Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Foolishness of Preaching

The Apostle Paul, in a letter to the Corinthian church, made a statement that carries with it the seed of much misunderstanding when viewed through the arbitrary lens of a group like New Testament Christian Church. The topic at hand was God’s method for reaching the heart of man.

  Truth is ordinarily perceived and recognized with the mind. The truth that God sent his Son to die for sins and arise bodily from the dead in order to justify lost mankind, well…it is quite plainly impossible for the mind to perceive or process this to the degree that the individual will commit themselves fully to this truth. For this reason, God must use the influence of his Holy Spirit in tandem with the mind and spirit of a person in order to accomplish his plan of redemption. The act of believing, placing one’s faith in this truth, relying on Christ for salvation based on his death, burial and resurrection, is an act that requires more than naturally acquired knowledge. There must be a spiritual confirmation, a small voice “inside” that agrees with the truth that the mind is perceiving. In this way the mind receives an otherwise unthinkable truth, the spirit seizes upon this truth as its single ultimate hope, and the soul is redeemed and renewed. This tandem, inside-outside voice is brought about in a manner that we might call “simple declaration.”
  Scientists gather data through experimentation and observation. It is considered rational to accept verifiable facts gathered in this way. Philosophers build systems of thought by integrating what is verifiable into a reasonable and workable structure. A high level of cognitive reasoning and development is required for philosophy to take its place next to science. Religion uses mythology to guide the path of man’s behavior. Only where tradition is strong or ignorance is rampant does religion, with its taboos and priesthoods designed to wield power, survive. Even in Paul’s day, science, philosophy, and religion, shared the stage and molded the world. But none of these things could convincingly relate ultimate truth from an unseen spiritual realm, nor could they convince one who had not personally witnessed the event that a man could be raised from the dead. This is where the tandem method of simple declaration comes in, where God’s spirit confirms in the heart of the individual that which he is hearing. Part of the work is done by the Spirit of God, and the other part is done by the speaker who declares the truth. The hearer is the one who is affected by this.
  Knowing that this flies in the face of what is known concerning the three great branches of world influence, Paul addressed to the Corinthian believers this formula. Paul acknowledged that this method that God uses to reach men, this method of Simple Declaration supported by spiritual confirmation, runs counter to all that is considered acceptible and “wise”, and in this spirit of acknowledgement, he refered to it as something the world would consider “foolish”. He called it The Foolishness of Preaching.
  He did not say where this preaching was to be done. He made no mention of a building, a “church” setting, or anything of the kind. The Bible demonstrates that this act takes place, with abundant results, on the street, in public places, in homes, in the desert, even in pagan temples. He did not limit the mode of declaration; did not say it could not be conveyed with music, radio, television, sign language, smoke signals, or a personal letter. He did not say it had to be loud or especially forceful. He did not say it had to take ten, fifteen, thirty minutes or an hour. He did not say it should be preceded, accompanied or followed by music to get the hearers in the mood. He did not say it had to be done on a Sunday, Wednesday, or Thursday. He seemed to imply that anywhere, anytime, under any circumstances, the Word, in the hands of the Spirit, has a life-changing power all its own.
  He also did not suggest that the one doing the declaring had to become animated to a degree that it seemed he would die of a heart attack if he did not stop to breathe, working up a froth much like a pagan priest or a witch doctor would do to convince people that he is under the influence of a presence quite outside his normal self-containment. Paul did not suggest that a loud, rapid-fire delivery punctuated with shouts of agreement from the congregation, used in order to give credibility to the idea that the speaker is speaking for the Almighty and therefore everything he says is true, was a critical element that would make or break the presentation.
  The old mountain revivalists, the tent preachers and faith healers, were not as stupid as ye suppose. They knew how to generate the ‘results’ they were after. They still do. They shunned many of the old hymns with their lofty compositions and theological lyrics for the simple, home-spun chorus book. They sang songs containing the same phrases repeated over and over. They told people to lift their hands, jump up and down on their benches, and run around the tent (or the brush arbor) in order to receive a ‘blassing’. They cried out “I feel somethin’! Do YOU feel somethin’?” Of course, everybody FELT something because if they did not FEEL something, they would not be spiritual in the eyes of the preacher and their peers. It was an experience-driven phenomenon that infected many Pentecostal groups in the Twentieth Century.
