cf. Isa 7:3 ff.; 37:5 ff.).

(c)   Jeremiah’s ministry was as that of a prophet to the nation of Judah and much of it seems to have taken place in the temple environs (in or near “the LORD’s house”) and palace in Jerusalem (cf. Jer 7:1-2, 17:19; 19:14; 22:1; 26:2; 36:6).  Thus, it appears to be stretching it quite a bit to say that Jeremiah’s ministry was equivalent to that of modern street preachers.  Jonah, on the other hand, was indeed given a special commission from God himself to go and preach in the city of Nineveh.  The question here, however, is the level of continuity and discontinuity between the extra-ordinary Old Testament office of prophet, given by direct divine revelation, and the ordinary ministry given to church officers today.  We do not find instructions in the New Testament to replicate the extra-ordinary service of the prophets in the ordinary ministry of the church in the present age.

(d)   That Jesus was a street preacher is taken as axiomatic by those in this movement.  The speakers on the video do not even bother to cite specific passages to back up the claim.  Is there ground, however, to challenge the assertion that Jesus provides the model for contemporary “street preaching”?  I believe there is.

When those in the “street preaching” movement say that Jesus was a street preacher they are saying that Jesus went out into public places without invitation or following and indiscriminately called on disinterested persons passing by to listen to his preaching and to become his disciples.  To paraphrase the “Go Stand Speak” speakers, he did not wait for anyone to come to him, he went out to them.  Is this, however, an accurate picture of the public ministry of Jesus in the Gospels?  We will examine the presentation of the ministry of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke to evaluate this claim.[4]  Notice the following:

First, Luke emphasizes that Jesus began his public ministry not by indiscriminately preaching in the streets or at non-religious public gatherings (musical concerts, athletic events, pagan temples, dramatic performances in the amphitheater, horse races in the hippodrome, market days in the agora, etc.) but in the Jewish synagogues of Galilee.  The first note of Jesus’ public ministry after his baptism and temptation is found in Luke 4:15:  “And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.”  As is often the case with Biblical narrative, this first description proves programmatic for that which follows.  The center of Jesus’ early public ministry is the Jewish synagogue and not the pagan temple or marketplace (cf. Luke 4:16-21, 31-33, 42-44; 6:6).

Second, Luke also emphasizes Jesus’ exercise of his public ministry in private homes and in other locations where his primary focus is on instruction of his gathered disciples, though persons in need often come or are brought to these gatherings seeking interaction with Jesus.  Luke 4:38-39 provides the first example of this as Jesus goes from the synagogue into Simon’s home where he heals Simon’s mother-in-law.  In Luke 5:17-26 the Evangelist records how a paralytic man was lowered on his bed through the roof of a house where Jesus was teaching.  The man was placed “into the midst before Jesus” (5:19).  In Luke 5:29 Jesus goes in to the house of his newly called disciple Levi where he shares a meal with other invited tax collectors and sinners.  Jesus eats in the home of Simon the Pharisee, when a sinful woman anoints his feet (7:36-50).  He enters the home of Mary and Martha and teaches (10:38-42).  He breaks bread on the Sabbath day and teaches in the home of one of the chief Pharisees (14:1, 7, 12).

Along these lines, it is interesting to note that when Jesus sends out the twelve and the seventy, he does not instruct them to enter the marketplaces but homes (see 9:4-6; 10:5-7; note that the seventy were only sent into the “streets” of the cities where the gospel was rejected in order to shake the dust from their feet, 10:10-11; 14:1).  After the synagogue, it seems that the private homes of disciples and others where both disciples and invited non-believers gathered was the most common venue for the exercise of Jesus’ ministry and the ministry of those he sent out.

