Friday, September 15, 2006

Listen to What's Being Preached

Every pastor wonders if people are listening to the sermons. Its obvious that some nod off while still others are distracted. But one hopes.

Sometimes that hope is dashed. One commentor on this blog, purporting to be a Kirk member, said the following:
"I think it's just a matter of how you decide to understand Jesus and how to understand the Bible...."
"I believe that the way Jesus, himself, lived -- the broad brush view rather than the hair-by-hair of the brush
view) is the truest manifestation of what God wants us to follow...."
"I think I can see Jesus smiling on your efforts to seek the truth for yourself and your family -- and I have a strong suspicion that that's good enough."

Someone wasn't listening. We at the Kirk teach the Bible as the revealed Word of God. It is not superceded by how one wants to interpret Jesus. Jesus didn't share the "broad brush" view when he said that "I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished." (Matt. 5:18 )

The person also wrote that Jesus smiles on "efforts to seek the truth for yourself...." It isn't individual truth that we seek, but the Kingdom of Heaven. Continuing with Jesus' words (I sense, somehow, that this commentor might reject Paul),   “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man." (John 5:24-27)

Our christian (small "c" intentional) culture has gotten bogged down by making exceptions the rule. It says our sexual behavior isn't an issue with God; our thought lives are not an issue with God. By extension, it seems, nothing is an issue with God and, insofar as our christian culture addresses it, the only thing that God will judge is our intention.

Yet this goes against all that Scripture teaches. Cain intended a good offering, yet it was unacceptable to God. I'm sure that there were well-intentioned Israelites who chose not to mark their doorposts and lintels with blood, and missed the Exodus. Felix had good intentions toward Paul's message, yet ignored it.

The central message of Scripture leads to and focuses exclusively on Jesus Christ, His sacrifice, salvation through Him, and eternal life through Him. Any other focus made central is heresy. When we make the focus ourselves--our ideas, our desires, our thoughts--it is also heresy. All of us are heretics in one way or another. It only becomes spiritually deadly when we deny that and cease our exploration of and obedience to the clear teachings of Scripture.

This is what is so discouraging to me as a preacher. I don't know how long this commentor sat in our pews (or if he or she did at all). But if they were there, I have to ask the question, "why?" I don't expect everyone to agree with me. I don't want to keep non-believers from attending--evangelism is our business! I don't expect people to be "cookie cutter" Christians. But I do expect a minimum of Christian belief from those who are members.

Our new member process is a six-week class, taught by lay leaders, that begins with an in-depth investigation of Christian faith, along with a challenge to follow Jesus Christ. Our standard of receiving members is their free-will affirmation that "Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior." Everyone who is a member at the Kirk should have affirmed this.

Why would a person who disagreed with this become a member? Why would they stay in a church that regularly preaches this? The answer probably can be found in our christian culture (small "c" again). Some people come to a church not to seek the Lord, not to seek Truth (capital "T"), not to seek or serve Jesus as He commands, but to experience something pleasing to them. A recent article from an Episcopalian member who believes little demonstrates this:

"We all love the incense, the stained-glass windows, the organ music, the vestments and all of that,' he said. 'There will always be people who love that. ... It's drama. It's aesthetics. It's the ritual. That's neat stuff. I don't want to give all that up, just because I don't believe in God and all that."
A Proud Skeptic in the Pew

If that's all you choose to believe, stay home. Sleep in. Do something more honest with your Sunday morning. If, though, you are truly seeking, you are always welcome, regardless of what you might currently believe. Come with an open mind. Listen carefully to the preacher. Match the preacher's words with Scripture. If they don't match, go somewhere else. If they do, those words just might make an eternal difference for you.

Keep praying--keep the faith,


Mr. E said...

