The Pilfering and the Pillaging of
THE PULPIT AND THE PEW
[By DR. AUSTIN L. SORENSON (1918—1995)]
(Taken from the "Sword of the Lord" Newspaper-Nov 7, 2003 edition
P.O. Box 1099 Murfreesboro, TN 37133)
“Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable. and poor, and blind, and naked. — Rev. 3:17.
“For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God. “—I Pet. 4:17.
A transcontinental flight was having severe engine trouble. The fast descending plane was heading for tragic disaster. The occupants of the ill-fated ship were in panic. One distraught, desperate passenger cried out, “Somebody do something religious!” So a Baptist preacher stood and began taking up a collection!
A four-year old recently attended a prayer meeting with his parents. When he knelt to say his prayers just before climbing into bed that night, he said, “Dear Lord, we had a good time at church tonight. I wish You could have been there.”
Our age is characterized by pathetic preachers and pitiful churches. Christ Himself gave
this evaluation of the Laodicean church: “Thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” The Head of the church was nauseated and said, “You make Me sick!” They are a spectacle in the pulpit and a disgrace in a community and need to be exposed for what they are.
How did they get this way?
Consider Present-Day Conditions
“They came to the pits [cisterns], and found no water; they returned with their vessels empty. “—Jer.14:3.
The closest some people come to Calvary is a religious movie. By their silly ways the fickle religious neophytes seem to testify “We love Apollos but can scarcely to tolerate the Apostle Paul.”
Many preachers called to declare the whole counsel of God are playing to the galleries. They all want the same thing—a magic button to push that will make you thinner, more beautiful and richer.
It has been noted that “spiritual robotism” and “the paralysis of professionalism” curse many of our churches today. The average church is engrossed by competition and imitation.
The late A. W. Tozer made this observation:
The true Christian faith has all but passed away; and in its place is a circuslike, busy, active, noisy crowd that pushes into the sanctuary and forces the Lord to take second place.
He further stated:
We have got the equipment, we’ve got the harp, but we haven’t got the song. We have banquets; we have conferences. . .we have camp meetings; we have projects; we have everything. We’re the busiest crowd of little eager beavers that ever tramped around on the North American soil. But we are not worshipers. There is scarcely a church service where we can feel God is there.
The Prophet Hosea declared, “And there shall be, like people, like priest” (4:9). The weeping prophet, Jeremiah, lamented, “They are not valiant for the truth;...they know not me” (9:3). You can’t put live chickens under a dead hen. There are too many preachers standing behind a sacred desk who have never been born again. They are spiritually dead. Their messages and manner of living reveal their inner condition. Christ warned, “By their fruits ye shall know them” (Matt. 7:20). Paul admonished, “But he that is spiritual judgeth all things” (I Cor. 2:15).
You cannot have the life of the kingdom of God until you have entered the kingdom of God.
When a prominent pastor in London was called late at night to minister to a dying mother, he found her in a remote attic. He spoke to her of the beautiful life of Christ, but this did not satisfy her. She cried out that she was a sinner.
After searching his own soul, he gave the message his mother had told him—the blessed story of the cross. The desperate, dying soul cried out, “That’s what I want!” Later the humbled clergyman related, “And so I got her in— and at the same time I got in myself.”
What some preachers need is a conversion experience like that of Saul of Tarsus. They need a trip to Calvary. They need to “get in themselves.” Let’s face it! Some clergymen would be better off selling insurance.
In past days much was made of the call to the ministry. Someone has said, “Preaching is not just a preference.” Nehemiah was frank when he declared, “And, Io, I perceived that God had not sent him” (6:12).
Vance Havner wrote an article entitled “The Making of a Minister. (’ His words are most significant
Ministers used to believe that they had received a divine call. Today many enter the ministry as a profession just as they would law or medicine. But preaching is a calling, and whatever other reasons young Samuel may have, he should hear the Unmistakable Voice.
