Monday, March 7, 2016

An Overdose of Preaching

"For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." - 1 Corinthians 1:21 (KJV)

There was a young man, in his twenties or thereabout, who, having been recently Born Again, found himself with an insatiable zeal for the hearing of the preached Word of God.  Such zeal, in and of itself, is most healthy, especially for a new convert, and encouraging to the Man of God called to be the Pastor of such an individual.  That is until the new convert calls his Pastor aside with a problem.  It was seemingly innocent and reasonably trivial.  The young man had some "strange thing" enter his mind in regard to a Biblical theme.  Once the Pastor thoroughly explained the point of confusion, the young man went about his way with apparent satisfaction in the answer he had been given.  This event would repeat itself several times and with increasing frequency over the next few weeks.  

But then the Pastor begins to notice some troubling behavior on the part of the new convert during worship services.  Instead of engrossing himself in worship, the young man spends the entire service looking across the congregation intently as though trying to catch a glimpse of something which is, quite obviously, invisible to everyone else.  Suddenly, the young man begins laying hands on random individuals wildly and for no apparent reason.  He begins rebuking "spirits."  With little harm having been done, the Pastor calls the new convert aside after the service has ended and asks about his conduct.

"Pastor," the young man replied, "we're not really an Apostolic Church."

The Pastor was somewhat amused with the depth of conviction in the young man's voice while thoroughly convinced of the error of his statement.

"What do you mean by that, Brother?" the Pastor asked.

The young man's answer came in the form of a rapid-fire list including things like, "we don't cast out devils every service," "the depth of the Spirit isn't here" and "you don't preach like Pastor ________ does."  With the last objection, the Pastor realized there was a major problem with the young man.

The Pastor asked, "Where did you get all those ideas from?"

"The internet." the young man replied.  "I listen to preachers on the internet and am learning a lot from them."

Yes, the young man was learning a lot - a lot of nonsense.

The internet is, without a doubt, the most remarkable invention of the last 100 years.  Never before in human history has the wealth of the knowledge of the ages been so readily accessible.  In fact it could be argued that an individual with the desire to learn and the persistence to research can achieve a collegiate level education in almost any subject, especially the Humanities, without ever leaving the comfort of his home thanks to the internet.  But, alas, the sword is very much two-edged.  Just as there are millions of pages of excellent, accurate and worthwhile information online there is also an overabundance of junk.

The internet has given a platform to every human being with access to a network connection.  Not only has it given several small voices the ability to scream at the speed of light, but it has won followers for the individuals behind those voices who hold to ludicrous beliefs and positions. With the vehemency of a medieval Crusader, they have committed themselves to preserve, protect and defend at all costs their ridiculousness against any contrary fact or opinion.  This has not at all been limited to the secular world.

Consider the likes of the late Harold Camping, Ronald Weinland and other "end time prophets" who have used the internet to attract thousands of followers and millions of dollars in support of their fanciful and downright heretical doctrines.  Consider also any number of cults which, thanks to the internet, have attracted and are attracting members from every corner of the world.  If you believe that your parrot is the reincarnation of Pharaoh Nefaarud II of Egypt and, because of this, desire to worship him, post your belief on the internet and you're almost guaranteed to find someone who not only agrees with you but who also would be willing to come bow down before your deified bird.  As funny as that thought might be, it is not a joke unfortunately.

The internet abounds with preaching.  Furthermore, the internet abounds with solid, Biblical, Apostolic preaching.  Not only that, but the internet abounds with preaching that portrays itself as being "solid, Biblical, Apostolic preaching" that absolutely is not!  And while the abundance of accurate, Biblical preaching on the internet is a blessing toward the evangelization of the world and reaching the lost, it can also pose some often unexpected consequences.

Preaching was designed by God.  One could speculate that the first man, Adam, was also the first preacher inasmuch as God spoke to him concerning proper conduct in the Garden of Eden and, in turn, Adam declared God's will to his wife Eve.  Regardless of whether or not this analogy holds true, speculative as it is, it is impossible for one to read the pages of Scripture without realizing that God has, throughout history and His interactions with humanity, spoken to individuals who, in turn, preached to others that which had been given to them.  Preaching has been and continues to be the chosen method of God in conveying His will to the world.

In the New Testament we are taught that God has chosen preaching for the purpose of saving those who believe.  Faith comes by hearing, hearing comes by the Word of God and the Word of God is brought to the ears of the hearer by a preacher (see Romans 10).  But the roll of preaching in the modern era has, for some, transitioned into a form of entertainment.  Bored?  Turn on a recording of someone preaching.  The house is too quiet?  Access some preaching through your smartphone app.  On a long trip?  Put a preaching CD into the car stereo.  While these activities are not wrong in and of themselves, the casualness with which preaching is increasingly being approached might be lowering it to the status of elevator music or an audio book - background noise which can be readily tuned out.