Third, though Luke does present Jesus conducting an “open air” ministry, particularly as he travels, it is not the kind of street preaching advocated by this movement.  Jesus is sought out by the multitudes in public places where he ministered to them.  Contrary to the view of contemporary “street preaching” advocates, the model of Jesus’ ministry in public places in Luke is not so much of him going out to raise a crowd, but of the crowds coming to him and seeking him.  Again, the first direct mentions of this phenomenon are likely to be taken as paradigmatic.  So, in Luke 4:42 it says, “And when it was day, he departed and went into a desert place: and the people [the Greek is the plural ochloi, crowds or multitudes] sought him, and came unto him, and stayed him, that he should not depart from them.”  On the heels of this in Luke 5:1 it says, “And it came to pass, that, as the people [ochlos, crowd or multitude] pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret.”  Such examples continue throughout Luke (see 6:17; 7:11; 8:4, 19, 40; 9:18; 12:1; 14:25; 15:1; 17:11, 20; 18:18).   The general picture we get of Jesus in the Gospels is not that he went out into public places to preach and teach indiscriminately to otherwise disinterested passers-by.  On the contrary, the picture we get is that people were drawn to Jesus or that they brought others to him.  In other words, we might say, contrary to conventional “street-preacher” wisdom, Jesus did not go to them, but they came to him.

We see this especially in the central “Journey Narrative” of the Third Gospel (Luke 9:51—19:40).  Here Luke also records various encounters that Jesus had with persons along the way to Jerusalem (cf. 9:57; 10:25; 11:27, 53-54; 12:13; 13:1, 23; 14:15; 15:1; 17:11-13; 18:18, 38; 19:1-2).  Once in Jerusalem, Jesus taught the people and preached in the temple (cf. 20:1; 21:37-38).  Though the temple was a public place, it was also clearly a designated place of worship and religious activity.  In Jesus’ temple teaching, his purpose is not to address otherwise disinterested crowds but to interact with the various religious leaders, like the chief priests, scribes, and elders (20:1-2; 19-22), and the Sadducees (20:27) who have come to the temple for religious and spiritual purposes.

(e) Does Jesus’ reference to proclamation from the rooftops in Matthew 10:27 and Luke 12:3 justify street preaching?  This passage is cited several times in the “Go Stand Speak” video.  A look at the context of this saying by Jesus, however, raises serious doubts as to whether it might be rightly applied at all to street preaching.

In Matthew 10, Jesus is instructing the twelve disciples.  In v. 25 he says that if his opponents have accused him of being in league with Beelzebub, they will make similar charges against his followers.  He continues to tell them that things which are hidden will one day be uncovered (v. 26) and what has been heard “in the ear” (i.e., privately) will be preached upon the housetops (i.e., publically).  The point seems to be that the nefarious deeds and motives of Jesus’ opponents will one day be exposed publicly (“upon the housetops”).

This is perhaps even clearer in Luke 12 where Jesus begins, “Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” (v. 1).  It is the hypocrisy of the Pharisees that will one day be made publicly known.  It will be “proclaimed upon the housetops” (v. 3).

(f) What about appeal to Jesus’ statement that the least in the kingdom would be greater than John the Baptist (Matt 11:11; Luke 7:28) and the argument that since John was a public preacher then the least Christian should be a public preacher?  This argument is faulty on several grounds.  Most importantly, one can in no way surmise from this teaching that Jesus expected all followers to become public preachers.  If this were the case then all Christians, including women, unqualified men, and children who are believers would be compelled to be public preachers and this would flatly contradict New Testament teaching (cf. James 3:1).  Jesus’ point, instead, is that the surpassing greatness of the least in the kingdom even in comparison to John comes by virtue of the fact that they have expressly believed in Jesus as Lord.  John died before Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, and so, like the prophets of the Old Testament, he did not fully understand all that the mission of Jesus entailed (cf. Luke 7:19).  Believers are privileged in that mysteries which were hidden from past generations have been revealed to them (see Eph 3:5).

