MEMBERS: Christ-Centered Preaching (Transcript)

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Jon Moffitt: Welcome to the members’ podcast. It is good to be here. I’m letting you know right now that this is our second entrance into the members’ podcast. It’s going to be that good. I love the members’ podcast. We’re all sitting around with friends, grabbing a cup of coffee, and about to have a very lively conversation. We have what we call porch time – the three of us will get together a couple of times a year and get out on the porch. Let me tell you, the birds and the armadillos – they hear some fun conversations that we have. That’s going to be one of them. The squirrels are going to be hopping up on this one and going, “What happened? Why are they yelling? What is the deal?”

Justin Perdue: Jon’s talking squirrels. Jimmy, save us.

Jimmy Buehler: He’s talking about armadillos.

Hopefully, you listened to the previous podcast. In the non-members’ portion, we started to talk about angry preaching. Something that is so popular is this whole idea of preaching in such a tone that it’s like we shame people into obedience and into action in the Christian life; we take the words of Christ, and we use them as weapons against Christ’s own people.

To me, it just doesn’t make sense (well, it does make sense since I know why people do it), but a lot of it is to be a shock jock, a crying out in the wilderness – you equate yourself with John the Baptist.

I see it all the time where people justify it, and they say, “Paul and John the Baptist use harsh language.” When did Paul use harsh language? Paul used harsh language when people were denying Christ outright when people who are claiming the badge of Christians were messing with the doctrine of the gospel. Paul did not come in calling people using Galatians type language when people were struggling with sin. He does say some firm things, and he does say some things that we need to hear when we are struggling with sin, but it’s framed within the greater context of the goodness of Jesus.

It’s like we neglect the words of Jesus when he says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” We take that, and we say, “That’s really good. But I need to place a really difficult yoke on people, so I make sure that they know that they are in Christ.” It just doesn’t make sense. It’s nonsense. Why would you do that? How can you take the grace of God in Christ and be angry about it? I just don’t get it. Help me understand.

Jon Moffitt: I can remember in my old, independent fundamental Baptist days, and even into my early Calvinistic days, when people would walk out of a sermon and say they needed to hear that, that they needed to be beat up today. It’s almost like they need to be whipped into shape because they’ve been lazy Christians that week.

Justin Perdue: “My life has just been so easy, and my week is going so swell that I need to get beat up on Sunday,” said no one ever in my church context. Usually, everybody walks in the door exhausted, and then we’re just going to pound people. I don’t know to think that makes a lot of sense. It’s almost sadistic how we think and how we talk at points.

I already have three big thoughts down in my whiteboard, but I’m not going to try to cover all of them right now. One thought is I see the angry preaching and saying the “hard thing”: I think in the minds of many preachers and in the minds of many of the congregants listening to these preachers, yelling at people and saying the “hard thing” is this badge of honor that we wear; that we are the real serious preachers and the real serious Christians; we are like Paul who is unashamed of the gospel and unashamed of Scripture, and we’re going to get up there and just drop hammers in every place; we don’t care how you feel about all these and about what I’m saying – if you’re upset, then that’s on you; I’m just God’s man giving you God’s word, and you need to deal with it. That’s the posture of many guys. You hear people talk like this, and that’s a little bit crazy. I’ll talk more in a minute about some fundamental misunderstandings that I think underlie some of this.

Just to give a little anecdotal piece on the burdens thing that you brought up, Jimmy, Jesus in Matthew 11, says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden. My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” It’s almost like we think that’s where people start. We preach the gospel that way, and we offer Christ to people, but then once you’re in, that burden needs to get really heavy now so that you’ll grow. It’s crazy.

There have even been people in my church (they’re no longer a part of it) who would talk this way: “We need to put a lot of burdens on people so that they’ll grow in the faith. People only grow when they’ve got to bear some weight. So we need to put it on them.” You realize that that idea is not distinctly Christian at all; there are coaches all over the country who are coaching athletic teams that think that way; that’s used all the time in the military. Even thinking about suffering: suffering producing character and endurance is true, but it’s not distinctly Christian.

That’s why, immediately in Romans 5, Paul goes to the hope that we have in Christ. I think that’s a misunderstanding out there that you need to make it hard for people so that they’ll really grow in the faith – I like to call that a green beret approach to Christianity. It’s not Jesus because you got bruised reeds being broken all over the place and smoldering wicks being put out all over the place. Yet we think that that’s what we really need to be doing.

