At the three-day Arab International Festival in Dearborn, Michigan, a group of street preachers taunted Muslims and became the objects of an angry, violent response. The group, led by Reuben Israel of California, hoisted a pig’s head on a pole as a brash affront to Muslims and held up signs calling Muhammed “a child molesting pervert,” among other things. Israel founded “Bible Believers” and “Official Street Preachers” in the 1980s to focus on “confrontational evangelism and home Bible studies” (which is the essence of their “churches”) and claims “40 chapters nationwide.” They are ecumenical, “working with churches from many denominations,” and Israel belittles Christians who meet on Sunday for church instead of being out on the streets preaching (“Bro. Reuben’s Story,” OfficialStreetPreachers.com). The U.S. Constitution guarantees free speech and the police and courts are obliged to protect free speech (which they no longer consistently do), and they are obliged to punish lawbreakers like the Muslims who assaulted the preachers (which they didn’t), but I wonder what Israel and gang actually thought would happen in response to such antics? In a video of the encounter, a member of the group angrily shouts to a Muslim boy, “You’re going to go straight to hell, you little dirtbag, wicked heathen. ... God is going to melt you one day in hell.” Predictably, some of the young Muslims responded aggressively, yelling “Allahu Akbar” (Allah is greatest) and throwing bottles, cans, plastic crates, and pieces of concrete. Meanwhile, the Detroit Free Press reported, “Other missionaries at the festival were less confrontational, handing out fliers telling Muslims to convert and handing out free Christian books.” The Lord Jesus warned often about hell, but he did not “get in people’s faces” like this and taunt them with eternal destruction with an attitude of near glee. Neither did the apostles and preachers in the early churches, as we see in the book of Acts. When Paul preached to the idolators in Athens, he didn’t taunt them about their paganism, hold up a sign mocking Athena, and angrily tell the people that God was going to melt them in hell. He didn’t scream antagonistic slogans. He preached the truth plainly but calmly and wisely, exposing the error of idolatry with the truth of God’s character, and calling on them to repent. It is necessary to preach repentance. We preach it and believe in it and demand it of those who claim to be saved. We’ve preached repentance for decades in one of the darkest parts of the world, both on and off the streets. But Paul’s preaching of repentance doesn’t add up to the Official Street Preachers’ preaching of repentance. When the crowds attacked the apostles in the first century, as they often did, it wasn’t because the apostles had taunted their religion, whether it be Judaism or paganism. The gospel that we are to preach “to every creature” (Mark 16:15) was summarized by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4. “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” There is no taunting of sinners or mocking of false religion in the gospel. Reuben Israel uses Jonah and John the Baptist as examples for his street preaching, but they weren't preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. He doesn’t rightly divide the Scripture. I have viewed photos of Official Street Preachers signs, and they state things such as “God hates you Sodomites” and “homo sex is sin” and “Islam is the religion of murder.” What sinner has ever come to Christ through the avenue of taunting and mocking ridicule? In Acts 1:8 we are instructed to preach Jesus, and when we lift up Jesus, God draws men to salvation (John 12:32).
(Friday Church News Notes, July 6, 2012, www.wayoflife.org, firstname.lastname@example.org, 866-295-4143)
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