It is not enough to like to preach or merely feel that one ought to preach. There must be a holy compulsion that says, “Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” “We cannot but speak,” said the apostles; and that preacher is in true apostolic succession who burns Jeremiah’s holy “bone-fire” that will not let him keep silent, as Amos puts it, in “an evil time.”
The average church is suffering from a neurosis of emptiness. A discerning sage has observed that “the destruction of the church these days is caused by the poverty of the ministers.” And the poor parishioners in the pew go hungry.
The spiritual plight of many ministers is found in the parable of the persistent friend (Luke 11:6): “And I have nothing to set before him.” Job complained, “Miserable comforters are ye all”(6:2).
Seminaries have ruined many good potential preachers. The root meaning of seminary is “the seed place.” The Apostle Paul warned, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (CoI. 2:3). The liberal crowd has “no healing medicines” (Jr. 30:13).
The religious world is full of unsent preachers. “Wherefore wilt thou run, my 5on, seeing that thou hast no tidings ready?” (II Sam.18-22)
Modernist Bishop Pike, who died a terrible death in Palestine, testified of the inadequacy of liberalism:
“When I turned from being agnostic, I went to Union Theological Seminary, eager for and expecting bread, but when I graduated, all that it left me was a handful of pebbles.”
People in the pews are not paying much attention to the man in the pulpit because he isn’t saying much. One has said, “A great many of our speeches and sermons are of the cotton candy variety: colorful, sweet, harmless and a bit short of content.”
And another, “No preacher can show at one and the same time that he is clever and Christ is wonderful.”
Yet another: “You cannot be popular with man and God at the same time.” And, “To be right with God often means to be in trouble with men.”
There are a lot of windbags in the pulpit.
Isaiah expressed the same opinion: “We have as it were brought forth wind; we have not wrought any deliverance in the earth” (26:18).
Jeremiah deplored, “And the prophets shall become wind, and the word is not in them” (5:13).
The writer of Proverbs states, “Whoso boasteth himself of a false gift is like clouds and wind without rain” (25:14).
A certain evangelist was described thus: “He blew in, he blew off, and then he blew out.” When will we learn that notwithstanding all our blowing, the fire will not burn without the Lord?
Religious leaders have become misleaders. “They speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the LORD” (Jer. 23:16). “Her prophets are light” (Zeph.3:4).
I read where someone said, “Shallow waters are often muddied to make them look deep.” And Job 13:4 declares, “But ye are forgers of lies, ye are all physicians of no value.”
Many religious leaders preach nothing but a social message. The primary task of the church is not social service. Social good is a “product of the message preached”.
The late Martyn Lloyd Jones has pointed out that one will never find ethical teaching in the New Testament except in the context of doctrine.
The Laodicean church is headed for judgment. “Many pastors have destroyed my vineyard” (Jer. 12:10). The Head of the Church is nauseated with a flabby, flaccid, halfhearted church. It is dope addiction of the spirit, alcoholism of the heart, cancer of the soul, blindness of the mind and poverty of vision from which the people perish.
Consider the Pertinent Causes
How did we get this way?
The Prophet Haggai put it thus, “Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little” (1:9).
Isaiah gives the reason: “This day is a day of trouble, and of rebuke, and of blasphemy: for the children are come to the birth, and there is not strength to bring forth” (37:3).
The early church turned the world upside down. Today the world is turning our churches upside down! Almost a generation ago A. W.Tozer wrote:
“The preaching that once angered the atheists and brought them charging out against God and the Bible has pretty much disappeared. Hellfire, miracles, and the necessity that men please Almighty God are no longer a serious part of current Christian teaching. Christianity has been watered down until it is little more than “cheer-’em-up stuff.”
We are so afraid of being narrow that we have opened the doors to worldliness
“Popular fundamentalism has been selling out to the worldly spirit and worldly methods to a point where Hollywood now has more influence on fundamentalists than Jerusalem ever had.”
It is an accepted axiom that “a mist in the pulpit is a fog in the pew.” We have never had more fog in today’s churches. Christ would share the grief of Jeremiah who grieved, “Mine heart within me is broken because of the prophets” (23:9).
So many preachers these days are talking but not saying anything. Preaching carries a vast responsibility. John Ruskin humorously described preaching as “thirty minutes in which to raise the dead.” A preacher ought to be able to preach.
A middlin’ doctor is a poor thing. A middlin’ lawyer is a poor thing. But keep me from being a middlin’ man of God.
It is sinful to bore a congregation with dull preaching.
When D. L. Moody was once asked, “How can we have revival?” he answered, “Build a big fire in the pulpit!”
Another has said, “Get on fire for God, and the world will come out to watch you burn.” The wind of the Spirit blows from the pulpit to the pew.
Rowland Hill declared, “Rash preaching disgusts; timid preaching leaves poor souls fast asleep; bold preaching is the only preaching owned of God.”
The message of dead men in the pulpit is enough to make angels weep.
Men of the cloth are often guilty of playing God. Preachers are guilty of using God—telling Deity what to do. Richard Quebedeaux states it this way: “Instead of knowing God as our divine Parent and serving Him by taking responsibility for each other as brothers and sisters, we use God for our own purposes.”
We grow small trying to be great. “Every man would like to be God if it were possible; some find it difficult to admit the impossibility,” said one. An aged minister prayed, “0 Lord, use me as Thou wilt—if only in an advisory capacity.”
This is a day of uncertain sounds. Paul warned the church at Corinth, “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?” (I Cor. 14:8).
A large clock in front of a jewelry store stopped at 8:15, causing children to be late for school, a businessman to miss his plane, and many to be late for work. But what eternal consequences when a preacher fails to warn of the awful fate awaiting those who reject the gospel message!
The tragedy of today’s preaching is that we give the people what they want to hear, not what God’s Word declares.
A well-known secular journalist wrote these alarming words:
“If I were faced today with the decision my ancestors faced—become a Christian or die—I would pick the church fast. There is nothing to offend me in the modern church. The minister gives a sermon on juvenile delinquency one week, then reviews a movie next week, then everyone goes downstairs and plays bingo.”
The offense of the cross has ceased.
Because fundamentalists have been accused of lacking scholarship, there are those who have made a god of intellectualism. Spurgeon was being sarcastic (but accurate) when he declaimed some of his liberal colleagues with these words:
“It is infamous to ascend your pulpit and pour over your people rivers of language, cataracts of words, in which mere platitudes are held in solution like infinitesimal grains of homopathic medicine as an Atlantic of utterance.”
How different was Paul’s message:
And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. “—I Cor. 2:1,2.
The Apostle John said, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” (Rev. 1:10).
W. A. Criswell observed:
“So God’s messenger may say today, “I wasn’t wrapped in my own academic robes on the Lord’s Day. I wasn’t hiding behind all the degrees that I have tried to win on the Lord’s Day. I wasn’t trying to say what man would say on the Lord’s Day. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day. When I walked into the pulpit, it might have been “pore” English, faulty construction, and homiletically unsound; but when I stood there, such as I was, and what I could do, that did I say and preach in the power of the Holy Spirit. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day. Then, as I tried to speak and to preach and to shepherd my people, I did it in the unction and power and baptism of the Holy Spirit, so help me God.”
Heresy has all been eliminated from that which is decried from the pulpit. Harold 0. J. Brown, in his book Heresies, makes this thought-provoking statement: “It is fashionable, not dangerous, to be a heretic and dull, if not unsafe, to be orthodox.”
The Devil’s two methods of attack are alliance and antagonism. The hour of greatest peril for the church was not when they put Paul in prison but when the spirit of divination told the truth (Acts 16:17).
David Lutzweiler is most discerning when he comments plainly, It is sickening to see Christians who are heirs of the kingdom of truth, brainwashed just as much as anyone else by Satan’s little stooges in the control centers of the world’s propaganda machinery.”
“A theologian without faith is like a sky without a star, a heart without a pulse, a light without warmth, a sword without an edge, a body without a soul,” said David Schaff. The Apostle Paul warned against “another Jesus.. .another spirit…another gospel” (II Cor. 11:4).
Not only preachers are in dereliction of their duties; the church has been guilty of not being good listeners. “For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing” (Acts 28:27). “Waxed gross” indicates thick layers around the heart, rendering it incapable of receiving spiritual truth; “dull of hearing” reveals no longer an interest in anything true or that the listener is so weighed down with hearing that he just yawns and goes to sleep!
What can be done for pathetic preachers and pitiful churches?
Consider the Potent Cure
“Begin at my sanctuary. “— Ezek. 9:6.
Pathetic preachers and pitiful churches are often the result of a barren pulpit. It has been pointed out that “the problem in Christianity is that we have substituted promotion for power.”
I heard this: “The most experienced saint, if left to himself, is immediately seen to be weak as water and timid as a mouse.”
An ancient Greek statesman once said, “Young man, thy words are like cyprus—tall and large— but they bear no fruit.”
Barren pulpits do not mean there is no activity. Richard Foster comments on the modern rat race:
The fruit of the Spirit is not push, drive, climb, grasp and trample. Don’t let the rat-racing world keep you on the treadmill. There is a legitimate place for blood, sweat and tears; but it should have its root in the call of God, not in the desire to get ahead. Life is more than a climb to the top of the heap.
Spiritual barrenness may be found behind militant fundamental pulpits. While separation is biblical and commendable, without the warm filling of the Holy Spirit it may degenerate into spiritual emptiness.
One has said, “The splints splintered, the splinters slivered, until now we are faced with a great deal of religious sawdust.”
It is axiomatic that “a preacher should practice what he preaches”. The Apostle Paul asked, “Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself?” (Rom. 2:21). Anyone who does not practice what he preaches says he does not have anything worthwhile to preach about.
Years ago Thomas a Kempis wrote, “Be not angry that ye cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be.”
Augustine made a true statement when he said, “Only what I live can I impart to others.”
A failure has been designated as “the man who can tell others what to do and how to do it, but never does it himself.”
Oswald Chambers is very lucid in his remarks:
“Beware of knowing what you do not preach....Beware of worshiping Jesus as the Son of God and professing your faith in Him as the Saviour of the world, while you blaspheme Him by the complete evidence in your daily life that He is powerless to do anything through you.”
What a glorious day would appear in the Christian world if preachers of righteousness would begin believing their own preaching. Paul and his fellow ministers preached and practiced. He could testify, “Ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake” (I Thess. 1:5).
The pastor is sometimes the thermometer of the church. Above all things, a pastor should be a man of God.
John Bunyan gives this portrait of a preacher: “His back to the world, his face toward Heaven, and a Book in his hand.”
Vance Havner declared, “When God gets ready to make a preacher, lie begins with the man. What kind of man? A changed man, a transformed man.”
Holiness of life does not come in one’s sleep. There must be contact with Deity. The Prophet Isaiah declared, “Be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the LORD” (52:11). The Bible tells us, “Carry forth the filthiness out of the holy place” (II Chron. 29:5). “Is thine heart right?” (II Kings 10:15).
Writing of King Arthur, Tennyson wrote of “the white flower of a blameless life.” Of Sir Galahad he noted, “My strength is as the strength of ten because my heart is pure.”
Frankly, we must be something before we can do anything. The sermon is the man! There is no better sermon than a holy life.
F. M. Bounds, who wrote the classic “A Preacher and Prayer”, gives this good advice: “We have emphasized sermon preparation until we have lost the most important thing to be prepared— the heart. A prepared heart is much better than a prepared sermon!”
Tozer observed, “A prophet enters the Holy of Holies and comes out speaking what he hears; a scribe goes into his study and comes out telling what he has read.”
A preacher should prepare his sermons by preparing himself. A sermon lasts for a brief time, but a life preaches on indefinitely.
Addressing a group of seminary students, a noted minister said, “If I could live life over, I’d try to do less for God and let Him do more through me.” No candle on the altar of a church will ever substitute for a flame in the heart of the preacher in the pulpit.