(g)  Is “street preaching” an obedient response to Jesus’ command to love our neighbor?  The exegetical context of the Great Commandment teaching by Jesus does not appear to have evangelistic activity as its primary focus and application.  The Great Commandment is Jesus’ summation of the two tables of the Ten Commandments (cf. Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-37).  To love God is to fulfill the first table of the moral law.  To love one’s neighbor as oneself is a fulfillment of the second table of the moral law.   The latter is the summation of how Jesus’ disciples are to interact with their fellow human beings (whether Christians or non-Christians).  Certainly the most good we can do to our fellow man is to point him to Christ.  We must, however, use scriptural means to achieve that end.  Appeal to the Great Commandment is not then an obvious justification for any proposed particular method of evangelism (e.g., “in-your-face” street preaching).

(h) Was Jesus’ preaching in the temple during the Feast of Tabernacles in John 7 an example of “preaching without invitation”?  This appears to be another rather flimsy justification for street preaching.  Jesus stands in the temple as the great Prophet, Priest, and King.  It is altogether appropriate for him to speak in the temple.  The chapter has no focus at all on Jesus’ speech being “without invitation.”  This is an imposition upon the text to justify “street preaching.”

(i)  The claim is made not only that Jesus was a street preacher, but so too were the apostles.  Can this claim be backed up, however, by Scripture? The obvious place to look is the Acts of the Apostles.

In Acts 1 we are told that the early church in Jerusalem numbered 120 persons at the time just after Jesus’ ascension, and they gathered in an “upper room” (vv. 13-15).  At Pentecost they were “in one place” (2:1) when the Holy Spirit was poured out.  This place was most likely somewhere in the temple environs, since those drawn to them were diaspora Jews who had come to Jerusalem to worship at Pentecost.  These first instances set a pattern, according to Acts, for the typical places where the early Christians gathered and where preaching and teaching took place:  (1) in the temple (or, later in the synagogue); and (2) in private homes or meeting places.  This is well illustrated in Acts 2:46 (emphasis added):  “And they continued daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart.”  Notice that there is no mention here of the early disciples going out to the street corners to preach to disinterested passers-by.

This pattern continues to be emphasized by Luke in his description of the early days of the Christian movement in Jerusalem.  Peter and John go to the temple at the hour of prayer (3:1).  After the healing of the lame man, people rush to them at Solomon’s porch (3:11).  The disciples “were with one accord in Solomon’s porch” (5:12).

Indeed, after the death of Stephen and the scattering of believers beyond Jerusalem (8:1), there is mention of those who were scattered abroad going “every where preaching the word” (8:4).  The “every where” (8:4) most likely refers to the geographical dispersion (i.e., in every surrounding locality or region; in fulfillment of Acts 1:8) rather than to all manner of venues (e.g., the agora, public streets, etc.).  It is specially noted that Philip “went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them” (8:5).  We are not told, however, where he did this preaching.  Context indicates that this preaching was most likely done in synagogues or gatherings in private homes where hospitality was offered.  After Saul (Paul) is converted, for example, we are told that he “straightway preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God” (9:20). Furthermore, Peter travels to the home of the God-fearer Cornelius who “called together his kinsmen and near friends” to hear the preaching of the apostle (10:24 ff.).  These examples again illustrate the two primary venues for Christian preaching in Acts: the synagogue and private homes.  In no place is there an explicit description of one of these early Christian preachers going out to stand on a street corner to preach to otherwise disinterested passers-by.

The pattern of preaching in synagogues (or private homes) is especially emphasized in Luke’s description of Paul’s ministry during his missionary journeys in Acts (cf. Paul’s ministry in Salamis, 13:5; in Pisidian Antioch, 13:14, 43-44; in Iconium, 14:1; at a place of designated prayer in Philippi, 16:12-13; in Thessalonika, 17:1-2; in Berea, 17:10; in Athens, 17:17; in Corinth, 18:4; in the home of Justus, 18:7; in Ephesus, 18:19; 19:8; in the school [schole] of Tyrannus, 19:9; in Troas in the “upper chamber” of a private home, 20:7-8).   Notice that contrary to the perceptions of those in the street preaching movement, Paul’s ministry does not begin with indiscriminate “in-your-face” street preaching to disinterested passers-by but in explicitly religious gatherings on the sabbath in the synagogue with Jews and God-fearers or in private gatherings of disciples.

