Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Gimme That Showtime Preachin'

A Plea For Preachers

I have no doubt that this little blog article may create some havoc for me. As you read this, please note from the outset that I have no particular person in mind, however the shoe may fit someone you know, or alas, it may fit you. As a matter of fact, I have worn this shoe a very few and rare times with my own preaching but I am consciously and diligently trying to weed this sort of thing totally out of my own presentation of the Gospel with the vehicle of preaching.

As a disclaimer, these thoughts are not reflective of the staff, management, scattered friends and neighbors, or anyone else who falls in between those mentioned categories. These thoughts are purely and wholly mine. They may be somewhat skewed but they are mine in their entirety. I will publish any and all comments from readers scattered about the world whether they are in agreement or disagreement. I only have two rules for those who want to comment: (1) You must identify yourself by name at the end of your comments and (2) I will not allow you to specifically name anyone that you might have an ax to grind.

When I was a kid, I had a major scarring event to occur in my life. It was unmistakable in its origin and it descended on me with such rapidity that I was stunned almost into a state of shock. When it was over, I had determined that only the wrath of God could descend quicker upon poor saps than the wrath of my mother.

When I was growing up, there were words that were not allowed in our home. There were even some slang words that weren’t (at least to me) harmful that my mother defined as “Pentecostal cussing” and they were never to be uttered in our home. She was very serious about this and it not only applied to my brother and myself but to any of our overnight guests and other friends that would come home with us on Sunday afternoons.

One day back in the ‘70’s, I am uncertain if I was testing my mother or if it was an accidental proverbial slip of the tongue, I found my mother found cramming a bar of Dial soap, the real orange stuff that they used to make years ago, directly into my mouth. Then she took a washcloth and began to literally wash my mouth out with soap. She had very little regard for my poor little body that maybe there were some carcinogens, free radicals, or other vague and mysterious oxides that might kill some brain cells. It never crossed her mind that there might be some poison in that Dial soap that might kill me. She was far more concerned with washing out my “dirty” mouth and I might add that the trick worked. At the moment, she also had very little regard for my sense of self-worth and self-esteem.

Since that time, I have tried to keep my mouth vigilant by at least saying the right things at the right times in the right place and at the right time. What a drastic impact that little session had on my mind and body. As a matter of fact, it only took once for that little exercise to occur and I learned a life-long lesson. From then on, if I had any “Pentecostal cussing” to do, it was not in the presence of my mother.

Yet, very, very curiously as time has passed, I have noticed that some preachers from a wide range of “movements” have let some of these words creep into their preaching. In fact some of these are words that would have gotten my mouth washed out as a kid. What really needs to happen is for my mother to gather up the “gumption” to go up on the platform of some of these places and give them a taste of Dial soap.

With the culmination of the internet, I now have been able to listen to a wide range of preachers (Pentecostal, Church of God, Church of God of Prophecy, Independent Fundamental Baptist, Assembly of God, even some other “highbrow” stuff). Oddly enough, I found that many from this wide range of denominations have some who preach with that show time Gospel flair and mix in all sorts of borderline profanity and forms of crude speech.

I know that you will bring to my attention where that Jesus had some very sharp words to say to the Pharisees and a few others. I am also aware that he probably said some things that are not recorded in Scripture when the Temple cleansings took place. I am also aware that some of the Old Testament prophets like Amos, Ezekiel, Jonah, and Elijah all had some pointed words to say to different groups to whom they were addressing. But it appears to me that all of these events stacked up against the rest of the Book would give these situations a very small minority comparatively speaking.

The reality of the matter is that there are times that righteous, hot, holy anger needs to pour out of a preacher’s soul (not necessarily his mouth). Samuel hacked Agag to pieces and as is mentioned Jesus cleaned out the Temple and Joshua ordered for Achan to be stoned. However, all of these actions were devoid of street slang and vulgarity.

What has brought this whole matter to the forefront of my mind is a small uprising here in Dothan, Alabama. Three weeks ago, on a Sunday night, our two largest city high schools had a combined baccalaureate service and the man who was preaching resorted to some street language. It has been talked about around our little burg of 55,000 and has generated at least one letter to the editor of our local paper. The writer was expressing his embarrassment for his wife and daughter who were with him at this event. As I read this, I tried to filter through the thought processes of the writer and of the preacher. Sometimes preachers get bad raps because people simply do not want to hear the truth of God’s Word. On the other hand, there have been times that the dignity and intellect of the congregation was assaulted by the audacity of the preacher who had a bully pulpit. There is a happy medium somewhere along the way.

In the past few years, I have attended several events where a preacher took his liberty to use bedroom humor, vulgar slang, and borderline “cussing” and I was certainly glad that my wife and children were not with me. The great question arises. . . . .Does gutter talk really have a place in the pulpit? Does a preacher have to be a ribald, bawdy comedian to communicate the power of truth?

From simple observation, it appears to me that many times when this sort of activity starts that it’s actions are trying to make up for a huge shallowness of the message. I am certainly aware that the Bible uses some very graphic terms for specific people but in the long run when these words are mixed with sarcasm and disdain it creates far more harm than good. We are to feed the sheep (Acts 20:27-31) not put on a show. Some of the worst homiletical advice ever given was “pick a text and pitch a fit.” That is not real preaching but it is having your hobby horse to prance about with much ado over nothing. Shallow preaching will lead to shallow churches. I am for passionate preaching but shallow showmen stuff is never warranted. When the speaker outshines the Savior something is terribly amok. Our words need to be seasoned with grace (Eph. 4:27-30).

The greatness of a message is not the histrionics of the preacher but the redeeming power of the truth issued through the Word of God. Charles Spurgeon, the great prince of preachers, gave the following suggestion from his classic Lectures to My Students:

There is a kind of beetle which breeds in filth, and this creature has its prototype among men…I know it is said “Honi soit qui mal y pense,” but I aver that no pure mind ought to be subjected to the slightest breath of indelicacy from the pulpit. Caesar’s wife must be without suspicion, and Christ’s ministers must be without speck in their lives or stain in their speech."

On a closing thought, we men who preach out to have some “stuff with the puff” when we preach the Word. The “show” of preaching should never outshine the Savior of our preaching. If we are using words to “shock the flock” then what is our real motivation?

My plea to preachers is to let your preaching be so Word driven, Christ exalting, worshipful, and prayerful that there will be no room for confusion in the ears and minds of those who hear you.

4 comments:

Don Ryan said...

Wonderful thoughts. With regard to does any questionable discourse have a place in the pulpit; it is called the sacred desk for a reason. Scripture tells us that the sacred and the profane have no place together and that placing the unclean with the clean makes both unclean. Why pollute the word of God with questionable language. I would hope that I could convey the word of God to my saints and God's word is never questionable.

Anonymous said...

My dear Brother, Yea! and Amen!

Gilbert Salinas

M R Hennigan said...

I'll have to "AMEN" you.It's the simplicity of the gospel not how fancy I put it out there. Thanks for being open and honest Bro. Harrelson.

Rev M R Hennigan

Kirbyville Apostolic
Church

Anonymous said...

GREAT THOUGHTS BROTHER!!!!!




Anthony Wilks
www.truthapostolic.org