Is Healing on the Streets (HOTS) Pseudo Evangelism?
Hi everyone hope you’re well. I was having a chat to a friend the other day and he mentioned that the position of senior pastor had become available at his church (Vineyard, beach campus). He went on to say that it was looking likely that the roll will be filled by a pastor from Northern Ireland, who is very committed to going into the community to reach people. As a person who has the same desire, I’m always interested to find out about and learn from other evangelistic ministries.
My friend went on to say that about six thousand people had supposedly come to Christ through the community outreach that was happening through the church he is a part of in Ireland. Without going into the subject of regeneration with my friend at the time, I thought at the very least they must be incredibly active regarding outreach. In light of all this I thought I had better look into it more since a similar ministry will probably be strongly encouraged in Christchurch in the near future.
I learnt that the church is Causeway Coast Vineyard in Northern Ireland and the community outreach that was birthed from the church in 2005 was called Healing on the Streets (HOTS). I was familiar with this ministry and have met a few Christians on a local level who were involved with HOTS in Christchurch, I had even observed the ministry operating several times and chatted to those involved to better understand their approach in reaching people. Those I talked to at the time were very sincere and compassionate, yet I came away with a real concern that it was not a Gospel centered ministry, more of a pseudo evangelistic approach that focused on offering people a positive spiritual stepping stone towards Jesus, ie. an encounter of the Holy Spirit, rather than focusing on the actual challenge in evangelism of communicating the Gospel in love (of course this may not be true of all involved).
I went on to look up the website for HOTS, as well as looking into the ministry of Causeway Coast Vineyard to see if I could find a clear biblical expression of the Gospel. Sadly, I found little if anything to do with the Gospel in any material (spoken or written) in connection with the ministry of HOTS, nor did I find any regarding outreach at Causeway.
I was impressed by the passion and vision the leaders of these ministries had to instill a mindset in people to actually go into their community, the target was clearly to reach the lost by more than inviting them to a great event in a building. Regarding any type of Gospel definition there was none but rather terms such as “bringing the Kingdom”, “connecting with people” and “creating stepping stones to Jesus” as well as very motivating messages to be “spiritually authentic”, rather than Gospel related doctrine to teach and equip. Keep in mind that the dictionary defines evangelism as “telling the Gospel message”, therefore how can anyone claim or support these ministries as truly evangelistic when it is obviously not their aim to be so. I found a great article outlining these concerns in light of scripture, that I believe will be very helpful to all: you can read it here.
The Dividing Line
Sadly some reading this or the article mentioned above will miss the real issue, supposing I have a theological point of difference with those who believe the gifts of the Holy Spirit are operational today. In answer to this: ‘Tell Me’ has individuals who believe in the operation of the spiritual gifts and others who are cessational, those on both sides of the spectrum are a part of ‘Tell Me’, it is important to keep in mind that the working of the Spirit along these lines is a secondary issue with regards to evangelism. The dividing line lies at the issue of whether a person will be faithful to share the Gospel or not. I believe ministries such as Causeways “Healing on the Streets”, Bethel Reddings “Treasure Hunting” and the Father’s heart “Father’s love letter” as well as the rising star of “evangelism” in many circles… Todd White, are all examples of pseudo evangelism, the reason being is that a close inspection of their web sites, sermons and youtube clips will reveal what seems to be a deliberate neglect of the evangel (good news) that makes evangelism… Evangelistic! (that said, I am open to correction on this point, if anyone can find evidence to the contrary… I’m tempted to offer a large reward… at least get in touch with “Tell Me” and we can discuss it).
Yet all of these ministries would claim to have an evangelistic vision/practice and are spoken about as evangelism by many Pastors and Elders across Christchurch. A perfect example of a neglect of the Biblical Gospel is the “Father’s love letter” used in outreach as a tract by Fathers heart Ministry. The letter is not just misleading but amounts to falsehood. The reason for this is not just the obvious cherry picking of verses about God’s love and mercy (a half truth presented as the whole truth becomes an untruth), but also a failure to apply scripture to its correct context. Many of the scripture verses used are promises to those in a right relationship with God, yet are applied to those outside of Christ, this is not the Gospel.
Rattling the Keys
A way to illustrate the flawed reasoning behind the practice of these ministries is this. Imagine I offered a person a set of keys. Upon noticing they were a little confused by the offer, I rattled them with a big smile on my face hoping they would surmise that the keys are desirable because of my attitude towards them.