Special consideration must be given to Luke’s description of Paul’s ministry in Athens in Acts 17, and especially to Acts 17:17:  “Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him.”  This verse might appear to provide the only example in Acts of Paul offering public proclamation in the agora or marketplace.  Notice, however, that Paul’s ministry begins in the synagogue and that it only afterward overflows into the agora.  The setting then is more like that presented at Pisidian Antioch with hearers, particularly God-fearers, following Paul to hear more of what he had begun to say in the synagogue (cf. 13:43).  The picture then would not be of Paul going into the agora to preach to disinterested passers-by but of his meeting in the agora with those who followed him there from the synagogue.  He does not come to draw an audience, but he comes with an audience already in tow.  Paul is indeed confronted in this setting by scoffing Epicurean and Stoic philosophers “because he preached (euangelizo) unto them Jesus, and the resurrection” (v. 18).  He is then brought into the Areopagus where he stands and speaks to onlookers (vv. 19, 22).  Before one seizes upon this as an example of the type of street preaching being advocated today, however, one should note that Paul does not go to the Areopagus to draw a crowd.  Rather, he is brought there or invited there by those who wish to hear him speak.

After his arrest in the temple in the Jerusalem, Luke records Paul engaging in a number of public apologetic defenses of the Christian faith, whether on the stairs leading to the Roman barracks (21:37-40 ff.); before the Jewish Sanhedrin (ch. 23); before Felix (ch. 24); before Festus (25:1-12); or before Agrippa and Bernice (25:13—26:32).  The book of Acts ends with Paul imprisoned under house arrest in Rome for two years but free to preach and teach to those who came to him (28:30-31).  These examples of public ministry, however, are hardly parallel to the type of street preaching advocated today.  The best contemporary parallel to these events would be for a Christian to steadfastly maintain his testimony if arrested for his faith.

(j)  Finally, the claim is made that “street preaching” was advocated by the apostle Paul and the other apostles in their epistles.  Passages on the centrality of preaching like Romans 10:14 and 1 Corinthians 1:21 are cited in support of this claim, but these say nothing explicitly about street preaching.  Given the fervency with which many advocate this practice as an essential part of Christian ministry, we would expect to find Paul and the apostles explicitly urging the recipients of their letters to go out into the public streets and marketplaces to do “in-your-face” street preaching.  When we actually read the epistles, however, we find that there are no such direct commands. Quite the contrary, we find Paul urging the Thessalonians to “study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you” (1 Thess 4:11).  Public preaching is not a task generally given to all believers but one specifically entrusted to church officers (cf. 1 Cor 9:1-18; 2 Tim 4:1-5; James 3:1), though each believer is to stand ready to defend the faith when challenged (1 Peter3:15).

Special attention should be given to Paul’s description of evangelism in 1 Corinthians 14:23-25 as providing an apostolic model for doing evangelism:

23 If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad? 24 But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: 25 And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.

Granted, the specific purpose of this passage is to advocate for prophesy given in intelligible utterance versus speaking in tongues in unintelligible utterance and not to define the proper venues for evangelism.  However, we should not overlook what the passage teaches us about how evangelism was done in the early church.  It assumes the following:  (1) the whole church gathered in one place (i.e., this is not the lone preacher going to stand on the street corner); (2) the unlearned and unbelievers were invited into these gathered meetings (i.e., contrary to conventional street preacher wisdom, these people came to the church’s gatherings, rather than the church going out to them); and (3) these unbelievers came under conviction of their sin and were converted to become worshippers of God as they heard the gospel intelligibly proclaimed in an explicitly Christian assembly.  From this we might surmise that the normative way for the church to do evangelism is (1) to gather publically to worship, especially on the Lord’s Day; (2) to invite unbelievers into our assembly; and (3) to preach intelligibly in hopes that the unconverted in our midst might come under conviction and be saved.