Pastor Gray,
You have posted a very good commentary. Would you agree that even the skeptic may be led by The Spirit to the pews? Sure, some may be there for self serving intentions but remember it is the ministry of the church to bring people to Christ. Even the skeptics.
Christians submit themselves obediently to the will of God. We are all called to serve at different capacities. When you feel disappointment in those who misinterpret you message, remember that there are others around you reaching in out in other ways to bring the skeptic to Truth.
Don't discourage the skeptic from coming to church. Trust that God will use you and those believers around you for His work.

In Peace,
AKA- Mr. E

Reformed Catholic said...

This seems to be true in alot of churches. I've not visited the Kirk, but at others you hear people coming out of a contemporary or even traditional service saying "What a service, I feel pumped up, what excitement! What a great sermon, how relevant!" Yet, as soon as the service is over, you don't see them again until the next Sunday.

Trying to reach the unchurched falls under the Great Commission, the problem is, once the church has gotten them in, they then fail at making them disciples. They walk out talking about how relevant the sermon was, but when asked, really have no memory of what the minister preached, there's no challenge to think, its all 'feel good'.

Then we wonder why the Adult Sunday School classes are a third full or being cancelled, or the same faces are always seen at ministry meetings, and the collection is never enough to cover the 'programs' that people want.

TomGray said...

Mr e.,
Thanks for yoru note. I don't have a problem with the skeptic. My problem is with someone who holds the beliefs of a skeptic while making a statement of faith in order to be a member of a particular church.

TomGray said...

Reformed catholic,
You have clearly stated the problem. People tend to revert to culture more than to their faith. The first is what they live in, the latter is what they add on.
Until faith becomes central, it will always be a port in the storm instead of a home.
At the Kirk we have been emphasizing discipleship. Such an emphasis has increased our core, active group of members, but there is always the fringe.

Anonymous said...

As a member of Kirk of the Hills who has contributed thousands of dollars for the ministry and maintenance of that entity for many years, I am extremely upset at the thought that the demonination can take this property away from the congregation.

I have a question for the attorneys who read this blog.

Right now, as I understand the situation, the corporation of Kirk of the Hills is claiming title to the property and so is the PCUSA.

Since the people in the pews are the ones who gave and continue to give their tithes and offerings for the building and upkeep of the Kirk property and grounds, do we have any legal recourse at all? Can we get together and file some type of class action suit against the Presbytery and/or the PCUSA?

A concerned Kirk member

TomGray said...

Dear member,
We do have legal recourse, and are exercising that right now. The title has always been held in the Kirk's name.

We will eventually have to see what the court has to say, and nothing is guaranteed there, but we will firmly fight for the property.

Mark Smith said...


This may surprise you, but we mostly agree on this one.

People who are not ready to profess their beliefs about Christ (ie. answer the constitutional questions for members) should not be members. And they should not lie in order to gain member status.

Where we slightly disagree is in your statement "If that's all you choose to believe, stay home." The Spirit CAN work in people outside the church, but IN the church it's so much easier where there are other believers to work THROUGH.

I'd rather have an non-believer on the membership rolls that have a potential believer feel excluded.

TomGray said...

Hey Mark, I'm alway grateful for (a good) surprise. I agree with what you've said. My problem is with the person who has heard and rejected the Gospel, but stays in for other reasons.

Reformed and Reforming said...


I am an attorney but I am not licensed in Oklahoma and do not possess even cursory knowledge of the statutory or common law of Oklahoma relating to real property. That said, I have litigated several title disputes in a couple of states between breakaway congregations and national denominations. In all instances, the national denomination (either PCUSA or the Episcopal Church) prevailed overwhelmingly. The vast majority of congregants supporting breaking away from the national denomination were literally removed from the premises and a relative handful of congregants took over the property.

My completely unsolicited (and probably unappreciated) NON-legal advice would be for the Kirk of the Hills to negotiate a purchase of the property from the Presbytery / PCUSA. The national denomination runs the real risk of looking petty if it doesn't let the real property go really cheap based upon the overwhelming vote of the congregation who contributed the vast majority of the monies used to secure or improve the property.

