Thursday, February 13, 2014

Sheep Without a Shepherd

Whatever the skills or deficiencies of any Christian pastor, a basic expectation of most of those who attend a church would be that the minister have some basic competence at how to interpret the Bible.  One expects an English Literature teacher to know something about Shakespeare. A physics teacher is expected to have at least some understanding of Newton and Einstein.  A Christian minister knows the Bible.


So, last Sunday, I visited one of the largest churches in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. The pastor, a man older than me, has been at the church for many years. 

And, he is incompetent at his most basic task. I am not saying I disagreed with his interpretation.  There are many capable ministers with whom I could disagree over the meaning of a text or a theological issue.  I am saying that what he did fell to the level of incompetence.

His sermon concerned the story of David and Goliath, which he used as a fable to show how we could slay the giants in our lives.  That is not what this historical story is about. It cannot be legitimately used in that way.

It got worse.  He read as his text I Samuel 16:7 -- "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature.... Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart."  This verse actually occurs in the story of Samuel's anointing of David as king.  The verse is about David. He did not have the kingly bearing of Saul, but that should not cause Samuel to despise or underestimate David.  The minister, claiming that the Spirit had given him a new application of this verse, bizarrely said that it was about Goliath and the giants in our lives. 

Not content with having reduced David's confrontation with Goliath to a fable, the minister added to his folly by misusing the story of Jacob wrestling with God as a fable providing a paradigm for how we should overcome our internal giants. Both the interpretation and application were basically flawed.

He then moved from biblical incompetence to theological heresy. He said that our "humility and confession summon [God's] grace," going on to say that while grace is wonderful, it is of no value unless we can appropriate it.  He later added another work that brings about grace:  "Your strong vows summon God's grace."  This is semi-pelagianism, to be charitable.

I looked around me at the large group of people taking it all in.  I felt only sadness.  They were sheep who had no shepherd.

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