Summary of Biblical evidence:

So, how might we summarize the Biblical evidence for the type of ministry advocated by the contemporary street preaching movement? We cannot find clear warrant for this method in the Old Testament examples of Lady Wisdom or of the prophets.  Turning to the New Testament we find that the ministry of Jesus was most often in the synagogue or in private homes.  He also conducted “open air” ministry, but he did not go to the crowds.  Instead, they came to him.  The apostles largely followed the example of Jesus.  Public preaching was done by church officers in gatherings of believers to which non-believers would be invited or which non-believers would intentionally seek out. We find no explicit example in the New Testament of anyone who is not a church officer publically preaching or teaching in any venue.  We find little to no evidence of Christian preachers going out to public places (streets, etc.) to preach to disinterested passers-by.

Along these lines, we ought also to consider Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount:  “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you” (Matthew 7:6).  Here Jesus teaches that holy things should not be offered indiscriminately to those who will simply trample them underfoot.  Does not this command serve as an injunction against much of what is typically described today as street preaching?

Doctrinal Concerns

The survey of Biblical practice sketched above should be enough to provide pause before making the naïve affirmation that the type of street preaching advocated by some today fits perfectly the Biblical pattern.  It also raises some other significant doctrinal concerns.  Here are a few:

First, it has implications for the doctrine of the Biblical means of grace.  It suggests that the simple method of preaching that occurs in the gathered congregation—which appears to be the Biblical pattern— is not an effective enough means to be used for evangelism.  Rather than simply inviting, calling, and bringing unbelievers into the gathered church worship services where they might sit at the feet of Christ and listen to him as his minister preaches (cf. Eph 4:20-21), it says we must alter our means by going out to unbelievers. Rather than enhancing the esteem of preaching, one wonders if this does not in fact demonstrate a lack of confidence in preaching, much the same as that reflected in contemporary emphasis upon “personal evangelism” or “counseling” in lieu of ordinary preaching in the church’s Lord’s Day worship among the assembled saints.

Second, this movement risks making the focus of preaching, which is an element of worship, and, thereby, worship itself, to be upon men and not upon God.  Strange to say, but could it be that street preaching has more in common with “seeker-sensitive” advocates than it realizes?  It essentially says, “People will not come to church to hear preaching, so we must take preaching to them.  We must change our worship venue and manner in order to accommodate the felt needs of unbelievers.”  The focus of Biblical worship, however, is not on the worshippers and certainly not upon unbelievers, but upon the Lord.  The primary purpose of worship (including the element of preaching) is not evangelism per se but the glorification of God.  The standard for evaluating preaching (in whatever venue) is not whether it is pleasing to men, or even if it is reaching men, but whether it is pleasing to God.

Third, this movement risks placing undue emphasis on the physical place where preaching is undertaken rather than upon the more important matter of the essence of preaching.  Biblical preaching can conceivably take place on a street or in a public marketplace, just as it can take place in a home, in a lecture hall, or a meeting house which a church rents or owns.  The place of preaching is less important than the what of preaching.  Along with the what of preaching (its basic content) come also the key questions of the proper context of preaching (in the gathered assembly) and the who of preaching (by a God-called and ordained minister).  These are part of preaching’s essence.  Those who so passionately advocate street preaching run the risk of making an idol merely of the venue of preaching, neglecting the more significant questions of essence.

Fourth, this movement raises concerns related to ecclesiology.  Some advocates of street preaching seem to urge any and all Christians to take to the streets to engage in public preaching.  The Bible, however, teaches that preaching is not a universal obligation of all Christians. Not all Christians are to be public preachers and teachers.  Aptitude to teach is a special capacity given to the church’s teaching elders (cf. 1 Tim 3:2; 5:17; Titus 1:9).  It is their special calling and responsibility to preach and teach publically.  Part four (“The Man, the Message, the Method”) of the “Go Stand Speak” video gives a list of the qualifications for the street preacher, largely borrowed from Spurgeon, including things like having a good voice, being adaptable, and having a large heart.  What it omits is the requirement that the preacher be called by God to be an elder or set part to this task by a local church. Unbridled advocacy of street preaching runs the risk of laying guilt upon men not called to preach and worse yet sending out those who have not been called and who, thus, are not qualified.  This makes the faith vulnerable to compromise and to the adaptation and infiltration of false teaching and practice.