A HINT: If you want to buy the property really cheap, cut way back on the anti-PCUSA rhetoric on this board and elsewhere. You really can't negotiate in good faith with folks you are attacking as "evil," " sinful," etc.

If you don't want purchase the property really cheap, litigate. You may regret that option though.

Anonymous said...

"If that's all you choose to believe, stay home. Sleep in. Do something more honest with your Sunday morning."

I cannot believe what I am reading. I am dumbfounded that a minister could be so nasty. The post that elicited this response was not angrily written. I am disappointed that Pastor Gray has taken yet another step to discourage people from coming to his church.

What is most baffling is the undertone that the Kirk's interpretation of scripture is the only one that will move us to the next life. There are many things in Christianity that are black and white (God loves us, we are to love one another etc.). But, for many people, a red flag goes up when it is suggested that "our way is the only way." The scariest thing about conservatism is that the norm is to try and find black and white answers for everything. It is simply not possible.

It is obvious that the author of the original post is a Christian. It is even more clear that the author loves the Lord. There are many good points made regarding Paul and his letters. And an even better argument regarding "if you accept some of it you have to accept of all of it." There are many things in the Bible that Kirk members would NEVER do. Nor any other Christians. Are we REALLY following EVERYTHING the Bible says? If you believe you are, then you are fooling yourself. If there are things we would NEVER do, doesn't that leave some room for interpretation? You say to listen to another preacher and see if his message "matches" scripture. Would that be your interpetation of matching, mine or his? Is it not possible that all three if us might see it with slight variations? At that point don't we all 3 try to listen to each other "openly"? Then we can take what we have and do what we believe God wants us to do. Are 2 of us officially on the "wrong path"?

I know this is an old argument. But do you think people that don't believe EXACTLY the way you want them to will not survive judgement day? There is simply not a black and white answer for everything. That's what grace is all about. We do the very best we can to follow God's plan not fully knowing if we are absolutely on target. As the author said, "God is much bigger than any of our understandings of God"

Please enlighten me. Is the Kirk's way the only way? There are millions of Christians who might not see eye to eye with you on every issue. Are they in trouble? Is eternal life still theirs? Do you think that even those who "listen" to your sermons fully understand the message EXACTLY the way you did when you prepared it? You are a well-studied and intellectual person. But, NOBODY is capable of fully reaching everyone in their audience at the same level. You have very obviously isolated those of us in the cheap seats. YOUR MESSAGE IS CLEAR: SOME US MUST NOT BE SMART ENOUGH TO GET IT. And you have just showed us the door.

TomGray said...

Dear anonymous (boy, there are a lot of you),
I don't believe that what the Kirk believes is exclusively right. I believe that the Bible is exclusively right. Jesus is the one who said, "no one comes to the Father, except through me."

Some who call themselves Christians take issue with this, but doing so is taking issue with the basic issue of Christianity: belief that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, through whom alone we find salvation.

The original poster sounds pleasant, but he is telling us that, as he made his affirmation of faith, he lied to get into the church: "I think I mumbled something or other...." It is such a person I'm suggesting stay home.

Such a person is not a Christian, Such a person is not even a seeker. Such a person, by equivocating on the essential of faith, is ultimately dangerous to the congregation.

Anonymous said...

Some who CALL themselves Christians? Wow...

Once again the question of "whose interpretation is the correct one" has been avoided. You are talking in circles. I want to know if someone who doesn't believe the EXACT interpretation that the Kirk teaches will make it to heaven.

The Kirk has many women involved in leadership positions in the church. I think that is wonderful. I know a church 20 miles north that agrees with you on the homosexual issue, but does not allow any women to lead ANYTHING. This church even hired a song leader for ONE Sunday because the male leader was ill. They would not allow any of the woman backup singers to lead. What about this church? Do you draw the line in the sand here? Where exactly is the line?

TomGray said...

