“Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” – 2 Timothy 4:2, NIV
“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.” – 2 Timothy 4:2, KJV
It was exactly 4:30 PM on a Thursday night, laying on my bed, listening to Radio Free Geneva where he was talking about how politics not impacts exegesis, but determines exegesis in Southern Baptist congregations and when I heard these words come from Dr. James White’s mouth, and I instantly gave him an audible “Amen.” Actually, it was more like an “A-f***ing-men.”
White said that you shouldn’t underestimate the power that politics plays in determining exegesis of Scripture in the Southern Baptist Convention. I resonated so well with his comments because I saw this first hand, but not in the SBC. Let me stop here and explain. I spent 3 years in a reformed (lower case ‘r’) Southern Baptist Church where the politics wasn’t necessarily an issue, but they definitely had some horror stories to tell from the SBC church that they came from before planting their church. Where I mostly saw politics play a role in exegesis was these small, non-denominational, Pentecostal, and Free Will Baptist churches. So, that told me that this wasn’t a problem that was limited to any denomination or any particular theological movement. This is something that’s going on in smaller churches, and not all smaller churches either, but I’m willing to bet about 90% of all churches with an active membership of 50 people or less.
Most of the time (not always, but most of the time), if you see a small church there’s a reason why it’s small – hardly anybody wants to go to a church where the sermon is about “the evils of socialism” every freaking week. We, as Christians, believe (or should believe) in a fundamental separation of church and state. Now, to what extent you believe in that separation is up for debate. Personally, I believe in an absolute separation of church and state because I don’t think God needs the assistance of Christians in the government to rule and reign over the earth that He’s created, but that’s just me. I guess if you don’t think God is doing a good enough on His own, you can keep voting Republican. “Hey God, I saw that the world was to hell in a handbasket so I thought I would give you some help by voting for Trump. No need to thank me, I’m just doing my civic duty.”
Going back to the subject of exegesis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer hit the nail on the head when he said, “The sermon has been reduced to parenthetical church remarks about newspaper events.” Now, if this were true in Bonhoeffer’s day how much more true is it now? Now, like I said, it’s not just small churches that do this. Cornerstone Church in San Antonio is the worst. John Hagee preaches week after week that the government is going to start lobbing our heads off any minute now so we need to start keeping an eye on our dispensational timeline charts to see what chapter of the book of Revelation we’re in this week. Now, I haven’t heard a single Hagee sermon since the election, but I’m willing to bet that since Trump is the President Elect, Hagee is ready to convert to Post-Millennialism even as week speak. There seems to be a trend among dispensationalist to read into the text of Scripture what isn’t there. They do this by comparing Israel to America. They tend to take Old Testament passages of Scripture concerning Israel and saying that those passages apply to America when, in fact, they do not.
This is a common habit among pastors in smaller churches. They tend preach that the physical nation of Israel is still “God’s chosen people” so we should pray for Israel and honor Israel. Then they start preaching about how “evil” it is to not show political support for Israel. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for supporting Israel, but it is solely for political reasons. My reasons for supporting Israel have nothing to do with my faith or my interpretation of Scripture. But, these small church pastors are, for the most part, uneducated. They get their learning from watching guys like John Hagee and Perry Stone instead of actually cracking open a reasonable Bible commentary over the book of Revelation. (As far as commentaries go, I would rather a pastor use Wilhelm Brakel’s commentary over Revelation than for them to go by what John Hagee or Perry Stone is teaching, and that’s saying something because Brakel is Postmillennial and I hate Postmillennialism with a fiery burning passion. The only way Postmillennialism makes sense is you’re either a Universalist or if you’re in favor of a Christian version of Sharia Law.)
But I digress, the Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms defines “exegesis” as “The act of interpreting or explaining the meaning of verses or passages of Scripture.” So, if this is the true meaning of exegesis, then can we say that a lot of our smaller churches are really exegeting Scripture? I say with a resounding voice, “NO.” When you tell your congregation that America (and the Church) is Israel then you are completely ignoring Romans 9 and you are ignoring the promises of God to His elect people in Ephesians 1 and 2, and there’s no telling how many other passages you’re ignoring.
That’s not even the tip of the iceberg. You’ve got so many other exegetical problems in these smaller churches that it’s unreal. In a lot of churches that aren’t Southern Baptist, you’ve got pastors telling their congregation that they can lose their salvation at the drop of hat. They offer little to no comfort to those of us who struggle with assurance, and they completely ignore every promise of assurance that God gives to His people and say that it only applies to people who “live right.” They make no distinction between law and gospel in their preaching. RJ Grunewald says, “Christians, including preachers, routinely confuse the Law and Gospel, misapplying both. Confusion results: Some needlessly suffer under a burdened conscience as they live under the crushing weight of the Law, while others dismiss the Law (unrepentant sinners) and ignorantly bask in grace they find outside of Christ’s work on their behalf.”
When you step into the pulpit you carry a very weighty task of explaining a text in the context of the whole Bible, and distinguishing between law and grace.
“Rightly distinguishing the Law and the Gospel is the most difficult and the highest art of Christians in general and of theologians in particular. It is taught only by the Holy Spirit in the school of experience.” – CFW Walther
If you’ve been able to sit through this angry rant, let me know what you think and let’s talk about it.