What is more, the preaching had better not be "boring."  The speaker must be dynamic using proper and captivating inflection and intonation at all times.  There must be a joke or two, a few amusing anecdotes, at least one point of "new revelation" and, above all, a gripping appeal for an emotional response.  Preachers have created this style of preaching which has been called "the great American art form."  Who can blame Saints for using preaching as entertainment when the Ministry has, in many cases, made preaching so entertaining that it is of little use for anything else?

The concept of "my favorite preachers" is foreign to the Scriptures and, while the terminology is most often used as nothing more than a mild platitude, the very real danger of developing an attitude of "preacher grading" and classifying ministry based on oratory ability, charisma or a particular "gimmick exists."  If we begin to approach preaching and preachers in the same manner as we do forms of entertainment, it will not be long before preaching becomes just another diversion and preachers just another group of performers.  This is not to say that such an attitude is adopted intentionally but, rather, that some things enter our lives as the unintended consequence of habitual actions.

The pulpit is not center stage of a performing arts center and preaching should not be treated, by Minister or Saint, as though it were being delivered in such an environment for such a purpose.  Furthermore, preaching should not be used as a means of personal entertainment lest, in time, it be classified along side every other sport, hobby or interest with the equal potential for fad as fanaticism.

Being "hooked" on preaching isn't necessarily a debilitating condition if the diet is well balanced.  The fact of the matter is, a Christian doesn't really need to hear a sermon every day in order to maintain spiritual health.  In fact, it is possible to become overly dependent upon sermons when personal devotion is really what is needed.  No amount of preaching replaces the need for regular, faithful, personal devotion - sitting down every day with your own Bible and reading it for yourself.  There is a very good reason why God has gone to the great pains He has to protect and maintain His Word throughout the generations.  Millions of individuals have resisted unto blood and even unto death so that we might hold in our hands a complete volume which is called the Holy Bible.  Yes, it was so that it could be preached but also so that it could be the prized possession of every Christian; loved, cherished and faithfully explored.

When an individual begins to lean on preaching more than and to the exclusion of personal devotion, they become subject to being blown about by every wind of doctrine.  It is easy to become convinced of a particular doctrine or teaching when there is not an adequate Scriptural foundation which, when used as a litmus test, reveals what is true and false.  A gifted orator can convince an audience of many things irregardless of their veracity especially when using methods such as proof texting (pulling verses or passages of Scripture out of context for the purpose of proving a particular point which is otherwise unsupportable).  If the most common and regular connection to the Word of God is preaching rather than personal devotion, deception becomes a far greater possibility.

It is not the intention of this author to suggest that an individual should never listen to preaching other than when in the Assembly but, rather, that an overabundance of listen to preaching may well cause it to lose its effect.  Ears grow dull when hearing the same sound repeatedly and can even grow deaf in regard to a particular tone.  Most importantly, the spiritual feeding which is supposed to occur during preaching may be stopped entirely by a sheep who is overindulging.  This is especially the case if the sheep is constantly at the hand of another shepherd being fed an uncontrolled diet.

God gave the ministry to the Church - Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists and Pastoring Teachers - to do the labor of Ministry, perfect the Saints and build up the Body so that the unity of the Spirit would be preserved and that the unity of the Faith might be obtained (see Ephesians 4:11-13).  The pattern of the early Church included a cycle of Ministers who came through local Assemblies in far-flung parts of the then-known world.  This is not dissimilar to what occurs today in modern Assemblies.  The resident Pastoring Teacher calls upon various Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists and other Pastoring Teachers to come to the local Assembly over which the Spirit has made them Overseer.  In the modern model, as in the New Testament, there was a degree of regulation over who was "feeding the sheep," so to speak.  Technology, especially the internet, has removed that barrier which protected the sheep from overfeeding and, in some cases, poisoning.

At this point it would be wise to address a few common objections to this premise:

1. My Pastor isn't the only Pastor in the world.   This is true.  But when you're lying in the hospital at 3AM because your heart is out of rhythm and the doctor really isn't sure why or if they'll be able to fix the problem without major invasive surgery, is that Pastor from the internet going to drive 1,200 miles to come pray with you and your family?  Your Pastor is in your life as a voice you can trust.  He will be there for you when no one else would be.  Honor him by trusting him to feed you, one of the Flock of God, with the ministry God has given him and others whom he brings through the local Assembly.

