“A church that doesn’t provoke any crises, a gospel that doesn’t unsettle, a word of God that doesn’t get under anyone’s skin, a word of God that doesn’t touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed, what gospel is that? Very nice, pious considerations that don’t bother anyone, that’s the way many would like preaching to be. Those preachers who avoid every thorny matter so as not to be harassed, so as not to have conflicts and difficulties do not light up the world they live in. They don’t have Peter’s courage, who told that crowd where the bloodstained hands still were that had killed Christ: ‘You killed him!’ Even though the charge could cost him his life as well, he made it. The gospel is courageous; its the good news of him who came to take away the world’s sins.”
Archbishop Oscar Romero – 1978
One of our family’s current TV show favorites is “Chopped” in which top chefs compete to make the best meal for a panel of judges. Those whose dishes are not up to par are “chopped” or eliminated from the competition. I thought maybe some kind of similar competition for preachers would be fun – something along the lines of the old Gong Show format. I’m not sure what to call it though – preachers out of favor in the old days would be stoned, beheaded, jailed, exiled, or dismissed but none of those sound good for a show name.
A bigger problem is what criteria for judging would be used? On “Chopped” the criteria are creativity, presentation and technique. No such criteria are agreed upon for preaching – though more & more its seems hair, dress, laughter and “hipness” seem what grabs popular attention. In contrast, John the Baptist was the first wild man with a perpetual bad hair day, Jonah preached covered in whale vomit, and the apostle Paul was dismissed as unsightly & boring. Probably no telegenic smiles in that bunch!
Charles Spurgeon in his “Lectures to My Students” reviews some of the pitfalls of preaching styles and mannerisms oh his own day. While my meager observations don’t come near his classic work, here are a few styles & pitfall I’ve noticed:
“The Hobby Horse Rider” is the preacher that has one or two favorite subjects and no matter the text or the season returns to them again & again. Sadly, these are usually pet peeves such as politics, the End Times, moral issues or what ever is the obsession of the month. Is it “Communion Sunday”? Gog & Magog dominate the message. Christmas? The evils of Federal Bureaucracy dominates. Easter Morning? A refresher course in dispensational theology is offered up. The gospel of the cross and the victory of the resurrection is buried beneath what ever irks the preacher.
“The Machine Gun Preacher” – This is the preacher that unloads at full volume, full speed and full load. He takes no hostages and hardly a breath as well. Its hard to follow what’s been said because the delivery is overwhelming. This specimen is rare but still around – if you encounter him – duck!
“The Marshmellow Preacher” – A marshmallow is sugar plus air & this preacher’s message is about the same. Stories, jokes and a nice feel good moral make up the bulk with the emphasis on “make ’em laugh” or “make ’em cry.” Just like a marshmallow provides no nutritional value, so the message of the marshmallow preacher is hard to remember 5 minutes after consumed.
Preaching has always been considered foolishness (1 Cor. 1:21). Its futility, obsolescence & eventual demise has been repeatedly pronounced from generation to generation in favor of the techno-gadget innovation of the moment. Yet, God chooses the foolishness of preaching and preachers to deliver the good news of his saving power.
How is it possible to judge success the success of preaching or a preacher? What criteria would be used? Popularity? Applause? Crowds? The prophets of old were told that their message would be ignored & rejected by listeners with deaf ears, blind eyes and hard hearts. It is a work of grace and the Holy Spirit to change the blind, deaf and hardened to hear and believe God’s truth. God could have chosen so many other ways to get his point across – but he didn’t. God chose the foolishness of preaching to deliver the saving message of the cross. While a gong show for preachers might be entertaining, it would miss the point. Its not about the messenger – its about the message, Jesus, the glory and revelation of God’s saving power.
“The preacher of the gospel is like the sower. He does not make his seed; it is given him by his divine Master…He has to leave the seed in the care of the Lord who gave it to him, for he is not responsible for the harvest, he is only accountable for the care and industry with which he does his work…Our duty is not measured by the character of our hearers, but by the command of our God.”
“The Magi gaze in deep wonder at what they see:
heaven on earth, earth in heaven,
man in God, God in man,
one who the whole universe cannot contain now enclosed in a tiny body.”
Some churches, tired of their Nativity “baby Jesus” disappearing, stolen by local Grinches, have installed GPS trackers so they can track his whereabouts. The real Jesus is not so hard to locate or so easily lost. Though the darkness of sinful man or the wrongly directed affections of the human heart may at times obscure his light and glory, he is always present in the saving power of the Gospel the angels announced and he came to proclaim & entrust to his disciples. He is always present by the eternal Spirit in his people and in his ongoing work of calling and transforming people into citizens in his kingdom. Those who confess faith in him do not worship simply a baby in a manger but rather the incarnate, crucified, resurrected, glorified Son of Adam, Son of Abraham, Son of David and the eternal Son of the Most High – he is True God & True Man.
“Let earth receive her King!”
I come across church ads that boast of their “authentic worship” –
In distinction to what – “inauthentic worship” ?
And how is that defined?
Inquiring minds want to know!
An inadequate view of sin indicates an inadequate view of God. In light of the Supreme Court decisions this last week redefining marriage, consider Stephen Charnock’s (from “Practical Atheism – The Existence and Attributes of God”) view of human sin as a denial of God’s sovereignty.
