Some years ago it was no uncommon sight to see little and larger groups of people, on various street corners of the down-town areas of larger cities, listening to some persuasive or emotional singing or to some speaker doing his best to bring, or pretending to bring, the Gospel. Practically every denomination known put forth its efforts in this direction. Whether it was considered a very effective method of bringing the Gospel is hardly conceivable but it was at least a good vent or venture for so-called mission enthusiasm. Every corner with its group seemed to offer another creed or Christ.
Today the popularity of this type of “Gospel preaching” has greatly diminished since the new era of radio. The “Street Evangelist” has found the radio a better medium to reach many more than ever was possible by his best endeavors on the most favorite corner of some great metropolis.
However, in the largest cities of our country “Street Evangelism” is still carried on to some extent. This evidently is due to the fact that the radio is in general a rather expensive enterprise. Then, too, among the very lowest class of people, such as are found in the slums, the radio is a luxury. Such conditions necessarily call for another medium to reach these sin-darkened souls; and, naturally, the street corner lends itself the easiest for this purpose.
In considering the subject of “Street Evangelism” the main point of consideration is whether or not such an endeavor, at its best, is advisable and worthy of recommendation.
Possibly there are some who think it necessary to consider another relative question first of all, namely, may “Street Evangelism” be conducted. Those burdened with this question are naturally of the opinion that this is the all-important consideration in this so-called work of the Gospel. It, too, is rather surprising how many serious-minded folk are of the opinion that “Street Evangelism,” in the good sense of the word, is absolutely to be condemned.
Having stated that the main point of consideration in this subject is the advisability and the recommendableness of this method of preaching one correctly concludes that the writer does not condemn “Street Evangelism” when properly conducted. Anyone condemning it must necessarily condemn both Christ and His apostles. From Scripture it is evident that both Christ and those whom He sent to preach did so in the streets and even in the marketplaces. They preached in palace and prison, to nobles and slaves, to harlots and drunkards, at sea or on land, to barbarians and civilized, on the high-ways and in by-ways, in season and out of season. And why not? Should not the feet of them that bring good tidings always be swift to bear the message wherever and whenever the way is open? Let us beware lest we become complacent because we and our children have been fed with the Word of God and we forget and despise the “dogs that are fed with the crumbs that fall from the Master’s table.” True possession of salvation must necessarily create within the heart the urge and longing to go out and tell others, regardless of whether it shall prove to be a savor of life unto life or of death unto death. God forbid that the zeal for true, whole-hearted, Biblical Evangelism die in our midst.
It is, however, not surprising that the more serious minded folk oppose the street-corner preaching. The practice of it was too often carried on by would-be-preachers who somehow had failed to attain the office of the minister of the Gospel in the legal way. Too often they were sponsored by some individual or individuals, or by some society or club rather than by the Church of Jesus Christ through its offices. This too explains why the ministration of the Gospel, carried on by the “Street Evangelists” of the Reformed faith, was nothing more than a hawking of Christ and the blessings of salvation. The line of demarcation between those of the Reformed persuasion and those who built upon the foundation of Arminius and his followers was entirely eradicated. The result being that this type of work left an unsavory effect upon those who loved the faith once delivered to the saints.
In any and all preaching of the Gospel, as well as in every type of missionary activity, it is a Scriptural, and therefore divine, requisite that such endeavors be sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ through its instituted offices, that of the elders with the minister of the Gospel. The Gospel may not and cannot be preached being sponsored only by some individual, society, club or federation. This does not mean that such an organization or individual may not witness for Christ. Witnessing for Christ is always allowed, in fact, divinely required of every one of us. But witnessing for Christ and preaching Christ are two different things. Witnessing for Christ is giving testimony of one’s faith and telling others about Christ. Preaching, on the other hand, is delivering the Word of Christ on Christ’s own authority to those to whom one has been specifically sent. To preach, therefore, one must receive an official commission from Christ, through the Church, to speak the Word of Christ, the Gospel of Peace. In this way the Truth, too, will be vouchsafed while it is always in jeopardy when the preaching of the Gospel is a free-for-all. Therefore, also “Street Evangelism” is the duty of the Church only and not that of an individual, club or society.
Considering the question whether “Street Evangelism” is advisable and worthy of recommendation various considerations must be made. If one studies the present mode of living it is very obvious that the man on the street, driven by the hustle and bustle of life, considers himself as having no time to pause enroute to listen to a somewhat complete proclamation of the Gospel of Christ. When life was at a much slower pace it was even then very noticeable to any observer, and extremely discouraging to the preacher, that anyone who was present at the beginning of the “Street Evangelist’s” message was generally absent long before its close. Such tidbits of any Gospel message cannot be advantageous for any purpose.
To my mind it, too, is questionable whether the sacredness of the Gospel permits its proclamation under any and all circumstances. Quite often the street-preacher has been seen to begin his message without a single soul for his audience, merely hoping that his plaintive voice and the contortions of his face would draw some souls who had more pity for the lone preacher than for their own lost soul This I call sacrilege. This also holds true for any attempt to proclaim the Gospel in the midst of drunks and hoodlums. The Gospel is sacred and should not be dealt with as the cheapest article on the market. The pearls of the Gospel of peace are not for the swine to tread on.
Studying the various Scriptural passages bearing- record of Christ’s and the apostle’s Evangelism, as conducted in the streets of the Bible countries, it may be observed that there was an occasion for preaching. Christ and His apostles seem to have created the circumstances and conditions appropriate for Gospel preaching. Generally such circumstances were created by religious disputations or debates brought about by personal contact with certain parties or individuals. When the climax of such disputes was reached and the audience had become vitally interested as to the very heart of the matter the dispute was turned by Christ or His apostles into a lively preaching of the full Gospel of redemption. To such methods Christ’s time and place among the slow and patient Easterners lent itself much more than the day and modes in which we live.
Experience and reason witness abundantly that “Street Evangelism”, even when properly conducted, is most generally not advisable in our time and country. Disappointing as this may seem to those, especially in our own Protestant Reformed circles, who are filled with zeal for missions and missionary activity, I think they may rejoice in the great and wide door which the Lord has opened in the radio facilities utilized by our churches. The response received through these channels is so encouraging that it demands of every one of us to put forth every effort that the glorious truth entrusted to our Churches by the King of the Church may go forth upon the ether waves each week of the entire year. It is true that this activity may never bring forth the organization of a congregation in the circle dear to our hearts, but let us always bear in mind that we do not labor first of all for the Protestant Reformed Denomination, but for God and His glory. In this we have the promise that His Word shall never return to Him void, but shall do whatsoever He pleases, even though it may seem to us that we plough on rocks and labor in vain. Here we may sow in tears, but bearing the precious seed we shall doubtless come again with rejoicing for we know that our labor is not vain in the Lord.