Borrowing from Charles Dickens, this article could be titled “The Tale of Two Stories.” By that, I mean that the story I’m about to relate prompts two contradictory responses in me: embarrassment and embarrassment. I’ll explain how those two emotional responses, while appearing to be the same, are contradictory in a moment. But, first, the story:
On Monday of this week, a street preacher boarded a London commuter train and began preaching. Reading passages from the Old Testament, he warned his fellow commuters of God’s coming judgment. He also held out the hope of salvation, saying at one point: “Death is not the end.”
An eyewitness told The Guardian, “He was quite well spoken and calm. He said: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to talk to you about something and that something is the word of the Lord, Jesus Christ. He’s here to heal your sins. The Bible tells you that homosexuality is a sin and sex before marriage is a sin. You need to repent.'”
According to reports, “Passengers forced open the doors on a busy rush-hour train and climbed on to tracks after becoming ‘panicked’ in the carriage.”
(One wonders if the people of Nineveh reacted in a similar fashion when Jonah showed up preaching about God’s coming wrath. Actually, scratch that, one doesn’t wonder because the Bible records that the Ninevites repented of their sins and turned to God when a street preacher showed up in their town. Unlike Londoners, the ancient people of Nineveh were made of sterner and, more importantly, humbler stuff. I must add, however, there is little comparison between this London street/subway preacher and Jonah.)
Jesus told his followers to expect persecution. The Apostle Paul wrote that unbelievers would find the preaching of Christ crucified foolishness. Those truths do not justify Christians purposefully looking for extreme responses from unbelievers.
Best-case scenario, this presumably well-meaning preacher chose a poor time and place to deliver his message. Worst-case scenario, this preacher is a self-promoter simply looking for a reaction. Regardless, his actions are a cause of embarrassment for Christians.
If you’ve ever traveled via public transportation, you know that the main objective, apart from arriving at your destination quickly, is to avoid the crazies. All public transportation systems have crazies. When someone stands up and begins speaking loudly to everyone, the natural assumption is that the person is crazy; best not to make eye contact.
There is a time and a place to deliver the gospel message of Jesus Christ. A train compartment is probably not that place. No matter how well-meaning, this street preacher brought unnecessary embarrassment to the cause of Christ.
Come on, Londoners!
From the reports, the street preacher repeated boilerplate sermon points. Any level of Biblical literacy would’ve caused the commuters to simply ignore the preacher. They would’ve recognized that he was simply offering the salvation found in faith in Jesus Christ. Becoming “panicked” and climbing out of the train is embarrassing.
The fact that a street preacher snarled an early morning commute speaks to how far England has drifted from its moorings as the nation that produced men like William Wilberforce, David Livingstone, and Charles Spurgeon. The panic on that train reveals that England has become a spiritual wasteland. A little higher level of Biblical literacy on the part of the passengers would’ve prevented the panic.
Maybe, by God’s grace, the inopportune sermon will prompt reflection on the part of the train riders who panicked. Likewise, maybe, by God’s grace, the street preacher will find a better outlet than a commuter train for his gospel zeal.
In summation, I’m conflicted. The street preacher’s actions are embarrassing. The commuters’ reactions to the street preacher’s actions are also embarrassing. On the flip side, depending on which perspective I enter, I want to root for both parties. A tale of two stories.