Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Line in the Sand

Glenn Beck (a Mormon) and George Barna (a pollster) giving a twelve-point list on what the Church wants to hear from the pulpit? And none of the twelve points are the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

There is usually a great gulf fixed between what we think we need to hear, what we want to hear, what we feel would meet our needs, and what the Bible itself tells us we need to preach and to hear.

My theology concerning preaching and what motivates it largely comes from three passages in the Bible:
  • “For thus the LORD spoke to me with mighty power and instructed me not to walk in the way of this people, saying, ‘You are not to say, “It is a conspiracy!” In regard to all that this people call a conspiracy, and you are not to fear what they fear or be in dread of it. It is the LORD of hosts Whom you should regard as holy. And He shall be your fear, and He shall be your dread. Then He shall become a sanctuary...bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples. And I will wait for the LORD Who is hiding His face from the house of Jacob; I will even look eagerly for Him. Behold, I and the children whom the LORD has given me are for signs and wonders in Israel from the LORD of hosts, Who dwells on Mount Zion. To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn” (Isaiah 8:11-14,16-1820).
  • “And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).
  • “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God's righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes...if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believe in Him will not be disappointed.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for ‘Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on Him in Whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him Whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!’ ...so faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:1-4,9-15,17).
It concerns me enough that fellow confessors of the biblical Jesus Christ are willing to hear, watch, read, and re-post the political musings of a Mormon, but are we really going to listen to a single word the man says about what folks in our congregations want to hear (regardless of what the pollster and historian who were his guests say)? Am I the only one for whom this is quite a red flag? The only way this seems to work is if politics is your idol; at that point there’s no great line to cross to partner with someone who denies the Trinity, the nature of salvation, and the sufficiency of the Bible alone.

I am blessed to preach behind two sacred desks. One is built in the shape of a cross. The other has the words, “Sir, we would see Jesus” (John 12:21) on its surface (where only the preacher can see it). This is enough for me, no matter what the congregation thinks they want to hear and no matter what I feel like preaching. For twenty-two years I have trusted the Word to give us what we need when we need it. When people have had questions on particular topics, we have gone to the Word in search of those things in private counsel or small-group discussion. But, in the gathering of the saints at the Table and in the Word, we do not steer the ship, and the reality given us in the Word does not change no matter what is happening in the world around us. We need to bend to the Word, not the other way around. We need to follow it to a heavenward focus rather than shaping an earth-bound message. Christ is the center, not any current events. This is what the all-sufficient Word does for the congregation that receives it by faith.

I do not preach expositionally because Jesus or Paul taught that way; I do not believe I have been commanded to preach as they did (or that I am able). But their words are recorded in “the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42), that is, in the inspired and inerrant New Testament, and rather than using felt needs or current affairs to lead me to various passages in the Book, I am convinced that the Spirit Who gave us this Book will shape us into Christ and fit us for heaven if we follow Him through every passage, without missing a one and without picking and choosing what I think we need. My trust in the Book is not complete and not nearly as deep as it should be, but a liturgical practice that guides me (and the congregation) into a greater faith will, Lord willing, take us further in and further up far more than any other approach.

“I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, Who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires” (2 Timothy 4:1-4).

The whole idea that we know what we need to hear is bizarre to me (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25; 28:26). I did not know what I needed before I heard the Gospel by faith for the first time; there have been plenty of times daily since that moment that I have thought I knew what I needed and was (and will be) completely wrong.

I need Christ preached from the Word. And so does the Church. And so does the world. Whether any of us know it, feel it, or want to hear it, or not.

“Then he showed me a river of the water of life [John 7:37-39], clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations [Matthew 28:18-20] (Revelation 22:1,2). The Spirit, coming from the Father and Son (see the Trinity?), flowing through the Church's preaching of the Gospel to the nations, is the only thing that will heal them. The only thing.

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