  NTCC is one of these Pentecostal groups. They promote this same behavior, equating it with Paul’s “foolishness of preaching” and condemning other groups for having “lost their fire” in the pulpit. Every NTCC preacher is ultimately a performer being judged on his performance. R. W. Davis has taught his preachers to create an atmosphere in which people are suggestible. Once you convince yourself that the man behind the pulpit is “on fire” with the Holy Ghost, you will believe and do things that would shock you under normal conditions. You will buy into false doctrines, you will believe lies about people who have left the church, thinking that God is revealing information about them and their many sins. When the preacher cries “Thus saith the Lord”, you will be utterly swayed to believe whatever it is that the Lord just “saith” through his mouthpiece, the minister. This is a trap that NTCC has gotten itself into and from which it cannot be extricated. The nonsense that has gone out over its pulpits from the mouths of men motivated by greed, lust, anger, and a distorted belief in the prerogatives of the pulpit have made this group the well-deserving butt of countless jokes.
  R. W. Davis treats the pulpit much like the place of special authority occupied by the Old Testament prophets. And like those prophets, he believes in the value of creating an attention-getting spectacle and manufacturing excitement through loud and strident bombast. He justifies his insistence on the Tithe as the pastor’s personal support, commanded by God, based in part on the idea that the New Testament ministry is the follow-up and continuation of the Old Testament priesthood. This is Anti-Scriptural, but very useful. With this idea comes the belief that the preacher is “The Lord’s Annointed.” Anyone who criticizes the preacher (especially if that preacher is R. W. Davis) is worthy of death (thought the sentence is never carried out, thank goodness)after the Old Testament pattern because he has touched the Lord’s annointed. When the New Testament declares all believers to be kings and priests, to have an “annointing”, to be elect in the beloved (Jesus), it is difficult to understand how NTCC and other groups arrive at this notion that there is a special annointing on the life of someone whose job it is to yell at people for thirty minutes. But with this ‘annointing’ comes the authority that is the real goal of Davis and his followers. And with this authority comes the responsibility to generate an emotional environment in which people are pressured to participate and give generously.
  In classes geared toward the pulpit ministry, R.W. Davis relates an account of a tent revival in which the preacher came running to the podium to jumpstart the service, began to cry out about what God had in store for everybody in that place, began to sing and shout in a rising crescendo about what he was “feelin’ right now!” and started to challenge everyone to “get a blessing tonight”. After several minutes of this, everyone there was “wantin’ a blessin’ tonight!” The preacher never let up, never let the excitement die down, and began to hold out a stack of offering envelopes. He further challenged them concerning how much of a blessing they were willing to receive, about how they were to give in order to receive a manifold blessing and then released the pent-up crowd to come rushing forward for the envelopes that he was now throwing down in a heap onto the stage. When Davis reaches the climax of this story, he waves off any notion that he is promoting a snake-oil approach and reminds his listeners that “I’m not saying that’s what you should do”. The implication seems to be “Here’s how it’s done, but you didn’t hear that from me.”  More to the point however, is the explicit mandate: “Enthusiasm gets results. It’s your job to generate that enthusiasm.” One can see that such teaching discounts the Holy Spirit. One wonders whether such a person even believes in God. Davis summarizes his approach to the ministry by saying, “Preachers, you’ve got to be ‘good at God’.”
  The Wiz
  New Testament Christian Church is conducted much like the Emerald City from The Wizard of OZ. It appears on the exterior to be constructed of pure emerald because you are given green glasses to wear as you walk in. Then the Wizard appears, daunting and imposing, pretending to be something he is not, clamoring for respect and admiration, nailing you to the wall for ’sins’ that are nothing more than violations of R.W. Davis’ opinions, demanding that you look upon him as God’s direct representative. But keep in mind that the Wizard is only an illusion created by the little man behind the curtain. Do not be dazzled, and do not be intimidated.

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