Ready to Cry ‘Racism’

Bill Cosby and Herman Cain.  Bill Clinton and Roman Polanski.  Which ones are white, and which ones are black?  And which two are the ones who must pay for alleged sexual assaults with their careers before a trial, and which ones are lauded by the mainstream media and Hollywood as greats proven sexcapades don’t matter?  Of course, for Clinton, all that’s been proven is that he’s a liar and a philanderer, and that he abused his position and took advantage of young women, even if he didn’t rape them.  Roman Polanski, well, he had his trial and the verdict was handed down.

Addendum: Oh look, other people have thought the same thing!

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Resisting Revival, Part I.

Part I.

Knowing Preaching

We’ll assume for this discussion that the reader knows what constitutes God-honoring and God-pleasing preaching in a Christian church.  The most basic thing, of course, is that the minister seeks in his message to reflect and respect the Word of God, holding it up as the standard and source for all Truth.  In thinking about the many ways different people in the same church may resist revival and renewal, we’ll begin with (presumably) well-meaning parishioners who don’t know how to evaluate preaching and can cause problems in the flock as a result.

Certainly many factors are involved in a person’s judgment of a minister’s messages.  Personal sensibilities, level of education, one’s own Walk, and one’s overall exposure to preaching (especially over years) are among the most important.  This last aspect is perhaps the most neglected when trying to get at why parishioners prefer the kind of preaching they do—what they’ve heard preached most, and from their earliest experience in a Sunday service, profoundly shapes their expectations and standards.  And unless one seeks out other ‘sources’ for messages, written or audial (so accessible now due to the number of free sermons and lectures uploaded simply by individual churches alone), experience in home churches will most often dictate an individual’s standard.

Without outside exposure, or outside influence (such as may be found through discernment ministries where biblical [we hope] standards are stressed when discussing or reviewing sermons) this standard may not only be low (in terms of demand of biblical content or hermeneutic integrity, doctrinal astuteness, etc.) but also, and perhaps ironically, particular, expecting or even demanding what we can broadly call ‘fluff’.  Characteristics of fluffy sermons, for example, may include the following: a tendency to be short (perhaps 20 minutes or less); a tendency to be thematic (rather than expositional or part of a series taken from an extended passage or Book of scripture);  avoidance of discussion of ‘hard topics’ or hard texts of scripture (such as those that talk about God’s wrath, man’s deadness in sin, judgment, backsliding, etc.), if derived from scripture in the first place; lack of attempts to exhort or convict; tendency to focus on ‘love’, ‘goodness’ (more often of the listeners than of God), meeting goals, purpose or self-direction or fulfillment, reassurance without acknowledging need for repentance or reflection; tendency to offer little by way of challenge, either intellectual or spiritual; are often very general in terms of application (target long-time members of the church as well as visitors, believing or otherwise), with a goal of keeping people enthusiastic and coming back, rather than instructing them and growing them in holiness.   It is not necessarily unserious or uneducated people[1] who prefer messages that don’t ‘take them deeper’, don’t shake them up, don’t bring before them the depth of their depravity before salvation, and the corresponding depth of God’s mercy and grace and the weightiness of what it means to live for Him.

If fluff is all they have ever known, fluff is what a sermon is made of.  Expectations become prescriptive; due to lack of biblical training in individuals’ lives, and neglect of emphasis in sermons they’ve heard on the centrality of the Word of God as the standard for all in the Christians life, and perhaps especially as the test and focus for preaching, people don’t know how to judge what is or isn’t a ‘good sermon’.  And the first questions that ought to be asked when sitting before any pulpit, ‘Is this biblical?  Does the preacher hold up God’s Word as the ultimate authority for what is said?’, never even occurs to these folks who have been so horribly robbed of what they need and of what ministers owe them.   Essentially, how can they know what is good teaching if they have not been taught?

One must wonder why veteran Christians in church take issue with ‘good sermons’—especially those delivered by someone with skills in both writing and delivery, that are doctrinally sound, biblically based, whose level demands intelligence but is yet accessible, and which are meant to serve as a conduit for God speaking through His Word to the congregation.  What indeed would there be to complain about?  It is messages such as these that inevitably draw praise from out-of-town visitors: ‘Why can’t we get preaching like this at Coolville CRC?’  But your Hitherto Unpreached-at Bumpkin recoils, reacts, wonders why, yet again, the minister had to talk about sin before he could talk about redemption.  Some objections can be about ever more superficial deviations from the HUB’s expectations: one HUB actually grumbled to the preacher, ‘This message isn’t about Palm Sunday.  But it’s Palm Sunday today!’.[2]  One might then have asked what the unapproved message was about—but the HUB wouldn’t have been able to answer.  You see, once he saw in the order of service that the message wasn’t on …, he was too flustered to pay attention.   The HUB doesn’t know if the message delivered was good or not.  Of course, even if he were listening, he still wouldn’t know!

