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What does the Bible say about pre-evangelism?

S. Michael Houdmann

Got Questions Ministries

Pre-evangelism means different things to different people. Some see pre-evangelism as doing what Paul did with the philosophers at Mars Hill. He began with what they knew about an "unknown God" and argued for the existence of a personal God (Acts 17:22-34) who demands righteousness. This type of pre-evangelism seeks to meet people where they are. Others see pre-evangelism as "friendship evangelism" where the believer develops a friend relationship with an unbeliever and, by acts of kindness and living the Christian life before him, the truth of the gospel can be seen even before it is shared. Others see pre-evangelism as extensive preparation in apologetics before attempting to share the gospel with others.

Even though we can't assume people today have heard about Christ, we have to understand that Romans 1:19-20 assures us that God created us to know about Him because He has made it evident within every human being ever born. The knowledge of God can be found by looking at creation and seeing "His invisible attributes, His eternal power, and divine nature," as Paul states in this passage in Romans. God made us that way so that none of us can ever claim that we've not known about His existence. In other words, "we are without excuse." That internal knowledge of God then leads mankind to search for Him, and we are assured that if we do that, He will be found because "He is not far from each one of us" (Acts 17:24-28).

So the presence of a "God-shaped hole" inside us drives us to search for God, find Him, and worship Him. Only by doing so will we gain eternal life and true satisfaction, peace, joy, and contentment. Sadly, many people instead begin to worship the created, not the Creator (Romans 1:21-23). They try to replace their need for God with anything and everything else. Jesus commissioned all of His disciples, past, present, and future, to go out into the world and proclaim the gospel, the good news of His sacrifice on the cross on our behalf. The reason He gave us this command is that, even though God created us all with the ability to know Him, many still reject and despise Him. To accept Christ as Savior means we must acknowledge the fact that we are sinners in need of salvation. So, to confess our sin means letting go of pride and bowing before God in a humble request for salvation. Too many people, even after hearing the message of Truth over and over, just will not do so.

To effectively reach people with the gospel requires followers of Christ not necessarily to go door to door in an evangelism outreach, although in many circumstances that is an effective tool, but rather to live out our salvation with such joy, hope, and peace that the people with whom we come into contact daily can't help but see Christ in our lives. As 1 Peter 3:15 says, "But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence." We followers of Jesus Christ truly are "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that we may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9).

We have a responsibility to share the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ with those people within our daily sphere of influence, i.e., our neighbors, people we work with, anyone with whom we come into contact. There are no coincidences involved in the circumstances surrounding the people we meet each day, only opportunities provided by God to "let our lights so shine before men" that they may give glory to our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).

Establishing relationships with the people in our sphere of influence requires us to get to know them and to have a genuine interest in their lives. Conversations that consist of asking questions in order to learn more about them and then actively listening and asking follow-up questions is an excellent way to start a relationship. As we get to know people, we can then ask more personal questions along the lines of, "Do you believe in God?" or "What do you have faith in or believe in your life?" which can go a long way in helping us determine what they deem most important in life. This can help lay the groundwork as we seek to share the Good News with them.

Everyone in this life goes through trials and tribulations, and letting people around us know that, when we experience difficulties, our faith and hope rest in Christ, and we can in turn help them realize they need Him as well. Nothing speaks more powerfully to those around us than the evidence of God's supernatural peace in our lives in the midst of turmoil.

Above all, when we have conversations with people around us each day we are to use both our own personal testimony and the Word of God as tools in our toolbox. Telling someone how we came to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and using Scripture to back it up brings the power of God to our testimony. As we know, it's not our words but the power of the Holy Spirit that convicts the world of sin (John 16:8).

While forming relationships and finding opportunities to share Christ with those whom we come into contact with each day may not sound like a strategy, it is turning out to be one of the most effective means of evangelizing the world today. And the best part of sharing Christ in this manner is, since a relationship with that person is already in place, it positions us to disciple him once he comes to faith. Discipleship is a crucial part of our spiritual growth and helps establish and strengthen a firm foundation for our faith that will last for eternity.



What is holy laughter?

S. Michael Houdmann

Got Questions Ministries

The term "holy laughter" was coined to describe a phenomenon during which a person laughs uncontrollably, presumably as a result of being filled with the Holy Spirit's joy. It is characterized by peals of uncontrollable laughter, sometimes accompanied by swooning or falling down to the floor. Firsthand accounts from those who have had this experience vary somewhat, but all seem to believe it to be a sign of a "blessing" or "anointing" of the Holy Spirit.

The experience of holy laughter is, by nature, a subjective one. Therefore, in an effort to find the truth of the matter, we must try to be objective. When our definition of truth depends upon our experience of the world, we are a very short way from becoming entirely relative in our thinking. In short, feelings do not tell us what is true. Feelings are not bad, and sometimes our feelings are aligned with scriptural truth. However, they are more often aligned with our sin nature. The fickle nature of the heart makes it a very unreliable compass. "The heart is more deceitful than all else, and is desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9). This deceitful-heart principle is specifically applicable to the phenomenon known as "holy laughter." There is no doubt that people have indeed begun to laugh uncontrollably at revival meetings. That is a fact. But what does it really mean?

