There are churches that have won the battle for the inerrancy of the Bible.
However, no denomination or congregation that has achieved such a victory can sit back with satisfaction.
Conservative churches may accept the inerrancy of Scripture, but in practice they still deny the all-sufficiency of God’s Word. Several churches may say that the Bible is God’s infallible Word, but are they really preaching the Scriptures from the pulpit?
In fact, many evangelical congregations are currently experiencing a spiritual famine.
▪︎ It is no exception that the sermon is no more than a treatise on political matters (this was in my younger years a reason for me to leave a church, I was hungry for the word, but received no food)
▪︎ It is no exception that the names of popular TV shows are mentioned in the themes of sermon series, or in the sermon itself.
▪︎ It is no exception that preaching is all about what it takes for a good marriage or how best to raise children today.
In itself it is not wrong to pay attention to themes of upbringing and relationships in the sermon, but two problems quickly arise.
▪︎ First, there is hardly attention for what the Bible teaches on these topics, and to avoid possible questions, it seems, for the sake of convenience, better to ignore what Paul says in Ephesians 5:22-33 about the roles of man and woman.
▪︎ Second, these kinds of sermons are almost always very horizontal and quickly turn into moralistic talks in which we receive tips for a happy life. The pastor often turns into a “motivational speaker” instead of a preacher of the word.
Many assemblies where this takes place, are not aware of this at all. The moral standard of living promoted in these kinds of sermons is after all (at least in part) in line with God’s Word, and it is believed that such sermons meet a need for both believers and unbelievers.
Many pastors in such churches have also come to believe that they should fill their sermons richly with stories and examples, in order to underline their message once again.
Of course, every pastor uses examples. But sermons can be so chock-full of anecdotes that the theology is completely lost.
I have regularly heard evangelicals claim that the theology is okay in their evangelical congregations, because the church members don’t complain about what is presented to them. To me, these are worrisome comments.
As a pastor, it is not your responsibility to please the congregation (you are not an artist performing a one-man show), but to proclaim the entire message of God, including those parts where the ‘church visitor’ (let me just call those present like this for now) perhaps would rather not be confronted with it. (Acts 20:27)
Whether a minister lives up to his calling is not determined by the opinion of the majority. The pastor must be guided by what the Scriptures ask of him.
Maybe the congregation has never really been taught God’s Word, so they don’t even notice when the pastor is failing.
It happened several times to me that after a sermon I was told that there was nothing wrong with the Scriptural contents of the sermon, but that they did not want to hear such a message, because it might make some members who did a lot for the church feel uncomfortable.
Clearly, their relationship with people was more highly valued, than the eternal salvation of them.
Other churches indicated that I would be allowed to join their church if I kept my mouth shut (How on earth can someone who has received so much love and grace be silent about that?), Or if I stopped preaching, evangelizing, and the daily devotionals on the internet (I can’t do that either).
Paul warns in Acts 20:29:
I know that after my departure
savage (cruel) wolves will come in among you,
not sparing the flock;
In another place he says, “The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but will seek what is pleasing to the audience, and gather for themselves teachers according to their own desires. They will turn their hearing away from the truth and turn to fabrications”.
2 Timothy 4:3-4
³For the time will come
when they will not endure sound doctrine;
but wanting to have their ears tickled,
they will accumulate for themselves teachers
in accordance to their own desires,
⁴and will turn away their ears from the truth
and will turn aside to myths.
When the wishes of congregation members determine what may or may not be preached, one is on a dangerous slippery slope. I just say that God’s Word must be the touchstone at all times, and not the opinion of the majority (of the members, or of the consistory), and certainly not of an individual who means a lot to the church!
Ministers and pastors are called to tend the flock, which means, among other things, to feed them with God’s Word, and not to preach what people want to hear.
Unfortunately, I see more and more, that pastors are poorly equipping their congregation members.
Imagine what would happen if the congregation received no more than a general motivational talk in the weekly meetings, or if they were presented with a moralistic sermon every week.
They may learn to work themselves up for certain things, or to be kind, forgiving, a good husband or a sweet wife (all beautiful, of course!). They warm themselves up in the sermon and may also be edified by it.
But what then becomes of their eternal salvation?
When the theological basis is lacking, the wolf of heresy lurks more than ever.
In what sense?
Not necessarily that the pastor is a heretic himself. He may be very orthodox and pure in his theology. And yet … he preaches about norms and values, he preaches good morals, he gives motivational speeches, and he falsely believes that the theology he adheres to, is evident between the lines in his preaching.
He thereby preaches a message that is more focused on the ephemeral earthly existence than on the eternal, he neglects to preach the storyline and theology of the Bible to his congregation, and is loved by the congregation because he tells them what they like to hear.
And a few years later, perhaps unknowingly and with the best of intentions, the congregation will call in a more liberal minister.
That new pastor will also emphasize in his sermons that people should be good, kind, and merciful. He will also point out the importance of a good marriage and dynamic relationships.
The churchgoers may not even hear the difference, for his theology sounds exactly like the theology of the conservative pastor who served the congregation for him.
And they are right, because the previous predecessor did not actually preach his theology at all. The conservative preacher believed in the inerrancy of the Scriptures, but did not preach the all-sufficiency of God’s Word, he did not preach the full word of God, but only the effect that the word has on the people; he has not presented everything that God’s Word teaches to the church.
The lack of knowledge of biblical theology is constantly becoming apparent.
I remember two incidents in the last years where people were called to come forward.
● In the first case, it was an evangelistic meeting on a large field, with a speaker whose name I have forgotten. The sermon was clearly intended to be a gospel proclamation, but the gospel itself was not actually discussed.
▪︎ Nothing was said about the crucified and risen Christ.
▪︎ Not a word about why He had to suffer and die.
▪︎ And also the question why we are saved by grace and not by works was not asked.
Many people came forward after the emotional invitation and were brought in as new believers, and were told after a prayer that they were now Christians and saved for eternity.
But I wondered what was really going on.
● The same was true for a church service where I was a guest. The pastor made an emotional appeal to “come forward” and “be saved,” but he did not explain the gospel.
And I wondered whether the people, without knowing what the gospel means, could really make a decision to follow Jesus, also because all kinds of beautiful promises were made to them, but nothing was said about the cross that they had to take up.
This kind of preaching fills the churches with unconverted people, and it is very dangerous. For they have pastors from whom they hear that they are converted, and that they can never lose their salvation again, while they are still lost.
Moreover, from day one, they hear nothing but motivational speeches about how to have a good life on this earth, which could also be spoken by any unconverted person, and the message to be kind to one another, while there is no attention for their eternal salvation, and also the all-sufficiency of God is not mentioned at all.