Is there a fog in the American Pulpit?
At Easter many Americans make their obligatory pilgrimage back to the Church. For many, this is when their thoughts turn toward the subject of Christ and His church. We should take comfort in the fact that a significant number in our culture still recognize the spiritual foundations of this holiday.
“Of greater concern, I think, should be the number of Christians who populate the pews of churches in America every week with no real sense of why they are there.”
But a great concern is the number of Christians who populate the pews of churches in America every week with no real sense of why they are there. While we should expect that the grace of God would have some influence on the greater society, giving some a sense of compulsion to attend a worship service during significant celebrations of the Christian faith, there are many professing Christians who attend a worship service with no worship in their heart toward the God they confess to serve.
It seems the words of the prophet Isaiah have been fulfilled, “The Lord says: These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men. Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will …vanish.” (Isaiah 29:13-14 NIV) But why is there a lack of worship and wonder in the hearts of many people?
A contributing factor to the lack of clarity in the pew is due to a fog in pulpit. On many fronts the American pulpit has lost its power of proclamation and has exchanged it for the impotence of mere suggestions. I’m concerned about the future of an American pulpit that is devoid of preaching the gospel in a way that seeks to meet the needs and challenge the sensibilities of those we serve.
In contrast, Jesus told the grieving sister of a friend who had died, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” Jesus was sensitive to the needs of those He was speaking to and at the same time challenged their faith to believe God in the face of overwhelming circumstances. Something Jesus did with His disciples regularly. In John 14:3 the resurrected Christ tells His awe struck disciples, “…I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” Because of the resurrection of Jesus we can have an assurance of faith that is different than the certainty of dogmatism, and more powerful. In 2 Corinthians 5:8 Paul tells us, “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” We can share in this confidence because of the resurrection. While many uncertainties in this life remain, the gospel gives us hope because of our faith in the resurrection of Jesus.
In Luke 16 Jesus tells the story of a rich man lived a life of opulence and ease while a poor man named Lazarus languished in hunger and pain just outside his gate. Both died and the rich man suffered eternally in Hell and the angels took Lazarus to paradise. In Hell, the rich man begged for Lazarus to come relieve his torment with just one drop of water, only to discover that this can’t happen. He then asked that Lazarus be sent to warn his unrepentant brothers, to which he hears the reply, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” Because of a desire to perpetuate our ideas of justice in the afterlife, we miss the point of this story. It isn’t about our limited concepts of eternal destiny, but the fact that Jesus is the way to life eternal. And, of course, someone did rise from the dead, and many remain unconvinced. Christ is alive; this will impact our eternal destiny if it is faithfully proclaimed. Sadly, due to the increasing impotence of the American pulpit, many have not heard “Moses and the Prophets.”
I hope they will hear that Christ has risen from the dead.