"We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things."
1 Corinthians 4:10-13
The Lord blessed me in so many ways this week as I attended the Strange Fire conference, at Grace Community Church, in Sun Valley, CA. The conference has caused no small stir in the Christians community. The conference, dealing with more than simply the visible and quantifiable excesses of the Charismatic Movement, solidified in my heart and mind that the Cessationism/Continuationism debate is no longer an "agree to disagree" issue. While I do not question the salvation of the Charismatics I know well, enjoy friendship, and with whom I have served, I can no longer simply nudge the issue aside and push into the growing catch-all leaf pile of "secondary issues." While I believe many people and many leaders in the Charismatic Movement are presently lost and bound for hell, I do not believe a person is lost and going to hell because they are continuationists.
It would have been enough to attend the Strange Fire conference to sit under the exceptionally fine, biblical, and powerful preaching of some of my favorite expositors. For instance, Pastor Steve Lawson's Thursday night sermon on Sola Scriptura and hearing Pastor Conrad Mbewe describe the current, deplorable, spiritual condition of Zambia and much of Africa because of the infiltration of the Charismatic Movement into the African evangelical community were worth far more than the price of admission. And John MacAthur's conference-closing sermon was an amazing example of what a man looks like when he preaches from a deeply pastoral heart while conveying a firm, resolute, and uncompromising word of warning and encouragement. Yes, it would have been enough to sit under the teaching offered during the conference. But the Lord did so much more.
I was so encouraged by the dozens of people who, up to the moment of introduction were unknown to me, who thanked me for my ministry and expressed how I've encouraged them from afar. These encounters with God's people were humbling and timely gifts from the Lord, for I had brought and carried a heavy weight of discouragement to the conference. I was further encouraged and blessed to reconnect with many friends from my seminary days, from the season during which I led the Ambassadors' Academy, and ministry supporters. And, of course, there was spending each day with my dear friend Pastor Chuck O'Neal and the Beaverton Grace Bible Church family as we sat together under wonderful teaching, fellowshipped with one another, broke bread together, worshiped and prayed (Acts 2:42).
The before-mentioned discouragement has come from seemingly every direction. Two flanks from which the discouragement has come are from those angry about my recently published book and from those upset by some of what I had to say at the Herald Society conference. The below audio/video are the remarks that has caused a stir among open-air preachers and some of those who will likely never alight atop a box to herald the gospel in the open-air.
Some have referred to the above message as "judgmental," "unloving," "mean-spirited," and the coup de grace: "a message from Satan." Some, while affirming the content of the message, have suggested the tone was far too harsh. Only a couple of the alleged "many" people upset with me have taken the time to convey their concerns directly to me. The rest have voiced their concerns to others via email or have done so more publicly by way of the Christian-tolerated gossip-sphere called Facebook. Some are calling me to publicly repent for the tone of the message and for aspects of its content.
In spite of the criticism and after seeking the counsel of beloved, trusted, Christian brothers my conscience remains clear. Could my rhetoric be perceived by others as harsh? Yes. While I was not trying to be harsh, I make no apologies for being stern.
Might some be offended by my tone and rhetoric? Yes. While I never intended to offend simply to provoke the ire of those listening, I think some of the people who attended the Herald Society conference and who have listened to the audio/video in the subsequent weeks should be offended--not by my words, but by the reality that a finger can be pointed at them followed by the words "you are the man!" I do not apologize for pointing such a finger at person or persons unknown. But for one exception (and I have since talked to and reconciled with this brother), I had no specific person(s) in mind as I called open-air preachers to consider their motives, to stop committing adultery against their wives with evangelism as their mistresses, and to stop acting like junior high school girls enamored with those they see as "rock stars" in the open-air preaching subculture.
Some have suggested that I am "sweeping my sin under the rug" by not making a public apology for what I said at the Herald Society conference.
I offer no apology for what I said or how I said it. There's nothing for me to sweep under the rug, for I do not believed I sinned in what I said or how I said it. It is not with pride, arrogance, or an unteachable spirit that I withhold an apology.
Those who know me know I wasn't seeking to offend. Those who know me know truth is more important to me than how people respond to the truth. Those who know me know I would rather lose a friendship than see a friend lose his or her soul, continue to wallow in sin, or shipwreck their faith while thinking they are serving Christ.
Could I have said what I believed the Lord would have me say better? Certainly. Of course. Yes. To say otherwise is to apply an arrogant, haughty, unbiblical air of perfection to my speech. In this mortal flesh (2 Corinthians 4:11), I will never speak or act perfectly. And when those imperfections rise to the level of sinfulness, I must repent. I simply don't believe I sinned while standing in the pulpit at the Herald Society conference.
"But Tony, I believed you sinned."
That doesn't make it so.
While maybe I shouldn't be surprised, I am. I'm surprised that those leveling character charges against me are, by and large, open-air preachers. And knowing some of them by name and reputation--men who are as bold as lions, men who have faced threats of violence, men who have been threatened with or who have actually experienced imprisonment for preaching the gospel on the streets--I'm surprised that their skin was worn so thin by the rebuke of a brother--a rebuke levied against a subculture, not individuals.
Yes. At the Herald Society conference I rebuked the open-air preaching subculture. More is needed. And as I continue to read, study, and pray, if I determine in my heart and mind that I should issue additional cautions, warnings, or rebukes to the open-air preaching subculture as a group, I will. How I express my love, care, and concern for my fellow open-air preachers will not be determined by polls, popular opinions, invitations to speak or the lack thereof, promises of financial support or threats of ending support, or the future status of friendships. I love my fellow open-air preachers, but I love Jesus, His Word, and His gospel more.
If you think I enjoyed preaching the way I did at the Herald Society conference, if you think it was fun for me to preach the way I did, then you do not know me at all. The Lord broke me during the conference. He reduced me to spiritual rubble. He brought me to repentance. And then He mended my soul. He did this for others present, too. And I raise my hands, rejoice, and thank Him for it!
"Tony, who made you the conscience of the open-air preaching subculture? What gives you the right to say what you said the way you said it? Who do you think you are?
Who am I?
I am like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. That's who I am.
In my flesh, I am nobody. I am only somebody in the sense that for reasons known only to Himself, by the outworking of His supreme benevolence and sovereign grace, God the Father chose to adopt me, an unworthy sinner, as one of His beloved children through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. And for this I am eternally grateful.
In order to remain faithful to my Lord and Savior and the calling I believe He has given me, I cannot fear the unsaved on the streets. I also cannot fear you, my brothers and sisters in Christ. If speaking the truth in love (yes, in love, albeit "tough love" at times) results in some of you thinking of me as the scum of the world, the refuse of all things, then so be it. I don't want my Christian brethren to think of me that way. I really don't. But it won't stop me from doing what I believe is right and necessary. Your "well done" means little to me when compared to the desired "well done" from my Lord, which I hope to hear one day.
I love the Church. I love my Christian brethren. I love my Christian brethren who comprise the open-air preaching subculture. I love you very, very much. For the last eight years I have tried to show that love. Sometimes I fail. In all likelihood I will fail again. If in order to show that love I have to say things people don't want to hear in ways people don't like, and if it results in some of my Christian brethren seeing me as the refuse of all things, I will thank God through the disappointment, through the pain, through the tears.
"We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things." If that is the Lord's will for me, I'm okay with that.
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