Form Over Substance?
Concerning the regenerate children of God, we all see in part; to one degree or another we all want to share what we see; and we all play a part in the edification of one another. However, the responsibility to proclaim The Truth and the precepts that flow from Him is an awesome and fearful one. It is not enough to simply state opinion, follow tradition, or to blindly parrot what others have said. If we do not experimentally know, or graciously understand, the biblical point upon which we are expounding, it is best to not even think of discussing it authoritatively. Accuracy and fidelity are essential aspects of faithful witnessing. If there is any prickling, any needling of conscience stating “maybe you shouldn’t go down this road,” it is best to adhere; why kick against the pricks?
Some of my writings and postings on Letter-men and Formalists tie into the above. I continue to maintain that dead-Calvinism, dry Creedalism, and reformed Traditionalism is the bane of true religion. But I also fear that true brethren have been denigrated due to their lack of emotionalism and great outward displays of poetic rhetoric.
I also fear that men who have learned to communicate in the most ornate of religious ways, have found a ‘subtle’ means of playing the Pharisee. “Can one truly be a Christian, or a preacher called of God, if one lacks a certain style or flare in their religious discourse; if there is no articulation of profound, emotional experience; if there are no great, metaphoric delvings into our feelings and the ethereal heights and depths we traverse in them (sometimes within the space of just a few minutes)?”
When the yardstick for measuring true conversion, and ‘good preaching’ is how emotional the sermon was, or how much it touched our emotions, we enter into dangerous territory. A sermon or witness that does not touch our emotions is indeed dry and lifeless. However, it takes no real skill or mastery to mimick (and exaggerate) true experimental preaching. One is not a better Christian, or a better preacher, because one has a vocabulary that allows them to describe the Christian experience in the most flowery and grandiloquent of terms. The one that is the most edifying is the one who can point you to the Lord Jesus Christ via His God-breathed word, opening it up in a clear, coherent, and accessible manner. It is true that only the Holy Spirit can bring the words of Truth home to a quickened heart, but the Spirit of God works through the means of the faithful proclamation and explanation of scripture and not by rhetorical flourish and carnal oratory devices. Vagaries, affected speech, and the fulfillment of some emotive quota does little, if any, good in the long run for a soul in need of true spiritual nourishment. Although such things may appear edifying in the short term, only substance can see you through the long haul. An abundance of religious material chiding those who aren’t as imaginative with their metaphors and similes likewise does the reader little, if any, spiritual good.
Sadly, in some of the esteemed Christian magazines that served as my source material, I found numerous, highly venomous articles of the type described above. Some have put down the likes of William Rushton (who wrote the highly edifying “A Defence of Particular Redemption”) due to a “lack of experimentalism.” I allowed such articles to influence me; I even posted some of those articles on this blog. It’s not in me any more, you will not be seeing any new posts of that nature from me. The true Christian will know dead, dry, lifeless preaching when they read or hear it; there is no need for me to post the statements of others railing against such things.
Finally, for those who are tempted to make themselves, or those whom they esteem, the benchmarks for ‘sufficiently experimental’ preaching — I would caution, “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant?” God will keep His own, edify His own, and will do so via the means that He sees fit. He will expose the Dead Calvinists and the Affected Huntingtonians before the hearts of His people, distinguishing them from the called preachers and faithful witnesses. However, attempting to do so under our own traditional and partisan wisdom may be the equivalent of rooting up the wheat with the tares. May God teach us to focus less on the form and more on the substance.
To God be the glory,