It took me a long time to understand the difference between teaching (informing, enlightening) and preaching (re-presenting the Good News). It is unusual in our culture to find a church with leaders who are gifted preachers. Most churches we’ve attended have had teachers in the pulpit. Even those who claim to have a deep commitment to exegetical preaching typically teach the passage rather than endeavoring to form Christ in lives of the hearers. Both teaching and preaching are spiritual gifts, but the former is instructional, the latter designed to re-orient our hearts, souls, minds and strength to God’s character, his goodness, his nearness, his other-ness, his mercy and justice and holiness and beauty. Straight-up preaching can have teaching elements embedded. A teaching message may have a splash of preaching blended into it.
Though the church we attend is mercifully tilted toward preaching rather than teaching on Sunday mornings, we learned that for the next few weeks of the summer, the messages will be fairly instructional in nature. The series is dubbed “Hot Topics”, and these live-wire issues will include messages on men’s roles, women’s roles, homosexuality and church leadership. During the nearly three years we’ve been at the church, we have not seen those charged with preaching (yes, preaching) choose to zero in on these sorts of issues. When the Biblical text for the morning demands a comment on one of these issues, the person preaching will go there briefly, but not camp on any one of these issues for an entire sermon.
I wasn’t rejoicing when I left the building this morning. This morning’s message was the intro to the teaching series, framing the approach they’ll be using as they tackle these Hot Topics. My summary of the approach as it was presented this morning: There’s God’s way, and there’s many ways presented to us by the world. We might not like God’s way, but his way is the right and wise way.
I absolutely agree that there is only one way to God. His name is Jesus.
I respectfully disagree that there is one single Christian party line on many of these issues.
Let’s think for a moment about three possible categories of church people who will be hearing this teaching on these ‘hot topics’:
(1) There are some in the church who perhaps have never thought about these issues at all, and echo whatever popular culture has to say. These folks definitely need a tutorial on how to think Christianly, to love God with their minds, and they do need to hear what their church leaders believe about an issue.
(2) There are others who are content to parrot what the pastor tells them. This state shouldn’t be the spiritual goal of a caring shepherd, but in the case of many of the churches of which we’ve been a part over the last four decades, it is (unfortunately) what passes for unity in many congregations. If you’ve ever been shot down or humiliated when asking an honest question of a church leader (“Is it possible that there are other Scriptural views besides the pre-trib Rapture?”, “Why do we baptize infants in this church when I don’t see the practice mentioned in the Bible?”), you see the insecurity that fuels this kind of faux unity.
(3) There are others in the church who have approached one or more of these topics with a studious and prayerful heart, and have arrived at a different set of convictions. A mature teacher will ensure that his audience knows that there are serious, intelligent believers hold different views. While he or she explains the church’s convictions (or his/her own!), the teacher should also respectfully acquaint his hearers with the convictions held by other believers. Not doing so demonizes those positions – and the people who hold them.
When a teacher says that there is a single Biblical position on these issues, the grace and love of Jesus often gets trampled underfoot on the march to lockstep thinking. By saying there is one Biblical way to understand these issues, there is a not-so-subtle implication is that anyone who holds a differing view is either in grave error or, worse yet, not even a believer.
Church leaders have every right to teach their congregational or denominational party line on these hot topics. But they have the responsibility to ensure that their congregation understands that there are serious, committed believers who have come to very different convictions on every single one of these matters.
I’d welcome your thoughts: What is one practical way a teacher can communicate his/her/the church’s/the denomination’s convictions while ensuring that his/her hearers are equipped to love God with their heart, soul, mind and strength and love others as they love themselves?