The Call to Witness and the Call to Preach

The young William Booth
The young William Booth

This passionate exhortation by William Booth has often been misquoted. At least certain punchy phrases have been lifted out of context.

In one sense he hasn’t helped himself by referring to all gospel-sharing as ‘preaching’. But it’s clear that he is differentiating between the general call on every Christian to witness to those who don’t know Christ and the specific call which some experience and which tends to lead them into and confirm them as public preachers and teachers of the Bible.

He is exasperated by the silence of ordinary, good Christians when it comes to evangelism.

While some phrases are certainly clumsy, let’s not miss the passion:

– We need to become aware of those who don’t yet realise that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6).

– We need to have an appropriate understanding of eternal realities and the eternal consequences of someone’s rejection of Christ.

– We need to become ‘unselfish’ and start serving people evangelistically.

– If the gospel is true, love should compel us to initiate contact, communication, relationships.

– While there is a special call to vocational ‘ministry’ for some, we are all called to ‘preach’ the gospel. For some, even if they haven’t been specially ‘called to ministry’ they can still seek God for it (Booth was always looking for more leaders).

You may not be a Salvationist. You may not like aspects of Booth’s theology. But every Christian should feel stirred and sharpened by Booth’s words:

How can anybody with spiritual eyesight talk of having no call?
‘How can anybody with spiritual eyesight talk of having no call, when there are such multitudes around them who never hear a word about God, and never intend to; who can never hear, indeed, without the sort of preacher who will force himself upon them?

Are you spiritually healthy if you have no compassion?
‘Can a man keep right in his own soul, who can see all that, and yet stand waiting for a ‘call’ to preach? Would they wait so for a ‘call’ to help anyone escape from a burning building, or to snatch a sinking child from a watery grave?

Does not growth in grace, or even ordinary growth of intelligence, necessarily bring with it that deepened sense of eternal truths which must intensify the conviction of duty to the perishing world?

Does not an unselfish love, the love that goes out towards the unloving, demand of a truly loving soul immediate action for the salvation of the unloved?

And are there not persons who know that they possess special gifts, such as robust health, natural eloquence or power of voice, which specially make them responsible for doing something for souls?

If you’ve been called by God obey Him!
‘And yet I do not at all forget, that above and beyond all these things, there does come to some a special and direct call which it is particularly fatal to disregard, and peculiarly strengthening to enjoy and act upon.

I believe that there have been many eminently holy and useful men who never had such a call; but that does not at all prevent anyone from asking God for it, or blessing Him for His special kindness when He gives it.’[i]

More next time…

For the first post in this series on the Salvation Army click here

 

© 2014 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog

 

 

[i] Harold Begbie, Life of William Booth: The Founder of the Salvation Army (2 vols. London: MacMillan, 1920) 1:84

Wesley Attempts and Rejects ‘Charismatic’ Personal Evangelism

18th Century Map Showing the Main road out of London, 1742
18th Century Map Showing the Main roads out of London, 1742

Make the most of every opportunity
OK, OK, maybe I’m being a bit unfair to the Charismatics here but this is a fascinating little experiment that Wesley attempted for two days.

Fortunately for multiplied thousands he gave up the attempt, but, unnervingly, many Christians actually do their personal evangelism like this.

I’m not going to preface this with many scriptures. Just one:
Paul writes, ‘Pray that I may proclaim [the gospel] clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.’ (Col 4:4-6 NIV)

Our goal should be to graciously seek to make the most of every opportunity to share our faith with others. Obviously the application of wisdom will help us determine what and how much we should share. If we are with folks we regularly see we are clearly not to exasperate them with constant mini-sermons, but if we are with folk briefly, say on a plane, or purchasing something at a check out, there may be a moment to bring encouragement or to leave a Personal Tract.

Wesley’s Experiment
‘For these two days, I had made an experiment which I had been so often and earnestly pressed to do: speaking to none concerning the things of God, unless my heart was free to it.

‘And what was the event?
Why, 1. That I spoke to none at all for fourscore miles together: no, not even to him that travelled with me in the [carriage], unless a few words at first setting out.

‘2. That I had no cross either to bear or to take up, and commonly in an hour or two fell fast asleep.

‘3. That I had much respect shown me wherever I came; everyone behaving to me, as to a civil, good-natured gentleman.

‘O how pleasing is all this to flesh and blood!’ (JW Journals, Vol 1, Baker edition, p.313)

Why pick on the Charismatics?
Well, the phrase ‘unless my heart was free to it’ is equivalent to ‘unless the Spirit prompts me’ nowadays, and you tend to hear Charismatics use that kind of language more often, and particularly with regard to evangelism.

But maybe I’m wrong. After all, those urging his change in behaviour may have been merely embarrassed by his boldness: ‘I had been so often and earnestly pressed to do’ this, he says.

In other words, John Wesley’s default position was that he was always on a mission, and every appropriate opportunity should be taken to help others understand the gospel and maybe come closer to Christ.

This was something he was ‘often and earnestly pressed’ to abandon in favour of more particular promptings. Maybe that’s not just a ‘charismatic’ weakness but affects most evangelicals who are either nervous of getting things wrong or who are fearful and would be helped by being filled with the Holy Spirit (see Acts 1:8).

Either way, we can be thankful that Wesley gave up the wretched experiment. May God give you and I grace to likewise give it up and ‘make the most of every opportunity.’

© 2009 Lex Loizides