Sunday, August 13, 2017

A Permit to Preach

Every minister who takes the gospel to the public occasionally comes into conflict with authority figures. Even in the United States where the Constitution guarantees “freedom of religion”, various laws and ordinances have been passed in an effort to hinder God’s word from going forth.

Two weeks ago in Crystal, Minnesota, I was with a group of soul winners sharing the gospel at a carnival. Although it was in a public park, a carnival supervisor came up to us saying we weren’t allowed to evangelize there because we didn’t have a permit. We continued moving and witnessing in the park until a policeman told us “no preaching”. We then moved outside the park perimeters and talked to individuals walking towards or leaving the carnival.

Then this past week at the annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, I passed out tracts along Main Street and struck up conversations with other ministers doing the Lord’s work. One Baptist group was promoting a motorcycle giveaway. When I showed one man there the tracts I was using, he claimed the police in Sturgis have fined people for handing out literature without a permit. Later, I talked with a cross walker named Bob Hunas, who’s also a police chaplain. He said I wouldn’t have any problems as long as I didn’t stand in front of a particular business too long.

It's happened before when fellow ministers, for whatever reason, didn’t want me witnessing to others. One afternoon in Tampa, Florida, I was walking on a sidewalk across the street from a junior high school when a middle-aged man along with seven teenagers were waiting at a corner. I felt led to witness to them. The man said he was a born-again Methodist minister, but told me I wasn't allowed to talk to the students about “religion”. I pointed out I was on a public sidewalk where the First Amendment protects my freedom of speech. The minister responded that as their chaperon he didn't approve of the questions I was asking. I then asked, “Doesn't the Bible say we’re not to be ashamed of the gospel”? The minister hesitated at first, but then hinted at calling the police. Ignoring the threat, I quoted Romans 10:9 to four of the teens (the other three had walked away by this time) and gave them an opportunity to receive salvation. The minister didn't say another word to me as one boy prayed to get saved.

Sometimes it’s best to comply with local laws to avoid wasting time and money defending our rights. One time, I evangelized with a friend near a high school in Springfield, Virginia. There we noticed a police car at an intersection. I approached the policeman to let him know what we were doing. He informed me a local city ordinance required us to be at least one block away from the school. Although I could have contended for my constitutional right to distribute literature on public sidewalks closer to the school, I felt it was best to follow the policeman’s order. There were still many students my friend and I could talk to as they were walking home. Eleven of them prayed with us to receive salvation. 

We should always be respectful to authority but never bow down to the fear of man. Perhaps the next time someone tells me I need a permit to preach, I could open up my Bible and show them what Jesus said in the Great Commission. God’s laws supersede man’s laws.

“And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.’” - Mark 16:15

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