Critical reviews (by Lutheran pastors and church musicians) of books and other resources for Christian worship, preaching, and church music from a perspective rooted in Holy Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions and good common sense. LHP Quarterly Book Review asks, "Is it worth the money to buy, the time to read, the shelf space to store, and the effort to teach?"
Feed: Pastoral Meanderings Posted on: Friday, August 16, 2013 5:00 AM Author:email@example.com (Pastor Peters) Subject: 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.
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.