I've been blessed the past few years to be part of some churches that were very good about teaching the truth of the Bible. Churches that break the scriptures down, piece by piece, putting it all into context as to how it points us back to Christ and what it means for our lives.
I think sometimes we underestimate the importance of solid, biblical teaching. Last night I went with a friend to revival at a church where a minister I used to listen to was preaching. Only 10 minutes into the sermon, I realized that this minister was getting severely off topic, telling rousing stories that had nothing to do with the text. The stories were funny, some of the stories were good. But how they related to his opening scripture or to God I have no idea. Sad, because my friend and I were really looking forward to hearing a good word last night. As I watched the audience around me hoop and holler I became increasingly disheartened and even angry at one point because I felt as though people were being duped into listening to a message that might have it's own inherent truth, but had nothing to do with the Bible or the text.
In my anger I found myself getting restless. I lost focus, started writing other things, started people-watching. I almost pulled out my phone to tweet or start writing this blog. I'm glad I didn't. That would've been truly disrespectful.
This morning I woke up and read a passage from a book called "Listen Up: A Practical Guide to Listening to Sermons" by Christopher Ash. It blessed me and gave some good advice on how to listen to biblically inadequate sermons:
1) "Avoid developing a critical spirit." I obviously failed at this one, but Ash is right. The minute you start maliciously critizing a message, you become like the Pharisees who were trying to catch Jesus at something wrong. Everybody makes mistakes, and I'm not so sure all ministers set out deliberately to lead people astray. As Ash puts it, "…there is something wrong if fault-finding is our aim. For then the sermon will just make us feel good about ourselves…" It's very easy to get arrogant once you discover inconsistensies in a sermon. Not a good look.
2) "Avoid being gullible and credulous, believing whatever any preacher says, so long as they say it plausibly and well." On the same token, as believers, we must learn how to study the Bible on our own so that we can know when something is false and when it is not. This morning I read last night's scripture reference, and just as I thought, the minister had taken some EXTREME liberties on interpreting the text. Reading the scripture for myself, I realized what a powerful passage it is that speaks of God's ultimate power and might. As much as we should cut preachers some slack, we also need to stay on guard and not be so quick to believe everything someone says just because they said it.
While I've been blessed to be part of some good, teaching churches, I've also been part of churches that make a constant habit of twisting words of scripture around for their own benefit. I think part of me is still scarred by that experience, which is why I get so upset when I go places where truth is not being taught. But Lord, help me to not be like the Pharisees, looking and expecting for something to be wrong. Help me study to show myself approved so that I can tell the difference between what is real and what is false. I can only pray the same for my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.