[The following story appears in Will Willomon’s Stories from Willimon. When I read it, it struck a chord with me and I hope it does the same for you.]
He owned a hardware store, and he was a member of my church. Someone had warned me about him when I moved there. “He’s usually quiet,” they said, “but be careful.” People still recalled the Sunday in 1970 when, in the middle of the sermon (the previous preacher’s weekly diatribe against Nixon and the Vietnam War), he had stood up from where he was sitting, shook his head, and walked right out. So, I always preached with one eye on my notes and the other on him. He hadn’t walked out on a sermon in more than ten years. Still, a preacher can never be too safe.
You can imagine my fear when one Sunday, having waited until everyone had shaken my hand and left the narthex, he approached me, gritting his teeth and muttering, “I just don’t see things your way, preacher.”
I moved into my best mode of non-defensive defensiveness, assuring him that my sermon was just one way of looking at things, and that perhaps he had misinterpreted what I said, and even if he had not, I could very well be wrong and er, uh . . .
“Don’t you back off with me,” he snapped. “I just said that your sermon shook me up. I didn’t ask you to take it back. Stick by your guns—if you’re a real preacher.”
Then he said to me, with an almost desperate tone, “Preacher, I run a hardware store. Since you’ve never had a real job, let me explain it to you. Now, you can learn to run a hardware store in about six months. I’ve been there fifteen years. That means that all week, nobody talks to me like I know anything. I’m not like you, don’t get to sit around and read books and talk about important things. It’s just me and that hardware store. Sunday morning and your sermons are all I’ve got. Please, don’t you dare take it back.”
“The Unfettered Word,” sermon, Duke University Chapel, October 15, 1989
According to Sarah Hinlicky Wilson, “the lectionary is the reason why, if you’re a preacher, you’re bored to tears, and if you’re a layperson, you have a sneaking suspicion you’ve heard this one before.”
Most preachers that I interact with on a regular basis don’t typically use the lectionary to plan out their sermons. I will typically look at it for seasons like Advent or Lent, but I usually preach through a book of the Bible or systematically preach through a topic. However, I know some preachers who are attached to the lectionary to the point that they are getting bored with it.
They have sermons for every text over the course of the three year cycle, and they need something else so they can keep flexing their sermon prep muscles. According to Sarah Hinlicky Wilson, “the lectionary is the reason why, if you’re a preacher, you’re bored to tears, and if you’re a layperson, you have a sneaking suspicion you’ve heard this one before.” If that resonates with you, then I have good news for you! There are other lectionaries that you can borrow from!
Typically, when one thinks of the lectionary, they think of the Revised Common Lectionary since that is the most common one in use among mainline evangelical Protestants (and we will cover that one for our low church friends). However, did you know that there are actually handful out there that you can use?
Getting the Lingo Down
For those of you who may be eavesdropping into the conversation you may be wondering, “What in the heck is a lectionary anyway?”
A lectionary is a systematic reading of selected Scriptures throughout the Christian year (Advent through Christ the King Sunday). The tradition of using a lectionary goes back to at least first century Judaism (maybe even farther back than that) where there would be assigned readings from the Old Testament to address where the people of God were in the Jewish calendar. (You can read Leon Morris’ extensive work on the Jewish lectionaries here.)
Even in Luke 4, when Jesus teaches in his hometown, the text tells us that they handed the scroll of Isaiah to Him so He could read from it. From this, we can infer that when Jesus read Isaiah 61 and said, “Today, this has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:17-21) it was because Isaiah 61 was the assigned text for that Sabbath day.
So, if the Jews used a lectionary to remind them of the significance of where they were in the Jewish calendar then it’s only natural that Christians would do the same with the Christian calendar.
So, if the Jews used a lectionary to remind them of the significance of where they were in the Jewish calendar then it’s only natural that Christians would do the same with the Christian calendar.
Let’s look at some lectionaries at our disposal. This is by no means an exhaustive list. These are just some that I’ve found helpful.
