Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Thoughts about preaching 9/15/2010


I'm slowly, very slowly, reading through Eric Metaxas's biography of Dietrich Bonheoffer.  Why slowly?  A couple of reasons: 1.  I know how it will end, but, I'd really like to hope if I put off reading it, the end will change.  It's a vain hope, but still.  2.  There's some weighty stuff here, and I think that, while America is not headed down an identical road to the Weimar Republic, I think many of the religious and theological issues are similar.  As such, I want to learn and know more, much more.  So, I read slowly.  3.  I have a decent amount of other responsibility, and much of it requires reading, study, and writing.  So, that comes first.

Anyway, I'm kind of stuck on a quote from Bonhoeffer that is cited in the book, so much so that I added it to my daily list and am probably going to print it out, laminate it, and stick it to the pulpit at church just to make sure no one forgets it:

The Church has only one pulpit, and from that pulpit, faith in God will be preached, and no other faith, and no other will than the will of God, however well-intentioned.

(Dietrich Bonhoeffer, quoted in Metaxas, p 138. I don't know if the translation is Metaxas or if the quote was in English.  This is a blog, not a dissertation.)

Now, every preacher in America needs this, and needs to remember it.  I need it.  We are far too quick to neglect the truth that is reflected here.  Some quick thoughts about ways I've learned, typically the hard way, that I have missed this point:

1.  The pulpit is not for politics.  First off, Christians are subjects of the Heavenly King before they are citizens of anywhere else.  If it's about earthly politics, it's out of place.  If it is about being a proper subject of the King of Creation, the Lord Jesus Christ, then it is appropriate.  Issues, yes.  Sometimes individuals, but almost never parties, and always it must come back to Scripture.

1a.  (corollary): There are politics internal to most Christian organizations.  This applies here as well.  Can you do discuss it?  Should you? Absolutely, if it is about how the church is involved in spreading the Glory of God.  If it's about proper stewardship of God's resources He has entrusted to the church.  If it's about power and control, which belong to no man in the church but to God, then check it.

2.  The preaching of the Gospel is hindered, nay, stymied, by preachers maligning individuals or groups from the pulpit.  Be they his opposition, his critics, a competing church or denomination, those the church classes as enemies, or even those opposed to the purpose and plan of God.  Here's the reality: I'm up there to glorify God.  Shine the light brightly, and the darkness will scatter, or the obstacles to light will show up by contrast.

2a. (corollary): There are appropriate times and ways to identify those issues and people. However, it should involve real quotes or verified actions and a direct explanation of how the behavior is inappropriate.  Vague innuendos or junior high insults have no place in the pulpit.

2b. (further corollary): Be careful with humor and phrasing.  I once used the comment "for those of you who aren't too good with math" after setting up a math problem, I think it was about the number of seconds you have in a week, and I had the answer already.  A few people took offense, that I was insulting or calling people dumb.  At first, I thought this was being hyper-sensitive, but I can see the point.  I've used the illustration again and said, instead that "I've done the math early, because I can't do that in my head." People understood the point, no one was offended, and we felt the common kinship of not being able to do multiple sequential multiplication problems in our head. Even if a math expert had been present, she would have only felt sorry for my shortcoming, not insulted for her superior math skills.

3.  The pulpit, and preaching, is not the time and place for self-defense.  This is a hard one for many of us.  Guess what?  Preaching is about God.  Not about me, the preacher, nor about my aspirations, dreams, desires, or the knife in my back from someone I thought I trusted.  It's about the will of God, the best interest of the church, not about the career of the preacher. 

Now, some of these things have their place, but some, like insulting people, have no place in the lives of any believers, especially preachers.  The pulpit, the sermon, the worship service that is oriented toward God, is not the place for it.

Another great man that has long influenced me taught me, and it's based in Ecclesiastes, "There is a time and a place for everything."  This frequently followed by "This is not the time" or "not the place" for whatever it was.

Keep your preaching where it belongs.

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