Is God behind your sermon? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
During this past week, I caused a controversy on my Facebook page over this idea I am writing about. My friend Brian Chilton over at Bellator Christi disagreed with me on this. My stance is the idea of Christians hearing from God is not normative. He disagrees. We’re planning on having a written debate on this. While we do disagree, we disagree as fellow Christians and want to build up one another’s ministries still.
As a seminary student, I hear several sermons. As a Christian, I have heard them all my life. I am also often on the lookout for evangelical catchphrases as it were. These are things we say that can make us sound spiritual, but I think do more harm than good.
One such statement I hear from many pastors is in some way attributing their sermons to God. They will say that God laid this on their heart or that God revealed this to them in the Bible or any number of things. The idea strikes me as saying “This isn’t just me saying this. This is God. You’d better pay attention.”
I don’t think many would be so brazen, but if that’s not what the words mean, then what do they mean?
Now suppose one of you says “Well, there was one time someone gave me a specific word of knowledge that I am certain came from God as no one else could have known X about my life.”
I am not saying that cannot happen. God will do what He wants. I am saying it is not normative. I have a number of concerns with this kind of talking.
For one thing, I think we wind up treating God too casually. I have no reason to think God will fill in for pastors when they don’t do the work of preparing a good sermon. It often treats God as if He were on speed-dial or something.
Second, consider Pastor A is at a church that is heavily Calvinistic. He’s preaching today on the sovereignty of God and God gave Him a message about how He universally selected the elect to be saved and we need to get rid of this idea that our free-will is what saves us. It is all God from beginning to end.
Pastor B is at another church that is heavily Arminian. He’s preaching on the role of God in evangelism and saying God gave Him a message on how we need to appeal to the free-will of people we are evangelizing to. We need to let them know they have a choice.
At least one of these two people is wrong.
Third, if we have young Christians in the audience, they can think something is wrong with them if they’re not hearing from God when everyone around them seems to be doing so. What is wrong with me? Why am I not having this experience? Does God not really love me? Maybe I’m not really a Christian.
Fourth, we tend to become very egotistical with this kind of approach. It’s all about what God has for me. How about what we have for God? It can lead to so many people trying to interpret every event in their life as if it is a coded message from God. I remember my ex-wife would used to get so caught up in wondering what a dream she had meant.
I would tell her, “Honey. If you spent as much time trying to interpret Scripture, which you know is from God, as you do these dreams, which you don’t know are from God, you would be far better off.” I stand by that today. People often read personal events or sometimes global events trying to find a hidden message from God.
Remember the talk about the blood moons years ago? What happened? Nothing. There was also the fear over Rosh Hashanah that one year. What happened? Nothing.
If only Christians got as excited about reading their Bibles as they did this stuff.
This brings us to the fifth concern. For my readers who are Protestants, we often say we are Sola Scriptura. The Bible is the final authority. We don’t go with a Pope who claims to speak for God ex Cathedra.
Except many of us claim to do just that. We claim we have something that God has told us. The end result often is we neglect the study of the Scriptures to pay more attention to what God has for us today.
A sixth concern is people can make foolish and major decisions because they think God is telling them something. How many of us have heard stories about a couple getting married not knowing what they were doing because God told one of them they were to be married? It happens. Meanwhile, I still remember back in the days of chat rooms seeing a girl once who talked about all her life how she wanted to be a missionary. When asked why she didn’t go, she said “I wasn’t called.”
This was a woman then who had a heart for the lost and wanted to serve people and yet didn’t go out and try because she didn’t receive some “call.” Never mind that when Paul tells Timothy the criteria for deacons in the church, being called is not one of them. When he goes on his second missionary journey, there’s no indication that Silas was called to join Paul. There’s not even a word from God to go on the journey! Paul just suggests they do so!
So pastors out there, when you claim God has shown you something or told you something, I immediately get skeptical. (And 1 Kings 13 gives me good grounds for that!) You see, if your message is good and if it is true, does that change somehow if you say “God gave it to me?”
On the other hand, if your message has problems in it and you attribute it to God, then you have attributed error to God. You have said that God has revealed, shown, spoken, etc., when He has done none of those things. That is dangerous territory.
The solution is really simple. Just work on your sermon and give it. Be hesitant to claim to speak for God. If you are right, it doesn’t change the truth content. If you are wrong, then you can be making false attribution to God and/or leading people into error with divine authority.
It’s not worth the risk.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)