The Revised Common Lectionary
The Common Lectionary was published in 1983 out of an ecumenical effort by both American and Canadian denominations to have a common experience of the story of Scripture throughout the Church year . There were some various problems with its trial run so the same people who brought us the Common Lectionary went back to the ol’ drawing board and brought us the Revised Common Lectionary which you can peruse at this link. The Revised Common Lectionary, published in 1992, takes into account constructive criticism of the Common Lectionary. It is a three-year cycle of Sunday Eucharistic readings in which Matthew, Mark, and Luke are read in successive years with some material from John read in each year.
When a mainline church uses the lectionary this is typically their go-to. Many PCUSA, Cumberland Presbyterian, United Methodist, and American Baptist congregations walk through this lectionary every three years.*
LCMS One Year Lectionary
The Missouri Synod Lutheran Church developed the one year lectionary which you can view here. Admittedly, I don’t know much about this lectionary, but from what I’ve seen it could be handy for pastors who want to introduce the Christian calendar to congregations that have historically been low church.
At this link you can read a talk given by Rev. Randy Asburry where he gives some compelling reasons for using this lectionary.
The Narrative Lectionary
I have become quite familar with the Narrative Lectionary over the last year or so. Basically, this lectionary operates on a four year cycle where you focus on the story of one of the four gospels every year from Advent until Pentecost Sunday, and then there are various readings of Scripture throughout the rest of the church year that help us in examining other books of the Bible or systematically addressing different themes from Scripture.
I should add that one of the reasons I admire this particular lectionary is that it’s convenient to take a break from during Ordinary Time so that you can preach on other topics or books of the Bible that the lectionary doesn’t cover.
You can read all about the Narrative Lectionary here.
Lectionary from Christ Church – Moscow, Idaho
Even though I follow Christ Church and Douglas Wilson, I haven’t heard much about their lectionary. From what I understand this lectionary is strictly used for readings in the Sunday morning worship services at Christ Church (as opposed to being used for selections for sermon texts). However, when I began filling the pulpit at variousCumberland Presbyterian Churches in my presbytery, I found this lectionary helpful for selecting sermon texts.
Because of the limited readings in a two year cycles, this might be perfect for any preacher that wants a personal challenge. You can find their lectionary here.
If you’re a lectionary preacher, I hope you found this article helpful. Contact me if there are other lectionaries that I can address in future articles! Thanks!
_________ * There are too many denominations to list that actually use the Revised Common Lectionary.
If you’re one of those Truly Reformed™ brothers or sisters or one of my ivory tower theologian friends, I appreciate you taking the time to stop by, but this isn’t for you. This is a conversation between me and my Cumberland Presbyterian peeps. I’ll write a post for you fellas later. Now, bye-bye, and close the door on your way out.
Now that we’re alone, and I can talk to you one-on-one, I would recommend that you look up Herman Murray Jr. from Full Gospel Holy Temple in Dallas, Texas, and listen to him preach… just once.
I can already tell you that you’re probably not going to like that he has “Apostle” in front of his name. You might not like the high energy worship. You’re probably not going to like his loud, in-your-face style. You might call it “unnecessary” and “uncouth.” But if you can just turn off the high-brow, post-modernist goggles for just a few moments you’ll notice something.
Murray doesn’t preach a health, wealth, and prosperity message. He doesn’t use tricks and gimmicks to get his point across. He just opens the Bible and lets the Word speak for itself. You may not always agree with his exposition. He might not have the same views as you on baptism or soteriology, but he just tries his best, with the ability that God gave him, to talk about what the Bible talks about.
He’s not afraid to call out the homosexual agenda, the hyper-sexualization of our culture, or the need for strong and godly family units as evidenced in his sermon, “As Christ Loved the Church.”