Historical Concerns

Though the primary concern should be with Biblical precedent and doctrinal concerns, we might also ask if the type of street preaching being advocated today is as deeply rooted in the wider historical Christian tradition as its advocates maintain.  In the “Go Stand Speak” video, for example, appeal is made to the likes of St. Francis, George Whitefield, John Wesley, C. H. Spurgeon, and E. M. Bounds, among others. We are not denying that “open air” ministry has been conducted and advocated in the past.  One wonders, however, if this appeal might be overstated and even somewhat distorted.   Would we want to base patterns for Biblical ministry on the practices of a medieval mendicant order like the Franciscans?[5]  In addition, though we might grant that Whitefield and Wesley did preach out of doors, we should also recall that they did so primarily when establishment church buildings were closed to their use.  We should also keep in mind that the Methodist movement eventually developed and opened its own meeting houses and chapels for their gatherings.[6]  It appears that the type of “in-your-face” street preaching being advocated in the street preaching movement today came into prominence primarily with the revivalism of the 19th century.[7]  Even then, it likely was not always what some might imagine today. Spurgeon, for example, in his Lectures to My Students advocates “open air ministry,” but it should be kept in mind that he did so while addressing students in his ministerial college.[8]  Even Spurgeon did not see the call to preach as universal among Christians but limited to those called by God and ecclesiastically sanctioned for public ministry.[9]

In addition, we would also do well to note that even in the midst of the revivalist movement not all warmly welcomed the innovations introduced.  The stalwart Presbyterian theologian R. L. Dabney, for one, offered a stinging critique of the popular mass evangelistic efforts of lay preacher D. L. Moody in his 1876 essay “Lay Preaching.”[10]  He made similar points in his essay “Spurious Religious Excitements,” which he concluded by observing:

One corollary from this discussion is:  How perilous is it to entrust the care of souls to an ignorant zeal!  None but an educated ministry can be expected, humanly speaking, to resist the seduction of “revival measures,” or to guard themselves from the plausible blunders we have analyzed above.  And the church which entrusts the care of souls to lay-evangelists, self-appointed and irresponsible to the ecclesiastical government appointed by Christ, betrays its charge and duty.[11]

Dabney’s prohibitions against the practice of “lay preaching” would have been shared by most of his Protestant, Puritan, and scholastic forebears, such as John Calvin, George Gillespie, John Owen, Thomas Manton, Francis Turretin, Wilhelmus a Brakel, John Gill, and John Brown.  It also would extend to many modern Reformed and Calvinistic theologians, including A. W. Pink and Gordon Clark.[12]  The prohibition of lay preaching unsanctioned by the local church was, in fact, the confessional position of the Westminster Standards, as Question 158 of the Larger Catechism instructs:

Q. By whom is the word of God to be preached?
A. The word of God is to be preached only by such as are sufficiently gifted, and also duly approved and called to that office.[13]

A similar sentiment is also expressed in chapter 26 (“Of the Church”) in the Second London Baptist Confession (1689), which limits public preaching to pastors and “others also gifted and fitted by the Holy Spirit for it, and approved and called by the church.”[14]  By the late 19th century, Dabney’s opposition to Moody was more like a voice in the wilderness or an attempt to hold back a virtual tidal wave of egalitarian, democratic “every member a minister” sentiment.[15]  One is left to ponder whether the contemporary street preaching movement reflects more the spirit of the revivalistic age than the spirit of the apostolic age.

