It is popular in today's NZ Christian context to hear people demean mass-evangelism. It is not uncommon to critique this approach as flawed, an anachronism, as not appropriate as a means of sharing the gospel in these times. I have to say that I have had my own questions over these sorts of things. The last one I attended was Luis Palau late last century.
Well, as I see it, the recent Greg Laurie event should lead us first to rejoice rather than critique. Yes, we should always assess, critique and evaluate, but first let's rejoice, and keep on rejoicing even as we ponder how to do things better on behalf of our Saviour.
In the NT, aside from general appeals to rejoice always and continually (e.g. Phil 4:5; 1 Thess 5:16), there are two particular times where there is mention of partying and celebrating. The first is the glorious eschatological feast where the people of God gather together, evil defeated, suffering ended, corruption righted, and we party. We party like its 1999! Isaiah mentions this some 800 years before Christ in Isa 25:6-9:
On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast
of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine— the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death
forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people's disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken. In that day they will say, "Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation" (NIV).
I love the sound of the 'aged wine', 'the best of meats and the finest of wines'. The vision of 'he will swallow up death forever' is powerful, God, like a giant T-Rex, swallowing death, bring it on. The Empty Tomb represents his doing so. Glorious. Luke refers to this party in Luke 14, the great banquet. Revelation is all about this – what a party.
The second time a party like this mentioned is twice in Luke 15. First, in Luke 15:7 of the shepherd who joyfully celebrates after saving his lost sheep: 'I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent'; and again in Luke 15:10 in the parable of the women rejoicing over finding her lost coin: 'In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.'
God, his angels, and whatever strange and wacky creatures and beings people his dimension heaven (Check out Rev 4-7; Ezek 1), party outrageously when one person comes to Christ. Well, at the Greg Laurie event, something near 3000 lost sheep and lost coins were found. If that is so, then we should too be celebrating. This is a glorious time. Where else in NZ, in the last few decades, in one weekend, did this many turn to Christ? I am not aware of any other place in recent times. To put it into context, it is about the same number who came to Christ at Pentecost, the launch of the Church (Acts 2).
I want to pay homage to Graeme Lee, Bruce Patrick and others who gave so much to make this event happen. Similarly, hats off to Greg Laurie and his team. They put up some $200,000 of their own church's money for this. They took no money home with them. That is amazing. That is service, the koinōnia of the gospel, people partnering to share the gospel. I am stunned and blessed by them. There were thousands who poured themselves out for this event!
At a theological level, I do have some questions concerning aspects of such events. For example, I was surprised at how 'Christian' and full of Christianese the music, speaking and presentation was. I wondered if it could have been a little more seeker-friendly. I wondered whether a thirteen or so minute appeal for money at the event was appropriate on night 2. Still, it was made clear that unbelievers and visitors did not need to contribute, and things like this cost a lot. I wonder at the packaging of the gospel in entertainment, gloss, powerful music etc. That can be double-edged sword where people come to Christ not for the preaching of Christ-crucified, but the power of the experience, music, entertainment and so on. Paul himself took great care in Corinth not to play the games of the rhetoricians and Sophists, presenting Christ in a manner that obscured the message of a crucified Messiah. He brought the message clearly and unadorned to ensure that people came to Christ for the right reason (1 Cor 2:1-5).
Yet I can also hear more loudly Paul's voice from Phil 1:18 echoing, 'what counts, is that in every way, Christ is preached' and so, like him in Phil 1:18, 'I rejoice! Actually, that is what is left for me. I prefer a gospel message that speaks as much about life on earth and the gospel as the invitation of God not just to eternal life when we die, but life in service of him now. When we come to Christ we are swept up into the purposes of God to transform his world, to work for good, to restore his world, to work for reconciliation, to share the gospel in witness, word, deed, and attitude, to see a whole world transformed – to take up our crosses and follow Jesus. It is more than an after-death insurance policy, we are caught up in God's kosmission, his mission to his world. But, hey, Christ was preached – and in this, I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice, because it is a day of true miracle when so many come to Christ. I join the hosts of angels in the heavenlies, rocking and rolling. It all anticipates the great day when we will drink the best wine, converted from water by our savior, and we will eat the best food one can imagine, when he returns – maranatha, our Lord come.
So, join with me in rejoicing for the lost sheep who have come home. I pray for every convert that these converts, every one, will be swept up in the love of God and his people, and will grow to full maturity in Christ. I pray that they will find the joy of serving Christ as I have. I pray that they will stand firm to the end. Amen.