–October of 2005
Bearding the Lion in His Own Den
Since 9/11, President Bush has developed a doctrine on terrorism that seeks to find, confront and destroy the terrorist in the very land that breeds him and in the very cave that hides him. The Apostle Paul had a similar doctrine for evangelism. He believed in taking the battle to the strongholds of sin. Like a shrewd general, Paul targeted Ephesus, Thessalonica and Corinth — large population centers, wealthy in commerce and flourishing with pagan gods — with the gospel. He confronted pagan scholars, cutthroat business leaders, and demon-possessed sorcerers with unflinching confidence that the power of grace would win the day. He was determined to press the claims of the gospel all the way to Rome. The gospel must be sounded in the ears of Caesar!
This common approach shared by President Bush and the Apostle Paul comes from the belief that you have to beard the lion in his own den. Early Wesleyans shared this belief. John Wesley saw the English people languishing under the tyranny of sin, and took the gospel to the coalmines and open fields. The Salvation Army marched into the jaws of Hell itself to save the most degenerate and neglected among society. American circuit riders followed the settlers by boat and on horseback to confront sin and convert the sinner. The Methodist come-outers of the late 19th century left a staid mother and started hundreds of storefront missions, all for the purpose of getting the gospel to those who needed it most. Even the first Bible colleges, with but few exceptions, were located in the heart of our greatest cities so that their students could confront the lost masses with the gospel message. To put it plainly, the Church has always taken the offensive to reach lost souls wherever they are found.
It seems that the contemporary church has lost this philosophy. America’s population is increasingly more urban, but the Church is becoming more and more suburban or rural. The great urban centers of America are ripe for the gospel, but the Church is leaving them untouched. Why? Have we lost confidence in the power of the gospel? Have classism, status-consciousness and racism paralyzed the Church? Have we silenced our consciences by telling ourselves that we give heavily to foreign missions? Are we so out of touch that we can’t see the rise of a new frontier in missions?
Not everyone has missed the great open door. Robert Lufton and F.C.S. in Atlanta, Jim Cymbala and Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York, and Eric Himelick in Indianapolis are men and organizations that are bucking the trend and advancing the gospel in the hearts of major cities. A group of young people right here in Cincinnati are going into the inner city, working the streets, befriending other young people, taking them to Sunday school, church, youth camps, and camp meetings. They are winning them to the Lord, discipling them in the faith, helping them get an education, and starting them down the road to a meaningful life that breaks the cycle of sin and rescues generations yet unborn. Five of those changed lives are enrolled in our school right now. The beginnings look small, but the long-term impact will be huge.
The church holds the answer to the problems within our large urban areas. It was the gospel that saved England from Revolution, and it will be the gospel that saves America’s large cities from implosion. But somebody is going to have to rise to the forefront with a confidence in the gospel and a boldness that dares to beard the lion in his own den.