In sins of omission we own not God, in neglecting to perform what he enjoins; in sins of commission we set up some lust in the place of God, and pay to that the homage which is due to our Maker. In both we disown him ; in the one by not doing what he commands, in the other by doing what he forbids. We deny his sovereignty when we violate his laws ; we disgrace his holiness when we cast our filth before his face ; we disparage his wisdom when we set up another rule as the guide of our actions than that law he bath fixed; we slight his sufficiency when we prefer a satisfaction in sin before a happiness in him alone ; and his goodness, when we judge it not strong enough to attract us to him. Every sin invades the rights of God, and strips him of one or other of his perfections. It is such a vilifying of God as if he were not God; as if he were not the supreme Creator and Benefactor of the world ; as if we had not our being from him ; as if the air we breathed in, the food we lived by, were our own by right of supremacy, not of donation. For a subject to slight his sovereign, is to slight his royalty ; or a servant his master, is to deny his superiority.
Heading back home via Lansing in early June, I was able to stop and worship at University Reformed Church. The pastor, Kevin DeYoung is a prolific writer (Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion; The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness; The Good News We Almost Forgot: Rediscovering the Gospel in a 16th Century Catechism) and having heard him preach at “Together for the Gospel” in 2012 I was looking forward to hearing him again but this time in a church setting. I was not disappointed. He preached through Acts 12 and handled the text with precision, care and detail as well as humor in his delivery. The church also ordained their new elders and deacons that morning. Its one thing to preach a message or listen to one at a large gathering. It’s far more challenging to preach week by week in the worship & life of the local church. Despite all the panic in the blogosphere about resurgent Calvinism, Pastor DeYoung is part of a historical Reformed denomination and does not seem to be aiming for celebrity but faithful service. He is a fine example of how to meet the challenge of regular preaching and as far as I can tell real pastoring. May his tribe increase.
“I believe in the doctrine of election, because I am quite certain that, if God had not chosen me, I should never have chosen him; and I am sure he chose me before I was born, or else he never would have chosen me afterwards; and he must have elected me for reasons unknown to me, for I never could find any reason in myself why he should have looked upon me with special love.”
“Departure from God is far more expensive than obedience to God”
I recently finished an older book entitled “Blood and Fire: The Story of William and Catherine Booth and the Salvation Army” by Roy Hattersley (Doubleday, 2000). I have wanted to learn more about the Booths, the founders of the Salvation Army since (as family history tells it) my maternal, Scottish great grandfather, Moncrieff Galloway, signed the “Articles of War” or “Soldier’s Covenant” of belief and practice after surviving the Boer War in S. Africa in 1902. He later moved to the U.S. in 1909 and worked in a factory as he continued to preach and serve in “the Army” as a Sgt. Major. I have a small pocket New Testament of his with one of his sermon outlines written in pencil on the inside of the cover.
While best known today for their social work and the storefront Christmas bell-ringer and change bucket, in their times, the Booths were unconventional, radical and shocked the stolid church establishment. They were routinely attacked by the press and church leaders as rude, crude, and socially un-respectable even as their adherents from the working classes, once decimated by crime, poverty, prostitution and alcohol were physically attacked by mobs and gangs organized by liquor manufacturers and bar owners. Like many trailblazers and leaders they were autocratic, insensitive and demanding but worked with a clear sense of drive and mission that was almost apostolic in spirit.
Reviewer Wendy Smith writes, “They preached in the streets of London accompanied by brass bands, appropriating the methods of ungodly popular entertainment to draw working-class sinners to righteousness. They founded soup kitchens and people’s halls to feed the hungry and give them a place to congregate other than the tavern. William Booth (1829-1912) and his wife, Catherine (1829-90), outraged polite society with the establishment of their Christian Mission in 1865. Rechristened the Salvation Army in 1878, the organization challenged the smug Victorian status quo by insisting that sin sprang from unjust social conditions. British writer and Labour Party stalwart Roy Hattersley vividly conveys the political and religious context within which the Salvation Army operated without scanting the forceful (not to say peculiar) characters of its founders. William was authoritarian and self-righteous, yet he often deferred to intellectual, strong-minded Catherine, whose instinctive sympathy for the poor and belief in women’s equality before God shaped their ministry. They were hardly warm people, yet their marital love was unshakable and absolute. The Salvation Army survived their autocratic leadership to flourish into the 21st century: ‘It is not necessary to believe in instant sanctification,’ writes Hattersley in a characteristically balanced summing-up, ‘to admire and applaud their work of social redemption.”
Of course social change is always controversial these days to some – such as former-Fox News TV show hosts who reduce all issues to chalkboard comic characters and produce nothing but hot air. However, the work of mission and evangelism are false to the good news of the kingdom if they ignore the sad reality of the conditions of the real 99% and majority of the 7 billion of the world. The Booths grasped that the Gospel is truly transforming – a person who is new creation because of the Spirit of God will bring change to their family and community. The Booths weren’t the first to grasp that truth of gospel transformation and thankfully they weren’t the last. Ministries that address practical solutions to child labor, prostitution, grinding poverty & unhealthy living conditions due to substance abuse as well as economic inequality are thriving from Guatemala to Tajikistan, from all corners of the earth because sin still is the source of human misery and the atoning work of Jesus Christ, his blood brings freedom from its consequences.
As the author Roy Hattersley points out, one does not have to agree with all the Booths believed (I certainly don’t) to applaud what they attempted and achieved. Hattersley is honest about their faults and the challenge for all strong, founding leaders – what happens when your gone. The Salvation Army survived family member defections as well as the inevitable process of a spiritual movement organizing into an institution. There had to have been something of the fire of God’s grace at work to reach a battle weary soldier’s heart in South Africa over a hundred years ago that led to a true confession of saving faith and brought blessings to his family for years to come . My great grandfather was promoted to glory in 1953. I am told that he prayed for many years for his family both born and yet un-born. I am thankful he did and I am thankful there was someone there that day in S. Africa, even if dressed in what was considered an odd & unconventional uniform, to point him to his Savior.
Some of the Galloway Family – John, Crief, Mary, Lilas and my Great-Grandfather, Moncrief