Another anonymous (do you have a name?)
I think I see the problem here. I am not saying the person I first quoted is not a Christian--I think that person is. It is the person in the last quote to whom I am speaking when I say "stay home." Sorry, I needed to be clearer.

Mr. E said...

Can I say "WOW" too?
Pastor Gray shares his opinion here and there are many who unload their anguish on the man! I must admit that I do not agree with some of the Pastor's positions, however for the sake of understanding we MUST create dialog and discussion in a non threatening and peaceful manner. It amazes me how some can lose a tactful approach shielded behind an "Anonymous" identity.

liberty4u said...

Pastor Gray,

When I joined the PCUSA, I went through the confirmation class, and, at the end, had to write what I believed. I wrote something like that I believed in God, and the teachings of Christ, but I did not know if Christ was the son of God, but would do my best to lead a good life...

I was accepted as a member of the church, and this was in the 1970s.

I really wouldn't have minded if they said I wasn't ready to join the church. I knew I didn't qualify. I was honest.

God, though, was working in my life and my first recollection of His direct involvement was meeting my future wife in 1983.


For anonymous who asked: "Please enlighten me. Is the Kirk's way the only way?" You can visit the PCUSA website and see what the PCUSA believes at

Here is what the PCUSA believes: "Effectual calling is the work of God's almighty power and grace, whereby (out of his free and especial love to his elect, and from nothing in them moving him thereunto) he doth in his accepted time invite and draw them to Jesus Christ, by his Word and Spirit; savingly enlightening their minds, renewing and powerfully determining their wills, so as they (although in themselves dead in sin) are hereby made willing and able, freely to answer his call, and to accept and embrace the grace offered and conveyed therein.

All the elect, and they only, are effectually called; although others may be, and often are, outwardly called by the ministry of the Word, and have some common operations of the Spirit, who, for their willful neglect and contempt of the grace offered to them, being justly left in their unbelief, do never truly come to Jesus Christ.

Paul Welch said...

It's suprising to me how many individuals posting here seem to feel that you are posting your own opinions whereas you are actually stating points directly from scripture. It's about time they realize that they don't have a problem with you but disagree with what Jesus stated in the New Testament. Although, many are looking for excuses to believe otherwise, Christ's words are pretty clear. I guess the question is if one disagrees with the Bible, do they feel they are in error or do they believe the Bible is in error. I would like to see those who disagree with Christ's statement that he is the only way to eternal life to explain why he stated it incorrectly. If others feel that your statements are close minded, then possibly they feel Christ was close minded also. I personally feel he came to earth to show us the way to the Father. If not...why did he even come to earth?? Was he here just to give us some pleasant stories?

meggo said...

Dear Pastor Gray,
I grew up at the Kirk, was always in choir, and was confirmed at 13. I was a youth intern during the summer of 1997, and you married me in 1999. I love Kirk of the Hills, you and Wayne, and I guess I just want you to know that my community here in Norman, OK, at Christ the King Prebysterian Church has been praying for you both and for the Kirk for some weeks, and we continue to. My mom still occasionally sends me your sermons via snail mail, and I always enjoy them.
Praying for encouragement!
-Meghan Earl

Janna said...

Hi Meghan,
I read your sweet and thoughtful comments and wanted you to know (in case you don't already) you can listen to the sermons now online. You'll find them under "Kirk Audio Files" on the home page. Thanks again for the positive remarks!

Janna Geiger

Phillip J. Owings said...

As Paul Welch said in such a forthright manner, if Jesus is not the Messiah that He claims to be then why did He come to this earth and why has history revolved around His very being.

Tom, hang in there. You are a tough one that God has used because of your faithful relationship with His Son. I know you have a passion to see that all come to a loving relationship with Jesus, even all of those anonymous ones.

Anonymous said...