Jimmy Buehler: I do think there is a time for the pastor to become angry. And when I say angry, I mean in a righteous sense. I think those couple times would be when you are personally dealing with somebody who is just obstinate in sin and trying to bring destruction to the sheep, somebody who is in the midst of spreading the gangrene of either gossip or slander or trying to destroy the body, and there is a right place to approach that person in a firmness in Christ to call them forth to repentance. But again, that is a rifle approach, not a shotgun approach.

Second, I think the time to become “righteously angry” is when doctrinal heresy is beginning to find its way into your body; that people are trusting in their own works, and people are trusting in other things other than Christ.

We take our cue from Paul, where Paul does line up and say, “What are you doing? Why are you forgetting all of this grace that is found in Jesus and trying to find it within your value and purpose in life, and meaning within your own efforts? That’s just nonsense. Why would you do that? And so there is a place for “angry preaching,” but those things are reserved for very specific parts in the arsenal. I think a lot of times, to use military or ammunitions language, it’s like people see a squirrel, and they pull out a bazooka, and they’re like, “We need to blow that thing out of the water.” Brother, you need some care. What are you doing?

This angry preaching and yelling at people from the pulpit – it does not accomplish what you think it accomplishes. In fact, the only thing that it accomplishes is, to be quite honest and to be quite harsh, that the pastor feels really good about himself. Get off your high horse, son. I hope you yelled at yourself in the mirror all week. Two, it just produces really sick people who feel awful about themselves, or it produces really self-righteous people. Angry preaching does not accomplish that which you think it is accomplishing. I’m sorry.

Jon Moffitt: It’s almost like you’re holding your child, and you’re screaming at him, saying, “I love you. Don’t you understand that? You dumb kid. Can’t you figure that out? Don’t you get it?”

Justin Perdue: It takes a unique perspective and a special kind of misunderstanding to make sermons on love sound angry and to make sermons on hope sound absolutely hopeless, yet that often happens in the church. It does go back to, to some extent, making the preacher feel really good when he can get up there and yell and say the hard thing. It’s a badge of honor. I think you’re exactly right in your comments about when we’re firm and when we need to be harsh – when we see very high-handed, proud unrepentant sin that’s causing harm in the body, when we see the gospel being compromised – I think that we absolutely can’t go there.

One thing that I’ve observed is that underneath all of this is a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the gospel (and even the Christian life) when we think that we’ve got to yell at people and scold them to holiness, we have been short-selling not only the sufficiency of Christ but the reality of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit – that is, the fact that God says that He will sanctify His people and that the Spirit of God is at work to do that sanctifying transformation in the lives of Christians. It’s clear that underneath the yelling is this fundamental misunderstanding, where if people are not scolded and helped to understand that there’s skin in the game and that heaven and hell hang in the balance, then nobody’s going to take obedience seriously – and that’s wrong.

If people are redeemed, and they are indwelt by the Spirit of God and are in Christ Jesus, they will be sanctified. We can mark it down, and God will do it, and we need to continue to encourage them and how they’re to live. But more than anything else, we extol the power and the sufficiency and the mercy of Jesus, and we watch people’s lives change.

Jimmy Buehler: Angry preaching allows no room for people to be weak and struggle. It allows no room for people to realistically struggle with sin because they’re going to be so afraid. The pastor becomes the drill sergeant, and every time they walk in the room, it’s like, “Stand up straight.”

Here’s the thing. When you preach in that way, and then it comes out that somebody’s struggling with sin, most likely they are going to tailspin into more sin, and they’re going to try to hide it, then they’re going to sin more, and they’re going to try to hide it more, and so on and so forth. Because they’re so afraid that the pastor or the culture of the church is going to find them out who they really are. So they just turn in on themselves. Again, angry preaching does not accomplish what you think it does. It doesn’t. I’m sorry.

Jon Moffitt: It really has its roots in revivalism where you’re trying to revive the dead orthodoxy of the church, so you have to up the volume. If you’re going to bring something back to life, you can’t do it through deadness. Guys like Charles Finney were famous for being fiery; they were loud, and they were fiery. They would stand on pulpits. This is from Charles Finney’s own hit; he actually wrote a systematic theology, believe it or not. He was a lawyer, and this is what he writes, and it makes sense in his preaching of why he would get so angry and yell at people.

