THEY PREACH CHRIST GONE, DEAD AND BURIED
HOW PASTORS ARE KEEPING GOD OUT OF THE CHURCH
By Dr. Henderson Ward
I do not know from personal experience because I have never tried it but superficial logic dictates and it is universally accepted as true the old proverb, “There is more than one way to skin a cat”. For simple minds like mine this is a metaphor for achieving a stated aim by taking one of a number of different approaches.
This proverb comes powerfully to mind when I contemplate the regression of the centrality of preaching the full Gospel in the lopsided liturgy of most modern churches. We all have experienced how some preachers/pastors/churches no longer follow the dictates of the Holy Spirit and preach the full life-saving Gospel of Jesus Christ but take unto themselves powers of censorship and proscribe from their preaching all references to hell, holiness, righteous living, duty, sacrifice, eternity, sobriety, damnation, judgment and any other topic that may stir the consciences and bestow unease on their spiritually starved and doctrinally fickle congregations.
There is a powerful mass movement in America, hoodwinked by an amalgam of communist, atheist and liberals, who are bent on removing God from every aspect of public life (with the final aim of removing God from society). They masquerade under different banners but are in fundamental agreement with the website that says this:
“I’m really getting tired of these pushy Evangelical Christians shoving their version of Christianity down the throats of Americans. Every day I hear about how Government needs to start taking moral stances against television, movies, music, culture, etc.; how we need to put prayer back in schools; how we need statues of the Ten Commandments in courthouses; basically how we need to put Christ in every nook and cranny of life…”
The writer goes on to tell you of his Christianity; “Don’t get me wrong, I’m Roman Catholic. I have nothing against Christ at all…I recall that accepting Christ and God was the requisite, and living in a generally moral way was all that was needed” and the oxymoron become pellucid clear when the most fundamental teaching of the Christian faith is mentioned. He goes on, “Every religion has flaws, and every religion at one point or another infringes basic human rights of some group. These days, the most common groups are gays and those in need of abortions. My own Church says gays are immoral, and so is abortion, but I disagree.”
Just like this website are masses of secular people who are agitating for or allowing God to be minimized or obliterated from the public realm but then are strangely silent or recklessly negligent when the consequences of their actions overwhelm society. This is of major concern to all right-thinking people but there is an even greater concern and it relates to what is happening within the church.
It would be more honest and less hypocritical if some preachers/pastors/churches just go ahead and erect a sign or notice board on their church that says, “God is NOT preached here and Jesus mentioned only a little, sometimes.” It is as if preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all its dimensions has become a contagious disease that must be avoided at all cost and where avoidance is not an option then minimized to a level of insignificance.
One church visited had a Sunday liturgy lasting 90 minutes and the pastor got up to preach his sermon in the 80th minute and commenced by saying, “I know you do not want to hear the Word but bear with me for a couple minutes…” He actually apologized for having to preach a sermon at his own church and after preaching (hic!) a tiny sermon pronounced the benediction.
Lest some people think that this phenomenon is occurring only in the Protestant churches then be advised that is not the case. Two years ago the Pope instructed all priests to reduce their sermons to no more than 8 minutes duration and this is how it was reported.
“In a new book consisting of reflections based on the 2008 Synod on the Word of God, the secretary for the Synod of Bishops, Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, writes that homilies should not last more than eight minutes.”
It should be stated that when one attends a worship service then the whole liturgy should be oriented towards worshipping God and the generation of a deep sense of spiritual awareness but within that framework the centrality and preeminence of the God-inspired sermon should be fulsomely recognized. The Roman Catholic Church since before the Reformation has consistently and progressively reduced the sermon to an adjunct to their mass and elevated their chants and prayers and music and song to such dominance that it is unrecognizable from the paradigm set by the early church.
The Reformers recognized the drift away from apostolic orthodoxy and as part of their reforms reinstated the sermon to its central role in general church liturgy. Protestant churches no longer accept ritual (the Eucharist/Holy Communion) as the central plank of their liturgy but the sermon aimed at the congregation to deepen their faith, cause revival and to evangelize. Even in Holy Communion/Eucharistic service the sermon sets the tone and prepares the congregation and ought to have a major position within the liturgy.
We should remember that the sermon (as opposed to a sermonette or homily – a short commentary that may follow a Bible reading for a special occasion) is not some recent invention but has an illustrious history going back to Moses. We have records showing us Moses’ sermon (Deuteronomy 1-33), Jesus’ sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7), Peter’s sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2:14-40) and Paul’s sermon in Troas (Acts 20: 7-12). In addition to these we have copies of sermons preached to congregations and audiences from some of the greatest preachers in church history including preachers like Tertullian, John Chrysostom, Saint Francis of Assisi, John Wesley, Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon and Jonathan Edwards to mention but a few.
