Amoral Pulpits

By Paul Koch

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So here we are; Christians worry about the rise of Isis, the crumbling vestige of marriage, and the selling of aborted babies for medical research. The congregations scattered across our country are fractured, and they are employing the best market strategies to claim the largest share of the faithful for their own ranks as they each seek to build their own little kingdom on earth. And when we get depressed, we are told by some that if we return to Rome we can reclaim the strength to make a stand as part of that great and ancient church. However, too many of us aren’t so delusional to believe such crap; so we muddle on trying to do what we can.

In addition, I read members of my own corner of the ecclesiastical box spilling ink over idiotic things like “Lutheran Bad Boys” (which sounds like a low quality Perry County porno to me.) One brother went so far as to make a half-assed reach to link Tullian’s recent downfall with what he calls the “Radical Lutheranism” of Gerhard Forde. And so, as the world apparently falls apart all around us, we turn to eat our own seeking to be the one on top of the pile of corpses screaming, “See I told you so!”

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Even more frustrating is that in the midst of all this bullshit the conversation about what can truly help and what is of profound importance seems to always get pushed aside. Our discussions get pulled into the language of fear, and everyone seeks to cover their own ass even as they timidly make their confession. Pastors spin their wheels arguing over their hobbies and pet projects instead of attending to the quality of their craft as preachers. We will talk about styles of worship, the use of screens, the place of chanting, and even the use of incense in the church. We will actually spend time discussing what a pastor ought to wear on Sunday morning. But as soon as a critical voice is raised concerning the preaching of the church, the tone becomes different. After all, my preaching is none of your damn business!

The thing is, in the midst of all that faces the church today, our pulpits have become amoral.

There is, I think, a morality to preaching or at least there should be. In the face of all that is wrong, all that is broken, all that thrives in its bondage in this world, there is one thing that offers hope and confidence and true freedom – the proclamation of the Gospel.

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14)

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Now those who are employed as preachers have no simple task set before them. Add to the problems listed above the general loss of sustained attention spans and our constant desire to be entertained, and a preacher has his work cut out. I believe that for us to attend to these challenges we must involve the words and wisdom of others. That is, to excel at preaching we need the critical eye of a trusted brother or sister. Someone who can see what we see and yet add their words of observation to our experience so that we might continue to improve. This is where preaching becomes a moral exercise. The conversation about our preaching, whether it is good or bad, binds and sets free, convicts and comforts, is a conversation where we evaluate or measure its quality.

To be sure, we first evaluate our preaching in its faithfulness to the Scriptures. “Even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:8) But we also evaluate it (because it is impossible not to) against the confessions of our church. But the living Word of proclamation ought to also be measured by its actual application in the setting where it is spoken. If preaching is a craft that we can improve upon, then we must have conversations about the actual act of preaching.

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But this is precisely the thing that is not happening. When the world somehow continues to shock us by its depravity, we all run to our favorite corners of the box and begin to point out the errors of the other corners. If we don’t invite a critical eye into our corner and if we don’t invite discussion about what is happening in our pulpits, then our preaching will remain amoral. And pulpits without a morality will soon be forgotten. And if they are forgotten, they might as well be silent. And if they are silent…

Well, hey the Republicans have a shot at regaining the White House next year, so there’s hope. Right?

Shit.

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