Question #1: Dear Bob, Quite some time ago, I realized that the thinking of many of the online televangelists did not correspond with the Bible and served only to confuse me and instill small doubts. They provided little spiritual food; thus, I stopped watching them. This included Hagee, Osteen, and most others. I know many (my family included) that love them and I think it shows because they have an insatiable desire for worldly goods. My problem is with my local church. There are many fine people there and many are wonderful Christian friends. But, in my opinion, a lot of emphasis and time is spent on social activities that do little to bring souls to Christ. Maybe the thinking is that these activities will "keep" members from leaving the church to go to those churches with better choirs, etc. Even the Wednesday evening Bible study is lacking (in my opinion) substantial substance. I can get more Truth from just reading your email responses to 1 question than I can from attending my local church or Bible study classes. I read and study the Word daily but find that I am more inclined to view "church time" as a waste. Thus, I am beginning to feel that I do not belong to a church (where 2 or more are gathered in Jesus name) and this is causing me some confusion. I would appreciate your thoughts.
Response #1: I very much appreciate your encouraging words, and I couldn't agree with you more about the need for substance in Bible teaching – and the dearth of such teaching out there in most churches today. And when Bible teaching is not valued and not pursued, other things will creep in to fill the void. This issue is becoming more and more pronounced, judging from my own observation and experience as well as e-mails I receive on the subject, so that I find myself writing about this phenomenon quite a bit. To answer what I believe is your underlying question, nothing is more important than the Word of God. It is through the truth that we are liberated from our old, worldly way of thinking and draw closer to the Lord (Jn.8:32; Rom.12:2; Eph.4:23; Col.3:9-10; Heb.4:12; 2Pet.3:18). Without learning the Bible and the truth contained therein, no amount of emotion or fellowship or organizational strength can ever sustain us in times of crisis, and without scripture in our hearts, understood and believed, we will never be able to negotiate serious testing and tribulation, nor will we ever become fit for the ministries that our Lord has in store for us. Believing God's truth, "faith" in God and His Word, is how all the great believers of the Bible were "approved" (Heb.11). Faith in the truth is the ammunition and the leverage used by the Spirit, and when that truth and the will to entrust ourselves to it is lacking in our hearts, we are not much use to the Lord. It has been my personal experience and observation, moreover, that even in terms of proper and meaningful emotional response to the Lord experienced in worship, both private and public, it is those who have drawn closer to Jesus through the truth of the Word of God who have the most wonderful experiences (despite the ballyhoo coming from charismatic quarters). And it is those who are in the habit of following Jesus in spiritual growth through the Word who prove the most useful to Him in ministries which actually achieve the biblical goals He has set for them of helping others in the process of spiritual growth. Finally, I have no doubt that it is those who are doing what we have been called to do in growing and helping others do likewise who are truly the ones glorifying Jesus Christ – who are looking to their eternal rewards rather than the lust and dust and rust of this world – rather than those who want worldly recognition and reward in this life for "achievements" that can only be seen as such through false self-evaluation.
As to the issue of going to church, I have some links below, but here is a recent response which addresses the subject directly and which you may find helpful:
It is well to note at the outset that what we expect when someone says "church" would come as a complete shock to the apostles (and I have no doubt that they would be appalled at what most often passes for "church"). The passage most cited for the need to attend what we call "church" is Hebrews 10:24-25:
And let us give careful attention to one another['s ministries] as motivation for [our own] love and good works, not abandoning your mutual assembling (as some have made it their practice to do [and which makes this impossible]), but rather encouraging each other [to persevere in this work of the Lord], and doing so to an ever greater degree to the extent that you see the day [of the Lord] drawing [ever] closer.
Here is what I write about this passage at the link: Pastoral Support, Pastoral Preparation, and the Purpose of Assembly:
The verb in the oft quoted verse 24, "[not] abandoning", is a participle, and the circumstantial construction thus links the idea of assembly intrinsically to what precedes in verse 24. That is to say, assembly is not just for the sake of assembly. It has a specific purpose which is spelled out in the same sentence, namely, assembly is for the purpose of mutual encouragement and for mutual edification through the gifts we have all been given (compare Hebrews 3:13: "Rather keep encouraging each other every day as long as we still call it 'today'"). In fact, Paul actually defines this encouragement elsewhere as coming through teaching the Word (1Tim.4:2; 4:13; Tit.1:9). Proper assembly does helps us to stay on the right road and not get mired in the swamps on either side of it when 1) we are taught the right things, and 2) we see our fellow Christians doing the right things, that is, putting scripture first, loving it, learning it, living it, and helping others do likewise.
