When the Pulpit Apes the World

preacher-at-pulpit-copySomething happens inside churches where outrage over society’s immoralities seasons every Sunday sermon. It’s rather unexpected, and rarely noticed. The more a preacher makes a habit of lambasting the evils of a culture; the more he makes the necessity of a morally pure life the center of his sermons; the more he directs his flock to the keeping of the divine law as their defining characteristic—the more he does all this, the more that preacher actually urges his church to adopt the ways of the world.

It’s as sad as it is true: the more law-centered a church becomes, the more like the world it becomes.

The way of the world is the way of the law. That law may sometimes be in synch with the divine law, such as when societies prohibit murder and stealing. That law may sometimes be of the world’s own devising. Either way, these outward laws reflect an interior disposition: my identity, my self-worth, the means by which I find fulfillment in life, is determined by what I do. Maybe I follow the rules of my group within society. Maybe I become a law unto myself by making my own rules and following the dictates of my heart. In the end, it’s all the same. My self-understanding arises out of my behavior. I am who I am because I do what I do. The way of the world is the way of the law.

And the way of far too many churches is the way of the law as well. Beneath the surface, legalistic Christians are little different from those they often deride. Their identity as Christians, their worth, the means whereby they find fulfillment in life, is determined by the morality they choose and the immorality they avoid. The Christian life becomes little more than following a list of do’s and don’ts. Moral outrage over society’s evils becomes a favorite pastime because, to some degree, it boosts their own feeling of intimacy with the great Moral Divinity before whom they bow the knee. The self-understanding of the law-centered Christian arises out of his behavior. He is who he is because he does what he does. The way of such Christians, and the way of such churches, is the way of the law.

Thus, the more law-centered a church becomes, the more it and the world become kissing cousins.

What then, shall preachers stop preaching the divine law? By no means. The law must be preached. God’s commands for how we are to live must be proclaimed. Evil must be pointed out. Sinners must be called to repentance. This is what the law does; and, oh, does it do it well. It always teaches right from wrong, it always commands, and—because we are sinners—it always accuses.

And there is one more thing the law does: it never gives us what we ultimately need.

The law can tell us, day and night, what to do and what not to do, and we will never do it perfectly. The law can instruct and warn, urge and command, entice and promise, but it cannot say, “You are loved by God.” It cannot say, “You are forgiven.” The law cannot say, “You have peace with God in Jesus Christ. He has kept the law for you. He loves and embraces you as you are. He welcomes you as a brother or sister.” The law can do many thing, but it cannot deliver the good news we need more than anything else.

It is the good news of our salvation in Jesus Christ that gives us fulfillment in life, for it fills us with God himself. This good news is that we are who we are because Christ is who he is: our friend, our brother, our Savior. Our identity is not that of law-keepers or law-breakers but the friends of Jesus. Who we are is swallowed up by who he is.

What we ultimately need—what everyone needs—is reconciliation and peace with God in Jesus Christ. And that’s what we have. The cross was the pulpit from which Jesus preached his love and forgiveness to the world. And that message is still to permeate pulpits every Sunday.

The more grace-centered, Gospel-focused a church becomes, the more unlike the world it becomes. And the more it proclaims to the world what it truly needs to hear.

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What we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who InfantPriestfrontcoverwelcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

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6 thoughts on “When the Pulpit Apes the World

  1. As usual, you cut to the heart of the issue with clarity and a beautiful picture of Christ for us. Great message after recent events.

  2. Norma Carey on said:

    I like this one because it is a good bench mark to gauge what type of preaching goes on in anyone’s church.

  3. Betty on said:

    I hadn’t thought about this, but so true. My thought is that when the leader, head, preacher, start lambasting the world and its fallenness, then the people start to judge people and become embroiled in fighting and not in doing the Father’s work. Preach judgment and you’ll have people being judgmental.

  4. Chad, My goodness! What a (yet another) phenomenal post! The most disheartening thing about it is that churches like you affirm here are needles in the haystack. It continues to befuddle me how some are so rabidly against preaching gospel. With tremendous respect, Dale

  5. Chad – I read this post at least a dozen times. You spoke what’s been resonating in my spirit over and over for many years. “Those who have ears to hear” will also clearly pick up on the beauty of our absolute freedom, by the revelation of the Holy Spirit, the complete and finished work of Jesus which is exactly where our spiritual focus need to be and STAY. Jesus our Lord and Savior!!! Jesus invites his children to lie in green grass beside the still water – regardless of our external circumstances. He has prepared a table before each of us in the presence of our enemies. Almighty God is Sovereign over ALL. It’s high time the body of Christ stop with the “knee jerk reaction” to all the diversions thrown out there by the enemy. The more the “Church” reacts continuously to worldly distractions the weaker we appear. We as believers are called to pray – not defend. It is my sincere wish your words be a light onto many’s path.

  6. Larry on said:

    I think it was Sasse that once wisely observed that the sects panick because they have no future, the church does not because she does have a future. I think we can confidently extend that to other forms of unbelief like panicked political realms, secular, false religions, etc…
    It’s comforting to the baptized when you think about it.

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