–August of 1996
Let The Lions Defend Themselves
The story is told of a circus train which derailed while passing through the mountainous terrain of West Virginia. As locals gathered to observe the situation, much attention was given to the car which contained the circus lions. These massive beasts, already disturbed by the accident, were being further aggravated by neighboring dogs which were barking snapping at them through the heavy iron bars. The frustrated circus owner, concerned for the welfare of his prized animals, began to cry out, “What can we do to protect the lions?” An amused farmer called back with this bit of practical advice: “Why, mister, you don’t need to protect lions! Just turn them loose, and they’ll protect themselves!”
This story reminds us of the inherent power of the Gospel message, a power that it contains in and of itself. The Gospel needs only an outlet, a channel, someone to “open the door and let it out” in order to demonstrate its native dynamic.
Now to give the full picture, it is admitted that the Christian minister sometimes must adopt a defensive posture. In a society oriented toward doubt and skepticism, it is necessary to employ reason and logic to “protect” Christianity from the “barking dogs of dissent” Whose howls of criticism often dominate the intellectual marketplace. This is the task of apologetics, and it involves the responsibility of proving or defending the Good News. Paul himself declared that he was “set for the defense of the gospel.” Furthermore, Peter admonished his readers to be prepared to defend their faith before those who would inquire about the hope we have in Christ (I Pet. 3:15).
A second aspect of the Christian minister’s responsibility in relationship to the Gospel is that of persuading. Here again Paul acknowledged, “Knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” King Agrippa certainly felt the force of the apostle’s persuasive powers for he candidly admitted, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” This concession, however, didn’t satisfy Paul, and he promptly increased pressure upon Agrippa to be “altogether” persuaded. There certainly is a time and place for the preacher of the Gospel, under divine direction, to bring his hearers tactfully—yet firmly—to a crisis, to a point of decision.
However, to maintain a balanced view of the Great Commission, remember that the Gospel had been best advanced—not by proving or persuading—but simply by proclaiming. This basic methodology is often neglected because it is humbling; it accents the message, not the messenger. It does not depend upon “enticing words of man’s wisdom” but simply upon the Holy Spirit’s power. When angels appeared to astonished shepherds in Bethlehem, they didn’t unfold complex arguments to prove the birth of the Messiah; nor did they come with a high-pressure sales technique to convince their hearers to worship the newborn King. They simply proclaimed the birth of the Saviour and let the wonder and mystique of their message do its own work. The world has not been the same since that day.
So, the next time you are tempted to be discouraged by your inabilities or your want of talent, take heart. The power of the Gospel message does not lie within ourselves; it is inherent in the message itself. The Gospel only needs a channel, someone to open the door and release it. The lion will defend itself.