Preaching with elevated vagueness

According to an article on Patheos SPURGEON liked to quote this about vague preachers:

The classic evangelical take-down of Robertson’s overblown reputation is the line: “Robertson believed that Christ did something or other, which, somehow or other, had some connexion or other with salvation.” Spurgeon didn’t coin that one, but he loved to quote it.

JOHN PIPER exhorting preachers to be crystal clear in their preaching:

It was in a tweet by Fred Sanders linking to his article about F. W. Robertson, a 19th century British preacher. Even before I read the article I could smell the rot. Robertson, it has been discovered, was covering his sexual affair in private while covering the truth in the pulpit.

That is not surprising. There is a connection between skilled vagueness and concealed immorality. Why else would a man use great gifts to make things unclear unless he was afraid of clarity? And fear of clarity in preaching is a good sign that something besides doctrine is being concealed.

This is not new. And the reason I call attention to Sanders’ article is because I want to plead with pastors to be crystal clear in their preaching, and surgically clean in their private lives. Read the entire John Piper article here-

Fred Sanders in his article- http://www.patheos.com/blogs/scriptorium/2010/08/f-w-robertsons-life-and-death/

In the last few years, new light has been shed on Robertson’s personal life. Investigators have discovered Robertson’s private journal from the year 1849. He made his entries in a code that protected its contents from those who shared his household, but is no barrier to later scholars. What’s in the journal? No surprise: extramarital sex. The entry for October 1, 1849: “Four hours in bed with Augusta.” Mrs. Robertson’s name was Ellen, and the name of Augusta’s husband (she had one) is not recorded.

Sanders also quotes Doug Wilson:

Doug Wilson once described the connection between pastoral sin and vague preaching, in a blog post titled “Porn as Liturgical Corruption:”

when men preach wiggle room they often find that other men will frequently like the look of that wiggle room…. This creates a cycle — the minister is being pushed to compromise from within, and once he begins preaching more tolerant (and therefore more tolerable) sermons, he begins to be pulled. He has presented handles to those who would pull him. And so the lie about Jesus that he has allowed to take root in his heart is a lie that works its way into his manuscript. And from there into other hearts.

Read the entire Fred Sanders article here-  http://www.patheos.com

Read the Doug Wilson article here – http://www.dougwils.com/Sex-and-Culture/Porn-as-Liturgical-Corruption.html

The Modernist Preacher – Entering Hell By Oscar C. Eliason, c1960

Read another poem and Eliason’s life story in a previous post here

The Modernist Preacher-Entering Hell

by Oscar C. Eliason

He was an ordained minister, but modern in his views.
He preached his twisted doctrines to people in the pews.
He would not hurt their feelings, whate’er the cost would be,
But for their smiles and friendship and compliments sought he.
His church was filled with wicked souls that should be saved from sin,
But never once he showed the way or tried a soul to win.
He preached about the lovely birds that twitter in the trees,
The babl’ing of the running brooks, the murm’ring of the seas.

He quoted fancy poetry that tickled list’ning ears
When sorrow came to some, he tried to laugh away their tears.
His smooth and slipp’ry sermons made the people slide to hell.
The harm he did by preaching goes beyond what we can tell.
He took our Holy Bible, and preached it full of holes,
The Virgin Birth, said he can’t be believed by honest souls,
The miracles of Jesus and the resurrection tale
For educated ones like us, today, cannot avail.
We’re living in an age, said he, when wisdom rules and reigns,
When man’s intelligence is great and superstition wanes.

He said, we’re all God’s children who live upon this earth,
No message of salvation, no need of second birth.
His coat was bought with money that he had wrongly gained,
For through his twisted sermons his wealth he had obtained.
He was just like the Roman soldiers that watched at Jesus’ grave,
For money in abundance, to them, the people gave;
It all was theirs by telling what was a sinful lie –
A resurrected Savior, they, too, were to deny.

The day at last had come for the minister to die,
When to his congregation, he had to say good-bye.
His form lay cold and lifeless, his ministry was past,
His tongue with all its poison was hushed and stilled at last.
His funeral was grand; he was lauded to the skies-
They preached him into heaven where there are no good-byes.
Upon the lonely hill, underneath the shady trees,
His form was laid to rest in the whisp’ring of the breeze.

A tombstone was erected with words: „He is at rest,
He’s gone to heaven’s glories to live among the blest.”
His body now is lifeless, but Ah! His soul lives on,
He failed to enter in where they thought that he had gone.
The letters on the tombstone or that sermon some had heard,
Could not decide his destiny, ‘twas not the final word.
He still had God to deal with, the one who knows the heart;
While others entered heaven, he heard the word, „Depart.”

He pauses for a moment upon the brink of hell;
He stares into a depth where he evermore will dwell.
He hears the cries and groanings of souls he had misled,
He recognizes faces among the screaming dead.
He sees departed deacons which he had highly praised.
Their fingers pointing at him as they their voices raised:
„You stood behind the pulpit, and lived in awful sin,
We took you for a saint, but a liar you have been.”
Accusing cries! He hears them, „Ah! You have been to blame,
You led us into darkness when you were seeking fame.”

