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"Oh, That's Just Pulpit Talk"

Lead Us Not Into Confusion

The preacher had just wrapped up a series of sermons on righteous living and holiness standards.  He was strong, emphatic and somewhat confrontational.  Concerned that some people might have been upset at his teaching, however, he virtually negated everything he taught by saying, “The sermons I preached on the way we should dress and how we should live are for those people who aspire to leadership in the church. These are ‘platform standards.’  We don’t expect everyone to measure up to these standards.  We want you to keep coming to church and let God lead you as He directs your life.”
It is true that people have rough edges to be trimmed off in the sometimes arduous process of becoming a disciple.  They cannot be condemned for not becoming a model saint overnight.  On the other hand, neither should they be led to believe that carnality, worldliness and violating clear scriptural commands are condoned by the Bible or the church.  This is just one example of preachers, in the interest of being inoffensive, deliver contradictory messages over the pulpit.  As a result, people are stymied by confusion and lack of direction. Paul admonishes  “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?”  (1 Corinthians 14:8.) Often, it is the confusion that becomes the much greater problem than the subject under question.
Preachers are routinely put in the unenviable position of determining what is right and what is wrong.  This is, as we say, the nature of the beast.  Lots of cliches exist to illustrate this painful place, like “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen,” etc.  People demand answers and we don’t want to disappoint them, but neither do we relish committing ourselves to a confining statement.  Sometimes, we express an opinion in an off-the-cuff manner, and then have to live with the answer we gave.  Consequently, we try to avoid that by coming up with reams of qualifiers, extenuating circumstances, exceptions to the rules, various schools of thought, definitions of Greek and Hebrew words, and colloquial customs.  Andy Stanley’s advice is to ask the question “What is the wise thing to do?”  Yet, that answer becomes an non-answer when forced to
make a hard-and-fast judgment call.
Working through this dilemma with brutal honesty is one thing, but, at the same time, every preacher needs to exercise great caution in expounding on gray area topics from the pulpit.  It is imperative that we reserve a “heaven or hell” position for those topics about which the Bible speaks with great clarity.  Yet, even then, none of us should be so presumptuous as to pronounce eternal judgment on anyone.
Recently, someone posted this comment on my website in response to an article I put up entitled “The Ambivalence of the Laity.”  My point in the article was the need for balance between dictating to people and leading people to make up their own minds.  The reader said, “Could you please elaborate on the proper course of action when leadership goes awry. Surely scripture depicts leadership more so than laity. I’ve been struggling personally with this matter. My pastor publicly professes essentiality of the Holy Ghost if asked directly. However he also also makes statements such as “you mean to tell me if I don’t speak in tongues I’m not saved?”  [He is] not willing to say if one does not have [the Holy Spirit] they are not saved and many other arguments. What does the saint do with this? Why does it seem that leadership deals only with the matter of compliance by the laity and no instruction when leadership has turned? What resolution is there? It has been brought up and pastors speak of the incident among themselves and the person that has
made the allegation is not permitted in the discussion.”
I do not know this person.  It is possible that he is simply a disgruntled saint looking to cause trouble.  His contention, however, has some merit with regard to the pastor espousing opposite views and also the pastor’s unwillingness to speak about it to the individual who had the question.  The pulpit may be a powerful forum, but it is a double-edged sword.  It does afford the preacher the power to profoundly influence the lives of believers; but it also assigns him or her with dereliction of duty if the message leads one astray.
The conscientious preacher declines to preach beyond his or her studied convictions.  The pulpit is not a place to proclaim personal opinions, deep-rooted prejudices, unfounded biases, visceral reactions, unresolved grievances or statements based on hearsay.  We are commissioned to preach the Word.  I believe that means to preach all of the Word, nothing less than the Word, and nothing more than the Word.
The preacher who waxes eloquent when wandering off into uncharted territory will most likely wind up in a quagmire of dangerous topics. 

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