As I hope you can see from this translation and this (somewhat technical) explanation, "going to church" is helpful if 1) the Bible is being taught, and 2) believers in the fellowship are by and large dedicated to spiritual growth through hearing, learning, believing, and living the truth of the Word of God. Wherever that is not the case (and to the extent that that is not the case), assembly for assembly's sake alone is pointless – it does not score "points" with God if you have "gone to church" for the wrong reasons, and it does not help your spiritual growth if the place where you are attending is not teaching the Bible and/or those in fellowship are not hearing/learning/believing/living the truth of the Word and helping others do the same (which is the essential point of all true Christian ministry, either directly or indirectly). In my opinion, there are very few churches out there in our country where one can find even a modicum of true Bible teaching (e.g., it is virtually impossible to teach the Bible and preach a sermon at the same time). That doesn't mean that it is wrong to go to church or that one should not go to church. But it certainly does mean that it is, generally speaking, a big mistake to assume that such "going to church" will, on its own, get the job of spiritual growth done. Indeed, most Christians who really do wish to draw closer to Jesus and grow in Him as you do are forced to go outside the conventional church and find other venues where the Word of God is being taught. In many cases, this will mean (at least at first) not abandoning the local church but aggressively supplementing it with solid and substantive Bible teaching.
However, there is also the problem that "bad companions corrupt good morals" (1Cor.15:33). So while the members of most churches (orthodox professing ones anyway) are likely not to be "bad people", nevertheless their largely false priorities and failure to appreciate the need for true spiritual food, characteristics which have in large part been responsible for the current deplorable state of the church visible in this predicted era of apathy (see the link: in CT 2A: Laodicea), have a tendency to rub off: continued association with such negative influences is bound to cause problems over time. Therefore it is at least worth noting that in the long run close association with people, even genuine Christians, who do not appreciate what is good and instead have settled for something far inferior, are going to have an influence and not for the better. Jesus told us that it is impossible to put new wine into old skins, because if you try to do so, the powerful and potent new wine will bust the old skins resulting in the loss of the new and the rupture of the old. I think that it is very unlikely that we will see any serious change in the traditional American "church" before the Tribulation begins – at least not for the better. As I have tried to outline in the Coming Tribulation series (see the link: in CT 4, "The Beast's Prophet and the Worldwide Anti-Christian Religion"), antichrist will make great use of the traditional religious organizations in his rise to power. At this point in the history of God's plan, it has seemed to me (and to not a few others) that the better part of valor is to pursue what is important and not waste inordinate amounts of precious time trying to mend or straighten that which can no longer be mended or straightened. I think you will find that the closer you get to the Lord in your diligent and commendable search for the truth, the more joy you will indeed get out of worship in your local church, but the more disconcerted and dissatisfied you will become with the wrong priorities, social action over search for truth, concerns about money instead of spiritual growth, politics and entertainment and hoopla and circus and pop-psychology instead of Bible teaching plain and simple (and this is the sense I get from your report).
Finally, it is indeed ideal that believers will meet together with other believers to worship God, mutually encourage each other, and – first and foremost – grow spiritually through the Word of God substantively and correctly taught. This can take place, as you notice, in a small fellowship of only a few gathered together in the Lord's name, although it often does not take place in 10,000 member "mega-churches" at all.
Our Lord told us that if we seek, we will find. I am absolutely confident that Jesus stands ready to meet all of your needs in this regard so that if you only persevere you will never lack the true spiritual food and encouraging fellowship you require for your spiritual health and growth. You are certainly welcome at Ichthys and welcome to write any time.
