Following on from yesterday’s post about vicarious conviction, there is a related matter to stir up a bit. It is the appetite in the church for “I needed that” sermons. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when a sermon should sensitively but clearly touch the raw nerve of sin with deep conviction. Sometimes the Bible speaks in such a way that we feel lovingly stung by the disciplining word of God our Father. But I am not writing about that. I am writing about sermons that some church goers seem to appreciate because of the scourging they feel somehow cleansed by.
1. The flesh is drawn to religion.
We see it all over the world. Humans are religious. In the absence of divine revelation they will define religion according to predictable patterns: working to satisfy a distant deity by fulfillment of self-imposed regulations. Strangely though, even in the presence of grace-filled divine revelation, churchgoers are so prone to define their religion in similar terms: working to satisfy a distant deity by fulfilling self-imposed regulations. That’s the tendency of the flesh, isn’t it? The pre-programmed flesh continues to tend toward independence from God, even in the midst of supposedly worshipping Him.
2. The church always veers toward maturation by works.
What Paul was fighting in Galatians, and elsewhere, is still prevalent today. Who is it that bewitches us to think that having begun by faith we will then mature by means of keeping the law, working hard, beating ourselves, etc? Too many in supposedly Bible-believing churches are acting as functional members of another tradition where enduring a beating in a sermon is akin to purging the soul by means of climbing stone steps on our knees, or whatever.
3. The whipping preacher will always receive affirmation.
Here is the piece that always stuns me. If you hang around near a preacher that has just spent the sermon time whipping the congregation, some will come up and affirm the sermon! Is this a spiritual machismo that stands up after a beating and laughs it off with a “is that all you’ve got?” I suspect it is often the same kind of false understanding of salvation described above. Effectively it might be “thanks for the whipping today, I needed that, and now I feel as purged spiritually as I do physically after a hard session in the gym!”
Are you preaching the pseudo-gospel of guilt and pressure? Are you urging people via moralistic tirades to be better Christians? Do you get comments like “We needed that!” and “I like that kind of preaching!”
In the grossly inaccurate Da Vinci Code there is an albino Opus Dei monk hitman. If you saw the film you’ll remember his self-flagellation in his room. Whip in hand, back sliced open. Don’t preach for that effect. Dan Brown’s story may be compelling, but that scene is not an effect your listeners truly need you to give them when you preach!