Monday, September 29, 2008

Pulpit Language and Eccentric Preachers

While I was at the London Theological Seminary, the then Homiletics tutor recommended to us Mr. Spurgeon's little book 'Eccentric Preachers'. Something of an apologetic for Spurgeon's own preaching, it is a delightful little book about some of the more unusual preachers of the past. In it Spurgeon revels in that 'eccentricity' that is the result of men being themselves in the pulpit. In preachers who, like the Apostles, 'turned the world upside-down'. Men like John Berridge and Rowland Hill, both of whom just could not avoid being humorous at times.

But there is also a bad eccentricity, Spurgeon warns, when a preacher behaves in an odd way with the intent to shock people, and to get publicity. It is one thing for a man to be naturally humorous in the pulpit, and to speak as a common man to common men, as Billy Bray did, but it is quite another to be vulgar. "Real vulgarity lies in foul allusions and indelicate hints," Spurgeon writes (P. 38) "Tinge your stories or your figures with dirt, Mr. Slopdash! and we anandon you: Nothing which is indelicate can be endured in the service of a holy God." (P. 39). This set me thinking about the question of appropriate pulpit language. Perhaps an appropriate response from the man who referred to 'a great steaming pile of manure' in the pulpit yesterday. Not that it was gratuitous, for it was in illustration of a Biblical figure. Read Philippians 4 for context, and use the Greek or the Authorised Version, some modern versions tone it down.. And it wasn't a generic pile of manure I was referring to as an illustration, it was a specific one that I have to go past on the way to work. I am a countryman, after all, and it was a rural congregation.

There was a man called G.A. Studdart-Kennedy, an Army Chaplain in World War I, who went by the nickname of 'Woodbine Willie' because, in an attempt to get closer to the private soldiers, he smoked cheap cigarettes and used bad language as they did. Thankfully the experiment failed. But it seems that we have a resurgence of 'Woodbine Willies' today, who think that the language of the trenches belongs in the pulpit. It does not. Let a man be himself, but please remember that there is a time for everything. I recall a young man speaking at a Christian Union who did not actually use foul language, but used a risqué story to introduce his message, a story that another young man at the same university had been reprimanded for using to introduce an after-dinner speech for a secular political society! If it not appropriate for an after-dinner speech, how can it be in the pulpit?

It is not only foul language and vulgar allusions that are out-of-place in the pulpit. There are some preachers who, having read perhaps that C.H. Spurgeon and D.L. Moody used humour, make the 'sermon' into a stand-up routine, with no aim other than to leave the audience (for that is what they treat them as) rolling in the aisles. To them I say with Mr. Spurgeon that they should at once cease to call themselves ministers and to receive a salary for that end, and let them try to make an honest living on the boards. Humour in the pulpit should have a serious end, and those who like to remind us taht Spurgeon made his hearers laugh need to remember that he made them mourn as well, and that his sermons were in earnest as whole productions.

I conclusion, let me suggest that no minister should ever speak in the pulpit things that would not be welcome in mixed company (excepting of course the things of Christ), that no language that is not allowed on television before nine in the evening is appropriate in the pulpit, and that no story, comical or not, should be allowed in the sermon that does not contribute to the edification of the hearers. Also that no man should be allowed to preach someone else's sermon as if it were his own, and that all artificial tones of voice or mannerisms should be banished as well!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Theses for Discussion with Dispensationalists. 3.

III. Confession of sins.

Since we hold one another to be brothers in christ by profession, we confess before Almighty God that we are all guilty sinners before Him. In this matter especially seeing that...

1. We have called our brothers heretics because they differed from us in minor things.

2. We have used language to describe our brothers that is not appropriate, nor conducive to rational discussion.

3. We have not listened to each other as we ought to have.

4. We have allowed rhetoric to get in the way of reason.

5. We have taken the worst from our brothers' arguments, and we have ignored what is good.

6. We have followed our prejudices more than Christ.

7. We have allowed these issues to define our denominations and ministries, and to divide churches.

Therefore we earnestly repent of these things, and we resolve to discuss this issue without recourse to hostile rhetoric, to name-calling and abuse. We resolve to talk to one another, and not only that, but to listen. To speak more about our own position than about that of those with whom we disagree, and to strive to come to unity in the faith.

Furthermore, we resolve that these issues, as they do not enter into the substance of the Reformed faith as it is found in the Second London Baptist Confession, the Westminster Confession and the Savoy Declaration, will not divide us one from another, but we shall follow the examples of those saints of the past such as C.H. Spurgeon, David Brown and Horatius Bonar who, while they disagreed on these matters, nevertheless were glad to confess themselves brothers in Christ, and to act like it.

We shall NOT follow the example of J.N. Darby, who separated from his brethren over these issues, although he was a good man.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Theses for Discussion with Dispensationalists. 2.

Heads of agreement. We all believe...

1. That the Bible is the Word of God, given by the Holy Spirit through Godly men of old, yet so as to be preserved without error in all its parts (we are not inviting liberals to this at-present notional conference).

2. That the Bible teaches that God has not dealt with all men in all ages in identical ways, but has used different means in different ages.

3. And therefore that it may be said that there are different economies or dispensations in God's dealings with men.

4. That the Bible teaches that Lord Jesus Christ will return again, bodily and visibly, to judge the living and the dead.