So why is this massive regression of the centrality of preaching the full Gospel occurring in the modern churches? Why are churches abandoning the central themes of the Bible and instead feeding their congregations palliatives? Paul warns, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). We all have experienced how some preachers/pastors/churches no longer follow the dictates of the Holy Spirit and preach the full life-saving Gospel and we are seeing all around us the dire consequences.
So why is this existential tragedy taking place? Why is the church being denuded of its effectiveness, universal mission and core purpose? Some people, believers included, will just shrug their shoulders and write it off to “the times” or to “the inevitable decline of institutions” or to “humans just are not spiritual anymore”. There is some truth in all these assertions but there are far weightier underlying reasons for this state of affairs and the church needs to awake from its slumber and address these debilitating, and if not tackled speedily, fatal concerns.
Feminizing the church
Throughout Christendom men have always been the de-facto leaders of the church assemblies as well as the activist and mainstay of the congregations. It is true that theocratic religions from the earliest times, beginning with Abraham, was established by and proceeded under the umbrella of beneficent patriarchy. Men’s natural place as head of the clan was never challenged and women’s supportive role was deemed honorable and fully enshrined in all communities and countries. This state of affairs became congruous and solidified not because women were mentally and spiritual inferior, Deborah became the fourth judge of Israel, Candace was leader of Ethiopia/Eritrea (Sheba) and Cleopatra the leader of Egypt, but because the societal dynamics assigned to each what was sustainable and worked best for the survival and progress of the population.
There is evidence that even in Jesus’ day women outnumbered men in the temple and synagogues but always their role was supportive. All through the early church and well into modern times women dominated the assemblies but were virtually absent from the leadership except for rare occasions. History shows that while women were numerically dominant in the assemblies they were usually silent and this was because, in part, Paul instructed that women keep silent in the church and if they wanted to know something then ask their husbands at home (1 Corinthians 14:34-37).
A series of events in western society produced the catalyst that eventually led to much confusion and conflict in the world that impacted the political and social landscape but also fractured the old certainties of the established church. The renaissance took place followed by the Reformation followed by the Enlightment followed by communism followed by women’s liberation movement and together they uncorked the genie of strident feminism. At the core of the onion was strident feminism being kept in check by decorum and layer upon layer of societal restraint and each pivotal event was like a giant hand ripping away layer after layer until the core was finally exposed.
Women today are still numerically dominant in the assemblies but they have become more demanding and by sheer force of numbers make church leaders address their particular concerns because while the majority of assemblies are still led by men the majority of lay ministers are women. As a consequence things that have always mattered to women more than men, things like raising children, social issues, welfare concerns and such like are becoming the focus of sermons rather than be dealt with as side issues for a different forum.
Also lots of protestant assemblies have influence in deciding whom becomes their leader and since women are in the voting majority they choose a leader who is feminist oriented or one who is amenable to feminist orientation. This particularly applies where the local assembly can hire and fire its leader – which is the case in many protestant churches – but feminization of the church is not limited to protestant churches for the orthodox/catholic assemblies have a similar problem as alluded to by this catholic orientation website.
“Parishes have become “feminized,” the NPLC report continues, not only because many lay ministers are women, but also because parish ministry has become more collaborative and concerned with nurturing. This “feminine” spirit is to replace, I suppose, a “masculine” spirit which is more akin with hierarchy and institution. In short, today’s parish minister is more like to be a layperson – and a woman. And increasingly, women are on the altar doing almost everything – including preaching.”
The corollary to all this is that leaders, in trying to be in sync with their assemblies, are shamelessly pandering to their women; lots of singing, rituals and superficiality and in the process ignoring matters of substance that engage men and make them think church attendance is still worthwhile. The more the church is feminized the less attractive it becomes to men and the more it becomes inward looking and isolated. Without men the church looses its militancy, its motivation and its mission and that eventually leads to its slow decline and inevitable demise.
