Monday, November 21, 2011

The Seven Deadly Sins of Preaching

If you want to commit the spiritual genocide of your congregation, try implementing these seven sins into your preaching:

 Ignoring the Context. Context is king. The Bible out of context allows for the preacher, how unintentional it may be, to manipulate what is said and to replace God’s inspired message with his own. The less context you use, the more likely it is that you will distort the text. This is why cults love to jump all over the Bible instead of staying in one place and talking about the legitimacy of their interpretations in light of the entire context of the book, pericope, paragraph, etc. The context will determine the meaning, and without it, one can make the Bible say anything. The preacher can still do this without going all over the Bible (I’ve seen people preach through an entire book and miss it because the analysis was so atomized it ended up ignoring the larger context sitting right in front of everyone), but it’s far more likely the case that the context will be ignored if one just quotes a passage and then quickly runs off to something else.

Misapplying the Bible. Sometimes it's where you end up rather than where you begin. Instead of asking if your pastor preaches the Bible, you might want to ask if your pastor is actually applying the Bible that was just preached. Applications today are wild and seemingly unchained from the direction of the passage. I’ve seen the passage say one thing and the pastor completely contradict what it says, as well as its implications (which should also be applied), with his application (even sometimes when his exegesis was sufficient). We should always be on guard in our hearing and listen for the applications that run with, or counter to, the actual text itself.

Using the Bible for Your Own Agenda. Who is being presented on stage? The Bible is an authoritative platform that is meant to be used among the faithful as the means to communicate and glorify God, but it is often used instead to give authority and glory to the preacher. His opening the Bible is simply the stage to exalt himself and build his cult following, as he feeds into the celebrity worship that his congregation is already giving him. The result is that the man, not Christ, as Christ truly is presented in Scripture, is lifted up.

Subtly Replacing the Biblical Message with Stories. Is it story time or Bible time? Using a text to fill in your stories is to preach human experience and not the Bible  Where our stories were once called “illustrations” and used as supportive material to help the listener understand the Biblical passage, the stories (a.k.a. “illustrations) today are meant to be the main argument and any Scripture cited is meant to simply help the listener understand what the preacher wants to say. He might have just as well cited Shakespeare or Lady Gaga. In essence, the Bible has become supportive material for the man inspired story rather than the man’s story existing to illustrate the divinely inspired text.

Training People to Be Seers rather than Hearers? Many pastors are attempting to feed into our false religion by convincing us with all sorts of arguments (biblical and unbiblical) of the truth of a biblical claim. What he should be doing instead is proclaiming the Word of God to the faithful and not worry so much about who believes and who doesn’t. Those who seek to understand in order to believe are not in submission to God's Word, but to their own experience. Attempting to always convince the congregation to have faith in what is said is teaching them that this posture is acceptable. Instead, they need to be taught that faith comes through hearing, not seeing and understanding for themselves before they will have faith in what is said. What they need to see is that the Bible teaches it. Whether they have a genuine faith that submits to it is the concern of the Holy Spirit. We need to stop trying to give understanding through sight and pray that the Holy Spirit gives it to people through faith instead. As such, sermons need to proclaim the Word of God, not be lectures that seek to convert the unconvertible.

Replacing a Genuine Spirit of Conviction with a Contrived Emotional Experience. Is it time for the altar call? Then it’s time to play the piano and pull those emotional strings. Is it time to preach? Then it’s time to jump up and down and get everyone emotionally pumped. "It’s time to play the music. It’s time to light the lights. It’s time to meet the muppets on the Muppet Show tonight.” Is it showtime, time to be entertained, or is it time to present the truth of Scripture through various means (e.g., preaching, music, prayer, etc.) in order to invite the presence and work of the Holy Spirit into our lives as a congregation and as individuals in order to transform unholy thinking and unholy living into holy thinking and holy living? Too often in our culture we are seeking to manufacture false miracles (e.g., false conversions, false commitments, false spiritual experiences) through emotional manipulation. But becoming emotional and becoming spiritually mature are two different things. They both include emotion, but one is just emotion and nothing else.

Preaching Half Truths. Ah, the deadliest of the seven deadly sins. It is the spawning pool of all heresy. The preacher who is afraid to teach the whole counsel of God, because his congregation has not been culturally conditioned to accept certain uncommonly heard things from the Word of God. Hence, there might be severe consequences that take place if he tries to preach the whole counsel of God, so he becomes a preacher of half truths. And a preacher of half truths is a lying preacher. A half truth is not the whole truth, and as such, it is easily distorted into a full blown lie. As heresy emphasizes one truth to the exclusion of a qualifying truth, so this type of preaching creates theological and ethical hunchbacks that have turned the living God into a god of their own making with the help of lopsided preaching. It would be better to have no preacher at all than a preacher of half truths.

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