"Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1).
A dear brother in Christ has asked me to address a potential issue that may arise with all of the talk about my arrest in Wimbledon--the possibility that other Christians will somehow be motivated to go out and get arrested for Jesus.
I never hit the streets with the intent of seeking conflict with authorities. My goal is always to do whatever I can to submit to the governing authorities without compromising either my faith in Jesus Christ or the truth of His Word. My allegiance is always, first and foremost, to Jesus Christ.
On July 1, 2013, on a street in Wimbledon, I did not choose to read and preach from 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 with the hope that someone would be so offended that they would call the police, with the police then placing me under arrest. I knew as I put on my amplifier and opened the Word of God that what I was preach would be provocative. I knew it could result in a police response and the potential of an arrest. But provocation, confrontation, and incarceration were never motivating factors for the street sermon I preached that day. I believe His Holy Spirit encouraged me and sovereignly directed me to preach the message I preached.
Prior to traveling to the UK, I spent time studying and preparing a number of open-air sermons, based on selected passages in the Word of God. 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 was not on the list. There were no incidents on the street that day, prior to me preaching the sermon that led to my arrest, that motivated me to turn to 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8. In other words, my sermon was not in response to a heckler's provocation, a passer-by's indecent act or gesture, or a prior negative contact with law enforcement. Shortly before it was my turn to preach, I flipped through the New Testament trying to decide what to preach. None of the remaining sermons on my prepared list seemed appropriate or timely at the moment. When I came upon 1 Thessalonians 4, I was moved to read the chapter. Seeing what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians regarding abstention from sexual immorality--all forms of sexual immorality, I chose to read and exposit the text in the open-air.
Paul encouraged the Corinthians to follow him only to the extent he followed Christ. In light of what happened to me in Wimbledon, I feel it necessary to exhort my Christian brethren to do the same.
If you find my arrest motivating you to take to the street, Bible in hand, hoping that you too will be so persecuted for your faith, then you are not imitating me.
If you find my arrest motivating you to intentionally place yourself in a position where you set up a confrontation with law enforcement, then you are not imitating me.
If you find my arrest motivating you to make a stand against real or perceived persecution for no other reason than to make a statement against such persecution, then you are not imitating me.
If you find my arrest motivating you to take to the street in the hope that the same thing will happen to you so you can draw attention to yourself or your ministry, then you are not imitating me.
If you find my arrest motivating you to do anything other than to imitate Jesus Christ, for His glory, then you are not imitating me.
At the same time.....
If you find my arrest motivating you to take a step of faith to be bold and courageous to proclaim the gospel in public, then imitate me as I imitate Christ.
If you find my arrest motivating you to biblically and respectfully take a stand against unjust laws that are intended to silence Christians and the proclamation of the gospel, then imitate me as I imitate Christ.
If you find my arrest motivating you to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Christ, then imitate me as I imitate Christ.
The apostle Paul wrote, "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Timothy 3:12). Therefore, there is absolutely no reason to seek persecution. Simply live a life glorifying to Christ and persecution will come at a time and in a manner that will bring Him the most glory.
There is a constant need for any Christian who proclaims the gospel on the streets (preaching, conversations, tract distribution) to seek through prayer and godly counsel the ability to discern when to obey governing authorities and when not to. In the vast majority of cases such a decision will be a matter of conscience and cannot be dictated by way of blanket statements. While, again, the goal of every Christian should be to submit to the governing authorities to the extent such submission is biblical, as time goes on more and more Christians will be faced with the decision of obeying Christ or obeying men. There is only one right answer in such situations. The Christian must obey Christ. The Christian must obey the Word of God. The Christian must be willing to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Jesus Christ.
"Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ." Don't imitate me if I do not imitate Christ. And please don't use my arrest as an excuse to go your own way or to satisfy some sinful desire for self-serving persecution and attention. "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.