Listen Up! How to Listen to Bad Sermons (3)

listen-up-ashWe are wrapping up Christopher Ash’s booklet, Listen Up! A Practical Guide to  Listening to Sermons (Good Book Co., 2009), on how to listen to good (that is, biblically faithful) sermons (cf. my Saturday and Sunday posts in January, February, and March of this year), and have one more post to go.

As we pointed out at the beginning of this series of posts, Ash also has an “appendix” section in which he deals with “how to listen to bad sermons” (pp.24ff.). Ash recognizes that sometimes God’s people are subjected to bad sermons, and he wants us to understand  that in these cases too we have a responsibility to listen well.

You may recall that at the outset of this appendix section, the author divides “bad” sermons into three types: sermons that are “dull,” sermons that are “biblically inadequate,”and sermons that are “heretical.” Having considered “dull” and “biblically inadequate”sermons, we turn to the final subset of bad sermons – “heretical” ones. Yes, Ash deals with these too, and so must we.

Ash begins by defining what a heresy is, giving us three points:

  1. “First, it is an error in something central to Christian faith and not something peripheral” (he mentions as an example not a difference in church government but one who denies Jesus as the Messiah).
  2. “Second, a person is not a heretic if they get something wrong by mistake [or weakness], and then put it right when they are corrected. They are heretics, however, if they hold obstinately to teaching which the Bible shows to be wrong”[and we would add, contrary to the historic Confessions of the church].
  3. “Third. it is only heresy when the person actively seeks to teach this error in the church. A private opinion is not heresy. The mistake of a Christian is not heresy. ..A heretic is not only a false-believer but also also a false-teacher.”

So, what is our responsibility in cases where a minister of the Word is teaching heresy? Ash’ counsel is simple and direct:

The way to listen to these sorts of sermons is to stop listening to them! That is to say, we ought to move away from that kind of church and find a church where they believe and teach the Bible faithfully. We will not look for an exciting church, where the preaching entertains; we will look for a faithful, Bible-teaching church [p.28].

I am thankful to belong to such a church and denomination. Do we appreciate the good sermons we hear from Lord’s Day to Lord’s Day? Are we praying for our pastors and, specifically, for their sermon preparation? And are we praying for our listening and for that of our fellow believers?

Ash ends with a good word for all of us:

Not all poor preaching is entirely the fault of the preacher; the congregation has a vital part to play. When a congregation makes it clear that they are reluctant to hear faithful preaching, that they want the sermons to be shorter and play a more marginal role in the meeting, when they listen stony-faced and give no word of encouragement, it is very hard for even the most faithful preacher to persevere (although they ought to, as Jeremiah had to). By contrast, a congregation eager for faithful, challenging Bible preaching is much more likely to get it [p.29].

To that, let’s give a hearty “Amen.”

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