Sunday, June 8, 2008

Fundamental Pastoral Error

I've been hanging around churches on Sunday mornings for almost two decades, very close to half my life. (I intend to keep showing up until it actually sinks in.) I've heard a lot of sermons. I've also heard and read far more devotionals, "moments of reflection", Bible studies, informal discussions of spiritual matters, etc.

There's one recurring theme that keeps popping up, especially from pastors in the pulpit, and I think they're dead wrong about it. In fact, I think they have it exactly backwards (for most unsaved people).

Over and over, far more times than I could count, I've heard pastors assuring listeners that they can come to Christ, no matter what they've done. No sin is too great for God to reject a repentant sinner. That's certainly true and scriptural, and it's an important message. The breadth of human experience is too great for me to say that no one, anywhere, needs to hear it. I'm sure there are many people who do.

However, I don't think I've ever met any of them.

The people I meet and interact with on a daily basis do not have a sense that their sin is so great that Christ would reject them. Instead, although most of them would not explicitly say so, they have a strong sense that their sin isn't so bad. They don't see a need to stop fooling around with their lives and come to Christ.

Everybody says, "I'm not so bad." They usually follow this with, "Why, look at that person over there! I'm definitely not as bad as them." (This is a recurring pet peeve of mine: pointing out someone else's failings does not excuse your own.)

My own grandmother, who was a strong believer in Christ, didn't like to sing Amazing Grace. The line "that saved a wretch like me" seemed inappropriate to her. She lived a good, moral life by most peoples' standards, and didn't see herself as a "wretch".

Thankfully, it was eventually pointed out to her that by God's standards, every human being is a wretch in need of salvation that we are completely incapable of earning through our own efforts. (I wish I could say it was me that pointed it out to her, but it wasn't.) Once she heard that, she understood and accepted it, and sang joyfully from then on.

Modern western society has lost the vocabulary of sin. We don't understand that we are sinners, much less what that means or what to do about it. Sure, plenty of people will cheerfully admit to being sinners, with a wink and a grin, but they don't really understand what they're saying. If they did they wouldn't joke about it any more than a German Jew in the 1930s would joke about the Nazis rising to power.

Sin is deadly. It is no funnier, no cuter, than AIDS.

Preachers, by all means keep preaching the message "that no sin is too great". It's true, and there are no doubt people out there who need to hear it. However, please consider moving "no sin is too small" up in the thematic rotation.

Enough rambling. Here's another picture of a chain-link fence in closeup.


Maria said...


RebelAngel said...

I think pastors might sometimes avoid that for fear of being referred to as "fire and brimstone" preachers. It comes too close to stepping on congregational toes.

It does give something to think about, in my own life as well as in the sermons of my pastor.