The ancient Socrates pronounced a truism when he exclaimed, “Let him that would move the world first move himself.”
Leonard Ravenhill added, “Before a man can arise to shake the world, some great truth of God must arise in the soul of that man and shake him.”
Alexander Whyte told a group of theological students, “A congregation is awaiting you, to be made by you, after you are made by God.”
The saintly Bonar wrote, “A ministry of power must be the fruit of a holy, peaceful, loving intimacy with the Lord.”
Someone has wisely penned, “Unless there is within us that which is above us, we shall soon yield to that which is about us.”
John Henry Jowett, a great preacher of another generation, sounded this warning: “We never reach the innermost room in any man ‘s soul by the expediencies of the showman or the buffoon. The way of irreverence will never lead to the Holy Place.”
A man may be able to sing like an angel, preach like a prophet, and shout like the trumpets of Levi; but he cannot live a holy life unless he is holy. The peak of true consecration is to be spiritual and not proud of it, to be surrendered and not tell about it, to be saintly and not know it.
The key to spirituality is brokenness. Holiness and humility go together. Thomas a Kempis observed, “Jesus hath many lovers of His heavenly kingdom, but a few bearers of His cross.”
A wise old saint admonished, “No man is fully accepted until he has been, first of all, utterly rejected.”
It takes a crucified man to preach a crucified Saviour.
Sam Jones, the great Southern preacher, is most apt in his declaration, “The Lord fishes on the bottom, and if you want to get to His bait and hook, brother, you’ve got to get right down on the bottom.”
Watchman Nee explains, “When the Galilean boy brought bread to Jesus, what did lie do? He broke it. God will always break what is offered to Him. He breaks what He takes, then blesses it and uses it to meet man’s needs.”
Hudson Taylor, whose life was a benediction, concluded, “All God’s giants have been weak men who did great things for God because they reckoned on God being with them.”
Says Ravenhill, “It takes broken men to break men. We have equipment but not enduement, commotion but not creation, action but not unction, rattle but not revival. We are dogmatic, but not dynamic.”
A holy man behind a sacred pulpit can do great exploits for God.
In a survey of a large, prominent theological institution in the United States, it was discovered that ninety-three percent of the students studying for the ministry confessed, “I have no devotional life.”
E.. M. Bounds contends that “preaching which kills is prayer-less preaching. Without prayer, the preacher produces death, not life.” What a contrast to the leaders of the early church: “But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). If you do not have a hidden life, you will have a barren life.
I am profoundly convinced that one of the greatest perils which beset this country is a restless scattering of energies over an amazing multiplicity of interests, which leaves no margin of time or strength for receptive and absorbing communion with God.
In her book, “The Religion of Power”, Cheryl Forbes makes this significant parallel:
“But push, drive, climb and compete are the verbs that govern our lives. While we are pushing, driving, climbing and competing our way to power, we have no time to sit still and know God.”
A Purtian writer with discernment commented, “The Christian’s armor will rust except it be furbished and scoured with the oil of prayer.”
Prayer is the costliest service preacher can render. Herbert Lockyer encouraged ministers of the Word, “Let us not shun the College of the Wilderness, from which we can graduate with the degree of Reliance upon God.”
It is worthy of significance that Christ spent ten times as long in private as public ministry. Thirty years He was in the obscurity of carpenter’s shop. Epaphras was not a prominent minister of his day, yet his ministry was most distinctive, “always labouring fervently. . .in prayers” (Col. 4:12).
A preacher has been called to the God-given task of moving men. This can only be done by heavenly enduement. “Do not be content to sit like a gilded bottle on the shelves of a drugstore, while the sick world dies,” one has aptly said.
Christ said He would spew the Laodicean church out of His mouth. “The time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God.” “Begin at my sanctuary.” The hour is late.
The invitation is open by the Saviour Himself:
“Behold, I stand at the door~ and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door~ I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. “— Rev. 3:20