2 Timothy 4:3-4 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. (NKJV)
If a person grows up wanting only to eat french fries, chicken nuggets and soda pop… is it because they don’t know any better (never had anything else or weren’t taught anything different) or because they are simply doing what feels good? If entire congregations of churches are satisfied being fed “fast food teaching and sermonettes” is it because they have never known anything else, or are they simply ordering off the feel-good menu?
The answer is yes. Yes to which? Both, and more.
While this has been a concern on the hearts of serious Bible teachers for quite some time, it seems the “fast food” church environment is growing at an alarming rate. I have put off writing this message several times but after several occassions recently, I can’t get the theme out of my head.
Not too long ago, I was in a service where there was a large, plastic, blow-up football hanging from the cross at the front of the church. Being the legalistic Pharisee that I am, I found that to be stomach turning. “But Brent, we’re only trying to reach the lost, especially the kids, and show them that church is about real life, and can be a fun place they WANT to come to!”. Uh huh.
You’ll have to pardon my old-fashioned and out-of-touch sentiments that I’m bothered by seeing an oft-times symbol of American excess, obsession and decadence hanging from the symbol that represents the suffering my Savior endured to purchase eternal life for me. I like the game of football too, but it many ways it has become extremely “worldly” and to see a huge football hung on a cross at church says VOLUMES about modern Christianity.
After forcing my mind and thoughts to ignore that insult to Jesus (and in the spirit of giving the benefit of the doubt to my brethren at that church who no doubt had good motives, even if tainted by the seeker-friendly-obsession of today), I turned to sincerely listen to the message that was forthcoming after 35 minutes of 7-Eleven worship music (7 words sang at least 11 times… a topic for another day). What followed was the predictable format that characterizes way too much of today’s preaching:
- I have a point to make that I feel like God wants me to make
- Here’s the point [insert any life application, feel-good, heartwarming or personal struggle topic here]
- Let’s throw in a couple of entertaining anecdotes and humorous stories
- Pull in a soundbite of pop culture here and there to show how “relevant” it all is
- And don’t forget to wrap it up in a couple of Bible verses because after all, this is “Christian”
- Advanced users only: actually appear to be expositing (extracting the meaning from) those Bible verses to give an extra dose of credibility to your “life points”
This is the typical game plan of preaching and teaching today. It feels good. It’s often entertaining but rarely convicts, angers or upsets anyone whereas sound Bible teaching most often ends up with one of three results:
- It makes you angry because the Truth is conflicting with your life
- It convicts you and causes you to want to change something about your life to be more like Christ
- It leaves you with a fuller, more accurate and more complete understanding of the Truth according to Scripture leading to personal worship of the God you now know better
It’s been said that great preaching will either leave you mad (guilty), crying (convicted about sin, or convicted to greater devotion) or falling on your face in worship (coming to a fuller understanding of God’s Truth). Sadly, that’s not what we are getting today on a large scale. What we see today can be more accurately qualified as “feel-good, life application, self-oriented” teaching, rather the exposition of God’s Word (explaining, teaching, dissecting of the Bible to extract the true meaning).
Case in point, I recently heard a perfect example of this type of sermon: an “okay” topical point (“have you ever felt like…”), along with two or three stories from the Preacher’s past experiences, a couple of humorous comments, a sound bite from a classic Top 40 song all nicely dressed up in a passage that was, at best, a mildly SECONDARY application that supported his message, but overall was simply a prooftext (taken of context to support a point). More concerning with this particular lesson though, was that the listeners were left with the feeling that the Bible verses in question had been broken down and exposited, when in fact they had been loosely interpreted, arguably taken out of context, and incompletely exposited. Why? Because the starting point was a personal “point” to be made, and not the motivation to simply let God’s Word speak.
When the lesson was completed, the listener was left with the feeling of “here’s what this passage means” rather than more accurately “here’s my point, and these verses have a mild application to my point”. Do you understand the difference, and the danger in not differentiating those?
Now, I don’t think in any way that there was any calculated attempt to misteach these passages. I don’t question the motives or the heart (only God can do that). It’s the method used today of topical, feel good, heart-tugging preaching that begins with a faulty technique: I’LL MAKE MY POINT AND USE SOME SCRIPTURE TO SUPPORT IT.
Fast food teaching. Who is at fault?
The listeners or the leaders? Yes.
The leaders are giving people what they want in exchange for approval, support and success – and the listeners in general are approving and supporting (passively or otherwise; by attendance and/or verbally and financially) only those leaders who give them what they want. So it boils down to 1) recognizing the situation and 2) taking personal reponsibility for it. The only person I can change is me. So I’ll start there and you start with you, assuming you even agree with me. Maybe you don’t. This is a highly opinionated message.
