Friday, August 16, 2013

Regrets.... I've had a few...

A compelling word from an Anglican priest about the great regret of not preaching the Gospel.  It was not like he was preaching bad stuff.  It wasn't the real stuff.  It was not Christ, His death and resurrection.

You can read him here...  I write to quote a couple of his closing paragraphs.

For more years than I care to think I preached get-better messages. I cringe thinking about my old sermons. I regret the lost opportunities of those messages that pounded home the idea that we just need to be better, try harder, pray and give more, read the Bible every day, attend church every week, and be nicer. It was plain ole Phariseeism, works-righteousness under the guise of preaching – “an easy-listening version of salvation by self-help” (M Horton). Those who came were vaguely entertained, I think, because I am a fairly entertaining personality (so they tell me on their way out of church), but they left mostly feeling beat up and like they don’t measure up. Instead of relieving guilt, get-better sermons reinforced guilt and our inadequacies. They didn’t touch people where they need most. “Whenever you feel comforted or elated or absolved as ‘fresh as a foal in new mowed hay,’ then you know you are hearing the gospel” (P Zahl).

My conversion to gospel preaching was gradual. I don’t remember what the initial catalyst was, except that people weren’t getting better with sermons on discipline and how to improve your marriage. Those moralistic sermons doled out plenty of advice about what to do, but it totally missed what God has done for us in his Son. Christ came, not to help religious people get better, but to help sinners realize that forgiveness and salvation is outside themselves: in Jesus Christ.

St. Paul, in Romans, explains the gospel as God’s power and God’s righteousness (1:16, 17). This is exactly opposite of repairing your nature by a determined will. It is what God has done for us when we couldn’t do it ourselves. He fulfilled the law. He took upon himself our sins. He burst the bonds of death to give us new life. When this message of one-way love – God’s love without strings attached – love when we are not lovely – reaches our hearts, it causes our spirits to come alive to God and it fills us with meaning and purpose. The gospel speaks to our heart’s deepest need.

I rejoice at his "conversion" and revel in the call to the Gospel and nothing less.  Too much of evangelical Christianity is preaching the pablum of moralism and the pursuit of pleasure under the guise of spirituality.  The smiling preachers who tell us a good joke, make us laugh a little, reflect for a moment on what we should be doing, and then send us home with an intention to be more true to ourselves are the worst excuses for preachers there are.  While the Lutherans seem to be obsessed with Luther's vision of the anti-Christ, I think if Luther were here today he would raise up the names of many a popular preacher and their wannabe posses.  No, this priest has got it right and I wish more (even some Lutherans) would wake up from their oblivion to the sword of the Word and realize it cuts and is not there to look nice.

Listen to his final paragraph and his advice for those still drawn in by the pursuit of personal enrichment:

When you get to church to find out that the preacher is in the third of a 10-sermon series on “10 steps to cure depression” get up and run out of there as fast as your depressed legs can take you. It’s self-help, not the gospel. Chalk it up to a well meaning preacher who hasn’t yet realized that our real hope is in God, in the sufficiency of his work on the cross and in the salvation that is not found in get-better sermons.


Janis Williams said...

How true. How grace-full our Merciful Lord, who forgives his ministers AND those of us in the pews who do not trust in His Righteousness!

Not a minister (I'm a woman, and even while Baptist didn't believe that was right), but a Sunday School teacher. I deeply regret those children I taught Law with no Gospel. I pray often for them and that they have been found by Christ, and given the gift of Faith.

Kebas said...

I'm so sorry to report that I visited a congregation recently where a sermon that started out good ended with ten tips for simplifying your life, beginning with "Share a lawnmower with a neighbor instead of each having your own" (I kid you not). When we got in the car my teenage daughter blurted out, "THANK YOU for not preaching sermons like that."

Kebas said...

Oh, and yesterday I passed a new "church growth" congregation in a strip mall in Sioux City, Iowa. A poster in a window announced this Sunday's message: "What Is Your Pet Trying to Tell You? The Secrets of Animal Communication." Again, I kid you not!

Unknown said...

A case can be made for the notion that failure to preach the Gospel caused the social upheavals of the last century in Europe, both in Russia and Germany. Ephesians 6:12, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

But another part of the problem is that we tend to limit the Gospel to the suffering, death, and resurrection of our Lord. We do not even take into account His entire life, which had to be sinless in order to do us any good. We ignore our Lord’s own words about the scope of the Gospel. Luke 4: 43, “…but he said to them, “I must preach the good news (Greek: Euangelion, Gospel.) of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” Not a word here about His own role in the Gospel. J. R. W. Stott said it best, “Certainly we must never conceive ‘salvation’ in purely negative terms, as if it consisted only of our rescue from sin, guilt, wrath and death. We thank God that it is all these things. But it also includes the positive blessing of the Holy Spirit to regenerate, indwell, liberate and transform us.” (John R. W. Stott, Baptism and Fullness. The Work of the Holy Spirit today. Inter Varsity Press, P. 25, 26.) And, may I add, Colossians 1: 13, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Or, as we may have heard last Sunday, Luke 12: 32, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Anonymous said...

A healthy dose of guilt is good to keep us from using forgiveness to justify our sins.

Unknown said...

Anonymous: Here is what the late Fr. Alexander Schmeemann wrote in his diary on this subject:
“12 October 1976
The beginning of “pseudo religion” is the inability to be joyful, or rather – the rejection of joy. At the same time, joy is so absolutely important, because it is without doubt the result of knowing the presence of God. It is impossible to know that God is, and not to have joy. And it is only in connection with this joy that the awe of God, contrition and humility are proper and genuine and bear fruit. Apart from this joy they can easily become “demonic”, a perversions of the depth of religious experience itself. The religion of fear. The religion of false humility. The religion of guilt, which says, “This is all temptation, it is all spiritual “rapture.” But how strong this religion is, not only in the world but within the Church. And for some reason, “religious” people are always suspicious of joy. The first, the most important, the source of everything is, “Let my soul rejoice in the Lord …” The fear of sin does not prevent one from sinning. Joy in the Lord does.
The feelings of guilt and morality do not “free” from the world and its temptations. Joy is the foundation of the freedom in which we are called to stand. Where, how, and when did this “tonality” of Christianity become muddy, or more correctly, where, how, and why have Christians become “deaf” to it? How, when and why, instead of freeing the tortured, did the Church begin to sadistically frighten and to terrorize them?”

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart