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 It is not superceded by how one wants to interpret Jesus.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,