2. My Pastor is okay but the preaching I hear online is so much better.  This might also be true.  But have you ever taken into consideration why those messages might seem "so much better?"  Consider the fact that preaching which is featured on certain "radio style" apps is often from very large conferences.  Certainly the preaching seems "so much better" when you are hearing the responses of 1,000 - 5,000 individuals in the congregation.  What is also not considered is that you are listening to a sermon which the featured speaker has been preparing for MONTHS beforehand.  Often times he has dedicated HUNDREDS OF HOURS of study and preparation into that message and, in many cases, has preached the same messages repeatedly while editing it to "perfection" and "mastering" its presentation.  Your Pastor, meanwhile, is pounding out an evangelistic sermon, a Sunday School lesson and a mid-week Bible Study every week while also attending to every situation in the local Assembly - and he does it all with YOU in mind; not a group of strangers.

3. My Pastor doesn't preach about some of these things I hear elsewhere.  This might also be true.  But just because someone else is preaching it doesn't mean you need to hear it.  Your Pastor works with you day after day, week after week and often year after year.  He has his finger to the pulse of a congregation and is designed by God to be a diagnostician of the local Assembly.  The fact that he has not preached on a particular subject doesn't mean that he wouldn't like to.  It might mean that, by the Spirit of God leading him, he has arrived at the conclusion that other things are of greater importance to the local congregation.  If you have questions about particular subjects, go to your Pastor first; not Google.  Furthermore, it should be understood that some messages and themes are intended for particular venues and are not appropriate elsewhere.

Again, this is not said to insist that listening to other preachers or listening to preaching outside of the local Assembly is wrong.  Rather, it is to suggest that serious consideration needs to be given to self-regulation.

The author assumes, and probably quite correctly, that there will be those who will read this article who completely disagree with the premise.  Certainly it is within anyone's rights to disagree.  But, for the sake of expanding the horizons of our critical thinking, consider the real-life examples that abound in Pentecostal circles.  In decades passed it was referred to as the "cult of personality."  Tent revivalists, faith healers and itinerant clergymen had "groupies" almost the same as any rock band.  People would travel from town to town covering hundreds and even thousands of miles to attend the meetings of particular ministers.  It is no coincidence that these same individuals found it difficult if not impossible to faithfully attend a local Church under the authority of a single Pastor.

Addiction.  It's a condition which destroys individuals and families alike.  Many physically beautiful women have been reduced to ghastly, ghostly shadows of their former selves because of the power of methamphetamine addiction.  Scores of healthy and hard-working men have traded the stability of their trade for the view of world from the bottom of a whisky bottle.  Gambling addiction has financially bankrupted some while pornography addiction has morally bankrupted others.  Some have sacrificed their families because of harmless games became obsessions.  Addiction takes many forms in many people.

"Certainly the Spirit of God would protect an individual from any potential 'overdose of preaching,'" some might say.  But be mindful of how many people who have legitimately been baptized in the Holy Spirit who, afterward, have followed after some strange doctrine.  It is not impossible.  It is not improbable.  Why aid in the possibility of deception by adding an unending multiplicity of Ministers to the list of those who sow the seed of God's Word into the heart?  Again, one is free to disagree, but evidence abounds in the form of an almost endless list of individuals who, having given themselves over to false doctrines or, in some cases, unfaithfulness, sensationalism and hyper-emotionalism and have, as a result, become absolutely good for nothing in the Kingdom of God.

In returning to the story of the young man who was mentioned at the beginning of this article, the Pastor gave a few words of advice.  First of all, the Pastor advised that, at least for a while, the young man needed to stop listening to preachers on the internet.  Secondly, that we are not to compare preachers to preachers nor congregations to congregations and, therefore, should not compare the local Church to the "cyber Church."  Lastly, that the young man should trust that, if the Holy Spirit caused him and the Pastor to cross paths, it is a reasonable conclusion that the Pastor should be trusted to feed the flock over which the Holy Spirit had made him an overseer.

The young man took the advice for a season and, while heeding the counsel of his Pastor, did very well.  He became faithful to pray, work for the Lord and help in building the local Church and uplifting his Pastor.  But, in a short time, the temptation to fill his heart and mind with multiple preachers via multiple sermons per day overtook the voice of his Pastor.  The young man, once again, became a problem within the local Assembly, an enemy to himself and, in time, a complete loss as far as usefulness in the Kingdom of God.

He died of an overdose of preaching brought about by a lack of restraint and the unwillingness to allow an intervention.

Is there a point in a Christian's life where listening to an unlimited amount of unfiltered preaching is anything other than counterproductive?  No.  Is there a point in maturity where the Christian can expand the voices which are sowing God's Word into their life?  Certainly.  But, even then, no voice replaces the voice of a Pastor.  This article is not intended to be a blanket policy applicable universally.  Nevertheless, consider a few simple rules of thumb as being a wise course of action for any Christian:

1.  Using the internet as a source of preaching should be extremely well regulated and limited.
2.  Preaching should never be used as a form of entertainment or as a way to "fill time."
3.  Listening to recordings of preaching never takes the place of personal devotion.
4.  Your Pastor and Elders should be the most common voice you hear in preaching.

Think on these things.