Preaching Issues (3): Polemical Preaching

Posted on April 24, 2008. Filed under: Bi-vocational Ministry, Preaching, Worship Wars |

“The mormon church is not another denomination of the Christian Church and the gospel proclaimed by the mormons is a false gospel that will lead people to hell.” With words like these I attempted to address a newspaper article that accompanied the beginning of the Southern Baptist Convention in June of 1998. The headline in the Star-Telegram Religion section was “Are Mormons Christian?” I told the congregation the answer was NO! After about the first 5 minutes of the sermon, one prominent family in the church stood up and walked out.

I approached the sermon this Sunday with fear and trembling because of 2 things: 1)I knew that with all the controversy surrounding the SBC meeting in Salt Lake City that year, and with the nightly news and even talk radio talking about the subject, and with the Fort Worth Star Telegram having front page articles about the issue of Baptists calling mormons a cult, that I was called of God to address the issue. 2) I also absolutely knew that preaching on this issue would possibly get me fired.

Why would a Baptist church possibly fire a preacher for preaching against mormonism? This one prominent family in our church had a grown daughter who had married a mormon and the grandkids were being raised in the LDS. The mom and dad were key leaders in the church- she was the children’s Sunday School teacher for 4th-6th grade and he was a trustee and on the building and grounds committee. She was also key on the all important fellowship committee and worked in VBS every year. He was an usher and money counter. They were greatly loved and respected in the church. But they absolutely believed that mormons were just like Baptists! They had gone to church with their daughter in the mormon church and came away saying they were just like Baptists. In a few previous sermons in my first 5 years as pastor I had mentioned mormonism and compared their doctrines with ours and shown how they departed from orthodox teachings on several points. This family had approached me the last time I had done this and threatened quitting the church if I preached on the subject again.

So here I was confronted with a choice: do I do what I really believe God was wanting me to do, or do I miss this opportunity to proclaim the truth in order to keep the peace (and my job?)? I fearfully opted to confront the issue as compassionately and humbly as I could. I began the sermon by spending time explaining the role of pastors in protecting the flock and teaching the truths of Scripture. I explained that I in no way wanted to hurt or embarrass anyone with the sermon and that I was willing to meet 1 on 1 to discuss this subject (I had previously approached this family and inquired if they would be open to having a private discussion about mormon doctrine…they not only declined but were somewhat upset that I would even approach the subject.)

The sermon carefully but briefly dealt with the mormon distinctives: authority, the nature of God, the Trinity, how people are saved, etc. and I cited the best of references from distinguished scholars and preachers. But by this time the couple was long gone from the sanctuary.

The 2/3 of the church expressed thanks and encouragement for the sermon. The 1/3 that always opposed me sent emissaries (deacons and a couple of others) later complaining that I had hurt this families’ feelings and that I should go apologize to them. The couple stayed out of church for a few weeks, but eventually came back and picked up where they left off, but actively despised me from that time on and were finally successful in ousting me in 2007. When I was urged to apologize them my reply was that they needed to repent and apologize to the church for their outrageous behaviour.

Folks from the 1/3, the Old Guard, persuaded the couple to come back despite my “stubborn refusal to apologize” and our relations were frosty. We eventually got back to a truce and cooperated well until about 2005. I must confess that after this incident I did compromise and did not bring up the cults, especially mormonism, in my sermons much anymore, and I deliberately avoided it when they were present. Whenever I did bring it up, usually on Sunday nights when they weren’t there, I would see members of the Old Guard whisper to one another with serious, disgusted facial expressions. I heard through the “grapevine” that reports of my sermons were passed on to the couple, letting them know that I was still preaching against those mormons. Seriously, that went on in this church.

During these years I also happened to also work with several mormons at my job. During one particular season, around 2000-2002 I believe, there was a young lady who had served as an LDS missionary (not many female missionaries in the LDS) and came back very enthusiastic and evangelistic. She was trying to spread her faith to others in the workplace so several folks came to me with questions (they all knew I was also a Baptist pastor). So I met with several folks over a few weeks at lunch in the breakroom to discuss the differences between biblical Christianity and the mormons. Word swiftly reached the mormons that I was countering their efforts. One day I was talking with 2 ladies who came to me with some questions on mormonism and two entire tables of mormons were sitting across the breakroom literally staring me down while I talked. There were about 16 mormons in this building and 8 of them were attempting to intimidate me! After answering the questions from these ladies, I stood up, walked across the room returning stare for stare and pulled up a chair and sat in the middle of this gaggle of 8 mormons. I figured the odds were about right for a fair fight. I told them what the situation was with folks coming to me with their questions and I told them some of the basics of what I understood the mormons to believe and we talked for about an hour that day and again in the following days. After that direct approach the mormon proselytizing stopped. I also went to a mormon church with one couple and got to see first hand some things that were quite interesting.

