Wednesday, August 25, 2021

A Sermon Change Of Tone

 In terms of sermon practices, there are only really four types:

1)  The Liturgical Calendar:  Practiced mostly by Catholics and some mainline Protestant denominations, this is where the message (sermon or homily) corresponds to the reading of the day as determined by the liturgical calendar.  Advantage:  One always has a ready reference for the sermon.  Disadvantage:  Some of the liturgical readings do not adapt well to sermons ("As we discuss the sacrifices for sin in Leviticus, let us discuss the meaning of wheat...").

2) The Book:  Probably more practiced by independents and non-denominationals than others, this is a study of an entire book, verse by verse.  Advantage:  One comes to completely understand the book of the sermon.  Disadvantage:  The longer books can take forever ("Week 75:  We have entered into the second half of Acts. I know more Koine Greek than my entire social network...")

3)  The Series: Can be shared across both denominational and non-denominational in which a theme is chosen and readings are selected or adapted to meet the point of message.  Advantage:  A topical series can be a useful tool of study.  Disadvantage:  A topical series can reflect the current world instead of the timeless Word.  ("Today friends, let us discuss the Jezebels of the modern eras and the evils of bell bottoms and 'The Disco Dance'...)

4)  The One Off:  Used by both denominational and non-denominational, this reflects one of two events:  either something so serious it needs to be discussed "right now" or someone senior is leaving.  Advantage:  They only ever happen once for each subject.  Disadvantage:  Sometimes the choice of a one off is more related to the speaker's opinion than to an actual Scriptural need ("It is critical that we break with the series we have been on to discuss the deforestation resulting in harm to the Marmot - or as I like to call them, 'God's Little Clowns'...").

As you might be able to tell, I have listened to one or two of all of these over my life.

The church we currently attend falls squarely in number Three, "The Series".  These are usually 6 to 10 weeks, and seem to cover whatever the Pastor chooses as the subject of choice. .  I always pay attention especially at the opening of these series, because at least at this church I have learned that the sermons they choose largely reflect some need they think they see.

I have already had my ears slightly on alert this year because since the beginning of the year, there have been a great many sermons on the subject of "unity".  Unity of the church between different members, different ages, different cultures.  Two years ago we could not get enough of talking about differences and how the church effectively needed to be a counter-voice; that has all been effaced by an apparent need to come together.

There was a particular line that stuck out in the sermon:  The pastor freely admitted that in the past they had concentrated on differences - but times had changed, he said, and now they needed to concentrate on something else - on unity, on how the Church can be and serve together.

What had changed, I wondered as I continued to listen.  Surely what we are living in today is exactly the sort of thing that had been espoused for the last two years.  The individual is paramount and all that is old is essentially forbidden by common sense and good taste.  This is the brave new world that has been preached, is it not?

Apparently not.

There comes a moment when events become so evident to all - even the most dyed in the wool believers - that they can see that what they had asked for is not what they have gotten at all.  It is the moment when the revolutionaries realize that they are hoist on their own petard by their brethren who, it turns out, used them only to gain power and has no further use for them.  It is the moment when the co-religionists who sought to reframe their religion realize their allies thought to destroy it entirely.  It is the moment when those that called for a little suddenly realized they received far more than what they were asking for in a way they did not ask for.

Could the work be undone?  Possibly.  It is possible for the revolutionary to become a counter-revolutionary, for the apostate to become orthodox, for those asking a little to return the a lot and make do.  But this is all prefaced by a need for humility, the ability to accept - publicly - that their previous path was not the correct one.

Almost no-one does, of course.  For revolutionaries and a little askers, it is perhaps not surprising.  For the Church, who now constantly seems to be in a need to ask forgiveness of almost everyone excepts its adherents, it seems very surprising.

We preach humility.  We preach repentance.  But if it cannot be practiced in all situations, not just the ones the Church finds convenient, we truly are no better than the World - in face, we are exactly like them.

For years, heads wiser than mine have warned about the Church seeking to be like the culture so much that it would become the culture.  Sadly, we seem to have arrived.


  1. And if the Church is identical to the world, then the Worldly will look upon it and see no answers to their personal struggles and life problems. In other words, when the Church adopts worldly culture, it no longer points to something better in Christ.

    1. Precisely Leigh. If as a Worldling I find exactly the same thing in the Church as out of Church, why do I need the Church at all. The Uniqueness of Christ and his Claims is buried beneath, to use my phrase from my response to Glen below, being "hip".

  2. “ For years, heads wiser than mine have warned about the Church seeking to be like the culture so much that it would become the culture. Sadly, we seem to have arrived.”

    Can you be more specific TB? I am a non-demoninational outhouse Christian whose only involvement with faith starts and stops with the bible, and my church is much the same. I watch the other denominations struggle with changing doctrines and hierarchies and politics and issues and I have no idea what they are talking about. I like Anne Bernhardt for example…but she leaves me scratching my head in bewilderment sometimes…

    Is there something specific that has you talking this way?

    1. Glen, there has been (at least in my corner of the world) a long running discussion about how the Church should interact with the culture.