Laughter is addressed a number of times in the Bible. Often it is used to describe a mocking or scornful response, as was the case with Abraham and Sarah who laughed when God told them they would bear a child in their old age. Some verses use it as a sign of derision (Psalm 59:8; Psalm 80:6; Proverbs 1:26), and still others make pointed statements about the nature of laughter itself. Solomon, for example, made the following observation in Ecclesiastes 2:2: "I said of laughter, 'It is madness,' and of pleasure, 'What does it accomplish?'" He then goes on to say, in 7:3, "Sorrow is better than laughter, for when a face is sad a heart may be happy." Proverbs 14:13 says the reverse: "Even in laughter the heart may be in pain, and the end of joy may be grief." Both of these verses are true: a sad person may laugh to cover his sadness, and a person may cry although he is inwardly happy. So, not only does emotion fail to give us truth, but we also see that laughter is not always indicative of joy. It can mean anger, sadness, or derision. Likewise, the lack of laughter does not automatically mean sadness. Laughter is clearly subjective.

The most convincing scriptural argument against what is called "holy laughter" is found in Galatians 5:22-23. It says, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." If self-control is a fruit of the Spirit of God, how can uncontrollable laughter also be a fruit of His Spirit? Revival leaders claim that being filled with the Spirit means that we are sort of "tossed about" by His whims. But the idea that God would make people act drunk or laugh uncontrollably or make animal noises as a result of the Spirit's anointing is directly opposed to the way the Spirit acts, according to Galatians 5:22-23. The Spirit described in Galatians 5 is one who promotes self-control within us, not the opposite. Finally, there was no one in the Bible more filled with the Holy Spirit than Jesus, and not once does the Bible ever record Him laughing.

In light of these things, it is profitable to take a look at the following passage from 1 Corinthians 14; where Paul talks about speaking in tongues: "But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking in tongues, what will I profit you unless I speak to you either by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching?" (v.6).

"For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle? So also you, unless you utter by the tongue speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air" (vv. 8-9).

"What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret; but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God" (vv. 26-28).

"...for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints" (v. 33).

In those days, many people in the churches were speaking in languages that were unrecognizable to others, and, therefore, Paul says they were useless in the church because the speaker could not edify others with his speech. The same could be applied to holy laughter. What does it profit (Paul asks) unless we speak to one another with revelation, teaching, knowledge and truth? Again, he says, "Let all things be done for edification." He caps off his argument by saying, "God is not a God of confusion, but of peace," which makes it clear that he does not want the atmosphere within the church to be one of confusion and meaninglessness, but one of knowledge and edification.

It seems, from what Paul is saying, that which is called "holy laughter" would fall under the category of what is "not edifying" to the body of Christ, and should therefore be avoided. We have recognized that a) laughter is an unreliable emotional response; b) it can be a sign of several different emotions; and c) it does not accomplish anything useful. Furthermore, uncontrollable spasms of emotion are contrary to the nature of the Holy Spirit. It is advisable, therefore, not to look to "holy laughter" as a means of growing nearer to God or as a means of experiencing His Spirit.



Steven Best

I believe much of the "holy laughter" we see today – particularly on TV – is counterproductive and out of order. The Bible does speak much of "mocking" or "derisive" laughter, but that has little if anything to do with most of the laughter I have seen. Scripture tells us that a merry heart can be a good medicine (Prov. 17:22), while the fruits of the spirit, include that often elusive quality of "joy," directly after love, (Gal 5:22). Jesus said he was accused of drunkenness, which leads me to think he had no shortage of levity, and since Solomon wrote there is a time and season for everything under heaven, including laughing (Ecc 3:1-4), it seems to me Jesus would have experienced his share. Why else would the children have loved so to be carried on his shoulders (Mark 10:16)? When Paul said, "Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice," it is my understanding the implication is that of overflowing joy, which it seems to me would be a good definition for laughter.       

While I do not agree with those who feel that staggering around like a bunch of drunken sailors, howling like coyotes, or walking someone around on a leash while they crawl on all fours has anything to do with godly order in the congregation, I have witnessed times, where individuals and even an entire congregation became filled with joy to the point of overflowing with laughter. It usually came about during celebratory worship, did not go on for hours, did not prevent the delivery of a meaningful sermon, did not disrupt worship, or send visitors scurrying toward the doors. A few times, it came about during a time of quiet congregational prayer, and it was never commonplace. I have probably experienced this a half-dozen times in 35 years.

Afterwards, it became apparent that some of the members of the congregation had been in severe depression, and, more than once, I was one of them, suffering from both a debilitating illness and the loss of my only daughter. It had been over a year since I could laugh, and even a smile took a contrived effort, but lasted only a moment. Somehow, by God's grace, when that spirit of joy came, there was an amazing release in my spirit. Not only did I laugh, but I received the gift of faith, that God was good and I could trust everything to Him. Proverbs 17:22 and Ecclesiastes 3:4 had come to life. You just don't know how good it feels to laugh, until you've wrestled with suicidal thoughts day and night, week after week, month after month, because the world has gone so dark, you honestly question what the purpose of life could possibly be. Those rare but special times gave me a release in my spirit better than any psychiatric medicine ever could, and it was a release that lasted. There is good purpose that can come from a holy laughter, just as much foolishness and confusion can be contrived from its counterfeit.