As I’ve mentioned before, I was raised Lutheran, which I consider to have been a good thing, even though I haven’t been to a Lutheran church in many, many years. It was a good thing because in this tradition, representative of what many would call “dead” religion, I was taught a very sound, living theology which has survived through waves of trends and movements.
One of the things which I now appreciate about my church and the liturgies as set forth in the “red” hymnal (I can’t speak for the newer ones) is that Scripture was highly valued – the reading of pre-chosen Bible passages from both the Old and New Testaments was given a very prominent place in the service. You may question various Lutheran interpretations of scripture, but that doesn’t mean that Scripture wasn’t shown the respect that it deserved.
One of the other things I now appreciate was that the sermon was only 10-15 minutes long.
For the last twenty-some years, I have been attending various “freestyle” churches which, to varying degrees, will claim to have a more vital and true interpretation and demonstration of the Bible. I will agree in part with this assessment; however, all is not well with the freestyle church.
One of the first things you notice when switching from a liturgical church to a more contemporary tradition is that the pastor talks a lot more; sermons can range from 30 to as much as 90 minutes long. That might not be so bad, except that most sermons only have enough quality stuff for about 10-15 minutes, and the rest is, at best, filler. (Hint: unless you’re David Letterman, let’s forget the warm-up comedy bits.)
My main complaint, however, is not the length of the sermon. My complaint is that today’s contemporary sermons do not teach the Bible, or theology; rather, they are merely an opportunity for the pastor or speaker to present their Perspective on Life. As interesting as this may be, there is no place in the Bible where you can find justification for this practice.
The Perspective on Life Sermon can’t honestly be touted as Biblical exposition; in fact, the Bible is often manipulated by quoting partial passages from a dozen different locations to support the predetermined point the pastor wants to make. Often during these speeches, verses will come to my mind which cast at least some doubt on the point being made; however, these are never addressed in the sermon (although I would bet the speaker’s aware of the same verses), for to do so would detract from the pastor’s point. The Point has somehow become inspired, if not inerrant, and the Bible is used to support The Point.
Even in cases where “through the Bible” style sermon series are given, the pastor’s perspective will usually dominate the problem texts of Scripture, if they’re addressed at all. A good speaker can slalom his way down a passage of Scripture without really dealing with it; sometimes the pastor’s need to present his perspective is so great that the Biblical text is almost immaterial. Within the last few weeks I heard a pastor completely abandon his text to insert some personal perspectives which had nothing whatsoever to do with the passage he was speaking on, and present no Biblical basis whatsoever for his perspective. This is not “preaching the Word.” What it is, to varying degrees, is manipulation and deception.
Jeremiah 31, speaking of life in the New Covenant, said:
No longer will a man teach his neighbor,
or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the LORD.
So… why do we need to pay some guy to give us his perspective on life? (You know, I’ve never heard a pastor speak on this passage…) In my humble opinion, it’s time to elevate the Bible back where it belongs, and to put the sermon back where it belongs – into a supporting role, if we have one at all. And, if we insist on having one, let’s shorten it up a bit.