So, you might ask, “Aren’t you good ol’ Cumberland Presbyterian boy, why are you trying to get me to watch this?” The answer is simple. We’re missing something that Murray has – boldness. You don’t have to have the same amount of volume, energy, or cadence to be bold. You just have to have a backbone, and that’s something we seem to have lost. We are letting the culture define the standards that we live and operate by. We are letting the culture tell us that we’re not allowed to say anything offensive in our pulpits. We have traded the Gospel of Jesus Christ for a message of sin tolerance, and we are paying a heavy price for it.
What we need to do is decide whether or not, the Bible is God’s Word to us today. We can’t pick and choose which parts are relevant and which ones aren’t. We have to decide whether or not the whole book is God’s word to us today or not. If it’s not, then throw the whole thing away and stop pretending to be a Christian just because you have a degree from a seminary and some presbytery said you could preach.
However, if the Bible is in fact God’s Word to us today, then there’s no reason for you to fear and cower in the pulpit. You should be able to stand up and declare what God says and let His word do the work. People may not like it. Your biggest tithe payers may walk out. The session might want to cut your salary or even fire you, but if what you say comes from the pages of Scripture, then they’ll have to fight God and His word before they can get to you.
Pastor, Sunday is coming, and you’re going to have to give an account to God for what every soul siting in the pews of your church hear from the pulpit. Are you going to preach the headlines? Are you going to preach a weak, watered-down Gospel that can’t save anybody? Are you going to preach about a god that tolerates the very sin his son died for?
Or, are you going to preach what God has said in His Word?
It’s a choice you have to make, and it’s a choice you’ll stand before God and give an account for.
While I can appreciate Logan taking up the topic of women in ministry, I found his arguments to be lacking. Do understand, he is my friend and we write together frequently. He told me what he was going to do and as the new Lead Contributor I would not be accused of censoring my friends. The beauty of Late Night Theology is that we all come from different backgrounds and there is room to peacefully disagree. I’m not saying this for his sake (he knew I was going to respond) but rather for yours, dear reader. Don’t think that disagreements mean that everything’s splitting up; this is just an exercise. A good sparring match does the body good.
But I cannot agree with him here. We could not be more different.
Logan contends that women should be allowed to the pastorate for three reasons.
There were dynamic female leaders in Scripture
There were dynamic female leaders in Church History.
We can raise up dynamic leaders in the church today.
These are all interesting points and I’ll say this much: He’s not wrong on the premise. Yes, all three of these are true. Yes there have been dynamic female leaders in the Scriptures. Yes Phoebe, Priscilla, Lydia, Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of Christ, Junia, Deborah, the Psalm 31 woman, Esther, Sarah, and Rahab all were faithful dynamic women in the Scriptures. To say otherwise is to ignore what Scriptures says. This is why I don’t understand those who would say that Scripture oppresses women. It does not treat these women as if they are “lesser”. To say so is to flat deny what Scripture plainly says.
And yes, there have been dynamic women in Church History. Katherine von Bora, Idelette Calvin, Fanny J Crosby and so much more were bulwarks in their own theological right. To say otherwise would deny the historical reality that we know to be true.
And of course, we can raise up dynamic female leaders today. Yes there should female theologians. Yes there should be female thinkers and doers. Yes women are fully capable to lead and serve the Church in grandiose and dynamic ways. To say otherwise is to treat our sisters as incapable. I cannot stand when pompous seminarians and Bible majors talk down to women in their classes. Most of my theology classes at CBC had women in them. Yes, they were brilliant. Yes they had a different view on niche, open handed discussions. Different isn’t bad. One of my first sermons as a Presbyterian, I asked a woman in the congregation what she thought about a certain line. She helped me clarify a point in my sermon. If we don’t listen to women in our churches we are ignoring possibly half of our congregations.
Those dynamic women in Scripture weren’t pastors or preachers. Yes they were helpful, dynamic, and led in serving the Church. That doesn’t make them pastors and doesn’t justify doing so. Scripture doesn’t give us that room. To ignore what Paul writes in Timothy is foolish. What else will we choose to ignore? Or will we let culture be our guide? Away with this! Reformed theology hangs on the doctrine of the authority of Scripture.