As I say, your situation sounds similar to the above. I applaud your attitude and I encourage you to keep growing in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ through His holy Word. Keep fighting this good fight of faith – its rewards are eternal and surpass all present imagination. At times the road of non-conformity can be lonely and seem daunting, but as for me, I would rather conform to Jesus, I would rather be close to Him, I would rather walk the path that He is clearly pointing to than be the blind head of a huge congregation of blind men and women who through their own lackadaisical attitudes are headed straight for the ditch. If we but trust Him, I know from experience, and have the "prophetic Word even more sure", that Jesus will guide us safely through to the end, taking us where He wants us to go rather than to some pointless venue we ourselves have fixated upon out of spiritual apathy. God helping me, I would rather be "red hot" than "lukewarm", whatever the consequences.
Here are some related links:
The Assembly of the Local Church
In the One whose grace is sufficient for all of our needs, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
How would you define the term "Neo-evangelical"? I have a rough idea but am not quite sure. I know it is used loosely that it is nearly impossible to determine the meaning. And is there a criteria for saying who is a neo-evangelical and who isn't? And what about the multimedia used in these churches? do they distract the congregation from listening to the Pastor as the focal point? Thanks in advance!
"Evangelical" is generic enough these days. The term apparently goes back some ways as a reaction against "fundamentalism", which I guess means embarrassment about having any true connection to scripture. As the term neo-evangelical as it is used today, I think I'm correct in saying it depends very much on the person using it. It can mean a dumbing-down of the already dumbed-down doctrinal content of evangelicalism (and that is indeed very much a "neo-" trend). It also represents an attempt to separate out those who are less Bible-based – but when speaking of evangelicalism, this is very much a relative thing). On that point in regard to multimedia, I suppose this trend can be distracting (and may or may not be a "neo" characteristic), but since nothing happens in most evangelical churches today that even comes close to approximating Bible teaching, it begs the question "distracting from what?" As I have often said, most of those who ascend to the pulpit these days seem more concerned with eliciting audience response than in teaching the assembled believers anything substantive about the Bible. Pop-psychology and memorable illustrations do not equate to learning truth, and, in my experience, usually both distract from it and lead to false perceptions about what scriptures actually say.
How is it that neoevangelicals can actually teach some really great things....love God...study His
Word...pray...and truly help people in their lives...sensitive to the Holy Spirit, filled with joy....etc.
But then do some things or believe some things that are blatantly against Scripture, and on occasions seem to be close to demonic influence? (Not in a "wicked" way, but more of a "supernatural angel of light" way). I'm reading a certain book right now by a very neo woman. The content looked excellent and something I need to deal with in my life. However a few things the person says in the book just has me shaking my head and saying "Yikes"...even though alot of the other information is EXCELLENT and very important in our lives, stuff that we get careless with but it has impact on how close we are to God and the testimony we have towards others.
While I'm not of course privy to the names and examples you have in mind, it is generally true that neo-evangelicalism 1) tends to be culturally involved and interested in a way that looks more to the world for validation than to the Lord and 2) tends to take a lower view of inspiration than any prudent Christian ever should. I think a person needs look no farther than the Roman Catholics or the Mormons or the People's Church of Jim Jones – or to any other of a host of examples – to see that when Christians (or those who purport to be so) put their primary faith in something other than the truth of the Word of God and put their primary focus on the world, nothing but trouble will ensue. That doesn't mean, of course, that they can't be at times just as you say, seeming to be doing and saying all the right things. But we know from the parable of the sower that there is a seed that falls upon the rocky ground which receives the truth "with joy" and yet never develops deep roots. The lack of a deep grounding in the Word, through lack of true and undiluted faith, inevitably causes short-term dysfunction and long term decay. Those who for whatever reason never make that necessary deep commitment to the Lord and to His truth may be able to "talk a good game" or "emote appropriately" or even "do some 'good' or good and appropriate things" in the short term. But long term there is a fatal flaw in their approach, a kink of major reservation in their hearts. That is of course one of the reasons why we are here on earth and why we are not brought safe to heaven immediately upon salvation, namely, to test the quality and genuineness of our faith in a way that makes it clear to all and for all time whether or not we really do trust and value Jesus Christ and His Word beyond everything else in this world.
Keeping fighting this good fight of faith.
In our dear Lord Jesus,
Some of my friends feel that going to church isn't necessary. I believe that some believers and unbelievers are not interesting going to church because:
1. the preachers' sermons are boring that not apply to their lives.
2. they may know pastors are interesting in your wallets than souls.
