Lessons On Street Preaching (2 of 5)


In our previous lesson we traced street preaching through the Old and New Testaments. There are those who say that preaching in the streets was good for Biblical times, but not for today. In this chapter we will do a historical study of open air preaching and its effectiveness throughout Church history, from the time of the apostles to the present. STREET PREACHING has brought about some of the greatest REVIVALS in Church history, and STREET PREACHING WILL BE FOUND TO BE THE BEST WAY TO GET THE GOSPEL TO THE MOST PEOPLE IN THE LEAST TIME AT THE LEAST EXPENSE. As we detailed in our "Doctrine of street preaching lesson," the subject of preaching is to be differentiated from that of "witnessing." The preaching spoken of throughout this history is best defined by Christ himself in Matthew 10:27: things heard and proclaimed from the housetops.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon: "It would be very easy to prove that revivals of religion have usually been accompanied, if not caused, by a considerable amount of preaching out of doors, or in unusual places."

STREET PREACHING has spawned major movements and Protestant denominations in the last 2000 years. Time and space will not permit us to give more than a few highlights in this format, but hopefully this information will enlighten those with eyes to see, the power and effectiveness of this bold Biblical, and "consistent with the message" approach (Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:18).

The Apostles spread Christianity throughout the Roman Empire through street preaching, but soon the early church began to see persecution by the Roman Empire. Since public expression of faith in Jesus resulted in death, the Church went underground. When Constantine became emperor Christianity became the official state religion, and there was a decrease in zeal to spread the faith. Then the absolute power that corrupts absolutely corrupted the Church, and it became more of a political organization, losing sight of the self-sacrificing discipleship of the New Testament.

Some attempted to stay on the pure path and questioned the new directions of the "Church," challenging papal authority, infant baptism, and other unbiblical doctrines. These groups however were suppressed by those in authority, and were persecuted by the Bishop of Rome and his followers through the centuries. This faithful line, known by various names (Paulicans, Bogomiles, Cathari, Montanists, Donatists and Albigenses. See "Trail of Blood" by J. M. Carroll) is traced back to Apostolic times, and are no doubt responsible for a continuation of the narrow path.

Because of intense persecution, public proclamation of the Word of God was virtually non-existent, but as time went on some became very vocal about their displeasure with the papacy. This came from groups within the Catholic Church upset at its growing worldliness, which became "heretics" whose exhortations got them excommunicated.

Here are just a few of the history-changing STREET PREACHERS of the last 20 centuries:



Though we as Protestants now carry the truest form of Biblical faith and understanding concerning GOD and His kingdom, it is noteworthy to see that even within the Catholic church public proclamentation of faith took place and is remembered.

The Franciscan Order in the Catholic Church was founded by Francis of Assisi (1182-1226). Francis was son of a wealthy cloth merchant, and spent his youth in pleasure and frolicking until an illness while he was a prisoner of war caused him to reflect on eternity. He later took seriously the commands of Christ to His disciples to sell all and give to the poor, which Francis and his followers did, and received permission from the Pope for their order and "to preach repentance everywhere." According to the Catholic Encyclopedia (1909) Francis "usually preached out of doors, in the market-places, from church steps, from the walls of castle courtyards."  FRANCIS OF ASSISI WAS A STREET PREACHER!

Many of the early Franciscan preachers were so popular that the churches were not big enough to hold the throngs that came to hear them, so they were forced to preach outside the church in the open air to accommodate the crowds. Some of such popular preachers were Berthold of Regensberg (1220-1272), Anthiony of Padua (1195-1231), and Bernardino of Siena (1380-1444). The fearlessness of these Franciscan friars can be seen in this account of some early Franciscan missionaries to Spain:

"Six brothers were sent to Arab Spain. At first they were politely received, but in Seville they entered a mosque and preached against the Koran.... They were hauled out, beaten, and dragged before the emir. They defied him and reviled Mohammed, that wicked slave of the devil. They were then taken to the top of a tower, whence they shouted down that Mohammed was an imposter. Jailed, they tried to convert the jailer and the other prisoners. Since the authorities could do nothing with them, the missioners were sent to Morocco, where, being still defiant, they were tortured and beheaded...."

Another shining light from the followers of Francis was Raymund Lully (or Ramon Lull, or Raymundus Lullus, 1232-1315). He had a burden to preach to Muslims on their own turf: he wanted to travel to North Africa and evangelize in the streets of a Mohammedan town. His dream came true when he was in his sixties, when he traveled to Bugia in North Africa and "found his way to a public place, stood up boldly, and proclaimed in the Arabic language that Christianity was the only true faith." He was promptly arrested and deported. He returned, however, when he was in his eighties, and "came forth into the open market and presented himself to the people as the same man whom they had once expelled from their town. ... Lull stood before them and threatened them with divine wrath if they still persisted in their errors." This time Raymund Lully was stoned to death by the mob. He died a martyr, preaching in the streets of a Muslim town, in 1315.

The Dominicans were founded by Dominic (1170-1221), who traveled with Diego and journeyed from town to town conducting open air debates. Some Dominican preachers were again so popular that they had to preach outside the church to accommodate the crowds that came to hear them. Such a Dominican preacher was Vincent Ferrer (1350-1419).