1 Corinthians 12:14–25
 For the body does not consist of one member but of many.  If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.  And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?  But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.  If all were a single member, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”  On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,  and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty,  which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it,  that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. (ESV)”
We cannot say that we don’t need women in the church. That is foolish. But there is a liberty to serve. If a woman wants to serve the Church, she should be praised. But one does not need a title in order to serve. The title does not make the work more or less important. The pastor is not more important to the body as those who serve in the nursery.
So yes we should raise up dynamic female leaders. Yes we should encourage their giftings. Absolutely, we should encourage them to wrestle with the same theological truths. But we should not ignore the Scripture’s prohibition of women pastors just to give women a place to lead
[Disclaimer: I am not speaking for the blog as a whole, nor am I speaking for the other contributors. Of all of the other LNT contributors, I am a lone wolf here.]
Let me start off by saying that I’m conservative to the right of Genghis Kahn on a lot of issues. I was raised as a pew running, tongue-talking, Holy Ghost baptized, KJV Onlyist Pentecostal. Even for a couple of years after I left the theological background of my raising it was hard for me to give up the KJV, and I’m still conservative on the classical issues. I believe marriage is to be between one man and one woman. I believe women who have an abortion to avoid responsibility are committing murder. I believe those who are theologically and socially liberal have an agenda and that agenda has no place in the pulpit. If you name a hot button issue within the realm of Christendom there’s a good chance that I’ll land on the right side of it. (Take that however you want to!)
However, I was raised with two great aunts to who stood in the pulpit and proclaimed the Gospel. They boldly proclaimed that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. They urged people to run to Jesus and be washed in the blood of the Lamb for the forgiveness of their sins. I’m told stories of my great-grandmother who faithfully pastored two independent Pentecostal congregations through the 70s and 80s.
It wasn’t until I was in my teens that I had heard of people who didn’t believe that women should be pastors, and even then it wasn’t until I was an adult that I actually met one of these unicorns, and I found that the idea of women in pastoral ministry is actually a liberal issue.
Today, I am no longer Pentecostal. I am a proud Calvinist, but I am a pastor in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church – one of the few conservative-leaning denominations that ordain women to the pastorate, and I proudly stand on the liberal side with this issue, and here’s why…
1. There Were Dynamic Female Leaders in the Bible
I could go back to the Old Testament and mention Deborah the judge and Hildah the prophetess, and I could even talk about the Anna the prophetess mentioned Luke 2:36-38 who gave thanks to God for Jesus, but I think I want to start in a slightly more uncomfortable place for my complimentarian brethren.
Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. – Romans 16:7, NIV
The first hurdle is to figure out whether or not Junia was a man or a woman. The Greek name, jIounivan, is in fact feminine so it is to be translated Junia rather Junias as the NIV 1984 and other translations have rendered it.
The second hurdle is to try to decipher what “outstanding among the apostles” means. While there is major controversy surrounding the actual meaning, one thing is clear – the patristics were confident that this woman was, in fact, an apostle.* Although, maybe not in the classical sense, but she was called and sent of the church.
Then, we come to Priscilla and Aquila. This husband and wife team discipled Apollos according to Acts 18. However, there’s something that we notice with Priscilla and Aquila that is different from the traditional way of addressing couples even in our modern day with the man’s name being mentioned first almost all of the time. It’s more often that you hear, “Let’s invite Joe and Mary over for dinner” rather than “Let’s invite Mary and Joe over for dinner.” Notice this observation made by Eddie Hyatt.
In Paul’s greeting to Priscilla and Aquilla in Romans 16:3-5, he greets them and the church that is in their house. Interestingly, he puts Priscilla’s name first in the greeting. This is telling for, in doing so, he violated the normal, conventional way of presenting a couple in the ancient world. The proper way would have been to mention Aquilla first, but Paul goes against accepted convention and mentions Priscilla first (Hyatt, Paul, Women and Church, 28-29).
