If the title led you to believe you would read a juicy bit worthy of the National Enquirer, sorry to disappoint. Thankfully, that is not the case. The confessions I am about to make would be more like the equivalent of a fumble in football or error in baseball rather than a betting or doping scandal. Also, these are preacher confessions versus minister or pastor confessions. We are talking pulpit errors here.
However, I do not want to diminish the importance of carefulness. In his experience-filled book on the work of preaching called Preaching & Preachers, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones speaks of the need for attentiveness to the true theme of the text in sermons. “…there is one golden rule, one absolute demand – honesty. You have got to be honest with your text.” The goal of the preacher is to bring out God’s truth in the text. He must then treat the text honestly by relating to the congregation accurately God’s purpose in giving us that portion of His Word. If this be the case, then a carefulness to the details of the text, or any aspect of the sermon for that matter, is essential.
Having fumbled, bumbled and mumbled over some things the past few weeks, and having had them brought to my attention either by others or by that nagging feeling something was amiss, I thought it would be good to go public here and clear the air. If magazines feature corrections for the sake of accuracy, why not preachers?
1) Historical blunder– A couple of weeks ago, to illustrate Abraham’s military move to rescue his nephew Lot, I told the story of Richard Cameron and his urgent prayer “Lord spare the green and take the ripe!” before he rode off into battle and his own life was taken. My problem? In the midst of telling this story I kept saying “Richard Baxter.” Though perhaps I could defend substituting in the name of a English Puritan pastor (whose book The Reformed Pastor is one of my faves) for a Scottish Covenanter pastor in the same time period by saying that was better than calling him, say, “Richard Dreyfuss,” for those new to or learning church history it could be quite confusing. And for those who knew the difference, nothing like taking away the power of the point you are urging on the congregation than a repeated faux pas. How can they listen to you when they keep hearing a mistake that’s like fingernails on chalkboards?
2) Orinthological misidentity – In Genesis 15, Abram is instructed to prepare birds and animals for a covenant ceremony God makes with him. We are told that “birds of prey” then swooped down on the dead animals. Abraham had to drive them away, and God explains this as a prophetic warning that Abraham’s descendants would be oppressed by other nations. Wanting to make a connection with the verse where our Lord states that “where the corpse is, there the vultures are also,” I kept referring to these birds of prey as vultures. Yet the mistake pointed out to me is that birds of prey are birds like eagles, hawks, falcons, etc., not scavengers like vultures. My eagerness to make a valid connection caused me to read the connection back into the story and misemphasize it. It is one thing to be circled by vultures and quite another to be circled by eagles. Not too many teams named the Vultures!
3) Theological blurring – Lately, when teaching about an early church heretic named Cerinthus, I called him a Docetist. That is true only in that Cerinthus’ teachings led to Docetism. Docetists were people who believed Jesus only appeared to be human, that actually he was a spirit who took a human form. Thus, they denied the actual crucifixion of the man Jesus. Cerinthus, however, distinguished between Jesus the man and Christ the spirit. He believed prior to the crucifixion the Christ-spirit left Jesus the man who then really died on the cross. Later followers of Cerinthus’ teaching fell even further from truth into the Docetic heresy by saying Jesus the man did not even exist.
One of my favorite quips about preaching is by Jay Adams, who said, “A mist in the pulpit is a fog in the pew.” Clarity is essential to preaching, and in reality is ultimate to it. So on a more serious note, I hope these confessions will clear up any dimming of the glory of the Lord that may have been brought on by this preacher.