A Sinning Church with a Preaching Problem
If there’s one thing that we in the church do extremely well, it’s ignoring the greatest threats that face us. We roll massive Trojan horses inside our sanctuary walls while feverishly battling the mosquitoes that buzz around us. And once we wake up and grasp the true danger—if we ever do—the damage done is often incalculable. We wring our cultural hands over the de-Christianizing of America. We conduct massive studies to ascertain why we’re not attracting Generation X, Y, or Z. We school church leaders in the art of politics so they can run for office against godless rivals. We curtail the heresy of boredom by injecting some razzle-dazzle into our worship. We fight and fret over the election of less-conservative denominational leaders. We strive, in short, to master the art of swatting mosquitoes. And all the while, we remain blind to the fact that in pulpit after pulpit, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is as rare as Merry Christmas inside a synagogue.
We are a sinning church with a preaching problem. It’s cross-denominational. It’s rampant. It’s damnable. The blame for it is shared by preachers and hearers alike. And there’s only one way to change it.
This begins in an elementary fashion: by recognizing and acknowledging not only the problem, but its catastrophic nature. If the Gospel is not preached, what is? Social activism, confessional integrity, moral improvement, spiritual principles, etc. Wherever the preacher dips his homiletical spoon in this smorgasbord of options, when he feeds it to the church, it’s acid. To nourish the church with anything but the Gospel is to poison the church, no matter how staunch, right, traditional, and biblical-sounding it may seem.
Preaching the Gospel does not mean talking about Jesus. Even Muslims do that. Preaching the Gospel does not mean telling people to follow the example of Jesus. Preaching the Gospel does not mean decrying cultural meltdowns, enforcing close communion practices, berating newfangled worship practices, or upholding traditional views of marriage and sexuality. Nor does Gospel-preaching mean educating hearers about the Good News, as if ignorance is their problem and information their salvation.
Preaching the Gospel is pouring into the ears of your hearers nothing and no one but Jesus Christ and his limitless, universal, blood-soaked love for sinners. It is not taking people back to the cross, but hauling the cross into the pulpit, standing beside that dying God, and proclaiming, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away your sin.” It is not to make the three main points of your “How to Strengthen Your Marriage” sermon, then to tack on a P.S. of Jesus-talk at the end. It is to build the entire homily out of the flesh and blood of God incarnate. Gospel sermons bleed. They are veined through and through with atoning blood. They know no God but Jesus Christ and Him crucified, through which they gain access to the Father by the Spirit.
When the Law is preached, everything is demanded of the hearers. When the Gospel is preached, nothing is demanded of the hearers. All is given freely and fully by the Father of all grace and mercy. No conditions, no strings attached, no if-you-do-this-God-will-do-that B.S. The Gospel is astonishing in its utter rejection of human involvement, its disdain for cooperation language, and its absolving embrace of the most grotesque of sinners.
Without this preaching of the Gospel, the church becomes just another self-justifying, self-perpetuating institution that has excommunicated its Founder. People will fall back on their default position of believing the lie that God high-fives only those who are more conservative, more ethical, more spiritual, more prayerful, more merciful. The pews may be packed, the preaching may be entertaining, the offering plates may have more cash than a strip club, but if the Good News is unheard, the church is merely a club whose members gather before Sunday’s football game to jack their jaws about religious stuff.
We are a sinning church with a preaching problem. And there’s a simple way to change it: Preach the Gospel! In season and out of season. In Bible Class, at funerals, at weddings, in personal conversations, in newsletters, in blogs, in articles, and, yes, in pulpits. Heaven has been opened by the God who is love. He preached a universal absolution from the pulpit of his cross. He is already reconciled to us. He is already pleased with us in Jesus Christ. And He has established His church as the outpost in this world where He does His re-creative, redeeming work of bringing sinners into His kingdom of grace. In this church, let the Good News reign unrivaled. And let the sound of its preaching be the song that never ends.