My suggestion for the listeners? Fast food joints and most restaurants serve high calorie, easy to gorge, low nutrition meals. If you exist on this menu you will get fat, lazy and sick. The answer? Eat nutritious and health producing meals at home.
Analogy: I don’t think we are going to be able to change the “junk food teaching and preaching” that has become common fare in Christianity today. So it’s going to be up to you to go home, get your Bible and get some serious Bible study going for yourself. Like going from cheese fries to broccoli, it’s not going to be as “enjoyable” as sitting down to hear a “sermonette” once a week, but in the end, you will be spiritually healthy, strong and growing.
Don’t be like this (2 Timothy 4:3-4):
- Won’t tolerate correct teaching and mature, serious Bible study
- Goes after teaching and preaching that fits your personal desires
- Want to hear things that only make you feel good, are easy and entertaining to listen to
- Finding only the teachers that satisfy itching ears
- Turning away from the truth to only accept what feels good
- Being eventually deceived into believing false teaching
- Study the Sciptures daily and diligently to find out if the preaching and teaching you are hearing is true to God’s Word
- Correctly handle God’s Word and avoid foolish, fleshly, materialistic and “fad” teaching
- Know the Scriptures; the Bible is good for correction, instruction and equipping you to be the Christian God wants you to be
My suggestion for the teachers and preachers? Don’t do this:
- Think up something (or feel “led” by God) or a point you want to make to your flock
- Put together an outline of your message
- Go to the Bible and find two or three passages that appear on the surface to be saying, or sort of saying, the same thing as your point
- Present your topical message as if it is a product of Bible study rather than a teaching that used the Bible for support
Rather, do this:
- Go to the Word of God
- Study a portion of His Living Word
- Find out:
- What did God originally intend for this passage to mean?
- Who was it originally written to?
- What was the historical setting in which it was written?
- What was the cultural, political and social issues of the time?
- What would this have meant to those who original heard it, living at their time in history?
- Once you have determined God’s original meaning for the passage, then ask “how does that apply to me and my flock today”?
- Then, preach and teach:
- The true meaning of the passage regardless of how WE feel about it today, or relevancy to our culture
- The Spirit-led application of the meaning to our lives as 21st century Chritians
For both listeners and preacher/teachers, let’s finish with the totality of the thought in 2Timothy 2, 3 & 4:
- Teach profitably so as not to ruin those who hear what you teach – 2:14
- Be diligent in your study of God’s Word so you will not be ashamed before God – 2:15
- Stay away from fast-food Bible teaching as it will only lead people to a weaker faith and ungodliness – 2:16
- Understand that in these last days before Jesus’ return, we see an increase of people who are only lovers of themselves, evil in every way, and they will come against those who preach and teaching God’s Word in a serious and uncompromising manner – 3:1-4
- Know the Bible and be able to confront error, instruct people how to live Godly lives, teach people the Truth – 3:16-17
- Preach and teach the Word! (not our topical feel good life application messages) – 4: 2
- Be ready at all times to proclaim the Truth of God – 4:2
Brethren, if your entire diet of spiritual food is fast food preaching once a week on Sunday, then you are ruining your spiritual health. You’re going to have to become a health food nut if you want strength, growth and a vibrant spiritual life. Make sure you are feeding yourself a steady and generous diet of spiritual health both at home (personal study) and when you “eat out” (church, books, radio, etc.).
Pastors, teachers and preachers – if you are feeding your flock little morsels of tasty sermonettes each week complete with a couple of jokes, a couple of good stories or two, some multi-media entertainment for variety, a really good “life point” and, oh yeah, a couple of Bible verses for good measure, I would encourage you to think about what you are doing to the spiritual health of your flock (not to mention your own). Remember, God will hold you to stricter standard because you are teaching His people (James 3:1). That is a serious thing to consider: the Creator of the Universe will hold your feet to the fire over what you teach.
Okay… I’m getting down off my soapbox now.
Lord God, Help us to know the difference between Christian junk food and real meat from Your Word. Help us to lovingly but firmly discern the difference and encourage our brethren to do the same. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Application: It may be hard to control the junk food content at church, on the radio or in books… but there’s no excuse for eating junk food in private. Learn diligent, serious and consistent Bible study habits so that you don’t starve to death spiritually in an ever-increasing void of serious, sound, uncompromising preaching and teaching.
James 1:22 – But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (NKJV)
- What is the most obvious Bible truth you have learned today?
- What change in your life needs to be made concerning this truth?
- What specific thing will you do today to begin that change?