John the Baptist announced publically that the Kingdom of God was near. He preached repentance and proclaimed the coming of the Kingdom. When John was imprisoned, Jesus, who also announced publically at his baptism that the Kingdom was near, began his public ministry by preaching repentance and the coming of the Kingdom (see Matt. 3:1–12, Mark 1:14, 4:11). Arthur Glasser explains that Jesus was saying that the Kingdom was now accessible to those who would submit to the rule of God. When Jesus began to call disciples, he clearly indicated that involvement in the Kingdom of God would include public proclamation and evangelism.
In the Western world there is a concerted effort to force Christians to keep their faith a private matter and not to insert it into the public arena. The pressure has been mounting since the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. The Enlightenment ideal was that religion would gradually die out and reason alone would prevail. The contemporary scene reveals that religion has not died but is actually on the increase, causing major public debate because of the new pluralism.
Christian testimony has been explicitly public since its inception and has been relatively tolerated in Western societies since coming to the Western world. It is less tolerated today. This has spawned a response from many Christian leaders. For example, Lesslie Newbigin, an astute Christian thinker and leader who spent many years as a missionary and street evangelist in India, affirms that even in the West the gospel is public truth and not just a private matter. It must be included in the public arena and debate because if it is true, it needs to be articulated. He believes that the church must publically affirm the fact of the sovereignty of Christ as sole Lord and Savior. This is not a private matter; if it is true, it is true for all of society as well.
Bishop James Edward Walsh, an early Maryknoll missionary to China, said that Christianity is not a private way of salvation or merely a guide to a pious way of life apart from society. It is both the way of salvation for the world and a philosophy for the totality of life. When missionaries are sent out to preach the gospel in public places, it is good to prepare for the same explosion of resistance the early church experienced (The Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century, 5).
A. W. Tozer said that we must remember we are not public relations agents to establish good will between the world and the church; we are prophets who deliver an ultimatum. Prophets are not often appreciated.
Peter addressed the Jewish crowds after Pentecost and proclaimed the Lordship of Christ. “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36, NIV). It was a bold and courageous public witness. It was straightforward and clear. It was provocative and audacious. It was genuinely true. On that occasion it was generally well-received. It would not always be that way, as later events in the Book of Acts reveal.
It may not be that way for us either, but how will we know unless we speak publically?
Roy Stults, PhD, is the Online Workshop Coordinator and Educational Services Coordinator for The Voice of the Martyrs. He graduated from Olivet Nazarene University (BA and MA), Nazarene Theological Seminary (M.Div.), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Doctor of Missiology), and The University of Manchester (England) with a PhD (theology). A Vietnam veteran, Dr. Stults served as a missionary for 19 years and pastored U.S. churches for eight years. Prior to joining VOM, he was a Professor of Religion at Oklahoma Wesleyan University.