Having surveyed three common forms of unbiblical preaching (moralistic, allegorical, & gnostic) in the previous three posts, I want to dedicate this post to the unintended consequences that result when Christians are fed a steady diet of this kind of preaching.
I have have no doubt that the majority of preachers who give moralistic, allegorical, or gnostic sermons are well intentioned men who love God and are trying to help their listeners. The majority of Thai pastors whom I have met are hard working, godly men who desire to see people come to faith in Christ and grow as disciples. However, while many try to preach sermons that will help people, they often times miss the mark by failing to tell people what God wants them to know from the pages of Scripture.
One of the tragic results of unbiblical preaching is that God’s people fail to receive the nourishment they need from God’s Word. As preachers try to give them something that will help them, they fail to give them what they really need. A while back, my wife told me that a lady whom she is discipling refused to go to the Buddhist temple with her non-Christian boss. She was not being asked to make merit or make offerings but merely accompany her. This Christian woman refused, saying the temple is a wicked place and it is sinful for Christians to go there under any circumstances. In this statement, she not only offended her boss but implied that any other Christians who went to a Buddhist temple under any circumstance would be sinning (It is not uncommon for Thai Christians to go to a temple for the funeral of a Buddhist relative or friend, but not participate in the Buddhist parts of the ceremony).
The tragedy here is that not too long before this incident, the pastor at the church she had been attending gave a sermon on Romans 14 but failed to preach what was actually in the passage. The point of the passage is to not judge other Christians for eating, or not eating food that had been previously offered to idols in the local temple. Both those who ate and didn’t eat agreed that idol worship was wrong, and did not participate in it, but had a difference of opinion as to whether food that been used in such a way could be bought or eaten afterwards. Paul urged his readers to listen to their own consciences and not judge their brothers and sisters who came to a different conclusion. Each believer will give an account of himself to God, so withhold judgment and entrust others to God. That is the point of the passage. One can see how this teaching from Romans 14 could be applied fairly directly to the situation mentioned above. However, that is not what the pastor preached about. He took Paul’s injunction to not judge other believers for what they eat and applied it to the weekly fellowship meal after church. Sometimes the food runs out and people don’t have enough to eat. Therefore, church members should not harbor a grudge against other people for taking all the food but should regard their situation as suffering for the Gospel. The pastor’s point about having the right attitude about the weekly fellowship meal is a good one but it is totally unrelated to the point of Romans 14. If the pastor had only preached in faith what was actually in the passage, trusting that it was what people needed to hear, then this particular woman would have heard from God what she really needed to hear instead of what the pastor thought people needed to hear.
A Functional Denial of the Authority and Sufficiency of Scripture
All truly evangelical Christians will affirm the authority of the Bible as God’s Word, yet moralistic, allegorical and gnostic preaching is a functional denial of the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. God knows what we need to hear in order to come to faith in Christ, and what we need to hear in order to grow in faith and godliness. To fail to preach what God is actually saying in Scripture, and to substitute our own ideas, is to say that God’s Word does not really give us what we need for life and faith. In order to give people what they really need, God’s Word must be either supplemented or set aside in favor of something more helpful. Yet consider what God’s Word says about itself:
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3)
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17)
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12)
If the Bible is truly as powerful and sufficient as it claims that it is, then why do preachers feel that it is not enough to simply preach what is there in the Bible?
Christ & the Gospel Pushed Aside
On the Emmaus road, Jesus explained (Luke 24:27) that Moses and the Prophets all pointed to Him. Indeed the entirety of Scripture has Christ at the center of God’s plan of redemption, progressively revealed in the pages of Scripture. When preachers use the Bible as merely a collection of moral stories or a launching off point for their own ideas, Christ is no longer at the center of Scripture. We are.
Christ is our “Get Out of Hell Free” card but now that we’ve been saved, it is onward and upward. Christ and the Gospel are functionally pushed aside in favor of something more helpful and relevant. It’s not that the Gospel isn’t important. It is.... well, for evangelistic semons at least. But once people are saved, they don’t need to hear the Gospel again and again, do they?
What people really need (it is supposed) is to be challenged to live the victorious Christian life, built up with inspirational tales of moral courage, or taught how to speak in tongues. The focus of moralistic, allegorical, and gnostic preaching is usually on helping people live their best lives now. How can I be a better person? How can I be a happier person?
In the midst of well meaning messages of inspiration and moral challenge, the greatness and glory of God is lost. The relevance of the Gospel of Christ for everyday life is lost. The mercy and forgiveness of Christ that we need to hear again and again is nowhere to be found. Where is Christ? Where is my Savior? He is right there at the center of Scripture and His presence permeates every single page of the Bible. But why doesn’t the preacher point me to my Good Shepherd as he preaches on Sunday morning. He thinks that he has got something more filling than the bread of life to offer us. I eat it dutifully. But I am still starving.
In the next post in this series on unbiblical preaching, we will look at some of the reasons this problem exists.
Unbiblical Preaching - Part 1: Missing the Point
Unbiblical Preaching - Part 2: Moralistic Preaching
Unbiblical Preaching - Part 3: Allegorical Preaching
Unbiblical Preaching - Part 4: Gnostic Preaching
Unbiblical Preaching - Part 5: Consequences
Unbiblical Preaching - Part 6: Sources