How different would it be if I approached someone in a dark cell on death row… what would their reaction be, hearing only a faint rattle of the same set of keys?. Being convinced of a desperate need for the keys, changes a person’s attitude from confusion to true appreciation!
The ministries mentioned above are experts at rattling the keys (joyfully emphasizing that Jesus is wonderful) while neglecting the context that magnifies His glory the most. This is both saddening and ironic, saddening because removing grace from its context will always rob Jesus of glorification and as a result sinners are robbed of a clear vision of that glory and ironic because God’s goodness and glory is supposedly the focus of such ministries!
As an example, our team has met individuals in the community, who having being reached by such pseudo evangelists were left bewildered. A teenager, that a member of our team shared the Gospel with, told us that she had previously been approached by some members of Harmony Church who were out “treasure hunting”. Because she had no religious background and had been studying philosophy, she had wanted to understand them, yet she told us that they left her with no clear and decisive reason as to why it was imperative to trust in Jesus. After a friend had discussed the Gospel with her for well over half an hour she gladly received a bible and was truly grateful that someone had made sense of the whole thing for her. Christ in context made all the difference to her and although she left understanding “the wrath of God remained upon her”, she also left with an appreciation of grace and an understanding of the beauty and worth of Jesus (as well as a motivation to repent and believe).
Although Gospel compromise like I have mentioned seems to be growing, It is also important to acknowledge that some do swing the pendulum too far the other way in an attempt to correct imbalance, minimizing the amazing grace of God. ‘Tell Me’ will not support anyone who would distort the Gospel with regards to omitting God’s love and grace which is undeniably the centrepiece of the Gospel.
The Root of Compromise in Evangelism
In the rest of this article I will attempt to hone in on the overarching reason why so many can claim to be on the cutting edge of “evangelism” and yet omit the very message which the Bible declares “is the power of God unto salvation”. I believe the root of most of the Gospel compromise today is a practical rejection of God’s sovereignty in salvation. What I mean by this is that God orders everything, rules everything. Therefore He is the sole agent to draw people to Himself and ultimately it is He alone who saves them. If salvation were dependent on the sinners initiative, no one would ever be saved. When a person honestly submits to these facts they will be liberated to serve God in freedom, no longer tempted to depend upon the arm of flesh, ie. clever schemes, the ability to sell Jesus, nor upon subtle attempts to tweak the Gospel.
In relation to this fact J.I.Packer wrote:
“If we forget that it is God’s prerogative to give results when the gospel is preached, we shall start to think that it is our responsibility to secure them. If we forget that only God can give faith, we shall start to think that the making of converts depends, in the last analysis, not on God but on us, and that the decisive factor is the way in which we evangelize. This line of thought, consistently followed through, will lead us far astray”.
I believe this quote sums up the downward spiral any ministry will take when sovereignty is marginalised.
When a person believes salvation primarily depends upon them they open themselves up to a world of unnecessary temptation. Firstly the fear of doing/saying something wrong that may result in a person rejecting Jesus and being dammed. People under this false pressure often walk on eggshells with regards to evangelizing the lost and may even take offence at those who take a stand to boldly proclaim the Gospel. This is a very real yet false burden that many christians carry and are almost totally debilitated by. The result of this is to do practically nothing with regards to evangelism, except maybe inviting people to church, then the leadership can be lumped with this problem rather than them.
Others that believe that salvation depends upon them, rather than doing nothing, do whatever it takes. After all, if there are no higher stakes than the salvation of souls, many reason that it’s justifiable to do whatever it takes and ask questions later! Basic human reasoning like this combined with a low view of the authority of scripture leads the individual to subconsciously critique the Gospel in a worldly sense, omitting truth that may be deemed confrontational or unpalatable and focusing only upon that which will move the will in a positive sense, ie; the fact that Jesus died for the world, the benefits of becoming a Christian (peace joy), as well as experiences of the Spirit, meeting people’s temporal needs, healing and so on.