3. They would says it is waste of time to go to church for just sit and listen.
4. They would say work is more important than go to church.
Also there are some Baptist churches do not accept or want any handicap come to their church such as blind or deaf or so forth. They send them to other churches that they provide ministries for any kind of handicapped. I think that is rude. Do you agree? My question is why do believers have to go to church? I would use Hebrews 10:23-25. I would like to know your biblical view on this.
As far as these objections go (with the exception of #4), I'd say you have some pretty sharp acquaintances! Even #4 turns out in many cases to be true in practice in the case of many churches and what they offer, unfortunately. I don't know who it was who first brought the Christian "sermon" into prominence in the church (certainly they were quite the thing by the mid fourth century; cf. Chrysostom). This is really a secular, classical form of "epideictic" rhetoric (to cite the Classical model), designed as entertainment and to impress, not to communicate anything of substance. We don't really find anything like "sermons" in Paul's description of the way the local church ought to operate (cf. 1Cor.12-14) or anywhere else in scripture, for that matter. Indeed, Paul's practice was to teach in a very straightforward and long winded manner, so much so that in Ephesus he put a young man to sleep who subsequently fell out of the window! Not only that, but we know from his letters that his presence was "not impressive" and that he was unfavorably compared by the recalcitrant believers in Corinth to those who did use "persuasive words", no doubt based upon the Classical rhetoric to which modern sermonizing goes back (cf. 1Cor.2:4).
Here is something I wrote a friend about this very subject some time back:
You are right that I have no good answer for you on the local church dilemma. As I have probably said before, one of the goads to beginning this ministry many years ago (before the internet amounted to anything) was to answer the question of "where can I go for teaching since I can't find it in any church?" I wanted to have something to give people, because whenever I got into Christian conversations, this subject inevitably came up with any one who was interested in pursing the truth. I didn't know of any church I could point them to in good conscience so I wanted at least to be able to help provide some material for spiritual growth in answer to this pressing and important concern. I recently went to three different services with three different pastors, sort of to test the waters. It's still all the same out there in terms of no-content delivery; in fact to judge by what I saw it's getting worse. I think you may have hit the nail on the head when you opined that the problem may be that they are fearful of losing audience or incapable of doing anything else. It has struck me a number of times over the last few years in reading scripture that Paul was a "bad speaker" (2Cor.10:10; cf. 1Cor.2:1), and our Lord was very direct with the truth even when it meant losing His audience (Jn.6:60-66) or risking His life (cf. Lk.4:14-30). It seems for the truly great, impressive delivery and audience enjoyment is not even on the list of what's important (and may be on the list of what to avoid at all costs). A truly good pastor/teacher is someone who focuses on content, and that may inevitably be to the great detriment of delivery and the sensibilities of his audience. In fact, that is my conviction, and I fear that things have come to such a pass in the Church generally that this is a recipe for going nowhere in any traditional-type church even if independent – except "out the door" in a hurry.
Of course, boredom is not an excuse for avoiding church, but it certainly is legitimate in my view to avoid churches where there is little or no genuine teaching of scripture and thus no chance of serious spiritual growth. Indeed, where the Bible isn't being taught, the odds are that other, non-grace activities and other non-biblical teachings will slip in to fill the void of truth (leading often to spiritual regression). You are quite right to quote Hebrews on this issue. What Paul really has to say in these verses is really revealing. Here's my translation:
And let us give careful attention to one another['s
ministries] as motivation for [our own] love and good works, not
abandoning your mutual assembling (as some have made it their
practice to do [and which makes this impossible]), but rather
encouraging each other [to persevere in this work of the Lord],
and doing so to an ever greater degree to the extent that you
see the day [of the Lord] drawing [ever] closer.
Thus, coming together with other believers is for the express purpose of mutual encouragement and edification through the function of our various ministries. At the present time, that would be teaching in first place, but with all of the other attendant encouragements and helps that the Body of Christ provides for each other under the power of the Spirit. So pop-psychology sermons loaded with illustrations, rituals, and pointless socializing – that is, about 95% of what goes on in most churches most Sunday mornings – are off the point. And they can easily be not only time-wasting and distracting, but actually detrimental to spiritual growth to the extent that they 1) replace the "good stuff" of Hebrews 10:24-25, and 2) engender non-scriptural activities and promote non-biblical beliefs.