Trying to keep disinterested members
All organizations from time to time have disaffected members and the church has never been an exception. Disaffection usually results in members voting with their feet and seeking accommodation elsewhere but that has not always been the case and in the early church it was not even considered. In the early church it was the Greeks that were disaffected because they perceived that their widows were not given equitable access to the available resources and according to the account in Acts chapter 6 they rose up in revolt. The early church settled this matter in a very Christian and dignified manner by creating a class of overseers known as deacons and delegated to them the task of looking after that particular business. That this course of action was brilliant is evidenced by the fact that even today most churches still follow that particular model for church administration even though some structures are slightly different and are known by a variety of different names like church board, board of directors, board of trustees, etc.
Today disaffected church members are plentiful and the movement from one church to another is ongoing. However the bigger challenge is dealing with those members who are not leaving but are deeply disaffected, have lost interest or are fed up to the point of chronic apathy. This is or can become one of the tests for evaluating true, God-focused leadership and the way this is handled can define the character of that assembly and its pastor.
Some leaders never look in the mirror, never evaluate their contribution, never contemplate that they need to change some things, never ask the right questions and seek the relevant answers and as a consequence meetings and sermons become stale, predictable, one dimensional and awfully boring. What then becomes inescapable as a consequence is an aura of disaffection and in time the falling away of the congregation.
True, God-inspired, erudite leaders respond to disaffection by pursuing renewal, revival and spiritual refreshment in an attempt to bring the congregation to a state of renewed commitment, heightened vigor and enthusiasm and a love for and practice of evangelism. Alas what many leaders are doing are turning to the worst models they see on Christian broadcasting stations that elevate frivolity, garishness, theatricals and music and blend them into a form of entertainment that they assume will keep their congregations engaged. And since their congregations are mostly women then it is the women who are the prime movers as here witnessed by the catholic oriented website I previously mentioned. “I went to a Catholic church downtown yesterday,” she said, “and really, it was all women on the altar – except for the priest. At Communion four ladies – three in pants – went to the side altar to pick up the chalices. The song leader was sensuous, in a blouse showing cleavage, waving her arms like a traffic cop. Only a few women in the pews were singing along. All the altar boys were girls.”
What is needed is a return to fundamental Christian values, an unapologetic preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ in all its dimensions and the renewal of the spirit and zest of first-century dynamic Christianity. It will do well for churches, pastors and preachers of every hue to remember well the words of the Apostle Paul, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation…” (Romans 1:16). Current disaffection is caused in part by pastors and preachers not offering the substantive, life-giving food of the word of God, the powerful meat that nourishes growth and fortifies the soul but instead offer man-made palliatives and worldly fads that may look superficially attractive but are profoundly debilitating. Paul instructs Timothy, “Preach the Word…” (2 Timothy 4: 2) and this fundamental requirement still stands today.
Pursuing filthy lucre
One of the great paradoxes in Christianity is the unbridled relish in which the church pursues the very thing that ultimately brings its demise: mammon (wealth as a false god). Lots of church leaders are in the habit of parroting inanities, "the church is a business like any other business" without understanding the ramifications of such a concept. In one sense the church is a business in that organizationally it has elements in common with business but to describe the church as a business per se is to fail to appreciate the unique character of the church.
Most leaders who say the church is a business do so with reference to one thing only; money. They look at the church accounts and query why they are not making more money and then organize to generate more money. They make appeals for members to give more money, they have cake sales, rallies, concerts, car wash and any number of activities to raise money and the more money they raise the more money they want to raise year on year and always with the idea of enriching themselves. There is scarcely a church leader anywhere that says to his church, "Freeze my pay for the next five years I am quite satisfied with what I am getting."
There was a time when salary was not even a consideration for pastors for it was the love of God's work that motivated them and some even knew that the pay was paltry but it did not impact their enthusiasm for the work. We have pastors who refuse to take any pay from their church working with their own hands to make a living while undertaking all the duties and responsibilities of church leadership and we salute and respect them for so doing. Others are getting little pay and in some instances take on the pastoral care of several assemblies and do it all with a glad heart knowing their reward awaits them.
On the other hand there are those who see the church as a business and they are the Chief Executive Officer and as such entitle to monstrous compensation like any secular CEO. Where they can't enrich themselves legally then they resort to all kind of scams to make sure their bank accounts and investment portfolio are inflated. The mass media loves to highlight these indiscretions from time to time for these pastoral peccadilloes make for dramatic headlines and feed the tabloid frenzy.
The main culprits here were the large, established denominations that in the past were part of the Establishment and so had acquired large estates and huge properties rivaling the homes of kings and presidents and staffed with a retinue of serfs, slaves, servants and the like. Those church leaders had far more in common with the debauched, tyrannical, extravagant leadership of a bygone, misbegotten clique than with any leadership aligned with Jesus Christ.
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