Practical Concerns

Lastly, one might also raise practical and even ethical concerns about the contemporary method of “in your face” street preaching.  Some have recently made this a “free speech” issue, challenging various local laws against public disturbance.  No doubt there is an increasingly hostile stance against traditional Christianity by many secularists.  When the apostles were told to stop teaching in the name of Jesus, they did indeed reply, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).  We must ask, however, whether the absolute prohibition that the apostles faced against teaching in the name of Jesus is really parallel to the prohibition of preaching in busy shopping centers or on street corners.  Again, what of Paul’s admonition that Christians live quiet and peaceable lives?  One wonders, in fact, if some street preachers do not revel in the notoriety of experiencing some “persecution” for their public preaching.  Paul taught that Christians were to submit to governing authorities (Romans 13:1-7), and Peter taught that however commendable it was to suffer “for righteousness sake,” believers should not suffer for “evil doing” (1 Peter 3:14, 17).

We might ask further about the ethics of some street preaching practices.  Is it really right to take a captive audience at a train station, subway, or bus stop and essentially force them to listen to preaching?  Would we feel the same level of tolerance if we, our children, or our fellow church members were unwillingly forced to hear Muslim, Mormon, or Wiccan teaching while going about some necessary activity in public life?  No doubt, some will tell anecdotal stories of the occasional incident where a person will become interested in what the street preacher is saying and some spiritual fruit will result.  We cannot base our practice, however, on such anecdotal experiences.  For, no doubt, there will be many others who will raise examples where street preaching has had the opposite effect.  Our practice must be based on Biblical warrant rather than anecdotal experience, and, as our survey above has suggested, there is precious little evidence that Jesus or the apostles went out into the public streets and attempted to gain an audience with otherwise disinterested passers-by.  Contrary to contemporary street preacher wisdom, it appears that Jesus did not so much go out to the people (to draw a crowd) as much as the people came to Jesus (in crowds).

Can preaching be done in the “open air” in a Biblical manner?  Of course, it can.  Again, we cannot be legalistic about the place of preaching.  A gathering for worship can take place on a street or in any other public setting.  If the saints are assembled to hear a set-apart minister rightly divide the word of truth and set forth the gospel, preaching can take place as an element of worship in just about any venue.    The Biblical model suggests, however, that preaching most often took place in private religious gatherings, either in synagogues, homes, or rented spaces.  Did this mean that they opposed evangelism?  Of course not!  It does perhaps mean, however, that they saw wisdom in Jesus’ teaching that pearls were not to be cast before swine.  It also meant that they invited the unlearned and unbelievers into their midst to hear the Word of God intelligibly proclaimed, and they prayed for their conversion. Like the friends of the paralytic they brought the spiritually lame and placed them “into the midst before Jesus” (Luke 5:19).  Have we lost confidence in this Biblical pattern?  Ω

Jeffrey T. Riddle, Pastor, Christ Reformed Baptist Church, Charlottesville, Virginia


[1]Go Stand Speak:  The Forgotten Power of the Public Proclamation of the Gospel (The Apologetics Group and Go Stand Speak Ministries, 2010).

[2] Sean Morris is given a significant presence in the video.  An internet search reveals that Morris is part of a small independent church in Wells, Texas (The Church of Wells) that has been accused of some cult-like practices (e.g., some parents in Arkansas have accused the church of brain-washing their adult daughter; local media reported the death of a young child in the church while the church leaders prayed for the child’s healing and resuscitation, resulting in  questions about the whether or not the child received proper medical care; postings on the church website offer “rebuttals” to those who have criticized the church [mostly family of church members]; and critics have posted online attacks of the church, etc.).  I do not have enough information to judge these matters and indeed the most righteous, godly, and faithful churches in a community are often the most maligned by outsiders and non-Christians.  The prominent role given to such a seemingly young and untested man as a spokesman for this movement, however, raises questions about discernment by the video producers.

[3] The O’Conner quotation:  “When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs as you do, you can relax a little and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock—to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind, you draw large and startling figures” (from “The Fiction Writer & His Country”).  The irony of this quotation is that O’Connor probably intended it in reference to her own literary efforts to critique conservative Southern Protestants and advocate her own sacramental Roman Catholic worldview.

