Friday, January 25, 2008
Having been completely bowled over by Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile's most recent work, "the Decline of African American Theology", I just had to go back and read his first offering, "The Faithful Preacher". I believe it is actually better to read them in this order because he seems to thoroughly diagnose the problem and perform the surgery in second book. He seems to provide the healing balm and "spiritual" therapy in the first book.
In "The Faithful Preacher" Anyabwile focuses on three of black history's most neglected heroes: Lemuel Haynes, Daniel Alexander Payne and Francis James Grimke ("neglected" is a severe understatement). In the process of delineating the characteristics of a truly faithful preacher, Anyabwile inevitably reveals that many of today's so-called "men of gawd" are sorely wanting.
I would like to compare and contrast what these pulpit princes of the past have bequeathed to us with the offerings of some of the acclaimed preachers of out time.
Lemuel Haynes: "We are taught in the text (Hebrews 13:7) and elsewhere that the work of a gospel minister is not with the temporal but with the spiritual concerns of men: they watch for souls. Their conversation is not about worldly affairs but about things that relate to Christ's kingdom, which involves the everlasting concerns of men's souls. When a minister's affections are upon this world, his visits among his people will be barren. He will inquire about the outward circumstances of his flock and perhaps, from pecuniary motives, rejoice at prosperity, as though that was of greatest concern. But he will have nothing to say with respect to the health and prosperity of their souls, having no joys or sorrows to express on account of the fruitful or lifeless state of the inward man". (The Character and Work of the Spiritual Watchman Described -1792- "The Faithful Preacher" p. 27)
Creflo Dollar: "I don't have to tolerate sickness! I don't have to tolerate bondage! I don't have to tolerate debt! I don't have to tolerate lack! I don't have to tolerate insufficiency! I don't have to be broke, busted, and disgusted all my life...My God is a God that has given me the power to get wealth." (Creflo Dollar, "Growing Up In God," April 4, 2004, Product Number: 6512091)
Daniel Alexander Payne: "First, then, the preaching of the gospel. . . it is his business to make man acquainted with his relations to God as a sinner. To accomplish this he must re-echo the thunders of Sinai until the slumbering rebel is brought into a sense of his danger and looking into his own heart sees it as a cage of unclean birds or a lair of hissing serpents - the enemy of God by wicked works and the enemy of his own soul". ("Who is Sufficient for These Things?, 1852 "The Faithful Preacher" p.85)
Joel Osteen (from June 20, 2005 interview on Larry King Live):
KING: But you’re not fire and brimstone, right? You’re not pound the decks and hell and damnation?
OSTEEN: No. That’s not me. It’s never been me. I’ve always been an encourager at heart. And when I took over from my father, he came from the Southern Baptist background, and back 40-50 years ago, there was a lot more of that. But, you know, I just—I don’t believe in that. I don’t believe—maybe it was for a time. But I don’t have it in my heart to condemn people. I’m there to encourage them. I see myself more as a coach, as a motivator to help them experience the life God has for us.
KING: But don’t you think if people don’t believe as you believe, they’re somehow condemned?
OSTEEN: You know, I think that happens in our society. But I try not to do that. I tell people all the time, preached a couple Sundays about it. I’m for everybody. You may not agree with me, but to me it’s not my job to try to straighten everybody out. The Gospel is called the good news. My message is a message of hope, that’s God’s [message] for you. You can live a good life no matter what’s happened to you. And so I don’t know. I know there is condemnation, but I don’t feel that’s my place.
Francis James Grimke: "The minister is a moral teacher. his duty is to rebuke wrong and to keep steadily before his hearers the right. His work, mainly, is character building, to give the right direction to the budding and expanding life around him- in a word, to develop and strengthen Christian character . . . Everything is done to convince men of sin, to lead them to repentance and to show them a better way . . . Character first, last always was the keynote struck by every apostle, prophet and teacher mentioned in the inspired volume". (The Afro-American Pulpit in Relation to Race Elevation - 1892, " The Faithful Preacher" p.123)
Bishop Eddie L. Long: "We're not just a church, we're an international corporation,... (W)e're not just a bumbling bunch of preachers who can't talk and all we're doing is baptizing babies. I deal with the White House. I deal with Tony Blair. I deal with presidents around this world. I pastor a multimillion-dollar congregation. "You've got to put me on a different scale than the little black preacher sitting over there that's supposed to be just getting by because the people are suffering." (August 28, 2005 Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Granted these are mere crumbs from the collective teachings of these three great men. I submit to you; however, that if you were to perform a thorough investigation of their teachings, at least four things would stand out in contrast to what is popular today:
1. The faithful preacher will wrestle with Scripture. Attractive or offensive, the faithful preacher brings the entire force of Biblical text to the forefront. In other words, faithful exposition of Scripture is a hallmark of the faithful preacher.
The false teacher will always "cherry-pick" texts to fit his premise. Completely ignoring the context, he seeks passages that will seemingly support his position.
2. The faithful preacher will always return to the Cross and to the Gospel. The false teacher will always get to the temporal benefits and blessings.
3. The faithful preacher will confront sin in order to bring about godly sorrow and (with the Holy Spirit's intervention) repentance. The false teacher will appeal to emotion to bring about short-term relief.
4. The faithful preacher's message will always be God-centered. The false teacher's message is always ultimately man-centered.
The faithful preaching of men like Haynes, Payne and Grimke is in sinfully short supply in our time. Additionally, that the selfishness of our age demands "Your Best life NOW"(Joel Osteen's current bestselling self-help book) provides much reason for concern for the future of the body of Christ. This is why I believe that it is vitally important for those of us who understand the problem to irrepressibly vocal in challenging false teaching. The Church cannot evangelize a society that permits infanticide, endeavors to remove every remaining vestige of God from its public square, promotes acceptance of all manner of deviant sexual lifestyles, syncretizes all religions and generally attacks all things godly; while our greatest interest is our own personal peace and prosperity.
We can't be content with being reformed and just knowing the truth for ourselves. We must put ourselves "out there" like the Luthers and Calvins (as well as the Kings and Xs) that we admire so deeply. We must risk revilement and disdain just as they did because that is the only avenue by which change comes.
"Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ". (Jude 3-4)
Be Like the Bereans, Baby!!!
"He (Grimke) understood that two great obstacles assaulted the church: ignorance and demagogism. Ignorance he thought could be combated with education and learning. But demagogism, or 'the combination of unprincipled men within the church to get control, the monopoly of all positions of honor and trust of a general character,' needed the warring reaction of godly men who would protect the church and drive out unprincipled men. Without such warfare, Francis Grimke believed, 'the usefulness of the church [was] at an end,' and though 'it may increase in numbers . . . in moral and spiritual power it will become a constantly diminishing factor." ("The Faithful Preacher" p.117)
"Francis Grimke summed up the state of the church thus: 'Up to this time, any ignoramus who imagined that he was called to preach, who thought that the Lord had need of him, felt that it was his right to be ordained, or at least to be licensed; and no objection was interposed by the church, under the impression that if a man opened his mouth the Lord would fill it'". ("The Faithful Preacher" p.78-79)
Joel Osteen on Larry King:
"KING: Where were you ordained?
OSTEEN: I was ordained from the church there, Lakewood, under my dad's ministry.
KING: So you didn't go to seminary?
OSTEEN: No, sir, I didn't.
KING: They can just make you a minister?
OSTEEN: You can, you can.
KING: That's kind of an easy way in.
OSTEEN: Yeah, but I think it happens more than you think. But I didn't go to seminary. I have a lot of great friends that did. But I didn't. But I did study 17 years under my dad. You know ..."