I Would Leave Your Church

On September 11, 2009 in Minneapolis, MN, the Religious Newswriters Association held a meeting, which featured a Q&A panel for reporters. The topic was: The New Calvinists. The panel consisted of three members: Collin Hansen, John Piper, and Carolyn James. Each panelist made a 15-minute opening statement and then the floor was opened for the various reporters from local and national news entities to pose questions to them about the New Calvinist movement.

Special Annual Issue

Special Annual Issue

This topic has enjoyed a broader interest since Time magazine mentioned it earlier in the year. The special March 23, 2009 issue featured a cover story entitled: 10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now. The New Calvinism ranked third among the ten ideas listed.

  1. Jobs are the New Assets
  2. Recycling the Suburbs
  3. The New Calvinism
  4. Reinstating the Interstate
  5. Amortality
  6. Africa, Business Destination
  7. The Rent-a-Country
  8. Biobanks
  9. Survival Stores
  10. Ecological Intelligence

Time magazine brought this movement to the attention of a more secular audience and has piqued their interest. 2009 has proven to be a year of intense discussion about religion in America, but it is unclear what fruit will be produced from it. Now, let’s turn our attention back to the meeting in Minneapolis.

A Question of Offense
During the open floor, reporter Cathy Grossman from USA Today addressed a question to John Piper about his opening statement. Piper led his opening statement with how his calvinism deals with the tragedy of 9/11. In summary, the question on September 12th was: Where was God? He responded that God was not helpless nor unable to stop it, but was in charge and in control. He then mentioned what he would say eight years later to children who had lost parents then. He would still tell them God was sovereign over that moment and that same sovereign God, Who is wise and good, will help them in the hard life they have been given. To this Ms. Grossman asked:

If you could please go back to your opening comments about what you would tell the children who lost their parents, because I must have misunderstood you . . . If I lost a spouse and I took my child to your church and I heard you say those things, I would take my child out and never come back. So, clearly I misunderstood.

Though he would go on to say more, Piper immediately responded:

Not necessarily.

Before we go any further, let’s deal with the disclaimers. I am not naive enough to think that I can comprehend everything Ms. Grossman was thinking or feeling from her few brief comments and question. I don’t know all her motivation. This post is not to criticize her and really is not about her. Neither is this post about the theological and practical problem of reconciling the sovereignty of God and the reality of evil and suffering in the world. To that I will simply commend John Piper’s statements as right in a very brief setting.

What is this post about? I want to take the brief exchange quoted above as an opportunity to generalize about very real attitudes and reactions people have to offensive truths.

Offensive Truth
The Bible is a book of absolute truth and absolute truth is a hard rock that busts realities, ideas, thoughts, philosophies, knowledge, teachings, etc. into two categories: true and false, i.e. true and not-true. Absolute truth is always exclusive and therefore offensive to those whose “truth” is excluded.

As long as a church is believing, preaching, teaching, and practicing the Bible, there will be many points where people are offended. The relativism that permeates the worldviews of many demands that offended sensibilities trump truth. In other words, if your truth claim offends me, it is not true, or at the very least you should not speak it. Many come into church services prepared to make for the aft exit as soon as their delicate offense reactors are tripped.

In the face of threatened departure, some trim and soften their message to at least minimize the potential offensiveness. We should speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). We should be gentle and patient while instructing in meekness (2 Timothy 2:24-25). But we should never compromise or hold back the truth to protect the hypersensitive feelings of the crowd.

The truth is: If Jesus Himself were there teaching and preaching, many would take offense and leave. This is no new phenomenon. After Jesus had taught some hard truths, He saw many leave.

From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.
~ John 6:66

Did Jesus trim or soften His message? Did He re-think the way He was “doing church”? No. He turned to the twelve and simply asked, “Will ye also go away?” (John 6:67).

We certainly don’t want to offend unnecessarily, but neither can we avoid offending if that means compromising or concealing the truth. When we are faced with, “I would leave your church,” may we remain courageous and faithful and pray for those who so oppose themselves.

Pride and the Pulpit

Any preacher who really believes something, and preaches it like he believes it, has likely been charged with pride or arrogance. Certainly, preachers can be guilty of arrogance and real pride is a reproach upon any ministry. However, some folks are quick and often to charge preachers with having too much pride. One preacher told me, “You always think the preacher is arrogant when he preaches something you disagree with.” Unfortunately, there is much truth in that statement.

I once sat and listened to two preachers discussing a biblical subject. They had opposing views. The first man presented his case and the second responded with Scripture after Scripture. The first man would press and the second would quote verse after verse. The first man referenced a few verses, but the second quoted and referenced them in abundance. The second man’s demeanor was humble, yet his defense was bold. The conversation ended when after a long chain of verses was presented by the second man to prove his position, the first man responded, “Well, that’s just human reasoning.” He probably also later charged that preacher with arrogance.

So, I am thinking now about the false charge—the charge that is leveled against the man who preaches the Word with boldness. In the first place, when a man is called of God to preach His Word, he does not have his own choice about how to go about it. Paul asked for prayer from his fellow believers that in preaching, “I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak” (Ephesians 6:19-20). It was Paul’s boldness in preaching that caused some in Corinth to charge him with pride.

The truth of God’s Word ought to be preached boldly. The specimens of preaching in the Bible reveal boldness in the delivery. If a man is convinced of truth, he ought to preach it boldly. If he is not convinced, he ought not to preach at all. Usually though, bold preaching will be met with charges of arrogance against the preacher.

In part, this is a function of postmodern thought in today’s society. We have moral relativism that doubts everything and the only thing they are sure of is that they cannot be sure of anything. It is an offence to the age for a man to proclaim truth as the truth. If only the preacher would preach truth as a possibility, he would find a broader audience and a better hearing from modern man. Christ did not pander to relativists when He boldly proclaimed, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6 Emphasis Added).

Another reason for the false charge of pride in the pulpit is the reality of pride in the pew. When truth is preached boldly, sin is reproved and rebuked, and man’s pride is offended. It is much easier to hear a sermon when it applies practically to everyone else. Oftentimes, those who are the quickest and loudest to charge the preacher with pride, are trying to cover up their own pride that cannot admit of their own wrong doctrine or practice. They typically cannot produce any biblical evidence that the substance of the preaching is in error and must avert their own embarrassment by accusing the preacher of being prideful.

It is our response to reproof that reveals whether we are scorners or wise, “Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee: rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee” (Proverbs 9:8). The fact is, even if the preacher is prideful, that does not relieve our responsibility and accountability to God and His Word. Pride must be rooted out of the preacher’s heart as well as the congregant’s, but often men hide behind this charge so they do not have to face their own problems and deal with them. A wise man will receive a reproof, regardless of where it comes from. How do you think they got to be wise? “He that regardeth reproof shall be honoured” (Proverbs 13:18). “Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning” (Proverbs 9:9).

It is a terrible thing for a man to preach with pride. However, in the end, the hearer will not be accountable before God for the amount of pride in the preacher. But, they will be accountable for what they heard and how they obeyed.

« Previous Page