It’s not popular to talk of sin. New euphemisms are cropping up all the time to soften, make more palatable, seem less fundamentalist, not shame sinners. And even though this actual road to Hell is paved with good intention an unintended consequence is that in many churches today sin can not even be clearly called out among the believers. It has been massaged therapeutically to no longer have it bite. It is now just patterns, addictions, justified by oppression or felt needs, or a tragic past. It no longer damns it just makes Jesus sad he can’t be friends with you.
There are still a few clear “sins” such as being white, or male, or an oppressor, rich, sometimes, typically around fathers day, looking at porn. But the actual sins of any given congregation are not called out. Gossip, laziness, pride (the root of all sins) watching soft-core porn in the guise of prestige TV, reading porn in the guise of a guilty pleasure bodice ripper novel (or for the slightly more devout a bonnet ripper), rebellious wives, disobedient children, idolatry of sport, the list can go on. These are rarely if ever clearly named, or preached against without a death by preface on the front end reminding everyone that the preacher is just as bad as they are. The net result is that without the bad news felt deeply, there can be no clear relief by the good news of the Gospel. Instead we have “christians’ who wander in to church depressed, downtrodden, and fearful because all they know is they feel bad, for what they know not, and they are looking for some therapy. Their burden of condemnation is not removed, they are just told how to manage it a little better. It could just be me but when Jesus said his yoke was easy and his burden was light, I don’t think this is what he had in mind.
With the dragging out the days of Rona people in general have been stewing. There is a constant pressure on them in one way or another. Either to be righteous by following all directives or to be the true remnant by loudly ignoring them. Either way there is isolation. As well the idolatry of our politics has created waring factions that begin to resemble theistic ancient near east cultures. If your guy looses it is as if your god has been defeated, the lines break chaotic fighting ensues. Other factors weigh, fear from rising crime, self diagnosis of mental illnesses, walking on eggshells at jobs for fear of saying the wrong thing… The list goes on. It is not a surprise then that most pastoral teams are working over time to comfort the weary. Many people walk into churches feeling defeated or exhausted, and pastors know that Christians hope is in Christ so they preach hopeful sermons, sing upbeat victory songs, they hang out on all the uplifting things they can. And they are bending over backwards to raise the spirits of their people. So why then, is everyone staying the same?
I would put forward that a grave misdiagnosis has taken place in many churches. What has been understood as weariness is only true of a portion of their congregations. There is more than one kind of person walking through the door and though some symptoms are similar there is more than one disease at play. Puritans were not known as physicians of the soul for no reasons, they consistently categorized the people in their churches under their care. Richard Baxter had six categories*, Williams Perkins had seven. Others had lists of they kinds of people were which were lengthy, others were more modest, but they all understood that their churches were not homogenized places. Different people needed to hear different things to treat what ailed their spirits.
Since this blog keeps its finger solidly on the pulse of whats hip and what’s happening in the reformed world I’ll show how modern I am by using Kevin DeYoung’s four categories: The weary, the wayward, the lazy, and the lost.
This is where I suspect most christians are. And for any number of reasons, the constant catechesis of the world, through, TV shows, film, books, newsfeeds or news cycles, friends who influence, blogs, social media. Or, even in the church there is no shortage of charlatans from the Stephen Furtic’s to the Stephen “Don’t taze me bro” Anderson’s, There are the Kristen Dumez’s, Kenneth Copeland’s, Jamar Tisby’s and Beth Moore’s. All preaching “gospels.” All of these things confuse and drive people away from a pure Gospel message and application. And I fear that in many churches pastors and elders, wanting to be incarnational, or some such thing looked the other way when hard and fast lines would have made them look like the super uncool fundamentalists of yore, straw man argument though they be.
The wayward need clarity, they need a direct gospel that calls sins sin. They need to be warned against false teachers both spiritual and secular. They need course corrections. There are ways to condemn sins without making a legalistic rule. It is a little bit more work but every day it gets easier because the world keeps getting more overt. I said the mythical fundamentalist who rears his head, today would mostly just be making good gospel sense.
“Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of the evil. Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on.” – Proverbs 4:14-15
“But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.” – 1 Timothy 6:11
Finally they need the sweet call of the gospel. The message preached to them should draw them to the glory of God in such a way that they become like Owen.
“Oh to behold the Glory of Christ! Here in would I live, Here in would I die, here on would I dwell in my thoughts and my affections until all things here below become as dead and deformed things, and in no longer, any way, calling out for my affections” – John Owen
I suppose there is a time and place to point out the sins of the past and weep with those who weren’t there but want to weep. If so there is more of a time and place to light a fire under those christians who have missed the big E on the eye chart. Or to take another tack, I do need to hear those sermons which convict me deeply about my habit of being a jerk to my wife. All Christians have a temptation to simply plateau, assume that where we are at is good enough. And that is a lie, from the pit. Sanctification is progressive. Instead of being reassured after the trauma of an election, congregations should be shown their idolatry. Parents should be instructed to discipline their children. Gluttony should be brought up. Charity (as in kindness to one another) should be taught. I am not sure when the forth commandment became the forth suggestion, keeping the Sabbath and being IN church should be emphasized. Young women should be rebuked for their pride, immodesty, greater loyalism to feminism than Christ. Young men should be called out for knowing more about the films of Christopher Nolan than their doctrine, or worse reading more of Michael Heiser than their Bibles, In short rebuked for laziness.
It is no secret in these parts that I think a good number of people in evangelical churches are lost. Which is an irony only proved by that irony that a number of “professing evangelicals” fail to grasp the concept of forgiveness or can justify rioting and looting, if not participate in it.
“Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” – Romans 12:17-21
The above verses are the low hanging fruit but I assume you take my point. In general when massive sections of scripture have to be explained away, there should be a conversation questioning if the person arguing that way is actually regenerate. Some of the lost need a hot gospel that burns away all of their defenses, others need to be set free from the weight idols have piled up on them. Either way it would be good to learn from Bunyan who toed the line with both so that they would come and be welcomed to Jesus Christ.
Every pastor I speak with is swamped with counseling. And indeed there is a time and a place for that. Puritans went house to house catechizing their congregations and giving counsel. But they prepared their sermons and preached in such a way that the vast majority of their counsel came from the pulpit. From a dying man speaking to dying men. They preached with the authority of God. And to do this they considered their flocks in categories that each needed application.
“We would have less need for personal counseling if we provided more application in the pulpit.” -Beeke, Reformed Preaching,
Yes, the weary are in churches, but they are not the entire group. Most need to hear sin defined and be admonished then called to flee from it into the arms of Christ. And they need to hear it in plain practical terms. It is not beyond the office of pastor to command a congregation to be obedient to Christ, to conform to Him. Or as Paul would say, copy me as I copy Jesus. Too many pastors waste time emphasizing their humanity and faults. In the pulpit they speak from the word of God, and just because some have abused that office in the past does not diminish its God ordained authority. A faithful pastor is not marked by how long he stays with one church, but in how he preached the Word to his hearers.
“And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:14-22
*(1)The Young and Weaker (2)Those that labour under special distempers (3)Decliners (4)That are fallen under some great temptation (5)The Disconsolate (6)The Strong.
**(1)Ignorant and unteachable unbelievers (2)Ignorant but teachable unbelievers (3)Those who have some knowledge but are not humbled (4)The humbled (5)Those who believe (6)Those who are fallen, either in faith or in practice (7)A mixed group.
***It is the only kind of progressivism that I can get behind. I also like how it inevitably makes you more conservative…