Thousands of people who do not know Jesus Christ attend church each week. Most of these people never received the christianese Sunday school training that began with large felt boards. As preachers deliver their messages and the members back-slap each other with approval, many of these visitors walk away without any clearer understanding of Jesus Christ. Further, many preachers deliver sermons where once Christians concepts have morphed into meaninglessness.
How do I know this? Each week I visit a new church for a column I write, Sheep & Goats, for the San Diego Reader. So I hear a variety of preachers exercising their gifts of gab. Certainly my experience is not an exhaustive research, but it is through these sermons that IÄôve heard the preaching of christianese without Christ.
Let me give you two examples. Last month, I listened to a preacher at an emerging church speak about ‘rebuilding our faith’. This preacher spoke for 45-minutes, sharing stories, speaking about TV shows and discussing his life. Through the sermon faith was never defined. The preacher spoke about rebuilding faith in relationships, in hope and love. There was never a mention of ‘faith in Jesus Christ’. There was never a mention of the gospel. The sermon ended up preaching a faith in whatever the listener intended with or without Jesus Christ.
The very next week a mainline denomination preacher spoke about hope. This sermon hinged on many Christian ideas. Comments, such as “Jesus provided a way for all people out of darkness, cold and misery” were the extent of communicating Jesus work on Earth. The preacher never connected Jesus providing hope with his salvific work conquering sin and death. Christianity became a philosophy of self-help to have hope in this life, regardless of a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.
In all fairness, as an occasional preacher, I confess I also do this. We all can easily fall into our linguistic auto-pilot and drop words like ‘faith’, ‘hope’, ‘salvation’, ‘cross’ and ‘Jesus’ without explanation. A sermon would end up being really long if we had to define every word and concept we brought in. This is not my biggest concern. What concerns me more than defining every term is that we use these terms out of context. If we are preaching messages on hope in a better world, faith in our friendships, being saved from foolish decisions we are no longer preaching Christ. Certainly a saving relationship with Christ and an obedience to follow the path he walked before us will make this world better (not in a materialistic way), our friendships more important (not necessarily easier) and correct bad decisions, but is this why Jesus came? My encouragement is that we return to the joy of our salvation. If you are a preacher, preach a Jesus Christ that conquered sin and death, and now sits on a throne in heaven from where he will return to earth and establish an eternal kingdom. Preach a Christ that allowed us to have a relationship with the creator and sustainer of the universe, God. This should give us hope and build a faith in us that we can be passionate about!
Note: I would clarify that the primary purpose of preaching in service is to equip Christians (Eph 4:11) for the work of the ministry not to evangelize the lost. Yet, how will sinners hear the message unless a preacher is sent…