That Paul would purposely mention Priscilla first is a powerful statement of her status and influence and of Paul’s estimation of her. Many New Testament scholars see this as evidence that she was the out-front one in the relationship and the pastor of the church in their home. R.C.H. Lenski, for example, said, “She by nature was more gifted and able than her husband, also spiritually fully developed, due to having Paul in her home for 18 months in Corinth.”
2. There Were Dynamic Female Leaders in Church History
I’m not going to spend as much time on this point because we could be here for a while, but I will point out a couple of examples the first being Hilda of Whitby.
The great-niece of King Edwin of Northumbria, she was baptized at 13 when the king and his household converted to Christianity in 627 A.D. 20 years later, at the age of 33 she answered the call on her life to become a nun. Under the direction of Aidan of Lindisfarne, she established a number of monasteries her last being Whitby.
The monastery at Whitby was what was known as a double house meaning that not only were there women who were becoming nuns, but there were there becoming monks. The implication of this is while they attended mass and had a priest of their own, Hilda oversaw the spiritual environment of that monastery. Whether we want to admit it or not, as an abbess she pretty much functioned as a pastor overseeing the spiritual care of both men and women.**
The second example I would like for us to take note of is that of Rev. Louisa Woosley. Unless you’re Cumberland Presbyterian, you probably don’t recognize that name, but during her 45 years of evangelistic ministry within the denomination, she saw about 100,000 conversions across 20 states. In 1891, she published the book, “Shall Woman Preach?” where she presents with all theological boldness and clarity a resounding ‘yes’ as an answer to question that the title presents.
3. We Can Raise Up Dynamic Female Leaders in the Church Today
Before I go on any further, let me just say that in a way, I get it. It’s hard to see that women should have a place in the pulpit when it seems all the only female pastors getting any exposure are those preaching false prosperity gospel (Paula White) or those preaching a gospel of social justice. The PCUSA, the UMC, and the Episcopalian Church are all shelling out naval-gazing humanists for pastors so it’s hard to see any hope for there to be room for Bible believing women in the pulpit, but the Assemblies of God are training up young women qualified to take the pulpit who aren’t afraid to stand up against those who have “an appearance of godliness but deny the power thereof,” and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church needs to get on the ball if we’re going to stand in the fight against an age of secularism that seeks to invade our churches.
I believe that if we will, we can raise up female leaders who will fearlessly exposit the truths of God’s Word, and in so doing they will proclaim the radical holiness and marvelous grace of our glorious God.
Some reading material for the eager mind and the hungry soul. This week’s mental buffet includes articles from Martin Luther (no he’s not back from the dead for a blog post), Garry Vanderveen, Jason K. Allen, and Octavius Winslow.
“God did not come down from heaven to make you uncertain about predestination, to teach you to despise the sacraments, absolution, and the rest of the divine ordinances. Indeed, He instituted them to make you completely certain and to remove the disease of doubt from your heart, in order that you might not only believe with the heart but also see with your physical eyes and touch with your hands. Why, then, do you reject these and complain that you do not know whether you have been predestined? You have the Gospel; you have been baptized; you have absolution; you are a Christian.”
“The visible centre of the Church’s worship must not be left as a blank space for long periods of the year. Calvin, accordingly, declares himself in favour of weekly communion. “All this mass of ceremonies being abandoned, the sacrament might be celebrated in the most becoming manner, if it were dispensed to the Church very frequently, at least once a week.” “It was not instituted to be received once a year and that perfunctorily (as is now commonly the custom).” He, indeed, goes the length of saying that “we ought always to provide that no meeting of the Church is held without the Word, prayer, the dispensation of the Supper, and alms”; and he calls the custom of communication once a year “an invention of the devil”. “The practice of all well ordered Churches should be to celebrate the Supper frequently, so far as the capacity of the people will admit.”
“One of the benefits of expository preaching is that it anchors the sermon in the text of Scripture, not current events. The Word of God is perennial, never needing to be updated or improved upon. At the same time, faithful preaching brings the Word of God to bear, actually pressing it upon the lives of the hearers.”
