The Ethics of Street Preaching!

“He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street” (Isaiah 42:2).


The way, the truth and the life!
The way, the truth and the life!

This verse from Isaiah 42:2 is quoted by Matthew in his gospel (Matthew 12:19). What exactly does it mean? Recently a young Australian preacher has been and continues to be pilloried for his presentation of the gospel in Perth, Scotland. In justifying their vilification of this young zealous servant of Jesus Christ the above text has been used in one particular blog at least. The blogger’s point is that Jesus wouldn’t be heard loudly crying in the streets like our Australian brother. Is this a justified use of this text? Well, Isaiah himself received definite instruction to this effect “Cry aloud, do not hold back, lift up your voice like a trumpet, declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins” (Isaiah 58:1). Then at the other end, in the New Testament, we hear of Peter, quite loud and full of the Holy Spirit actually, “but Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them, men of Judea, and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words” (Acts 2:14). Then if we consider the numbers of people who Jesus Christ himself addressed at times, he sure as anything wasn’t no whispering preacher. The Sermon on the Mount, sometimes 5,000 men, not counting women and children? So it can’t mean surely what our blogger is suggesting, that our Australian evangelist should have been whispering or even silent. Words are the means of communication and especially when it comes to the gospel. The Son of God was a preacher, and not just the four-walls variety, an open-air preacher even, a loud one, a very loud one. It is, we are also told in the New Testament that it is through the foolishness of preaching that sinners are saved, preaching, not music and drama as yet another Free Church blogger has suggested the Australian street preacher should try his hand at this instead. So what does Isaiah 42:2 cf., Matthew 12:19 mean then, “he shall not lift up his voice?”

The servant (Messiah) shall be divinely endued with the Spirit, to enable him to bring forth justice v1 to the Gentiles, the nations. The key word is ‘justice.’ Then in verse two ‘he shall not cry’ expressing the manner in which he shall dispense divine truth, he shall not assert himself, but rather project the truth worldwide, that will bring justification to many. The stress in verse two is on his manner, not advertising himself and that in an non-aggressive way, not shouting others down. Not being dismissive of others however bruised they may be v3. Rather seeking to mend. I think the commentator Allan Harmon gives us a good insight to this verse. He says that the Servant (Messiah) will be a contrast to king Cyrus. In place of noise, glamour and pomp and ceremony with which he came, the Servant would come with no open display of pomp (like the musical extravaganzas and drama recommended by the Free Church blogger. Some of us left that style of worship behind when we left the Charismatic movement, we don’t do it in our churches and we’re certainly not going to do it on the streets). I realise of course that the Free Church has shifted ground in terms of worship, but we prefer to stay with our Reformed tradition of worship rather than go back to the contemporary Charismatic style. Doubtless there were times when Jesus spoke quietly to groups of people and individuals. But there were times when he addressed crowds that in order for them to hear, he would have to lift up his voice. Public address systems suggested by the Free Church blogger too, were not available then. We could, but we won’t, move on to Church history, except to mention one George Whitfield, the divine dramatist, with a voice that was enormous. It is said of him that he certainly did lift up his voice it is also said of him he could drop his voice to a whisper and people could hear him, addressing thousands of people. But he doesn’t get the flack Australia gets, he’s a hero, he’s dead. We only like and eulogize the dead ones.
The sum of this is that there are rights and wrongs in this, there always is. But it’s a certainty nobody is doing this child of God (and I remind you he is that) any favours by criticising, vilifying and most certainly demoralising him. Our dear Australian preacher most certainly needs to learn, as we all do. He made mistakes. In thirty years of ‘Street Preaching’ I couldn’t even begin to tell you the number of times I have got it totally wrong. But my wrong’s never went viral as we say today, or took me to jail, thankfully. There never was a preacher born, except the Lord Jesus, who can’t look back over his ministry and cringe at some event when he totally blew it. Australia’s a big man with a big voice and a big zeal to serve the Lord, I wish I had a Church full of such at Fole Reformed to encourage and help to get it right. Sure he needs to learn to listen, especially to Law-enforcement Officers (do what they tell you Australia). He needs to learn to control his voice. I had to learn how to raise  mine, he needs to learn to tailor his. But haven’t we got enough enemies outside the church? Militant atheism, sodomite marriage and one shudders to even think where that’s going to end up. The Devil, the world, the State and we have to go into self-destruct mode. It’s unbelievable, you couldn’t dream it up. When are we going to learn to love one another, support and encourage one another. If you believe you’ve found somebody in a fault, Paul’s words, “you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1), minister to him, pick up, set him on his feet again, help him to do the thing better. Well, that’s what Jesus would do, I reckon least anyways. But hey, who knows maybe next week I’ll be sitting in a jail cell, I sure hope not. But if I was, I know who I’d rather have for company, and it ain’t none of them bloggers, give me Australia any day of the week.

(James R Hamilton, 31st, December, 2013)

Sermon Audio

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