A few years ago I began conducting services at the local prison every Wednesday morning. Originally two of us would go to each cell block for a separate service, but a little over a year ago, they began bringing all of the men who wanted to come into a large hall.
The ministry seemed to really grow from there because the men were a huge encouragment to one another, and to us as well
about six-months ago one of the inmates they call “chocolate” asked if he could preach on a Wednesday morning, and did an excellent job! Since then I along with others in the prison ministry allow more and more of the ministry to be run by inmates, sometimes just sitting back and giving encouragement as they lead songs, share testimonies, read Scripture, and preach the Word of God!
Recently I had a conversation with some of them on the way back from prison saying it might be time to graduate that ministry, and move into what I like to call a “Grand-parenting role of missions” that emphasizes encouragement and edification as they do the work.
Unfortunately, I learned last Wednesday they weren’t quite ready to do that
Some of the men recently began holding to the beliefs of “Seventh Day Adventists” that preach a person must keep the Old Testament law, and worship on the Sabbath day (Saturday) in order to go to Heaven. There have been lots of private conversations among the men about this since October, but last Wednesday the controversy became public.
One of the prisoners preached on the subject of being under Grace instead of the law. He got to the point where Scripture says Christ abolished the law in Ephesians 2:15, when one of the inmates who holds to the Seventh Day Adventist view of Salvation jumped up, and began interrupting him.
Thankfully things didn’t get completely out of hand, but it was an important reminder that enthusiasm cannot glorify God if your Theology is wrong.
Last Wednesday helped me realize that I, along with others in the prison ministry, had over-emphasized the practical side of Scripture in day to day living, while ignoring Doctrine. This led to not only the Doctrinal confusion, but acceptance of an unBiblical view of Salvation.
The emphasis of our preaching and teaching ministry has been evangelistic because more than anything these men need Christ. Along with that we gave practical teaching on struggles they would experience outside of the prison, so that they would continue walking with the Lord after leaving the facility, and never return.
In basic terms we were giving the men a “toolbox” of Scriptural truth that can be used to withstand trials or temptations. There is nothing wrong with giving someone a toolbox of truth, but there must be a firm foundation of Doctrine along with it. Because those sent out to do God’s Work with a weak Theological foundation will eventually compromise
Please pray for me, and others in our prison fellowship team as we begin to emphasize the foundational truths of Scripture found in Doctrine and Theology. Specifically pray that we exhibit patience in making sure the men’s Doctrine is absolutely firm before the transition takes place. It does take longer to build a solid foundation than give spiritual tools, but it is time well spent