The attorney's advice to "negotiate a settlement" with the presbytery might make sense from a financial standpoint, but I selfishly hope that you and the Kirk follow this process through without doing that. Most of the churches in PCUSA are small - and cannot afford attorneys or to buy their property back from presbytery. Nor can their pastors afford the risk of losing their ordination since there are no financial resources available to support their families. So they feel trapped. Just as the officials in Louisville intend. We need some leadership from churches like the Kirk to either "fix this denomination" (which I think is impossible) or to take us to either the two synod model or totally out of PCUSA - but in a group!
Thank you for your courage - we are praying for all of you.
I apologize for being anonymous - but I'm the spouse of a PCUSA pastor - and the COM is already coming to call...

Mark (not Smith or Hildebrand) said...

Dear spouse of a PCUSA pastor and everyone else,

I know what you mean about feeling trapped. I've been in the PCUSA and its predecessor denominations my whole life. I was confirmed in a Union UP/PCUS five years prior to the 1983 Reunion. Most of my ministry has been in small membership churches. We, who don't have the resources of The Kirk and other large congregations, shake in our boots every time the "big boys" bellow their disagreements. As I stated in a blog response last month, I don't have a 2700 member corporation to hire me back if I lose my ordination. I've also had a COM come after me on trumped up charges, and it isn't fun.

Now here's the kicker: I'm a moderate liberal. I've watched our dear denomination grow more and more conservative every year when it comes to some, though not all, issues. I'm still waiting to see evidence of the liberal takeover I'm reading so much about on this blog. As far as I can see, it ain't happenin'.

I understand that some Presbyterians perceive things differently, and I respect that. I'm reminded, and I remind everyone, that the property provisions now being discussed have been part of the PCUSA constitution since 1983. There's nothing "cloak and dagger" about it. It's been out in the open for nearly 25 years.

What I see at issue is the importance of treating each other respectfully during this difficult time. We need to make sure that ministers don't have to choose between feeding their families and maintaining their integrity. We need to calm the fears of congregations that have been incited by inflammatory speech (from conservatives and liberals alike). We need to recognize that all "sides" (and I think there are more than two) are trying to be faithful to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Can we step back and take a breather? With all the hubbub about recommendation 5 from the PUP report, we're hearing precious little about the first 4 recommendations that call the denomination to gracious dialogue and discernment. Will those who want to leave the denomination be willing to sit down in conversation with those who want to stay? I'm not talking about advocacy group "talking heads" meeeting with denominational "talking heads"; I'm talking about the average folk, the people in the pews, the pastors of small and medium sized congregations, the families of our clergy. Can the likes of "little ol' us" get together, each in our particular presbyteries, outside of "formal" meetings, and prayerfully open ourselves to the Spirit's leading in order to formulate gracious and pastoral solutions to this mess?

Faithfully yours in Christ,

Jon said...

"I've watched our dear denomination grow more and more conservative every year when it comes to some, though not all, issues."

The PCUSA growing more conservative?? I think what you are noticing is a spirited but belated rear guard action of a decidedly minority group to slow down the PCUSA's continuing march to conform herself to this world.

Mark Smith said...

The PCUSA growing more conservative?? I think what you are noticing is a spirited but belated rear guard action of a decidedly minority group to slow down the PCUSA's continuing march to conform herself to this world.

Speaking as someone who spent 15 years away from the church, YES.

The PC(USA) is significantly more conservative now then when I left in the late 80's.

I guess you have to be outside the system to see the big change, as opposed to being inside the system and missing the little changes (the series of which IS the big change).

You need an example? Abortion. Try to imagine the 1990 General Assembly passing a statement that recommends any restrictions on abortion.

Jon said...

Ok. We can use abortion as an example. The position of the PCUSA in 2006 is far to the left of the position of the PCUS/UPCUSA in 1960. Back then Presbyterians said you shouldn't kill babies. Now we say its ok as long as you think really, really hard about it.

Mark Smith said...

OK, so from the point of view of 40 years ago, the PCUSA is more liberal.

