On Being Provocative in Christian Ministry


Bill Muehlenberg’s commentary on issues of the day…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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