Friday, May 25, 2012

Preaching The Gospel To Unbelievers Is Bad?

I watched this video from Todd Friel yesterday and it just rubbed me the wrong way for a number of reasons. Give it a look see...

I think where this goes wrong is where discussions like this often go wrong: at the beginning. Todd assumes that "preaching" means "sermons" and that this sort of "preaching" is what the Bible means when it talks about edification, equipping and discipleship. As I have stated over and over, we always see preaching done in the New Testament directed at unbelievers and never see a single sermon associated with the gathering of the church. It is only because we have adopted and modified the Mass that we assume that watching a speaker deliver a prepared speech somehow equates to preaching and this "preaching" is at the heart of the gathered church. The church as an event we attend is invariably going to attract sheep and goats so to decry some for trying to share the Gospel with the lost is foolhardy. If you are going to have a performance driven event, you might as well reach the lost while you are at it.

Todd seems to confuse our cultural religious expression of church (showing up on Sunday, sitting in a pew and somehow being spoon fed via sermon until we magically become mature) with the purpose of the church demonstrated and revealed in Scripture. These are all common topics I post about so no need to go any further on that.

That misunderstanding about the purpose of the church is not all that surprising. What I did find especially troubling was his "baby bird" analogy, the idea that we are continually showing up on Sunday to be spoon fed. The Bible talks about those who never seem to get beyond theological infancy

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.  (Heb  5:12-14)

The author of Hebrews seems remarkably disdainful here. He seems to think that these people should be further along than they are and is disappointed that they are not. Keep in mind that these are people surrounded by a pagan culture unlike anything we can imagine, coming from a legalistic reinterpretation of the Old Covenant community and without the myriad "benefits" we have: a complete Bible, a deep cultural tradition of Christianity, ample resources. Yet the author of Hebrews expects that they will have moved beyond the "milk stage" into the more mature "meat stage", or moving from spiritual infancy to adulthood.

I don't necessarily blame Todd here, even though as someone who frequently posts discernment videos pointing out the errors in other you would think he would be past the stage of sitting around with his mouth open to be "fed", i.e. listen to a sermon. The church is structured in a way that locks people into perpetual spiritual infancy by constantly spoon "feeding" them via sermons, Sunday schools and rituals rather than equipping them with the expectation that they will come to a level of maturity and actually begin doing the work of ministry. The flip side of this is a spiritual dependency where Christians are perpetually dependent on their clergy to do the work of ministry while the rest watch. If you doubt this, visit a typical local church and see how many long term "members" have not served the needy or shared the Gospel with someone who is lost in the last six months. Few evangelicals can express even the most basic theological concepts. We have churches stuffed with Bibles, books, tracts, sermons and Sunday school that are also populated with milk level immature Christians.

The author of Hebrews exhorts the readers of his letter to come to maturity by constantly practicing their powers of discernment. How do we practice our powers of discernment? How are we fed and equipped? By picking out a "church" and listening to a sermon each week? Clearly not since that was not the practice of the early church so it hardly seems to make sense that the author of the book of Hebrews would imply that. The pattern clearly seems to be that being a disciple involves on the job training, i.e. being actively involved in the work of ministry and emulating the example of others, younger men emulating and imitating the elders and older, more mature women teaching and training by their example the younger women. In other words, getting saved, getting basic training and getting out of the pew and into the mission field all around us.

The trouble in the church is not that our sermons are aimed at the goats, the problem is that the sheep are being spoon fed astroturf and never being truly equipped. It is inexcusable that in a nation with millions upon millions of professing "Christians" has such lackluster participation in the work of ministry and such theological shallowness. Something is clearly not working and a solution that boils down to "more of what is not working" is doomed to repeating the cycle.


Anonymous said...

As someone who frequently gives pulpit word...ouch.

Gotta remember to be constantly moving people onto solid food and weaning them off milk

Arthur Sido said...

Tristaanorge, do you think that it is possible to do that? I don't think the problem is sermons that are too elementary, but the model where one guy gives a sermon and the rest listen week after week.

David B said...

He lost me at the word "pastor". As if its up to the "pastor" to make sure that people are spiritually fed.
And, yeah Arthur, when he compared a "pastor" to a bird that has to predigest food to make it palatable enough for the baby birds, whose mouth they can then vomit it into...The worthwhile "pastors" that there are would cringe at the thought, because that would mean that they had not taught those they minister to how to digest the written word of God for themselves. And the apostle Paul referred to people like that as those who need to be given milk because they cannot even begin to digest meat.
There are a lot of fat birds who need to get out of the nest and learn to feed themselves.

Arthur Sido said...

David, that is exactly right. When you start to follow the analogy it gets ugly in a hurry. Certainly elders in the church have a role in feeding but we all need to be edifying and encouraging one another as well as studying for ourselves and putting that study into practice.

Fred Shope said...

Peter "preached" at Pentecost and 3,000 "goats" became followers of Jesus. :) I do agree with you that the problem is depending on one sermon a week, whether for discipleship or evangelism. Both have to happen in the day-to-day.

drew mariage said...

Christianity isn't complicated, the problem is the only kind of sermons we have are based upon self help type teachings. The bible says in 1 thessalonians 2:13 that the word of God does the work in people, not people doing the work in people. When the gospel is preached faithfully lives get transformed.Also the purpose of the scriptures is to point us to Jesus Christ(john 5:39-40) not learning more theology, hebrew and greek etc. there is a time and a place to talk about doctrines and theology. I would go so far as to say that if your putting your theology or Doctrines or teaching/preaching styles above Jesus Christ in importance you are worshiping idols. Its Jesus job to fix people, our job is to love people. I pray you will get a fresh revelation of Gods love for you as paul said in ephesians 3:16-19. Speaking of love, most pastors never even preach on that topic because more than likely they probably don't even believe God loves them.