Monday, June 25, 2007

Cutting It Straight

We recently had a discussion with some influential men who were of the opinion that John MacArthur has such incredibly top-notch sermons and writings that no better way exists to phrase anything about the Bible. Though I am truly a fan of MacArthur's writings and his radio program, I differ with these men's stance, for one thing because it puts the merely human MacArthur on a huge pedestal, and for another thing, because it denies the creative power of the Holy Spirit to work through any other writer. It also would seem that if MacArthur's materials were so unquestionably the best materials out there, the only right way to teach would be to always use them and that any church that did not use them in sermons and in Sunday School would automatically fall short.
Lately we have gone to a number of churches with friends lately and found that the pastors have more to say than I had come to expect outside of our church--including Mars Hill Church in Ballard, which was phenomenal. The pastor there held his Bible in one hand and spoke to his congregation mostly consisting of young men, and I was stunned at how wonderfully he used the Scriptures in such a way that it spoke to the needs of his congregation, with inspiration and vision, and he didn't even appear to read from notes.
It reminds me of when I was 16. I started working on my birthday at a job in Discount Fabrics in Raleigh Hills near Portland. One of the first things they taught me was how to cut fabric. They had metal ridges installed on the countertops and the fabric usually was to be cut by aligning the edge of the fabric along the edge of the counter and settling your scissors in the groove of the ridge on the counter. If you sew, no doubt you've seen this done many times.
Folded-over fabric was normally cut starting at the fold. Decorator fabric was cut flat open. Still, there were a number of other considerations that had to be taken into account, and often made cutting along the metal ridge unworkable. If I was cutting burlap, because of its tendency to ravel, I was supposed to cut between the woven threads, even though they were usually not woven straight. I would allow an extra bit of yardage for this purpose. If I was cutting another low-quality fabric that was woven unevenly, I needed to do the same thing. If it were a printed panel, I would cut along the cutting line rather than mess up the panel by cutting into it--and they weren't bought by the yard but by the panel.
It is similar with preaching to the church. No two congregations are exactly alike. Each congregation is best served with a sermon customized to its particular needs. Suppose you are a missionary working in a foreign country, and the congregation doesn't have the whole Bible translated yet. Suppose they don't have a word for "forgive," for example? You have to simplify and customize the word to this foreign congregation--I remember reading in the book Bruchko that the writer, Bruce Olson, translated the word salvation as “Tie your hammock strings into Jesus,” to the Motilone tribe. This would only puzzle a congregation in any American city, though.
The Holy Spirit will inspire the sermon writer to write about the same passage of Scripture to address the needs of his congregation in a unique way that works there like it wouldn't anywhere else as well. The Scripture is living and active, and fabric isn't. I guess that's why God didn't assign pastors to use one man's writings for all their churches--aside from the Scriptures themselves--He sent them the Holy Spirit instead.


Anonymous said...

So TRUE! A good pastor to me is like an artist presenting a beautiful work. I learn from his view. He challenges me to "Think outside of the box" by presenting his view it show's his heart and is an example of the Holy Spirit at work. Sad to think some pastors are in this business to save souls but don't feel like they themselves are good enough to share their own light that Jesus has given them. They need prayer.


I agree with you completely, as I know others do (I've had this very conversation with my best friend). As long as a man can explain the way to rest in a hammock, and show you the right way to do it, and he is good at resting in a hammock himself, he deserves an audience

NeverAlone said...

I have to admit, I ironically had to go back in and correct my comment re: the hammock--especially, to include the name of the book and author--to be consistent with the message of my post. Ack.