I read in the paper this morning about a pastor not too far from here who was arrested for standing up at a movie theater and preaching to the crowd while the credits rolled at the end of Avengers: Infinity War.
Apparently, it’s something this man does as part of his “ministry”, and in defending himself afterwards, he tried to turn it into a religious liberty issue.
In a written explanation for what he did, he said, “There are laws being passed in California that hinder Christians from preaching The Word of God, in its truth, right now. The common thread I hear from people who disagreed with what I did is that it wasn’t the right “time and place” to stand up and preach. Christians need to realize that if we don’t stand up now, there won’t be ANY times or places left.”
To which I would add: Especially if Christians continue to pull idiotic stunts like this.
This man’s actions are wrong on so many levels.
It’s the gospel that should be offensive, not the way in which we share it.
For every one person that might be brought to faith by hearing a man blurt out a sermon randomly in a public place where you wouldn’t expect to hear a sermon, there are hundred people or more who will be driven that much further away from God’s kingdom.
As a pastor who loves to tell others about Christ, I know from experience how much damage a well-intentioned but horribly misguided presentation like this creates. Jesus compared evangelism to fishing. Well you don’t catch fish by blowing up a stick of dynamite in the pond.
The Bible urges us to “be all things to all people” when we share the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:20-23).
In other words, package your words in culturally sensitive ways. We see Paul doing this when he preached in an open-air forum in Athens (Acts 17). He began his address by talking about Athenian artwork and philosophy, before he talked about Christ.
Before our obnoxious pastor protests by saying, “See! Open air preaching is in the Bible!”, we ought to remember that in that day and age, there was a place in most city’s forums where speakers and teachers of all types came and shared in public. It was a common and accepted form of discourse. (Hyde Park in London has a “speaker’s corner” which reflects this same tradition.)
Standing up randomly and ranting in public is not how you play it down at the AMC theater. Especially while the credits roll at the end of a Marvel movie. The pastor acted surprised that the lights didn’t come up in the theater as the credits played. Well of course they didn’t come up because everyone knows the credits are not the end of a Marvel movie! There’s always a final clip coming!
Witnessing requires wisdom and graciousness, as well as boldness.
“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders,” Paul wrote. “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt.” (Col.4:5-6.)
This pastor failed on all counts. What he did lacked wisdom. In a day and age when people have been shot dead in theaters by madmen with guns, you don’t stand up in a dark theater and start yelling. Thanos does that, not Christ.
It lacked graciousness. Back in the sixties, people had front porches on their houses. Today they have back decks. It reflects how people think today. In our busy, hectic world, we crave privacy, not interruption. We despise front door salespeople and spam. I go to the theater to relax and get away from everyday life and be with my family. Had I been in the theater that night, I – a Jesus-loving pastor – would have been highly offended by this man’s stunt.
Witnessing should be a natural part of everyday conversation.
It takes boldness to take a conversation you’re having with someone and turn it in a spiritual direction. But it also should be almost ordinary in the way it flows. Observe Jesus in John 4 as he has a conversation with a Samaritan woman. He takes an ordinary conversation about water and by taking genuine interest in the woman and her life, turns their dialogue toward God in a beautiful, life-giving way.
People think about God and spiritual matters all the time. Goodness, Infinity Wars was filled with spiritual themes such as sacrifice, time and eternity, good and evil, love and family. It’s part of Marvel’s allure that almost each one of its stories follow the pattern in some way of the Great Story, about the Greatest Avenger of All, Jesus Christ, who came to earth from the heavens to save us from the Greatest Evil of all.
But all those potential conversations that could have happened with all those people perished like flakes of dust the moment the man stood and opened his mouth.
If you follow Christ, be bold, certainly. But goodness, please be more loving and discerning of how you talk about the Lord you love. You can be a fool for Christ, but not a moron.