Friday, June 7, 2013

A Word to Sermon Critics

We've all done it. I have. I'm you at times have too. We listen to a sermon not so much to hear how I should change or repent or be challenged or encouraged, but rather how the preacher's got it wrong. We pick apart his arguments or his delivery or his choice of tie (or lack of one). As a preacher, I'll think how I could have said it so much better. Sometimes I wonder, have we come to church to learn or to lecture? 

Martin Bucer, over 400 years ago, addressed those who were sinfully critical of preachers and their preaching. His words are as needed today as (apparently) they were needed then:

This is why Christians are first of all to ask the Lord with great earnestness to grant them faithful ministers, and to watch diligently in choosing them to see that they walk in accordance with their calling and serve faithfully; and when these ministers come to warn, punish, teach or exhort in the Lord’s name, not to dismiss it thoughtlessly and despise this ministry, as sadly many are wont to do today.  Such people are so kind as to object to and judge the sermons and all the church activities of their ministers, just as if they had been appointed to do so and the only reason for hearing sermons was so that they might in the most unfriendly way discuss, distort and run down what had been said in them, or anything else which had been done in the church.  In such people you do not observe any thought of approaching sermons in such a way that they might in some way be moved by what they have heard in them to acknowledge their sins more fully, or to commit themselves more wholeheartedly to Christ and seek more earnestly to improve their ways; all they do is to judge and criticize anything which is said which applies to them, or which in some way they consider not to fit in with their carnal impudence (and not Christian freedom).  And when they praise something in a sermon, it is generally because it applies to other people, whom they like to hear criticized; and they take from such sermons nothing beyond an excuse to run down those they do not like, and not so that they might be warned or built up. (Martin Bucer, Concerning the True Care of Souls)

On any given Sunday, I will hear words of appreciation for the message, and words of critique. I welcome both. But what I hope is happening is that most would not feel the need to approach me about what I said in the sermon because they are dealing with God about what they heard him say.

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