The context of Christ’s cross work which is absolutely vital to both the glorification and appreciation of God’s grace is often first to be omitted ie: the sinfulness of sin, law, the holiness and justice of God, God’s anger and wrath towards sin and sinners, hell, penal substitution (by the cross, Christ stood in our law place and judicially bore the judgment and wrath sinners deserve in hell). Those who do this often justify their practice with phrases like “You don’t need to talk about sin, because people already know they are sinners” or “it’s the Spirit’s job to convict people not ours.” While it is true that only the Spirit of God can bring conviction or revelation of the Gospel to the heart, it is nonetheless our job to bring the Gospel to bear upon the mind. Justifying the omittance of the Gospel (or any relevant Gospel truth no matter how unpalatable) based upon the fact that it is God’s job to bring ultimate revelation, leaves an open door to omit all Gospel truth. This includes God’s love and forgiveness, after all the argument of “it’s the Spirit’s job” can be applied to revelation/conviction of God’s grace as well as man’s sin.
Regarding the gross compromise of omitting the Gospel in evangelism, some members within a congregation will struggle with a nagging conscience. Yet often even Church leaders will unwittingly cater to solidifying this compromise in their congregations because of a failure to teach and model confidence in God’s sovereignty themselves. Once compromise regarding sovereignty is embraced and justified by the leadership of a church, compromise becomes established and even defended as a part of the culture and well being of a church, at this point an attempt at reform by a lay person, no matter how scriptural will look like a tiny mite pushing against a world of granite!
Elders and pastors who seek reform within their churches will still find a very challenging task upon their hands. I have had many years involvement in charismatic churches, often involved at a leadership level. Based on what I have experienced, most pastors and elders assume that the majority of their people have both orthodox and historical beliefs regarding the doctrine of the Gospel. It is because of what is often mere assumption, erroneous views about both the Gospel and the task of evangelism prosper and spread like gangrene. Therefore a simple message from the pulpit will not correct a congregations ingrained inconsistencies, after all if bad theology/practice has been allowed to grow deep roots, then it is unlikely that they will be easily or quickly removed from people’s thinking and actions! Unless leaders are both deliberate and willing to persevere through much potential push back, a work of reform and restoration of the Gospel in evangelism is highly unlikely.
This brings me to an important question, should pastors and elders go to the members of their congregation involved in the ministries I have mentioned, alerting and correcting, on an individual level? Is it enough to be concerned, yet do nothing on a practical level to correct the errors of pseudo evangelism? Surely a shepherd who has the responsibility to lead and protect the sheep will be the first to get his hands dirty if a sheep falls into a bog… pseudo evangelism is a bog within the church! Yet many leaders within churches today not only fail to warn the sheep about pseudo evangelism but promote it as if it’s the cutting edge of outreach in their church. Because of this breakdown, it is often pastors and elders who play a major role in making unfaithfulness in evangelism normative.
Paul declared “I am not ashamed of the Gospel” and gave clear and practical evidence of this by the fact that he shared the Gospel in the face of great difficulties and personal bodily danger. In contrast these ministries say much about their attitude to the Gospel by failing to share it with others, you could say their silence speaks volumes. It must be shouted from the roof tops that omitting the Gospel in outreach is a failure to love people in the primary and most practical way and is therefore dishonoring to them. We must also understand that putting the pursuit of signs and wonders in the place of the glorious Gospel is a total rejection of God’s ordained message and method and is therefore dishonoring to God.
What we are seeing is not just a classic case of the cart before the horse but rather the horse (Gospel) is locked up in the barn (church), while the cart (signs and wonders) is often haphazardly thrust forth in its place! This is tragic and surely must be corrected, yet few are saying or doing anything about it.
If you know leaders or lay people who promote or are involved in these ministries, please consider going to them in love and alerting them of these truths (take them out for coffee). You can be a part of Reformation by this simple yet courageous act. Remembering to do so armed with scripture, soaked in much prayer and love, and keeping a single eye upon the glory of God.
Lastly Packer suggests a number of questions we should ask about every new form of ministry:
“Is this way of presenting Christ calculated to convey to people the doctrine of the gospel, and not just part of it?” “Is it going to clarify the meaning of the message, or to leave it enigmatic and obscure?” “Is this way of presenting Christ calculated to convey to people the application of the gospel?….. Will it, for instance, leave people unaware that they have any immediate obligation to respond to Christ at all? Is it presented in a manner that is appropriately serious? Is it calculated to make people feel that they are indeed facing a matter of life and death?….. Will it help them to realize that it is a fearful thing to fall into His hands? Or is this way of presenting Christ so light and casual and cosy and jolly as to make the hearers feel that the gospel is a matter of no consequence…..?”
We hope this was a blessing to you and please feel free to contact us if you would like to discuss this matter further.
May the Lamb of God receive the reward of his suffering as we seek to serve Him!