5. In the resurrection of the dead. that is, that the same body that was laid in the grave will be raised by God at the Second Advent of Christ.

6. That the BIble is to be understood on its own terms, according to its own words and context, not according to any externally-imposed system.

7. That no-one ever was, or ever shall be, saved by keeping the Law, because the Law cannot save sinners, but only condemn them.

8. And therefore that all who ever were or ever will be saved from their sin were not saved by anything other than the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.

9. Therefore that there is only one way of salvation, and that is through the Lord Jesus Christ.

10. That since the Bible expressly states that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord except by the Holy Spirit, no-one can come to Christ without the Holy Spirit working in them.

Next: Confession of sin.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Why I Admire John MacArthur More than Gary DeMar

Readers of this blog will know that we are not dispensational, and have been quite critical of John MacArthur's commentary on the Book of Revelation. Yet we do not think that MacArthur is outside the pale of Christian orthodoxy, nor do we think the less of him for his strongly-held views that we think are wrong.

Gary DeMar is another kettle of fish. While we have found some of his books, and his radio show (though the length of the commercial breaks is excessively excessive) quite useful, yet there is a problem with him. Not that he is a heretic, but that he has so reacted against dispensationalism that he is willing to join with heretics who deny the visible, bodily Second Coming of Christ, and the resurrection of the dead, and the Last Judgment, in order to oppose dispensationalism.

DeMar is a Preterist, an orthodox one, we hasten to add, at least by all appearances, though one would be hard pressed to tell that from reading his books. We at first thought that his book against the 'Left Behind' series was hyper-preterist, so little time does he devote to the truth that Jesus really is coming back.

And here is the rub. Probably no-one has been more active in opposing the excesses of antinomian dispensationalists than John MacArthur. He is the sworn enemy of the so-called 'Non-Lordship' teachers, who deny the need for repentance, and say that Christians do not have to follow Christ. These heretics (A.W. Tozer called it heresy, so do I) are dispensationalists, like Dr. MacArthur, but he does not let that stop his opposing them. On the other hand, Gary DeMar actively partners with heretics in opposing Dispensationalism, and has said hardly a word against the hyper-preterists and quite a few words for them!

We should be most active against those heretics who are closest to us, not the other way around! Yet I see in DeMar the same attitude that allows Dr. J.I. Packer to partner with Anglo- and even Roman Catholics against the liberals.

Only the Liberals are denying the Bible. At worst the Dispensationalists are misinterpreting it. But the hyper-preterists are worse than the dispensationalists, for they are re-interpreting the Bible so as to empty language of all meaning, and to deny the 'blessed hope', namely the appearing of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

So I'll go with MacArthur any day.

[Note on Preterism. Orthodox Preterism states that many Biblical prophecies which have been understood by many to refer to the Second Coming actually refer to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. All orthodox Preterists put part of the Olivet Discourse in that category. Some put the whole of the Olivet Discourse in, and some take the book of Revelation as referring to AD 70. All of these do, however, hold that Christ will come back visibly and bodily to judge the living and the dead, and to bring an end to the present age. They hold that the prophecies in 2 Peter (for example) are yet to be fulfilled, and refer to the Second Coming of Christ. They are therefore our brothers in Christ, like the moderate Dispensationalists.]

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Theses for Discussion with Dispensationalists. 1.

We have had some words to say about Dispensationalists. But unlike Gary DeMar, who inconsistently works with heretical Hyper-preterists to attack Dispensationalism as a heresy, we think that most versions of it are within the pale of Christian orthodoxy (there is something called Hyper-dispensationalism that is not). Certainly Dr. John MacArthur and his variety of Dispensationalism, and the Progressive Dispensationalist school, are. So we present our ground-work for discussion between non-Dispensational Reformed Christians and Dispensationalist Reformed Christians.

I. Rules of discussion.

1. Arguments of guilt by association, such as 'Romanists are A-mil', and 'Futurism was invented by a Jesuit' are to be forbidden. Not only do they get us no-where, but they are unbecoming in a discussion between Christians. Not everything that the Roman Catholic Church believes is wrong. For one thing, they are Trinitarians, and despite attempts by anti-trinitarians to use the guilt by association argument against the doctrine of the Trinity, we are still Trinitarians.

2. Nor shall we use the argument of innocence by association, e.g. that because Augustine and Calvin taught a certain doctrine, it must be true. Good men see 'through a glass darkly', and can be wrong.

3. Nor shall we make use of doubtful arguments about the ruinous effect of the others' doctrine, so that we on the non-Dispensational side will not argue that it leands to Antinomianism, nor will the Dispensationalists argue that our doctrine leads to anti-semitism. This is really only name-calling, and has no place in a serious Christian discussion. Also non-Reformed folk like to say that Calvinism is antinomianism. John Wesley used the two terms as synonymous.

4. Both sides will seek to understand each other, not through books written by their own side. Definitions will be sought that actually define our position, and are not either so broad as to include practically everyone, or so narrow as to exclude many in the camp of the one defining. Lists of distinctives will actually be drawn up that include real distinctives, not things that the other camp actually holds.

5. Being mindful of the need for charity, we will accept one another's professions at face value, and not try to tell the other side what they believe.

Next time: Theses on agreements.