So Who’s Responsible?
A friend of mine was doing a good job pastoring and preaching, when one Sunday he happened to preach a “great sermon.” It has been downhill ever since.
He has no more idea than does his congregation how that “great sermon” came about. He hadn’t checked his biorhythm chart. He did not spend the previous Saturday in fervent prayer. (To tell the truth, he spent it watching various sporting events on TV and taking intermittent naps.) Nevertheless, something ignited that morning, and the result was a “great sermon.”
“I’m scared to preach!” he told me as we snacked at Louie’s Lunch and Exotic Fish Shop. “They expect me to come up with another grand-slam home run next Sunday, and I know I’m going to strike out.”
I felt a soothing quotation coming on. “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.”
“A great help you are,” he muttered over his prune Danish. “You have it easy—you preach ordinary sermons.”
“Look,” I said, trying to sound repentant, “why not just tell them the truth? Admit that you got the sermon from Spurgeon or some obscure Puritan.”
“That’s the trouble,” he replied. “I didn’t borrow the sermon from anybody. It was my own. I have to take the blame.”
We sat and chewed quietly (Louie hates loud chewing), trying to penetrate the existential significance of this unique homiletical horror. Then it hit me.
“I’ve got it!” I shouted, startling a dozen fish and incurring Louie’s silent wrath. “Tell your congregation that they were responsible for the sermon. They were praying hard, or somebody got right with God, or what have you.”
A smile turned my friend’s face into daylight. “I get it,” he said. “Then if I don’t preach any more great sermons, it’s their fault and not mine. But if I do, they get the credit!”
Well, it worked. His congregation is so proud (in a humble way) of their pastor’s preaching that they haven’t permitted him to preach a poor sermon yet. And they are inviting their friends to come to hear these messages. The church is filling up and they may have to expand.
How much better can things get?
With regard to your editorial “Selective Obedience Is Disobedience” (Mar. 21), I must say that the editor fell into his own trap. In fact, he urges evangelicals to selective obedience by failing to note that Christ’s prayer for unity is also tempered by his command to avoid persistent errorists. “I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them” (Rom. 16:17–18).
Yes, strive for unity, but not at the expense of confessional integrity. How can we all work together in “unity of spirit” when there is no unity of spirit? Only after unity of spirit has been established can there be unity of goals and efforts. Evangelicals want unity, too, but on God’s terms, not liberal theology’s terms.
REV. DUANE R. VANSELOW
Evangelical Lutheran Church
Your interpretation of John 17:23 is out of context and application. That verse had nothing to do with churches or denominations in organic union. This speaks of a spiritual union.
I do not believe that organic unity of churches will help in evangelizing the world. Those churches who have in recent years come together organically have not grown; rather, their membership has receded. The only true unity that will stand is that of a common faith in the person and teaching of God based on the Bible.
Director of Missions
North Central Baptist Area
I greatly appreciate your exhortation for all evangelicals to display a commitment to the visible unity of Christ’s church. You are correct when you connect visible unity to more authentic and obedient evangelism.
You are wrong, however, when you conjecture that there were no evangelicals at the January plenary. I consider myself an evangelical in every biblical sense of that word, and would guess that a majority of those present would make that claim as well.
You intimate that the consultation is preaching a “watered-down” theology. I would suggest that, in light of our eighteen-year effort to reach greater theological agreement (cf. Phil. 1), we take theology as seriously as any Christian group in the country.
I appreciate the attempt you have made to interpret our attempt to be obedient to the biblical mandate for visible unity among the followers of Christ.
GERALD F. MOEDE
Consultation on Church Union
Thank you very much for the good article by D. G. Kehl, “Peddling the Power and the Promises” (Mar. 21).
I do take exception to his distinction between the meanings of the Greek words peithomen and peithos. Both words are from peitho, which means “to prevail upon or win over,” “to persuade,” or “to convince.”
It is obvious that Paul persuaded (Acts 18:4 and 28:23–24) and, as Kehl pointed out, he relied on the Holy Spirit and not clever human persuasion. The question is, then, why did he say in 1 Corinthians 2:4 that he did not use “persuasive words” when it is obvious that he did try to persuade?
I feel that 1 Corinthians 2:4–5 must be seen in the light of 1 Corinthians 1:17. There Paul used sophia logou (wisdom of words), not sophia ton legein (the art of speaking well). He was denouncing those who would compare Christianity to just another religious philosophy.
Thus, Paul was referring to subject, not form. To say that Paul was not persuasive as he presented the Lord Jesus Christ is to misunderstand 1 Corinthians 2:4 and ignore all the Scripture that shows us how persuasive he really was.
Santa Clara, Calif.
I just finished reading Walter Elwell’s article, “Belief and the Bible: A Crisis of Authority?” (Mar. 21). Although I found it to be generally informative, some of his conclusions are not supported by the statistics. A case in point is his statement:
“That twice as many frequent readers of the Bible are noncharismatic as charismatic seems to indicate that people immersed in Scripture feel less need for ecstatic immediacy.”
However, the same chart that shows noncharismatics outnumbering charismatics 2 to 1 among Bible readers also shows the charismatics outnumbered 7 to 1 among the infrequent Bible readers. This completely discredits Elwell’s inference.
San Bruno, Calif.
Dr. Elwell’s comment was based only on the statistics regarding frequent Bible readers. To compare statistics of frequent and infrequent readers is impossible, since most of the infrequent readers who are noncharismatic are probably non-Christians.—Ed.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more