Friday, March 11, 2011

Resisting the Urge: A Call for Maturity in the Pulpit

The pulpit, as it has come to be called, represents the most significant portion of a Pastor’s call in shepherding his sheep. It is from the pulpit that his congregation, his assembly of sheep, are reproved in their missteps, given correction for such and instructed in a manner that will enable them to be led away from sin into righteousness. The pulpit is premium; it is, along with that of prayer, one of the two most precious ministry minerals or dietary mediums for the welfare of God’s children that a Pastor encounters (Acts 6:4)

The pulpit represents years upon years, days upon days and hours upon hours of devoted preparation by a Pastor whose shoulders bear the responsibility of communicating sound doctrine to his children. The pulpit is the place where the signals are given by the Pastor as to where Scripture declares the direction God intends for his sheep, and it is purely and thoroughly founded in God’s Holy Writ (recognizing also that a faithful Pastor often includes information and enlightenment of related topics which also benefit his sheep. However, these are only by-products of a greater service, namely the exegesis and exposition of God’s Word for the feeding of the sheep).

Unfortunately the pulpit is also seen by some as a place of promotion, theatrics, personal aggrandizing, libertarianism, and so on. Though some may intellectually acquiesce to the above, in practice it is much about personal appeal, spiritual romantics and sermonizing. Their venture into the pulpit may have begun sincere or maybe not, it may have been inaugurated with study and teaching, maybe not, but regardless of the beginning what we do find is that at this present time many pulpits are filled with elements that must be resisted, features that can and should be identified as immature and unhealthy.

The Urge To Be Cool

The word cool, in and of itself, is a juvenile one. Its heavy use belongs to the expression of the adolescent whose immature but growing enlightenment misappropriates, mishandles and maligns much of what he or she sees and hears. Being cool is important because “self” is the emphasis of cool; that which appeals to personal esteem, personal tastes and not the tastes of some higher principle. Now some have attempted to import the term cool or the idea of cool into higher orders and seek to prescribe this lower idea to higher orders. While they may employ such a term its use falls deaf to the ears of most (due to its inadequacy) because most adults (and even adolescents) know where cool belongs. 

But when one attempts to be cool in the pulpit they reduce their profile with their audience and truthfully also imply a reduction of that audience as well. God does not have anything less than permeating intentions when He teaches us that it is not through the wisdom of man but by the power of the Word that we are enlightened and empowered. Because of this a Pastor must speak in those terms. In Scripture we do not find instruction alloyed with immature expressions or desires nor the encouragement to communicate to students of God’s Word so that we provide some kind of juvenile appeal to some immature element of our audience. Instead the Scriptures repeatedly treat its readers as those seeking to be lifted from the context of cool to that of spiritual. We must speak with sobriety, seriousness and clarity.

Does this mean cool or relevant is sinful or forbidden? No such claim is being made and in its proper context it isn’t necessarily wrong, however in serious contexts, particularly spiritual ones, while one may not go so far as to say “the bible declares it to be sin” it can and should rightly be identified as immature, lacking perspective or failing to reflect the higher order of the language of Divine communication.

I am quite aware of the claims of cultural relativism and its proponents within Christianity, particularly Evangelical Christianity. Personally I don’t buy them. In fact one of the most poignant and challenging responses to this comes from the LCMS:

However, many do not realize that Lutheran worship is its own culture, distinct from the pop culture and the evangelical culture of Christianity in our country today. The church must develop and maintain its own cultural language that reflects the values and structures of the Scriptures and not of the current culture. This church language can only be shaped by a biblical theology which affirms the real presence of Jesus Christ in worship and our belief that this presence binds the culture together as a community. The context that shapes our distinct Lutheran ethos is Scripture, theology, and history. Local circumstance is secondary. Traditionally, this Lutheran culture is liturgical, theological, and counter- cultural.

Though the statement is intended for the LCMS denomination, its truth is prescriptive to all churches. Our culture is obsessed with “cool” ad nauseam. We have, in many ways, acquiesced to the culture around us instead of, as the statement above reflects, developed and maintained “cultural language that reflects the values and structure of Scriptures”

Pastors and Teachers of God’s Word, resist the temptation to spoil the elevated nature of biblical communication and culture. God does not need the help of juvenile expressions or colloquialisms which give rise to moppet considerations. God does not need to borrow the lyrics, rhymes or phrases of a world foreign to his divine architecture whose placement among the spiritual edifice of sound teaching appears to be nothing more than cheap and tacky accouterments in a majestic hall. Your pulpits and your teaching positions are elevated for a reason. And I believe God’s principles advocates all of us to resist the urge to teach in a manner, otherwise.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this article. The pulpit and the different ministries of teaching are used by many for just what you cited, exhibitionism so they may attract a crowd or offering some kind of 40 Days gimmick instead of solid bible exposition. This is all part and parcel of the church growth movement.