I can think of nothing more joyous than getting together with other believers who are likewise committed to growing in the Lord through His truth, learning about the Word in common with them, and praising and celebrating Jesus Christ in a good, seemly, and doctrinal way in an environment where priorities are in the right order. That is not only blessed, but necessary and a large part of the reason behind the giving of gifts in the first place:
Christ Himself appointed some of us apostles, some prophets,
some evangelists, some pastors and teachers in order to prepare
all of His holy people for their own ministry work, that the
entire body of Christ might thus be built up, until we all reach
that unifying goal of believing what is right and of giving our
complete allegiance to the Son of God, that each of us might be
a perfect person, that is, that we might attain to that standard
of maturity whose "attainment" is defined by Christ; that we may
no longer be immature, swept off-course and carried headlong by
every breeze of so-called teaching that emanates from the
trickery of men in their readiness to do anything to cunningly
work their deceit, but rather that we may, by embracing the
truth in love, grow up in all respects, with Christ who is the
head of the Church as our model. In this way, the entire body of
the Church, fitted and joined together by Him through the sinews
He powerfully supplies to each and every part, works out its own
growth for the building up of itself in love.
It's not that I am shooting for perfection. It's just that there is a standard below which if one slips the exercise is not only pointless, but it actually stands to be harmful. But I am confident in Jesus' ability to provide solid food and good fellowship for all who are committed to follow Him in the way in which He truly leads.
In that confident hope in Jesus,
This is from my Pastor, he commented to me on different services. I would like to know if you agree with him. Here is what he said:
"I know that Scripture doesn't really address it, and tradition tells us we meet on Sundays to celebrate the day the Lord raised from the dead. When we planted our church, we scheduled services based on our experience: every church we ever attended had Sunday School, Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night services. But a neighboring church planter from our sending church doesn't have Sunday night services but does on Wednesday night. Because a couple of our church members drive 30 and 40 miles to get to church, I have often wondered about the frequency of our services. Attendance is always high on Sunday mornings, but Sunday nights and Wednesdays are less frequented. In fact, we had nobody show up the last two Wednesday nights. So, I'm beginning to wonder about the frequency of our services. Obviously, it would help me by reducing the number of sermons and lessons I had to prepare, but I don't want that to be part of the reason for reducing services. But I don't want to adhere to a useless tradition either. Actually, what I'd like to do is what the early Christians did: Acts 5:42 - And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ. Think how much different our country would be if we started every morning with a church service!
So, the question is, "Is reducing services a good thing nowadays?" What do you think?
In Luke 20:1, we read that Jesus "was teaching the people in the temple courts and preaching/proclaiming the gospel". Now our Lord is our model in every way. What do we seriously imagine He was doing? Was He telling funny stories? Was He giving interesting illustrations? Was he giving pep talks filled with pop-psychology? Was He preaching three-point sermons in the best epideictic style? What I imagine Him doing, and what I would hope every other Christian would imagine Him doing, is exactly what He does everywhere else in the gospels, namely, substantively teaching the Word and proclaiming the Word just like these verse says. That is, our Lord was the Bible teacher and the dispenser of truth par excellence. He was all about the content, even when the content was hidden through parables from those who were truly disinterested (later He gives the interpretation of the parables to those who are interested). Now we are nowhere and in no way comparable to the Lord in anything we do. However, that does not mean we are not to emulate Him to the best of our ability – indeed that is precisely what we are called upon to do as "little Christs" (i.e., "Christians"). For Bible teachers, that means putting the Word of God first (rather using the traditional rhetorical devices to wow our congregations with little heed to the stuff that makes for spiritual growth); that means figuring out what the Bible really means and teaching the content (rather than using if merely for window dressing, throwing in a verse here or there that has some glancing application to the sermon we prepared). What it does not mean is putting entertainment first by taking some issue that we know the congregation will warm to, throwing in some fancy rhetoric, some cute illustrations, some neat multimedia, and, oh yes, a few verses of scripture that may have or at least seem superficially to have a vague connection to the topic, then passing this mess off as "Bible teaching" because a passage was quoted (but never exegeted). Such services have things inside out. I would be in favor of reducing them alright, to the point of non-existence. If someone out there really is exegeting, say, the book of Romans verse by verse, and teaching everything that is therein, doctrine by doctrine, principle by principle, topic by topic, phrase by phrase, verse by verse, explaining what it means in detail and correctly so, then the only restriction on number of services should be the ability of the pastor-teacher to produce the material in a quality way. It's not easy to do things the right way, believe me, and it takes an incredible amount of time, even if a person is very well prepared (if they are not well-prepared, it may be impossible to get beyond the superficial level much at all in the first place). So one should not think that actually teaching the Bible with multiple sessions in a week is something that any pastor-teacher can do, especially not in the early going of his ministry. I would think that if a person actually found such a Bible teaching ministry, that just like the person who found the pearl of great price or the treasure that was buried in the field, they would immediately rearrange their priorities around this wonderful and rare possession, and do whatever it took to get as much out of it as possible, because this sort of thing is not only incredibly rare – it is the only path to true, deep spiritual growth and effective, highly-rewarded production for our Lord. If we really did put Jesus first, then our schedules and other commitments could and should be changed to respond to what it is we say we value most of all. But to make any special effort just for more of the same "hoo-ha" is pointless. If there is no Bible teaching going on in a church, then attending two services a week is twice as much a waste of time as attending one.
