Attentiveness: Open Secret
Dr. Scott W. Sunquist
This past Sunday, Nancy and I (and another 250 or so others) heard a clear and inviting evangelistic sermon preached by a Gordon-Conwell alumnus at the main entrance to a very large local autumn fair. It was a beautiful public proclamation of the gospel.
The pastor was Rev. Andrew James (MDiv ’14), and the fair was the Topsfield Fair. Many thoughts came to mind.
First, during his call to commitment, Rev. James said, “Many of you may have made this decision to follow Jesus Christ 10, or 20, or even 30 years ago, and have languished in your faith….”
I did some calculating: it was 50 years ago this week that I decided to receive Jesus as my Lord and Savior. It changed my whole life, even to this day. My mind drifted as to how my life was directed away from myself to serving Jesus. A half a century of following Jesus. People who had served me and whom I had served flashed before me.
Secondly, I thought what a wonderful thing it is that a church can, even if only occasionally, hold a Sunday morning service in such a public place. It happens less and less in the United States, but we need to work at it more and more. What do I mean by this? It would be easy for Christians to cower and retreat from public spaces. Our secular drift (tidal wave?) is strong. We need to step into public spaces and lift up Jesus even if many say we can’t.
I believe we need to remember and reaffirm that we live in a country which was founded by religious groups—not one group, but a plurality of religious groups: Baptists, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Dutch Reformed, Roman Catholic, Jewish. We have freedom of/for religion in our country. Not freedom from religion. Let’s embrace this opportunity for the gospel in the public arena.
Thirdly, I thought about Newbigin’s classic book, The Open Secret. In 1978, after serving as a missionary in South India, Bishop J.E. Lesslie Newbigin wrote this book for missionaries in training. The idea is that the gospel, unlike many ethnic and mystery religions of Jesus’ time is for all people. It is an “open secret” to be shared with all people.
At this particular fair, First Church Boxford had a worship service and a booth for people to stop by and learn about the church: about Jesus. The Gideon’s were handing out Bibles (in at least three languages) from another booth. I believe there could be many other Christian groups there to make contact with people who would never go to a church building, but they would go to see the largest pumpkin in New England, or to ride a Ferris wheel with the grandkids.
Finally, I thought that Jesus belongs in all public places. In the market, shopping malls, on Wall Street, and with you and your neighbors on your street.
I hope we are developing disciples at Gordon-Conwell who are courageous in proclaiming the Name where it has not been proclaimed, as well as where it was proclaimed poorly.
Jesus poses a question to everyone. Let’s make sure they know his offer. Everyone needs to hear this really good news, maybe now more than ever.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Scott W. Sunquist, the President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, writes a weekly blog, “Attentiveness” which is posted each Tuesday on the Gordon-Conwell web site. He welcomes comments, responses, and good ideas.