Having just returned from our local Good Friday act of witness I thought I’d write down my initial reflections.
1. It’s a great opportunity – right in the centre of town, with over 1000 people present, and plenty milling around.
2. An awareness of the mixed nature of those assembled must inform content and style. Unfortunately the preacher seemed to be working on the assumption that every person present was a believer. As a consequence he began by making the crowd shout “Hallelujah” twice. He then proceeded to tell us that he’d had a ‘word’ and that he wouldn’t be talking about Good Friday, and would instead talk about why Britain isn’t ‘Great’ (see what he did there). This was even more unwise as he himself was of another nationality – the potential of being misheard was significant. Stylistically it was typically charismatic/pentecostal – high on shouting, low on content. Saddest of all he didn’t speak about sin or the cross. In terms of content and style he missed the mark.
3. If you’re told to do the announcements and closing prayer, do the announcements and closing prayer. The final participant, evidently frustrated he’d not been asked to preach, decided he’d have a go anyway, and began with the old “Give me a J; give me an E” – you see where this is going. He informed us “I don’t do announcements; I do vision-casting.” He then invited all the church leaders to the front, asked everyone to raise their hands, and pray for an ‘anointing’ on the leaders. Like the preacher’s, his tone was very shouty, and could be heard as aggressive.
I for one, was glad we didn’t have friends or neighbours there – it would have been highly embarrassing, and would have required a lot of explaining.
As I reflect, I’m forced to ask myself, is it just a cultural thing? Is the problem mine? Do I need to chill out? See, now I’m asking rhetorical questions, and the answer to all of them is to some degree, yes.
However, I’m reminded of a comment John Frame made regarding 1 Cor 14:23 – if an unbeliever comes in, and you’re all speaking in tongues, will they not say that you are out of your mind. Interesting passage this one. Paul doesn’t forbid prophecy as that can convict the unbeliever (incidentally, I think prophecy here in context refers to rational comprehensible speech used to edify (see wider context of 1 Cor 14)), but the more ecstatic and self-edifying forms are to be suppressed for the sake of the visitor. Frame argues that the contemporary application of the principle could include things like style and forms in our worship. If the style or form will lead people to conclude you are out of your mind, don’t use it – it’s unhelpful and unedifying. My own view is that if we were to apply that principle at today’s act of witness we could still have passion and enthusiasm, but we would deliberately down-play that for the sake of the visitor, and speak words with edifying and convicting content.
Tim Keller has spoken of this as the ‘as if’ principle. You do everything ‘as if’ the unbeliever/muslim/jehovah’s witness/gay person were present among you. If you act ‘as if’ they are that will inevitably change the way you speak, the jokes you make, the jargon you use. Perhaps the most well-known example of this is Paul in the Areopagus (Acts 17). Can you imagine if Paul had got up and said “Can I get an hallelujah? Give me a J? I’m going to tell you today why Athens isn’t great” – mmm. I guess they’d have said “I don’t think we’ll hear you again on this.”