The HUB naturally doesn’t know what he’s rejecting, if he’s conscious of rejecting anything.  He takes for granted what in other places people may place a very high premium upon.  Or, what he may find objectionable will have been the standard for a long time in churches which are high-profile for their commitment to orthodoxy—even in churches with a sizeable pastoral staff ( some of these staffs are diverse in age, race, and background).  The pastor of the little church which the HUB attends, and where he finds so much to chafe against, may have counterpart ministers in other churches whither folk actually travel far to hear the Word.  In this country, preaching from the Bible has become so rare, that the standard Christian preaching in evangelical churches is what the HUB sneers at; there is very little fluff in evangelical churches—people flock to the apostates for that (one can go down to evensong at Salisbury Cathedral and hear one of the rectors pray for redistribution of wealth by the government), and the tiny true church in its local bodies can only permit of faithful teaching and preaching from scripture.  It’s what they need to survive—the culture has made it too hard to be a believer without it.  In the United States, it’s easy to be  Christian—in England, if you want the Truth, you can find it, or avoid it, easily—the ‘Church’ has become so polarized.  An evangelical church in Britain can’t afford to have a motivational speaker for a pastor.

If it weren’t bad enough that the HUB takes good preaching for granted, he may very well believe that because his expectations are the standard, a good preacher must be corrected.  His experience and expectations are part of his religious sensibility, and almost a conviction in themselves.  As incredible as it may sound, the HUB may not only bristle at biblical, expositional preaching, he may even demand the minister change, or blame the minister for the church’s problems, which may range from decline in attendance to lack of enthusiasm in singing.[3]  And this may actually be a Christian who ostensibly has some regard for the Scriptures!

So, at whose door do we lay the blame for this?  Perhaps some of it ought to end up on the HUB’s rug.  In an age where information and good resources for Christians is so readily available, it should be incumbent on Christians to pursue their own self-education and edification, in addition to their time in the pew, as this is a means of growing in knowledge and holiness.  But the church and the men in the pulpit have failed the HUB.  At some level, it is their fault he wasn’t preached at or to, and therefore doesn’t know what preaching is.  When one is an adult, of course, he can choose a local body, and the minister under whom he sits, for himself.  But while the HUB was young, why did have little to no exposure to preaching based on the apostolic model?  Why is it so unfamiliar that he can’t process and accept it, and even actively opposes it?  How can someone in the church for decades not know what the Bible says about so many important things, particularly on this subject, and be so ignorant, for example, of God’s character and commands that he finds discussion of judgment and discipline disturbing, as if it were something new or inappropriate?  Why is this, and what can be done?  How do you undo all that a person has heard and assumed for so long?  In such a case, a good preacher is doomed to disappoint and irritate the HUB before he ever takes a call to the HUB’s church—he’s been undermined by the parade of poor preachers before him whose lack of allegiance and attention to the Word has so stunted the HUB’s growth and understanding, and nullified the influence of the pulpit—those men have cut the good preacher’s legs out from under him without ever having been in the same room.

[1] One educated parishioner in a position of authority in his business believed that ‘Anything that needs to be said can be said in 20 minutes or less’, the implication being that a sermon didn’t need to go longer than 20 minutes.  At first blush, this may seem a pithy and practical assertion.  But actually, it is STUPID.  One of many possible responses: ‘He clearly never read the Sermon on the Mount aloud.’

[2] This is not the only instance of someone complaining that a pastor hasn’t enslaved himself to the church calendar; that is, he doesn’t feel it necessary to preach a ‘thematically appropriate’ sermon on any specially marked Sabbath.  On the other side of this issue, how many times do we really need to hear an ‘honor and appreciate your Mom’ message, May after May after May?  As someone whose relationship with her mother is complicated, I’m inevitably ruffled by such things, but have determined to keep my mouth shut, as they ‘do no harm’, I suppose, and I’d like to do none myself.

[3] This is symptomatic not only of the HUB’s attitude, but is part of a lack of proper priorities in a church, whereby pleasing God may take a back seat to increasing membership and heightening the church’s ‘appeal’, which sometimes just means capitulating to culture or making the church more worldly; fluffy sermons rather than biblical ones better fit such a programme.