He wrote this. “Whenever someone sins, he must for that time, being ceased to be holy . . . The Christian, therefore, is justified no longer than he obeys and must be condemned when he disobeys, or antinomian is true . . . In these respects, then, the sinning Christian and the unconverted sinner are upon precisely the same ground.”

So you can understand why Charles Finney would get up and scream at people to be obedient. “Stop drinking!” It was his thing to shut down bars because he equated their disobedience with being unconverted.

Justin Perdue: The sinning Christian and the unconverted on the same ground is an absolutely damning reality, and I just can’t conceive of preaching with such a framework. We could talk about the Bible and why that’s wrong, but we don’t necessarily need to go there.

Jimmy Buehler: I love how you always say this, Justin. When we can get justification right but then move on to the sanctification, and we believe that we are sanctified by our own works and our own efforts, here’s what happens over the course of time: what happens when we preach in that way and when we are confusing the categories of sanctification and justification, when we believe that justification is by grace, but sanctification is by works, what happens is that people will get so caught within sanctification trying to become holy. Being scared of the angry pastor, I guarantee you they will begin to disbelieve the truths of justification.

I won’t name drop, but there is a well-known fire-and-brimstone pastor. I remember listening to his sermon as he was parting from his church to begin his new ministry endeavor. He said, “If I could just leave you with one thing, it would be how much God actually does love you.” Where was that on day one? If I was a member and your parting shot was God’s love for me, then I won’t believe everything else you talked about before that. There’s no way. It would be like me, verbally abusing my wife and saying, “I just want you to know how much I actually do love you.”

She would say, “What’s wrong with you? You’ve abused me verbally for the past 20 years and now you want to tell me that you love me? That doesn’t make sense.”

Jon Moffitt: God’s love becomes a burden – there’s what that is. What you hear is, “Don’t you know God loves you?” That’s what you hear. It is not, “God loves you, unconditionally.” Grace, mercy, and kindness. It is, “Don’t you know God loves you? How dare you?”

I had someone ask me, “Jon, aren’t you a little concerned that if you preach too much about the love of God, people won’t appropriately fear Him as the Bible says?” And I said, “I don’t know. I’d seem to do the same volume the Bible does, and it seems to be pretty high and pretty consistent.” They get it is a story of redemption based out of love, not requirement. So there you go.

Justin Perdue: Even in preaching God’s holiness and God’s wrath, we’re preaching to the saints. We’re preaching the first use of the Law – that God is appropriately angry and indignant against sin. When we have violated his holy and perfect Law, we justly stand condemned, so we’re running anew. Figuratively, we’re running to Christ. We can’t reach God’s holiness in that sense, but to the redeemed that are in Christ Jesus, we’re in the Father’s arms; He loves us.

One final thought for me – that whole idea of a farewell sermon. One goal I have for my own preaching in my own ministry is this: if I was going to be asked to preach a farewell sermon in a year or 10 or 30, I hope at that moment I don’t feel like I need to say something that I haven’t been saying all this time, or I need to make up for things that I’ve screwed up. Not that I don’t fail – we all do – but I hope that I’m just going to get up there again on Sunday and hold Jesus out to these people like I’ve done every Sunday before; I won’t feel like I need to do anything novel because every Sunday in the church has been about Christ and him crucified.

Jimmy Buehler: My circle of friends, we like to say we preach the Law full tilt – we want to kill people with the Law and raise them to life in the gospel. What angry preaching does is it does the exact opposite: it kills people with the gospel. It’s like saying, “Look at the blood of Christ and look what you did to him, look at all the sin that put him there. You should feel really bad.” And then it tries to raise them to life with the Law; now you need to change, you need to get better; you need to get your act together; otherwise, look back at the cross and look at what you did to him. Whereas I’d rather start by saying, “God is holy, righteous, blameless other than we are, and you are not. You are a worm. You are but dust. But the good news of the gospel is that in His kindness that God has initiated towards you and Jesus, He does indeed set his love on you in the name of Christ. Though you have sinned and sinned boldly against him, Christ has died for you, a sinner. Praise be to God.”

Jon Moffitt: Amen. To speak of God’s love separated from his grace is not to provide good news to someone. Because what you’re saying is, “God loves those who (fill in the blank).” But the gospel is, “God loves you by grace because you don’t deserve it – it’s unmerited, and it is unlimited.” To remove God’s love from His grace is not hope, but just pure Law.

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