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Thursday, July 19, 2012

On sermons running amuck

A few days ago, my lot in life was to sit and disassemble some ancient computer equipment that I had been attempting to sell for the past few months, with no success, as they were too old for anyone to find utility in them. As disassembly is mindless work, I turned the tv in the room to one of the Christian stations on cable, which was playing soft, instrumental music. At the top of the hour, it changed to a preaching program of a well known name, who emphasizes the prosperity doctrine (to borrow a phrase from an old comedy skit, the names are changed because only one is Innocent). He was speaking on Matthew 7:13, which says, "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it." He started off by asserting that, in this sentence, "destruction" was not referring to hell (spiritual destruction) but to various types of destruction, such as financial or other personal features, that can happen in a believer's life. He specifically states that the church has not taught that verse in that context, and, given that this is a recording of a sermon in a traditional church, he gave no intellectual evidence for it, told a story about teaching this in someone else's church, and having an elder upbraid him for this, to which he said he didn't defend his point at the time because it was in someone else's building, and told a couple of other stories to bring out a couple of lesser points he wished to make within this concept.

There was a point in my life in which I attended institutional churches that tolerated occassion prosperity teaching. This appears to be a theme that is particularly appealing to persons of significantly below average income, and an explanation of why it is incorrect is probably too complicated and uninteresting for some of my brothers and sisters in Jesus to desire to follow (online I can find that a person named Koch at Indiana U. has a dissertation that deals with that subject; I did not read it for this writing, as I am drifting off point, although, to drift even further off point, it is interesting how often truly original research, even in Christian studies, comes out of secular institutions). It does, once again, bring out the point I, quoting others, have brought up before. Participatory discussions on a Bible topic bring out more true learning, as a) one cannot just assert anything, although, as the old line says, to can find something in the Bible (out of context, of course) to defend anything, b) in a participatory study, the group can answer questions someone truly has, c) because every person in the group is considered equal before God, except as they are experienced and gifted, a person just asserting something not shown to be the line of all of scripture can be lovingly corrected, and d) if a question could possibly come up that those in the group were unsure to be correct, it would be totally normal to search the scriptures, and what other teachers have said, and come back to the topic the next time.

Conversely, the problem with traditional sermons is the exact opposite: a) one person has prepared to share everything to be shared, which leads to the temptation to defend a "party line" (such as the example above, to pick on a reletively new one with minimal organizational pressure behind it), and b) the listeners rarely know what is coming, will not get to either discuss or be tested on it (as in school). I could, I believe, come up with a number of other points in criticism, but others have, and most will be nuances of the main two above.

Finally, one learns more from preparation on a subject than one does from receiving the preparation. In a participatory Bible study, there can be the possibility that everyone involved may know the next subject and do their own preparation for the study. I say this as, at the church I am involved in, the facilitator comes from a background of fundamentalist churches and military and tech business experience, and I come from a background of Calvinistic and pentecostal/charismatic churches, secular college campus experience (as a student and some campus ministry), and retail business. If one's hearts are in the wrong place, that would engender conflict, but when our hearts are in building up everyone, the different backgrounds compliment one another. Next time, I will write on some things I have been studying for an upcoming study.

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