From the point of view of 20 years ago (in my opinion) it's more conservative.

It's a pendulum, folks. It's just hard to see because the pendulum is in a moving car (the movement of the car being the continual Reform of our beliefs). From the outside it looks like the movement is mostly in one direction. From the inside, it's back and forth.

Paul Welch said...

I suppose that if the beliefs of the church were truly based on the Bible, there wouldn't be a "pendulum" action. That's the difference between a house built on a rock and one built on sand.

Mark Smith said...

I suppose that if the beliefs of the church were truly based on the Bible, there wouldn't be a "pendulum" action. That's the difference between a house built on a rock and one built on sand.

If that were true, we'd still be preaching against:
- ordained women
- interracial marriage
- dancing
- drinking

Paul Welch said...

If that were true, we'd still be preaching against:
- ordained women
- interracial marriage
- dancing
- drinking

I'm hard pressed to find the above in the Bible as core beliefs. Where in the Bible does it discuss the above? Paul teaches against drunkeness and leading others astray, but there it ends. I think you will find the above "our" let's talk about some core beliefs that Jesus stated such as that he is ...the way, the truth, and the light and the only way to the Father is through Jesus.

Eric H said...

NO, if that were true, we'd never have preached against:
- ordained women
- interracial marriage
- dancing
- drinking

liberty4u said...

I don't think that Mark Smith believes in the authority of the Bible, I am willing to be corrected on this. I also may be mistaken, but his arguments may be properly classified as Ad hominem tu quoque. As with all Ad hominem arguments, this is a logical fallacy and is rejected from scientific and legal debate.

I bring this up because I have seen what I believe Ad Hominem tu quoque used on this and other blogs. Hopefully by pointing out and analyzing what was said, we can raise the discourse to a higher level.

Note: If this was used as a "you-too" version of tu quoque, it is an admission of wrong doing and uses the "two wrongs make a right" fallacy. Which is, in effect, an addmission of wrong doing by whomever the writer is trying to defend!

Paul Welch said...

Eric H,
If you believe the Bible does teach against dancing, etc., please defend your answer with scriptural quotes.

Mark Smith said...

Description of Ad Hominem Tu Quoque

This fallacy is committed when it is concluded that a person's claim is false because
1) it is inconsistent with something else a person has said or
2) what a person says is inconsistent with her actions. This type of "argument" has the following form:

Person A makes claim X.
Person B asserts that A's actions or past claims are inconsistent with the truth of claim X.
Therefore X is false.

The fact that a person makes inconsistent claims does not make any particular claim he makes false (although of any pair of inconsistent claims only one can be true - but both can be false). Also, the fact that a person's claims are not consistent with his actions might indicate that the person is a hypocrite but this does not prove his claims are false.

I had to look it up.

You are correct - I am not invalidating the argument about following beliefs in the Bible - I am pointing out the hypocrisy of the "pick and choose" form of "Biblical inerrancy" followed by evangelicals today.

Some of the Levitical code still applies, but not all.

Jesus makes statements about divorce, but they are not strictly followed.

Paul is pretty strong in his words against the ordination of women, but yet evangelicals ordain women.

I do NOT believe in the inerrancy of what today is called the Bible. That is for one reason - it has been distorted over time through translation and editing. Each translation has added the translator's bias.

Only with true back to original text in the original language can the original meaning begin to be understood. However, we don't even HAVE the original for parts of the Bible.

The best way to get as close as possible to the original intent is to see the common threads throughout the Bible. A chaplain that I know calls this the "music behind the words" (though she's talking about is generally betweeen two people). Is the message in a particular passage:
a) contradicted elsewhere in the Bible?
b) supported elsewhere in the Bible?
c) consistent with the general teachings of the rest of the Bible?

If you give me an untainted original (and help me translate it - I am just a layperson and haven't learned Greek or Hebrew), then we can look at it together. But you can't. It doesn't exist any more.