Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Dressing down the sheep: some thoughts on the ranting pastor

At last count, there are almost 300,000 hits on the YouTube video starring that Oklahoma pastor who dresses down his congregation during Sunday service. The video gem of his latest homiletic outburst features the pastor criticizing an engaged couple he was supposed to marry. That couple left the church shortly after his “corrective” message, where he was down in the aisle, pretty much in the man's face, saying “You're one of the sorriest church members I have. You're not worth 15 cents.”

I write this as someone who is apprehensive about criticizing any ministry, even if that ministry does things that may seem unusual. But this video cries for some biblical perspective. For that, I turn to a passage that at first seems to have nothing to do with our interesting pastor and his preaching method:

If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.” (1 Corinthians 14:23-25, ESV)

Let's put aside the issue about whether you believe spiritual gifts such as tongues and prophecy are for today; there are dedicated believers on both sides of that issue. Paul is expressing a concern here for what an OUTSIDER would think should they come into the meeting. Of course, this is not calling for churches to “water down” their worship or message so as not to “drive away” unbelievers. Nonetheless, Paul is concerned with what an unbeliever will take away from a church meeting. You see, EVERYTHING a church does tells people something about God; the message is not limited to any inspired speaking or even singing.

So when a pastor uses his pulpit to berate members of his church, what is THIS telling people, especially those outside the church, about God? Look at the pastor's words again, when he tells that young man, “You're not worth 15 cents.” Tell me if you honestly think THAT reflects the heart of Jesus; do you REALLY believe JESUS would say that? To be sure, Jesus had harsh words for hypocrites; put His finger directly on the sin of the woman at the well and the rich young ruler; and even rebuked his beloved disciple Peter with the words, “Get behind me Satan” (see Matthew 16:21-23).

But for that pastor to tell that man, a member of his church, he was “not worth 15 cents” is reprehensible, for this is a soul Jesus died for. Or has that pastor forgotten about John 3:16? Picture yourself being in the shoes of a young Christian couple looking for a church, who could well have been visiting that church that day. Or maybe the visitors are a couple living in sin, wanting to get right with God and enter into marriage—and you get an earful of THIS message. Like that poor couple the pastor “confronted,” you'll walk out the door of that church and not look back—and if you're unchurched, probably forget looking for ANY church again.

I don't know that pastor personally, so I can't speak to whether he is living up to those apparently lofty standards he was laying down for that “worthless” man and his fiancee. I certainly hope so, for his sake. But maybe he needs to start praying about whether his “method” really glorifies God, or simply discourages believers and gives unbelievers all the more reason to not follow Jesus—certainly not the Jesus that pastor is presenting.

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