In the Name of Him who is the Word of God, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I forwarded your response again, and here is what he said.
"You are saying polar opposites without the ability to have a happy middle ground. Having sat in years of theological classrooms, I can assure you there is a difference between proper biblical teaching and proper biblical preaching. They are closely related, for sure, but they are not the same. BTW, the epistles were letters not sermons, but while you mention it, rhetorical devices and illustrations were used all the time in the epistles, not to mention Jesus' sermon on the mount, the sermon on Mar's hill, and Steven's pre-stoning sermon."
The person has a point; however, I would still stand by my comments. We are talking in generalities here, and by definition that means that to some extent these things are going to be a matter of degrees unless we take up specific examples.
On the issue of teaching versus preaching, on the one hand I am not arguing for turning the pulpit into a theological class room. I didn't learn all that much in theology class either (but for different reasons). On the other hand, it is absolutely true in my view that if one starts with the idea of entertainment-type sermonizing, one will never produce a product that does what scripture intends for a pastor/teacher to do for his flock: teach them what is in the Bible. The sermon as a form is incapable of substantive communication and education by nature, since it is essentially an entertainment device; it is what the Greek rhetoricians called an epideictic speech (that is the origin of it and the essence of its form); that is, it is a speech primarily designed to entertain, to amuse (or otherwise emotionally stimulate), and to show off the capabilities of the person giving it (content is only gratuitous and always secondary). The difference between a "good sermon" and a "bad sermon" in the eyes of anyone attending church is ever going to be how entertained, how motivated, how guilty or giddy they "felt" when they listened to it: not whether or not they learned anything meaningful about Jesus Christ and His Word.
On the issue of forms, it is true that the epistles are clearly different means of communication, but they have in common with what a pastor/teacher is supposed to be doing in church the purpose of edifying the listener rather than entertaining the listener and glorifying the speaker (as is inevitably the case when it comes to sermons). If one would look at the "speeches" in the book of Acts, for example, one would also see just how far removed biblical practice is from traditional or contemporary sermonizing. To some degree, everything is rhetorical. But there is a point where communication and persuasion in a good cause become mere devices for entertainment and for propagandizing in a bad cause. The line between rhetoric and sophistry is not always drawn razor-sharp, and there is certainly nothing sinful about communicating in a good and pleasing style, but when style and substance compete, it is always better to go with the latter. My complaint is about the complete or nearly complete removal of substance for the sake of style (that is what I mean in the previous e-mails when I says "rhetoric"). And I do think that it is absolutely fair to say that Christians nowadays have an expectation about what sermons should be, and that is all about motivational entertainment and nothing to do with depth in teaching. As long as pastor/teachers cater to these expectations, even if they are good men trying to put some content into this form, it is impossible to achieve to any significant degree what it is that we ought to be striving for: the edification of the Body of Christ through the substantive teaching of the Word of God.
In our Lord who always told it straight regardless of whether or not people liked what He had to say.
He said this about your email:
"How does a preacher preach without a sermon? Don't compare some secular speech making with God's way of bringing His Word across to a congregation - which is through preaching a sermon. No doubt some do abuse their preaching, but that makes the problem with them, not with sermons themselves.
