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The Deadly Danger of How-To Sermons

Greg Strand – December 26, 2013 Leave a comment

Timothy Raymond has given us an important reminder as we preach which is essential to a faithful preaching of the gospel: “The danger of a how-to.” The concern he raises, which is very real and much more prominent than one would wish is that preaching becomes a series of how-to messages, which in essence becomes moralistic preaching.

The concern, according to Raymond, is that the definition of a Christian has been changed so that it no longer refers to “someone who confesses the gospel and gives reasonable evidence thereunto,” but instead “a Christian is someone who strives to follow Christian ethics.”

Raymond lays much of the blame on pastors who have given in to the “how-to sermon. . . . ‘Six keys for raising happy children’, ‘Four secrets for a healthy marriage’, ‘Five principles for managing your money.’ ” The problem with such a sermon, he notes, is that “a steady diet of how-to sermons devoid of the gospel, or weak on the gospel, or vague on the gospel, or which simply tack-on the gospel at the end as a sort of formality, implicitly yet powerfully communicate that Christianity is a lifestyle first and a faith second. They place ethics at the core and beliefs at the periphery.”

This is not to suggest that there is no place for ethics or lifestyle. There is but it arises from the gospel, so the order and priority are essential or we miss the gospel and generate moralism. It must get the indicative, that which Christ has done, and the imperative, that which we are commanded in light of having believed and received what Christ has done, right: the indicative is foundational to the imperative; the imperative is grounded in the indicative. This means we embrace the gospel and affirm there are also entailments to the gospel.

In conclusion, “evangelicals are evangelicals not because we follow four principles, five keys, or six secrets. In the end, evangelicals are evangelicals because we build our lives on the gospel alone.”

I heartily concur. As we consider our lives and ministry, particularly our teaching and preaching, are we evangelical?

Earlier this week, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) released the “Code of Ethics for Pastors.” This document was developed over the past 18 months by a task force that included pastors, ethicists, editors and denominational leaders, including our own President Bill Hamel. After several drafts, on March 8, 2012 the NAE Board of Directors unanimously adopted the “Code of Ethics for Pastors.” Please see a copy of the document in English and in Spanish. (If you are interested in who has signed the Code. If you are interested in signing the Code.)

Luder Whitlock, chair of the task force, was grateful to Leith Anderson, NAE President, and the Board for this important statement: “Thanks to the leadership of Leith Anderson, the board of the NAE has prepared a long overdue Code of Ethics for Pastors. This succinct statement provides guidance for pastors who desire to honor the Lord by their example as well as by what they confess and preach. We expect it will soon become indispensable as a reference for pastoral ethics.”

For Anderson, long-time pastor who recently retired, this is an important document for pastors. He encourages discussion and adoption. Anderson’s ultimate desire is that pastors will live by these standards, not in a legalistic manner but in dependent and joyful reliance on the Holy Spirit, so that their (our!) lives would be lived “above reproach” and that they (we!) would live in a “manner worth of the gospel of Christ.”

This is every pastor’s opportunity to know, commit and tell others about a personal and professional standard of biblical pastoral ethics. I invite every pastor and every church board to put this code of ethics on the agenda for an upcoming meeting. Discuss. Adopt. Live these standards.

I include below the major themes and issues addressed in the “Code of Ethics for Pastors” (please read the whole document, cf. the link above, where this is delineated further).

Code of Ethics for Pastors

We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. (2 Corinthians 6:3)

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ (Philippians 1:27)

All who are called by God to the ministry of the gospel solemnly commit to a life of joyful obedience and selfless service in order to glorify God and enrich his people. Therefore, a minister will:

Pursue Integrity

I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity. All these things I have given willingly and with honest intent. (1 Chronicles 29:17)

          • in personal character.
          • in personal care.
          • in preaching and teaching.

Be Trustworthy

It is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. (1 Corinthians 4:2)

          • in leadership.
          • with information.
          • with resources.

Seek Purity

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. (1 Timothy 4:12)

          • in maintaining sexual purity.
          • in spiritual formation.
          • in theology.
          • in professional practice.

Embrace Accountability

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them – not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. (1 Peter 5:2-3)

          • in finances.
          • in ministry responsibilities.
          • in a denomination or a ministry organization.

Facilitate Fairness

Believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. . Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:1-4)

          • with staff.
          • with parishioners.
          • with the community.
          • with a prior congregation.

The Church and Bioethics

Greg Strand – March 19, 2012 Leave a comment

Commenting on the recent publication by John F. Kilner, ed. of Why the Church Needs Bioethics: A Guide to Wise Engagement with Life’s Challenges (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011):

The book centers around three case studies – better birth, viz. “having a baby the new-fashioned way,” better life, viz. “gaining every advantage,” and better death, viz. “a difficult death” – with an integrative response to each of the ethical questions. There are essays/responses from the Old Testament (Dick Averbeck), the New Testament (D. A. Carson), Systematic Theology (Kevin Vanhoozer), Bioethics (John Kilner), Counseling (Stephen Greggo and Miriam Stark Parent), Law (Paige Comstock Cunningham), Intercultural (Harold Netland, Bruce Fields and Elizabeth Sung), Medicine (William Cheshire), Pastoral Care (Steven Roy), Preaching (Greg Scharf). Most of the authors are from the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

This is an excellent resource I would encourage you to read and discuss with your fellow staff members and elder boards. It is important that we provide leadership and guidance to God’s people in this area and that we help them to navigate through these bioethical waters. We cannot leave this task to someone else. The church must lead the way. This resource will help you to do that well and with wisdom from above.

Information on this book was recently posted on Trinity International University’s website, where you can also watch a video clip where John Kilner addresses the book.

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Qualities of an Evangelical Leader

Greg Strand – March 19, 2012 Leave a comment

–comments by Greg Strand, EFCA Director of Biblical Theology and Credentialing

Iain Murray, John MacArthur, Servant of the Word and Flock (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2011).

Murray has written some excellent bibliographies: Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Arthur Pink, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, John Murray. One of his most recent is on John MacArthur.

As he begins this biography, Murray uses MacArthur’s teaching to emphasize five qualities or marks of an evangelical leader. They are worthy of consideration and emulation!

An evangelical leader is one who leads and guides the lives of others by Scripture as the Word of God.
An evangelical inspires the affection of followers because they learn Christ through him, and see something of Christ in him.
An evangelical leader is a man prepared to be unpopular.
An evangelical leader is one who is awake to the dangers of the times.
An evangelical leader will not direct attention to himself.
It follows that genuine spiritual leadership will lead others to the conclusion: ‘Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to Your name give glory, because of Your mercy, because of Your truth’ (Psa. 115:1).