My afternoon has been pleasantly hijacked by an Instagram post of my former Pastor, Paul Scanlon.
I have said publicly many times that I respect Paul from a deep heart level – though we barely know each other – and I genuinely did before being blocked by him on Instagram for expressing a respectful question and my subsequent objection at being being ignored/mocked. I was part of his Bradford congregation between 2003 and 2011 and grew in many ways during my eight years serving there under his ministry, including two years of my life invested in his leadership academy.
However, this afternoon, I have disagreed fairly strongly with one of his Instagram posts because I believe he is wrong, not just in his opinion expressed through said post, but because of his vast influence (and responsiblity) over many believers and his attitude that has done untold damage, especially to those young in their faith.
Paul’s post is at the bottom of this blog and you can click through here to read/engage with the comments. (You can also read my friend David Robertson’s response to Scanlon via his blog HERE).
What’s the problem?
Well, if you’ll excuse the pun, it’s at least five-fold.
To communicate that “You don’t have to evangelise anyone, just love accept and serve people…”:
- Denies the apostolic office of the Evangelist. Of course, not all of us are called into that responsibility, but some of us are. Painting a caricature of evangelism as only being the awkward and lame-ass mess that it’s often histroically become (because the Church has chronically failed over centuries to be the pneumatic witness we’re called to be) is a very lazy assessment of a) where we’re really at as the Church and more importantly b) what’s required in this hour of history to move forward. It’s an attitude that fluffs the pillow of our social club mentality (that we call church) and that issues a suffocating sentence on the future church to continuing comatose. It’s an insult for those called to be Evangelists.
- It highlights the existing division in the Church by revealing the fault lines of our appalling hermeneutics. In other words, we adopt our respective ‘positions’ on issues like this based on our denominational position (and secular culture) rather than on what the Bible actually teaches. Whether relating to human sexuality, female eldership or even Jesus’ physical return to Earth, culture so often dictates our Bible-handling, and we actually allow this rather than digging into the Bible itself for ourselves – tragically, we go to man not God. Cue the gushy, mindless, cheer-leading comments from Paul’s faithful Instagram followers who clearly haven’t stopped for long enough in their day to engage their brain (or spirit) before responding and who, I’d be willing to bet, don’t have a hermeneutic at all for their position. (Related reading here).
- It reveals how small our God is. I would rather have no faith at all than follow a God – and read a Bible – that demotes me to a covenant and a walk with Jesus that’s less powerful than the men and women and children (and animals) of the New Testament. When the bold, roof-top, city-disturbing, soul-winning proclamation of the gospel is surrendered for Green Rooms, Starbucks coffee shops and seeker-sensitivity to the ‘nth degree’, we become worse than the Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses who spout demonic deception – we have the knowledge of the truth but we instead choose to embrace another form of ‘pop’ godliness, denying the only power capable of genuinely transforming lives.
- This belief about evangelism insults the Holy Ghost. That’s all.
- It also defines Church as ‘attractional’ rather than apostolic. Alan Hirsch says it much better than I could (Buy this now). Suffice to say, we’re called to take Jesus to people not attract people to church.
I agree with Paul that the hurting world in which we live do not need awkward, open air meetings with failing PAs and limp-wristed witness. But I disagree with him that this is what God means for our evangelism to be. It’s like promoting a campaign for us to quit while we’re still working out how He wants us to ‘do it’. The world needs the fire of God’s mouth – a trumpeting sword out of our mouths – that sets the prisoners free, cutting them to the heart so that they might bow the knee and birth a proclamation of their own.
There will be people reading this who will be literally laughing out loud because of my choice of language, its intensity and, even, its supposed folly. These will be the same people who ‘like’ the Instagram comments supporting Paul’s original post but who ignore – or taunt – this counter perspective.
But when Jesus splits the sky and they’re sitting in the cushioned comfort of their passive lives, others will be boldly heralding the reality of another kingdom, the same one that they sing about in their air-conditioned warehouses of cinematic worship.
I was super blessed to train, learn and lead in Paul’s church for most of my twenties but this is more than a semantic difference over the word ‘flourish’. Rather, it’s a tectonic fault line running through the entire Western Church rendering us weak and impotent.
Yeshua, please set us free into holy, soul-winning boldness in the power of Your Holy Ghost!
ps – since writing this, I have been blocked by Paul on Instagram, blacklisted as someone whose ‘heart isn’t right’ or who doesn’t respect elders.
Let me make this very clear: Paul, if the intention of writing your post was to “disrupt” (as though some kind of apostolic disrupter of the “Christians”, as you put it) it would have been a holy thing to provide context, explanation and basic courtesy to folk like me who were asking questions. As it is, you’ve discredited yourself by mocking the very people you’re wanting to ‘grow’…and all from your ivory tower of celebrity.