As I mentioned in previous e-mails, without specifics, we are starting to talk past each other here in a pretty pointless way. To use an example, somewhere around 90% of the sermons I have seen/heard/heard about in the last couple of years have dealt with the same subject: personal love, marriage, relationships, and family. Now since you can tell anyone what the Bible says about how we should treat our families/spouses/friends in about five minutes, and in doing so would only be telling them what they know in their hearts anyway, this ought to demonstrate what I mean about sermons being designed to entertain. The fact that the area of acceptable subject matter is so arbitrarily limited shows that how the form is limited and limiting. But the notion that "God's way of bringing His Word across to a congregation is through preaching a sermon" is something with which I would have to disagree. There aren't any sermons in the Bible, and wherever one sees the word "preach" et al. in English translations, it doesn't mean "preach" in the sense of "deliver a sermon of the sort we are familiar with in 21st cent. USA". Far from it (i.e., kerusso means "to proclaim/speak forth [the Word of God]"). I am certainly not arguing for conventional churches to change their stripes, their m.o.'s and the like overnight. I think we are at a point where if a pastor/teacher actually started putting the Word of God first in his communication with his congregation he would either be fired or people would vote with their feet and leave. I have actually seen this over and over again. You can't put potent new wine into dusty old skins: it ruins the skins and wastes the wine. I certainly hope and pray that there is some point to what most contemporary churches are doing – don't see much but I hope so. But I am certainly not going to put my imprimatur (for what little it is worth) upon the conventional way of doing things since this conventional way has led us in an ever devolving spiral into this apathetic place where contemporary US Christianity now finds itself. It is hard to place blame. Entertainment pastors entertain because that is what congregations want; congregations want to be entertained because that is what they have become accustomed to from generations of entertainment pastors, with those who have pushed the envelope in preferring audience response to substance having become the most famous and successful. Whether the chicken or the egg came first, I don't believe it is possible to fix this leaky hen-house. Given the imminence of the Tribulation, we, the generation of Laodicea, are destined to enter that time of testing largely unprepared. There are a few voices "crying in the wilderness", but I can tell you that of my own seminary class, those of whom I know who tried to teach the Bible were largely rejected, and only the ones who went the entertainment route "made it" in show-biz church. The Word is available (I am trying to do my part to make it so through this ministry), but it is, generally speaking, not to be found in the vast wasteland of the majority of local churches who have chosen the path of pablum in place of solid spiritual food (1Cor.3:2; Heb.5:12-14), and the standard worship service wherein the standard sermon is the centerpiece is a big part of the reason why this is so. When we send the message that ten to fifty minutes of an entertaining talk that is not even designed to teach anything is the focal point of what Christianity is all about, it is not surprising that so many Christians are spiritually underfed. Most of these organizations claim to feed the body in other venues (like Sunday school et al.), but the church takes its cue from the pulpit, and if Sunday morning is superficial, then ipso facto everything else dished out will be as well. Indeed, as a rule, only a very small percentage of the Sunday crowd ever shows up at the other venues, so that, really, these other activities (which are generally defective as well) are only acting as a sort of sop to the guilty consciences of those who realize that there ought to be some sort of Bible teaching going on (but who are unwilling to do anything substantive about it).
I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.
1st Corinthians 3:2
We have much to say about this [subject of Christ's priesthood], but it is difficult to communicate [such advanced things to you] because your ears have become lazy. And although by this time you ought to be [capable of] teaching [such things], you need someone to teach you what the basic principles of God's truth are again! You have turned [back] into [spiritual infants] who need milk and [can] not [yet tolerate] solid food! For everyone who partakes of [such] milk is ignorant of the teaching of righteousness (i.e., how to live righteously). Solid [spiritual] food is for the [spiritually] mature, those who by [diligent] practice have trained their [moral] perceptive faculties to [properly] distinguish between good and evil.
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?" "Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my lambs." Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?" He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep." The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you. "Jesus said, "Feed my sheep."
John 21:15-17 NIV
Please see also:
Mega-Churches, Emergent Christianity, Spirituality and Materialism.
Characteristics of the New Religion of Antichrist
The persuasiveness of the tribulational false religion
The Anti-Christian Religion of the Tribulation
In Jesus, the Chief Shepherd,