[4] It is fitting to examine the Gospel of Luke to test the claim that Jesus was a “street preacher,” since we will turn later to the book of Acts (written also by Luke; cf. Luke 1:1-5; Acts 1:1-2) to test the claim that the apostles were “street preachers.”

[5] For a brief survey of how the medieval Franciscan and Dominican orders gained papal sanction and promoted papal authority through public preaching, see Rodney Stark, The Triumph of Christianity:  How the Jesus Movement Became the World’s Largest Religion (HarperCollins, 2011):  pp. 307-308.

[6] See Iain H. Murray, Wesley and Men Who Followed (Banner of Truth, 2003).

[7] For a helpful survey and analysis of this era and its impact on contemporary evangelicalism, see Iain H. Murray, Revival & Revivalism:  The Making and Marring of American Evangelicalism 1750-1858 (Banner of Truth, 1994).

[8] Charles H. Spurgeon, “Open Air Preaching:  A Sketch of its History” and “Open Air Preaching:  Remarks Thereon” in Lectures to My Students (Zondervan, 1954):  pp. 234-253, 254-271.

[9] Ibid., see “The Call to the Ministry,” pp. 22-41.

[10] R. L. Dabney, “Lay Preaching,” Discussions, Vol. 2 (Sprinkle Publications, 1982):  pp. 76-95.

[11] R. L. Dabney, “Spurious Religious Excitements,” Discussions, Vol. 3 (Sprinkle Publications, 1996):  p. 474.

[12] See the collection of quotes from the men here cited in the article Against Lay Preaching on the website of Covenant Protestant Reformed Church, Ballymena, Northern Ireland.

[13] Westminster Confession of Faith (Free Presbyterian Publications, 1976):  p. 251.

[14] The London Confession of Faith 1677/1689 (Chapel Library, n. d.):  p. 38. For a discussion of the “gifted brethren” in early Particular Baptist churches see James M. Renihan, Edification and Beauty:  The Practical Ecclesiology of the English Particular Baptists 1675-1705 (Paternoster, 2008):   pp. 107-114.

[15] See Nathan O. Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (Yale University Press, 1989).

Journal of the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies – Sample of Impassibility article

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on Thursday, February 6, 2014 at 7:28 am


Dr. James E. Dolezal’s article for JIRBS 2014 is entitled, “STILL IMPASSIBLE: Confessing God without Passions.” It is a very important subject and Dr. Dolezal handles it with precision and awareness of the doctrine in its history and current state. Here is a sample of his much larger discussion. Be sure to read the endnotes (which will appear as footnotes in the journal).


The liberals were right on one point

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on Friday, January 24, 2014 at 4:23 pm

The liberals were right on one point. It is true that the world has undergone massive, breathtaking changes. But what they overlooked was the fact that in the midst of all of this change, some things have not changed at all. God in his character, counsels, and knowledge has not changed; the human being, though fallen, remains in the image of God; sin in its nature has not changed across the ages; the significance of God’s acts in history has not changed; the abiding truth of God’s word has not changed; the reality of the incarnation and the results of the cross have not changed, so neither has the gospel. It is the same gospel which is to be believed in all places and times, and among every tribe, ethnic group, culture, and generation. It is no different today for those in the Builder generation than for those who are Baby Boomers, or Gen Xers, or those in the Millennial generation, though you would never guess this from listening to the more adventurous, entrepreneurial evangelical leaders who are busy growing their own churches in selected generational niches.

The revelation God has given us in his Word is enduring in its relevance, in all places and times, precisely because it corresponds to what does not change. It is not simply a reflection of the changing culture of a world long since vanished, the cultural worlds in which it first arose. It is God’s truth for the church in all ages and all seasons.[1]

– David F. Wells

[1] Carson, D. A. et al. Only One Way? Reaffirming the Exclusive Truth Claims of Christianity. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006. Print.


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