      One on hand, at least in Western Culture up to say 1900 in Europe and 1960 in the US (Those dates are a bit approximate), the Church was woven into the culture, but not of the culture. The Church established social and societal mores - society could adopt or reject them (as they increasingly have), but the Church clung to the Orthodox Faith, the Bible, and the traditions of the Fathers.

      Over time what has happened is that the Church, facing what is is some cases apocalyptic decreases in membership, has made the decision that the reason they are failing is that they are not enough like the culture, and so to "connect" with the culture we need to be like the culture. This can be in-house things like types of Church Music and how the service is conducted, or in adopting the values and movements of the culture at large in order to "connect" with them. Put in a sort of crass way, it is making church "hip".

      The Church looses here on two fronts. In the most real front, it loses because in point of fact it dilutes the Word of God to make it more palatable to the world (in many churches, the word "sin" is not mentioned as it might make people feel bad). On the second front, church becomes just another activity that people add to their list. It is no different because the message there is the same as the message in their work, their entertainment, their other organizations. At some point, what need is there to hear a message that is reinforced everywhere else?

      There is an argument to made that "Church" is for the saved, for us to come together for support and hearing God's Word and worshipping and that missionary work is for the World. There is no reason we should make church inherently uncomfortable for new attendees, but neither (in my opinion) need we change what we do or who we are in the vain hope of attracting more people. Ultimately it is God working through His Spirit and His Church that saves, not changing how we do our service.

    2. Thanks for slowing down for the slow kid, old friend. The older I get, the more reading and comprehension problems I seem to have…

    3. No, it is good Glen! Makes me explain my thinking more clearly. Clarity is never to be despised, nor should one feel bad in asking for it.

  3. Maybe a pointed question should be asked? Aloud, at the end of the sermon? "What changed?"

    I may be a throwback, but those things need to be asked at times. I resigned when I became aware of a problem in my attitude, as a result of studying a passage for Sunday. I explained it, then said, "I have run afoul of this, and since I am not in alignment, I have no choice but to resign, so I can get this resolved." What I had read was so important, that I didn't see how I could continue.

    I only tell you that to say this, until church leadership is honest about their motivations and methods, folks will stay away in droves. Dissonance can be felt. Or, they will override their discernment, stay in the confusion and become calloused and dull.

    There are a tiny few, that can stay there and work for the good. Bringing light and hope to the dull. I've known a few of those and they are glorious.

    1. Fair point and good question, STxAR. I think that more people in the Church are asking those questions now, especially as the Church seems to serve them as believers less.

      Although I am neither Orthodox or Catholic, I will say this of them both: They do not conform to the congregation. The congregation conforms to the Church.

      It is odd - for all the time I spent hearing about unconscious bias and unknown sin, I note it only tends to run in certain directions. To your point, dissonance can be felt and many people will just leave and not say anything. At least in our church, I suspect that this is the case more than anyone cares to admit. People disappear, and while not everyone leaves just because of the direction of the church - life changes, job changes, etc. - many do as trying to have a discussion with the leadership seldom ends in the leadership changing their position.

  4. All those years ago, Mr. and Mrs. Just So and the Just So children piled in the family truckster for our Sunday morning worship and education and fellowship.

    Then the one day, Pastor Man told me it was my Duty to God to support Obamacare. That was then, now we have Vaccine Passports and if you don't get the Vax you are murdering the Grandmas.

    Life comes at you fast...

    I'm thankful that the Obamacare sermon was my last. I suppose the National Council of Churches has the best of intentions, but I'm not wagering my soul on it.

    1. Just So, your experience is similar to mine, although mine is come much later - only last year, when we spent a great deal of time on lots of cultural and social matters that seemed to have the Bible shoe horned into them instead of the other way around.

      For now, as I am not a fan of returning at the moment - The Plague still pops up regularly there - I am more than fine simply turning off the sermon and moving to one where I find I am more likely to hear God's Word.

  5. Telling statement, "...turning off the sermon and moving to one where I find I am more likely to hear God's Word." ICHABOD

    1. As I am sure you recall STxAR, the glory departed from the temple and only Ezekiel was aware at the time.

  6. Anonymous5:13 PM

    I must confess that as a heathen I fail to understand "the book" (Bible?), the series and the on off. I am Catholic, but left at 18 much to everyone surprise. In 7th grade I asked Sister in religion class why Pope X had not helped the Jews during WW2 and why he wasn't standing on St.Peters dome shouting it to the world. Might as well branded 666 on my forehead. Had an uncle who was a basement preacher with maybe 45/50 people. No to everything along with a slew of priest and nuns. So I take my prayers directly to God and bypass the middle man. The church of my childhood left me long ago as they have most.

    1. Margi - Interestingly, taking prayers directly to God is quite a Christian Thing (this is a major disagreement between Catholics and non-Catholics, of course).

      In point of fact you are correct, there have been multiple times without measures that individual Christians have let the world down. To be fair, this is pretty much true of any religion and perhaps reflects more on the human condition than on the religious. To balance it out, there have also been folks (both Christian and others) that have done amazingly wonderful things in the name of their religion. Unfortunately, they are hardly the ones one hears about.

      Thanks for stopping by!


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