During the recent EPIC trip to Australia we held an event in Sydney where we opened the floor up for questions. Here are a few of the questions and answers from Australia (Encouragements and concerns from my travels; especially special objects I’ve seen; the death of Billy Graham; effective evangelism in the modern world). As this write this, I am preparing to head to England where we will be holding another similar event. Join us at GraceLife in London on March 28!
Which of the artifacts you’ve seen so far has most changed your view of church history?
I really think it was in Rome. I went to that church I was telling you about to see the arm bone of Saint Francis Xavier. Because that was one of the objects, it was just so ridiculous, I just had to see it. And so I looked at that. And I mean there’s this giant chapel, giant alter. Mounted up there is this mummified arm bone which remarkedly, has been declared by the Roman Catholic hierarchy as incorrupt. So it hasn’t seen decay. Well, you can look at it with your own eyes and see that thing’s pretty decayed. Anyways, it’s mounted up there and I studied it and I just sat there and watched people coming up and venerating it, bowing before it, all of that, and spoke to some people there. I spoke to one guy from India who, the rest of Saint Francis Xavier’s body is in India and they bring it out every few years, and you can venerate it and you know, you get a plenary indulgence if you venerate it. So, I spoke to him and just his excitement at now having seen the entire body. And, so I mean it was good for me to understand, Catholicism really hasn’t changed that much since the Reformation. I mean, it may in upper-middle-class Canada or something, or in America, but when you get to Rome and you get to the heart of Catholicism, you can see what drove Luther mad, you can see what drove the reformers mad.
Then I turned around, and behind me was this amazing giant sculpture. And it was Mary throwing people into hell. I mean you could see that, either Mary or the church, and then she was throwing people down into hell. And I thought, who are those people? What’s going on there? And I went up really close. I had to actually turn a light on and shine it, and you could see these people were falling into hell, and there were books falling with them. And I looked really closely and on the spine of one book, it said Luther, and on the spine of the other book, it said, Calvin. And so here in the headquarter church of the Jesuit order is this giant statue of Mary throwing Luther and Calvin into hell. And, I mean, it’s still there, it’s still … And right beside it, you go past the statue, right beside it, there’s a little plaque saying that if you go into this chapel right here, you’ll receive partial, no, plenary indulgence for the past 300 days. All sins committed in the last 300 days. And so here you’ve got the reformers being thrown into hell by Mary, and then here is an indulgence that can still be yours. So, I think it just changed me in the sense of … or maybe it was more reaffirmation. Like, the Reformation really does matter. The Reformation really did change things, but it didn’t change the Catholic church, right. Their little motto is ‘Semper eadem’, always the same. And you could see that very much, and this one little statue is very helpful for me to see, so.
What has impressed you most from the churches you’ve attended throughout the world – perhaps, what encouraged you the most, on the flip side, what concerned you the most?
I think I’m encouraged by just finding churches that are simply preaching the Gospel. That haven’t wavered, haven’t gotten into this feel-good kind of Gospel, haven’t gone into the prosperity Gospel. They’re just plugging away. And, often those aren’t the biggest churches in town. Often they’re not the most prosperous churches in town, but just people who are simply going about the hard work of preaching the Gospel and seeing those very, very slow gains. Just reading about, over the last few weeks, I’ve been just drowning myself in the church history of Australia and New Zealand, and just seeing … I mean, these are examples, right, of very slow, patient ministry. But then baring long fruit, right. Just today, Justin Moffatt was showing us the chart of the church plants across Australia that came from that original Saint Philips church. And it was remarkable to see, like that was very hard gain. But it was through preaching the Gospel and not wavering from it, and those churches have really lasted. Whereas, I’ve seen church plant movements spring up in Toronto, and be gone in five years, because they weren’t preaching the Gospel, and so they never laid a solid foundation.
On the flip side, I guess, would just be, what concerns me would be, people who are getting into really what always comes down to pragmatism, right. What will draw people in? What will impress people? What will make us seem good in the eyes of the culture around us, and then just doing those things? And then they’re constantly flip-flopping, you know, this thing’s cool, so we’re doing this, but now that’s out and this thing’s cool, and we’re doing that and I think there’s such value in the Christian life and the Christian church just plugging away. Slogging it out, year after year, Sunday after Sunday, preaching the Gospel. That doesn’t mean you have to be, you know, stuffy. It doesn’t mean you have to be boring, it just means you’ve got to be preaching the Gospel and trusting, really trusting that the Lord works. And He does, inevitably, He does. But, slow, slow gains very often.
[With the death of Billy Graham marking the end of an era of a certain style of evangelism] What is going to be effective in reaching an unchurched culture in the future?
Yes, so, we were in a plane all night. Landed this morning and both our phones just like blew up with news of Billy Graham’s death, so. Yes, it was strange to be so far, like hours removed from that. Yes, so I do think he is the end of an era. An era, this old tent revival style evangelism, you know. And it’s almost impossible to imagine somebody going to London or going to Sydney or going to Toronto, as he did, and getting tens of thousands of people, night after night, to come and hear Gospel presentations. It’s just, as far as I can tell, that era is done. And, you’re right, he definitely played on this general knowledge of Christianity and general sense of Christian principles in society at the time.
More and more, the society around us is tearing those things down and wanting nothing to do with them. I mean really going back through the history of nations and through the constitutions of nations, really trying to tear out the Christian roots, which is an absurd thing, but it really seems to be what’s happening now.
So, I think the future of evangelism is probably not filling stadiums with people and preaching to tens or hundreds of thousands at a time, but it’s you and me going out and speaking to people we meet along the way. One of the things I enjoy about Sydney, you know last time I was here, and here again, it’s much like Toronto, in that it’s massively multi-cultural, right. Like the whole world is coming here. Toronto, the most multi-cultural city in the world, and I think Auckland number two and Sydney’s right up there as well. I mean, the whole world is coming here. So we have the opportunity in cities, in these world cities to engage with people who are totally different from us. We can’t take things for granted, right. In Toronto, we can talk to people who have never heard about Jesus.
I was asked to speak at my son’s class, he goes to a public school. He goes to a public school and one of his teachers is, you know, Christian-ish, and asked me to come in and just speak about being a pastor. And so I went and I said the name Jesus, and the whole class just kind of nervously giggled. Like, they don’t know anything about Jesus, but they know he’s off limits. And I talked about praying and they just sort of again, they couldn’t believe that somebody would actually pray to Jesus. Like, not one of my kids’ friends is a churchgoer. They just … it’s a secular world.
So when we reach out to people, we’re not going to get them into stadiums. We’ve got to just reach out to them one by one and just start at the very basics. But, in some ways, I think that’s easier than the challenge of, you know, Bible-belt America, where you’ve got to tear stuff down before you can build it back up. You’ve got to undo all this bad theology before you can teach them true theology. People don’t know anything now. And in some ways, that’s almost an easier starting point.