„You preached your deadly doctrine, we thought you knew the way.
We fed you and we clothed you, we even raised your pay.
You’ve robbed us of a home where no tear-drops ever flow,
Where days are always fair and the heav’nly breezes blow.
Where living streams are flowing, and saints and Angels sing,
Where every one is happy, and Hallelujahs ring.
We’re in this place of torment, from which no soul returns;
We hear the cry of lost ones, we feel the sizzling burns;
Give us a drop of water, we’re tortured in this flame;
You failed to preach salvation to us through Jesus’ Name.”

The preacher turns in horror, he tries to leave the scene,
He knows the awful future for every soul unclean,
But there he meets the devil, whom he has served so well,
He feels the demon powers as they drag him into hell.
Throughout eternal ages, his groans, too, must be heard-
He, too, must suffer torment-he failed to heed God’s Word.
He feels God’s wrath upon him, he hears the hot flames roar,
His doctrine now is different, he ridicules no more.

By Oscar C. Eliason, c1960

John Piper: Bible-Oriented Preaching or Entertainment?

(via) Sermon Central – You can read it here.

The Bible tethers us to reality. We are not free to think and speak whatever might enter our minds or what might be pleasing to any given audience—except God.

By personal calling and Scripture, I am bound to the word of God and to the preaching of what the Bible says. There are few things that burden me more or refresh me more than saying what I see in the Bible. I love to see what God says in the Bible. I love to savor it. And I love to say it.

I believe with all my heart that this is the way God has appointed for me not to waste my life. His word is true. The Bible is the only completely true book in the world. It is inspired by God. Rightly understood and followed, it will lead us to everlasting joy with him. There is no greater book or greater truth.

The implications of this for preaching are immense. John Calvin, with the other Reformers, rescued the Scriptures from their subordination to tradition in the medieval church. The Reformation, let us thank God, was the recovery of the unique and supreme authority of Scripture over church authority.

Commenting on John 17:20, Calvin wrote,

Woe to the Papists who have no other rule of faith than the tradition of the Church. As for us, let us remember that the Son of God, who alone can and ought to pronounce in this matter, approves of no other faith but that which comes from the doctrine of the Apostles, of which we find no certain testimony except in their writings.  (Commentary on John)

Calvin’s preaching inspires me to press on with this great and glorious task of heralding the word of God. I feel what he says when he writes to Cardinal Sadoleto:

O Lord, you have enlightened me with the brightness of your Spirit. You have put your Word as a lamp to my feet. The clouds which before now veiled your glory have been dispelled by it, and the blessings of your Anointed have shone clearly upon my eyes. What I have learnt from your mouth (that is to say, from your Word) I will distribute faithfully to your church. (“Letter to Cardinal Jacopo Sadoleto,” quoted in J. H. Merle d’Aubigne, Let Christ Be Magnified, Banner of Truth, 2007, p. 13).

For Calvin, preaching was tethered to the Bible. That is why he preached through books of the Bible so relentlessly. In honor of tethered preaching, I would like to suggest the difference I hear between preaching tethered to the word of God and preaching that ranges free and leans toward entertainment.

The difference between an entertainment-oriented preacher and a Bible-oriented preacher is the manifest connection of the preacher’s words to the Bible as what authorizes what he says.

The entertainment-oriented preacher gives the impression that he is not tethered to an authoritative book in what he says. What he says doesn’t seem to be shaped and constrained by an authority outside himself. He gives the impression that what he says has significance for reasons other than that it manifestly expresses the meaning and significance of the Bible. So he seems untethered to objective authority.

The entertainment-oriented preacher seems to be at ease talking about many things that are not drawn out of the Bible. In his message, he seems to enjoy more talking about other things than what the Bible teaches. His words seem to have a self-standing worth as interesting or fun. They are entertaining. But they don’t give the impression that this man stands as the representative of God before God’s people to deliver God’s message.

The Bible-oriented preacher, on the other hand, does see himself that way—“I am God’s representative sent to God’s people to deliver a message from God.” He knows that the only way a man can dare to assume such a position is with a trembling sense of unworthy servanthood under the authority of the Bible. He knows that the only way he can deliver God’s message to God’s people is by rooting it in and saturating it with God’s own revelation in the Bible.

The Bible-oriented preacher wants the congregation to know that his words, if they have any abiding worth, are in accord with God’s words. He wants this to be obvious to them. That is part of his humility and his authority. Therefore, he constantly tries to show the people that his ideas are coming from the Bible. He is hesitant to go too far toward points that are not demonstrable from the Bible.

His stories and illustrations are constrained and reined in by his hesitancy to lead the consciousness of his hearers away from the sense that this message is based on and expressive of what the Bible says. A sense of submission to the Bible and a sense that the Bible alone has words of true and lasting significance for our people mark the Bible-oriented preacher, but not the entertainment-oriented preacher.

People leave the preaching of the Bible-oriented preacher with a sense that the Bible is supremely authoritative and important and wonderfully good news. They feel less entertained than struck at the greatness of God and the weighty power of his word.

Lord, tether us to your mighty word. Cause me and all preachers to show the people that our word is powerless and insignificant in comparison with yours. Grant us to stand before our people as messengers sent with God’s message to God’s people in God’s name by God’s Spirit. Grant us to tremble at this responsibility. Protect us from trifling with this holy moment before your people.

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