Meanwhile, back to the church story…the bottom line with the church was that they did not care to hear about what other groups believed, they did not like polemical preaching at all. They only wanted to hear the “Good News” and never anything that was remotely controversial. Ignorance was bliss.

After 9-11 I preached a whopper of sermon that next Sunday and put in just a little bit about Islam. At one point in the sermon I quoted from Paul in saying that the false gods that are worshipped are really demons. Allah is a demon. A couple that had been visiting whenever they were in town for a few years had a visible reaction when I said that. I could tell they were not responding favorably. When they walked out at the end of the service I did not receive the usual greeting from them…and they never returned. They had previously been very complimentary of the sermons, but calling allah a false god was too much for them. After 9-11 most of my polemical preaching was directed towards islam, for obvious reasons. Mormons were not bombing American buildings! (By the way, I have a lot of admiration and respect for the mormons as individuals who are moral, patriotic and hardworking. i seriously question their intellectual honesty for believing the Book of Mormon, however. Most of them overlook the intellectual difficulties in favor of the familial and social relationships and pressure to remain a mormon).

I believe that one of the key problems in the Church today is that Pastors do not teach their people about the dangers of false philosophies, religions and cults. People have a misguided notion that all religious beliefs are personal, subjective and of equal value and the Church is not spending enough time correcting this.

In retrospect, I still simply am aghast at the attitude of the 1/3 who were the old guard in my former church. They absolutely, time and time again valued relationships over truth, man’s opinion over the Word of God. In their belief that I should only preach the “Simple Gospel” they were willing to compromise the true gospel. Why did I tolerate the woman teaching kids in Sunday School when she did not even have enough spiritual discernment to realize her own daughter and grand kids were in a cult and headed to hell? In the structure of this church the pastor did not have the authority to “fire or hire” Sunday School teachers. the church wanted her to teach the kids because she was the only one willing to teach the kids. You heard me right. That was quite simply the way it was and I couldn’t do anything about it.

Now I am in a great church that is elder led, not an Americanized democratized everyone’s opinion is of equal merit church like most SBC churches have become. This kind of nonsense would never be tolerate at Redeemer!

My word of advice to any young preachers out there- do not be afraid to bring polemics into the pulpit. The church desperately needs to hear the truth about the cults and false religions and philosophies that are out there. My pastor at Redeemer is currently preaching from Ecclesiastes and is certainly contrasting the worldly thought of our day with the truths of scripture in a very bold way. There is a price to be paid for polemical preaching. But the price for NOT preaching against the false ideas, religions and doctrines is far greater and the church of today is already paying that price.

Thursday, April 24, 2008- These stories are from the viewpoint of a bi-vocational pastor who served in a small, elderly, traditional, neighborhood, Southern Baptist Church from 1992-2007. In these blogs I am attempting to figure out what went wrong and what went right in my 15 tumultuous years as pastor. The entire time was filled with fighting and controversy, not the least of which was over my preaching. About 2/3 of the church enjoyed my preaching, but the 1/3 that did not, really, really did not! Unfortunately, the 1/3 that could not abide my preaching was the third that ran the church. In my 2 previous posts about Preaching I have written about preaching on political issues and preaching from the Old Testament, both of which were highly controversial in my church. Today I will address Polemical Preaching, and how it, too, was despised by many in the church.


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3 Responses to “Preaching Issues (3): Polemical Preaching”

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I wish I could have been there for those sermons. I have done some research on the mormons islam and even scientology and it just scares me how people can be tricked (I might also add if you research mormon architecture you will find many demonic symbols). You are right, the church needs to address these issues, the best way to protector ourselves from these false religions is to learn the truth about them. If the 1/3 of the church had a problem with it then they should be talking to the author of the Word of God, not the messenger.

Everytime I read one of these posts, my heart just goes out to the Walker family. Kim and I only endured with you all for about a year, and even though we had already had our fair share of negative ministerial experiences in SC, they still do not come close to numbering what you all had to go through for over a decade. I pray that God continues to heal and restore you and Dawn at Redeemer until he leads you elsehwere.

Randy, you are correct about th esymbols, Joseph Smith was fascinated by ancient Egyptology and he was also a Mason. Many of the symbols and ceremonies were lifted from the Masonic Lodge which lifted them from various places like ancient Egypt. I have not yet blogged about the Lodge and its influence in this church, but that one is coming!
Billy, I suppose we could get into an argument over which church was the most abusive, yours back home or ours here, LOL. Some of the things you told me about your prior experience were pretty over the top! But hey, the Mickey Mouse stuff that goes on in the church of America is nothing compared to the REAL suffering pastors overseas endure. So praise God and drive on! I know you feel like I do about Redeemer…how could I ever leave here to take on another pastorate? This church is great, a preview of heaven.

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