Failing to Preach Christ (Continued)

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The final way in which preachers fail to preach Christ, according to McIlvaine is preaching with the wisdom of words. It is shocking when reading this next paragraph to realize that it was written in the mid 1800's. His analysis of the preaching in his day parallels my analysis of preaching in our day. The only conclusion is that nothing is new, and the gospel will always seem old and crusty to preachers and churches who either haven't been saved by it or do not love it with fondness of affection. This last defect of preaching is one that preaches "in a dry, doctrinal sense." I know for a fact that this was me (and probably still is sometimes if I were to ask one of our flock for an honest assessment!). This defect,

"seems to be formed on the idea that it is inapplicable, in these days of advancement, to preach the simple gospel in its own simplicity, surrounding and setting forth its truths with scriptural illustrations and associations, so that it shall be not only the gospel in the substance of its doctrine, but the gospel in its nature, form, visage, drapery, and savour. The idea of the preacher seems to be that such preaching would be considered antiquated and worn out; something requiring more originality, more depth of philosophical investigation, is demanded, to make people hear the gospel. You must make it look as little like the gospel as is consistent with preserving substantially the gospel doctrine" (p. 18).

The parallel, of course, would be what has come to be called 'seeker-sensitive' churches. What may be different today than in McIlvaine's day is that seeker-sensitive churches do not do what the last sentence states; that is, while they do make the gospel look as little like the gospel as they can, they do not preserve substantially the gospel doctrine. There simply is no gospel doctrine and no gospel at all.

This points toward sermons and series which are all geared for drawing crowds. Per McIlvaine preachers in his day did this to make people hear the gospel. Today, preachers draw the crowds with originality and then do not preach the gospel. In my area, there is a seeker-sensitive church which has billboards advertising their theme of the month. In February it was "Love is in the Air," a focus on relationships. This month it is "iGod: little 'i' big God," featuring an advertisement similar to the iPod.

With this and other like-minded churches, each month there is a new 'original' (or in the latter case not so original) theme that keeps the folks coming. And why do they come? Because the themes represent needs which people have, sometimes called felt-needs. But the gospel is missing altogether, and sometimes intentionally.

One nationally known, television pastor of one of the largest churches in North America has recently stated publicly that he would never preach on sin! The savour of the gospel is in the grace which saves despite our sin. If there is no sin, there is no salvation, and there is no Jesus, thus there is no gospel.

Many of these religious establishments seem to be built around a figurehead, a man with dynamo, a charismatic personality, vision. Most of them are religious entrepeneurs. McIlvaine had them in his day too. Of them he writes,

"The preacher preaches himself. To make the hearer regard him as a man of thought and depth, elevated by education above that simplicity of teaching which he supposes anybody can attain to, he affects the philosopher, deals in abstractions, dissociates the Master's message from the authority and mind of the Master and the simplicity of his inspired Word..." (pp. 18-19).

Tomorrow...the critique of this defect, according to the apostle Paul who dealt with all of this even in his own day! Some things are never new.

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