Before Luther and the Protestant Reformation came along, the groundwork for their success was laid by several groups that rose within the Catholic Church and questioned papal authority to the point of getting excommunicated. Three such groups arose in France in the 12th century, all started by STREET PREACHERS.


The Henricians were started by Henry of Lausanne (died 1148), the Petrobrussians by Peter de Bruys (died 1126). They worked together denouncing Romanist doctrines like infant baptism and transubstantiation (both were eventually condemned as heretics and martyred.). They also rejected Church buildings, and "preached on the streets and in the open places."  THE HENRICIANS AND PETROBRUSIANS WERE STREET PREACHERS!


The Waldenses were started by Peter Waldo, a wealthy merchant in Lyons, France in the 12th century. One day he asked a theologian what he should do to gain eternal life. He was answered with the words of Jesus to the rich young ruler, to sell his possessions, give the money to the poor, and follow Christ. Waldo took this literally, selling his business, giving away his wealth. Together with his followers, they traveled by twos, preaching in the streets, reading passages of Scripture which they translated themselves into the common language. According to Foxe's Book of Martyers the Inquisition was originally launched against the Waldenses. THE WALDENSES WERE STREET PREACHERS!


Now we come to John Wycliffe (1330-1384), "the morningstar of the Reformation." Wycliffe was the first to translate the Bible into the English language (from the Vulgate), and the Wycliffe Bible Translators take their name from him. His followers were called Lollards, and traveled throughout England preaching in the streets and marketplaces against the errors of Popery. THE LOLLARDS WERE STREET PREACHERS!


The early Protestant reformers necessarily had to be outdoor preachers, since, as Spurgeon points out, the churches were in the hands of the papacy. William Farel (1489-1565), who paved the way for John Calvin to come to Switzerland, and has been called "the pioneer of Protestantism in Western Switzerland," was a STREET PREACHER. "He turned every stump and stone into a pulpit, every house, every street, and market-place into a church."

The Presbyterian Church was founded in Scotland by John Knox (1513-1572), who started out as a bodyguard for a STREET PREACHER named George Wishart. After Wishart was martyred in 1546, Knox took over as leader of the reformation. Wishart was not allowed to preach in the churches and so preached in the market-places and fields. John Knox   accompanied him on his preaching tours, sword in hand, to protect him from violence." THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH WAS STARTED BY STREET PREACHERS!

Later, when the Church of England was established in Scotland,  Protestant preachers were banned from their pulpits and became field preachers, proclaiming their message in the open air. Some of these Scottish Presbyterian field preachers included Richard Cameron (1648-1680) and Donald Cargill (1619-1681).


After the Reformation other great movements were started by STREET PREACHERS.   The Methodist Church, co-founded by George Whitefield (1714-1770) and John Wesley (1703-1791) is an example of this period. These two were Anglicans, but being banned from speaking in churches since they were not "licensed," they took to FIELD PREACHING, boldly proclaiming GOD'S WORD to large crowds in streets and markets. Whitefield spoke to estimated crowds of up to 20,000 people in the open air. They traveled throughout England and the American colonies, and were instrumental in the GREAT AWAKENING, a mighty revival that swept the colonies in the eighteenth century.  THE METHODIST CHURCH WAS STARTED BY STREET PREACHERS!

George Whitefield stated:   "I believe I never was more acceptable to my Master than when I was standing to teach those hearers in the open fields." ... "I now preach to ten times more people than I should, if had been confined to the Churches."

Also from John Wesley: "I am well assured that I did far more good to my Lincolnshire parishioners by preaching three days on my father's tomb than I did by preaching three years in his pulpit." ... "To this day field preaching is a cross to me, but I know my commission and see no other way of  preaching the gospel to every creature".

A friend of Whitefield and Wesley's started a great revival in Wales called the Welsh Revival. His name was Howell Harris, and is another example of a man known to be a FIELD PREACHER.

Another great Methodist outdoor preacher at this time was Gideon Ouseley (1762-1839). He traveled on horseback and preached several times a day, without dismounting, in streets, fairs and markets throughout Ireland. Methodists were also instrumental in America's second Great Awakening, typified by outdoor Camp Meetings, started in 1800 by James Mcready, and also featuring the preaching of Peter Cartwright (1785-1872) and Lorenzo Dow (1777-1834).

A great Baptist revival in Scotland was the result of the FIELD PREACHING of Robert (1764-1842) and James (1768-1851) Haldane and Rowland Hill (one of the founders of the Religious Tract Society, and an early advocate of vaccination). They were Anglicans, but converted to Baptists when the established Church forbade their field preaching. Robert and James left their business and sold their estate to devote their time to preaching the Gospel.


The first modern Protestant missionary society was started by William Carey (1761-1834), the first missionary to India. Carey had little education, but taught himself science and languages. He translated the Bible into 11 languages. He went to India and started by preaching to large crowds that gathered in the streets of the brothel district. One of his converts was a young British sailor named Robert Flockhart (1778-1857), who went back to the British Isles and preached in the streets of Edinburgh for 43 years until his death. One of Carey's associates, Mr. Chamberlain would go to the Ganges river where Hindus gathered, and start an argument with one of the Brahmins. When the argument drew a crowd, he would preach to the assembled Hindus. THE MODERN MISSIONS MOVEMENT WAS STARTED BY STREET PREACHERS!