“He is glorified in the progressive holiness of His people. “The kingdom of God is within you,” says Christ. The increase of this kingdom is just the measure and extent of the believer’s advance in sanctification. This is that internal righteousness, the work of God the Holy Spirit, which consists in the subjugation of the mind, the will, the affections, the desires, yes, the whole soul, to the government and supremacy of Jesus, “bringing into captivity,” says the apostle, “every thought to the obedience of Christ.” Oh, you who are “striving against sin,” longing to be “conformed to the image of God’s Son,” panting to be more “pure in heart,” “hungering and thirsting for righteousness,” think that in every step which you take in the path of holiness, in every corruption subdued, in every besetting sin laid aside, in every holy desire begotten, Christ is glorified in you! But you perhaps reply, “the more I strive for the mastery, the more I seem to be conquered. The more strongly I oppose my sins, the stronger my sins seem to be.” But what does this prove? it proves that “God is working in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure,” -that the kingdom of God is invading the kingdom of Satan- that the Spirit dwelling in the heart is warring with the flesh. It is truly remarked by Owen, that “if a believer lets his sins alone, his sins will let him alone.” But let him search them as with candles, let him bring them to the light, oppose, mortify, and crucify them, they will to the last, struggle for the victory. And this inward warfare, so graphically and touchingly described in the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, undeniably marks the inhabitation of God the Holy Spirit in the soul.”
“The first sermons of a ministry often set the trajectory or tone for an entire season of pastoral leadership. What did I want the church to be known for? What did I want my ministry to major on? I was sure some in my new congregation would make assumptions or take cues from what I decided to preach on in these first sermon series.”
“As the church draws near to God, the Lord draws near to us, and we receive grace. Grace—regenerating grace, renewing grace, reviving grace—is offered to the congregation through the means of grace. The result of worshiping God in spirit and truth is transformation. Entertainment cannot lead to edification. Entertainment can stir the emotions, but God uses the means of grace to change our affections. Entertainment might draw a crowd or captivate a congregation, but only the means of grace will draw people to Christ and conform them to His image.”
“Of course, like most feminist myths, there is absolutely no proof that Peterson was given a “pass” because he’s a man. There are thousands upon thousands of tweets and Facebook comments on this mess, and precisely none of them smacked of, “He’s a dude, so it’s cool.” Each one of these women has noted how serious the backlash was to Peterson’s original comments, specifically after his retraction. Not that facts matter. Where there is a woman, there is an oppressor, am I right? Nevertheless, I’d pay RHE $10 if she could tell me what a “highly gendered” attack upon Hatmaker looked like, but only after I purchase a signed copy of her next NYT bestseller.
There’s an economy of words here that we cannot afford to ignore, and the fact that they are currently flowing from a man who wrote an absurd caricature of Scripture that has been accepted as a “paraphrase” by most Evangelicals today (calling The Message a “paraphrase” is wildly generous) should cause us to pause. While Peterson, a pastor from the “gay-affirming” PCUSA is shocking us all with his gay-affirmation, while conservatives are trying to find a way to be excited about a statement and a retraction that amounts to indifference, while feminists are looking for the patriarchy in every corner, real people are being hurt.”
“As I read through Scripture, I’m discovering that very few people had their lives turn out as expected. God often takes his people on strange paths through uncharted territories. He leads his people out of safe, secure places, and into the howling wastelands.”
I would just like to preface this by saying that my home church doesn’t have a Sunday evening service, but after reading this, I may start trying to find somewhere to attend for Sunday night services.
“If the sermon and the sacraments are truly means of grace, let’s give people the opportunity to experience this grace and take advantage of the opportunities on the day set aside for worship. Martyn Lloyd-Jones supported the practice of evening worship because he believed there should be a hunger for the preaching of the Word-a hunger that desires a second time to feast on the Bible.”
“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.