Other famous preachers started their ministries by preaching in the streets, such as C.H. Spurgeon, D.L. Moody, and Billy Graham. Spurgeon began preaching in the streets of London at the age of 16, which he continued until he became pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle at 19.

Dwight L. Moody (1837-1899) was a well known preacher in the Chicago area. The Moody Bible Institute bears his name. "One of his regular practices in the late sixties was to exhort the passersby in the evenings from the steps of the court house. Often these impromptu gathering drew as many hecklers as supporters."  MOODY WAS A STREET PREACHER!

It is well known that The Salvation Army started out doing a lot of street preaching.

Coming to Modern Times there is a remnant today of those who still carry on the mission of STREET PREACHING. A particular aspect of open air preaching is utilization of the Free Speech Platforms on College and University Campuses. Cal State Berkeley was ablaze with Bible preaching in the 1960s by Hubert Lindsey (also known as "Holy Hubert" to those turbulent times). Today others follow in his footsteps, such as Jed Smock, preaching as much as 5 hours a day 5 days a week since 1975 on campuses all over the U.S. Jed has inspired others to do the same, such as his wife Cindy, as well as Paul Stamm and Tom Carlisle. Others in Jed's circle are Max Lynch and Sister Pat and Jim Gillis.

Christian Brothers Church held forth His Word through the 60's, 70's and 80's. Today we continue as Cornerstone Ministries to proclaim His Word in Southern California and even across the country as needs become apparent. We are often found working together with other west coast ministries, such as Ruben Israel's Bible Believers, like-minded Brothers in the San Francisco area, and Jim Webber's fellowship in Oregon. We also are very active in "event" PREACHING, targeting things like the annual Academy Awards, EMMY Awards, sporting events, cult and occult gatherings, and other miscellaneous opportunities for outreach and influence.

A few Bible Colleges train STREET PREACHERS, such as Peter Ruckman's Pensacola Bible Institute in Florida, and Jim Vineyard's Oklahoma Baptist College in Oklahoma City.  Bob Gray, pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida also promotes public preaching.

In addition to those we have mentioned, we are sure God's judgment will reveal many untold stories of men who have been faithful to this most obvious work. Though little recognition and support has been historically given to such men, the Father will accord them their true glory and reward.

Within this paper we have only scratched the surface concerning the impact that STREET PREACHERS have had on the world. This information is often neglected in today's churches, Christian bookstores, seminars, etc. It is our hope that by remembering and publicizing this history   hearts and minds will be inspired to see the timelessness and power of this simple approach. STREET PREACHING has been the most powerful tool for reaching the world, not only throughout Biblical times, but also in every age of history. We believe that in today's critical times the Church of Jesus Christ needs now more than ever to revive the proven ministry of STREET PREACHING.

As we have outlined in our doctrinal treatment of this subject, STREET PREACHING is the most obvious approach in consideration of the subject matter (heaven, hell, etc.), the exhortation and command of Christ. Examples of this approach are found from Genesis to Revelation, and the reality of its practice is clearly seen throughout history. The large, expensive and bureaucratic methods of today, targeting only those who will come to hear, are unBiblical, ineffective, and ill-informed. If half the time, money, and energy were devoted to the promotion of preaching as exampled through this history and the Word of our Father GOD, the realities of the Bible would not only reach more ears, but would have untold impact on even society itself.

As Charles Spurgeon testified: "No sort of defense is needed for preaching out of doors, but it would need very potent arguments to prove that a man had done his duty who has never preached beyond the walls of his meeting-house. A defense is required for services within buildings than for worship outside of them."

Bibliography: New Catholic Encyclopedia; Poinsenet, Saint Dominic; Brady, Saint Dominic; The Catholic Encyclopedia; Butler's Lives of the Saints; The New Schaff-Herzog Religious Encyclopedia; Huber, St. Anthony of Padua; Bishop, St. Francis of Assisi; Zwemer, Raymund Lull; Peers, Ramon Lull; Howell, S. Bernardino of Siena; Eerdman's Handbook to the History of Christianity; Schaff, History of the Christian Church; Collier's Encyclopedia; Farnum, St. Anthony of Padua; Allies, Three Catholic Reformers of the Fifteenth Century; Latourette, A History of the Expansion of Christianity; McClintock & Strong, Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature; The Encyclopedia of World Methodism; New Columbia Encyclopedia; The Westminister Dictionary of Church History; Christian, A History of The Baptists of The United States; Torbet, A History of The Baptists; Moyer, Who Was Who In Church History; The Encyclopedia of The Lutheran Church; Findlay, Dwight L. Moody; The Journal of John Wesley; The Journals of George Whitefield; Miller, William Carey; Spurgeon, Lectures To My Students; The Autobiography of Robert Flockhart; Harrison, Giants of The Missionary Trail; Newman, A Manual of Church History. (Emphasis has been added to quotations) 

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