Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 1, 1949
NUMBER 17, PAGE 2,6b

Depressing Preaching


Someone sends us a clipping from the Houston Press which carries a digest of a sermon by the minister of the Central Church of Christ in Houston. The press clipping is entitled "Church Designated to Provide Joy and Happiness for All Mankind", and the heading accurately sets forth the theme of the sermon. This is described as the "favorite sermon" of the minister.

While we are sure many good things were said in the sermon, and certain vital fundamental truths are emphasized in the newspaper's digest of it, we take positive and emphatic exception to this view of the design of the church. The chief aim and purpose of the church is not "to bring joy and happiness to all mankind." If we may say so kindly, we believe our Houston brother has missed the point entirely in God's great scheme of redemption. This idea may be appropriate to describe the purpose of a Rotary Club or a Literary Society, but it is superficial and frivolous to the point of inanity when applied to the church of God. It is untenable from both a doctrinal and a practical point of view.

The Search For "Joy And Happiness"

This clipping would hardly be worth editorial space except that the sermon is typical of a trend in the preaching of our day — a trend both dangerous and depressing. There are probably scores of preachers over the country who are preaching the same. We believe it is high time for somebody to speak out on the matter.

Our age has gone mad over pleasure. Entertainment, amusement, diversion has become an obsession. Perhaps the highest paid coterie of professionals in the world are the entertainers. The frantic search for pleasure, for "joy and happiness", has become a mania. Billions of dollars are spent on advertising products which are promised to bring "joy and happiness" to the users; whether it is a new automobile, a television set, a beauty cream, a brand of cigarettes, an innerspring mattress, a bottle of whiskey, or a course in "How To Be Popular", the item is sold on the assurance that it is especially designed to "bring joy and happiness" to the consumer.

And now the blood-bought church of God is being hawked on the same degrading level! It ought to make the angels weep — and probably does.

Ignores The Reality Of Sin

The most tragic element in all human experience is the awful reality of sin. Most people, even most Christians, seem to think of sin in terms of individual acts of wrong doing, or, perchance, of personal defilement. But the full understanding of sin is impossible until we see it in its effect on our relationship to God and God's relationship to us. The sinner has alienated himself from God. He has betrayed and broken the fellowship which ought to exist between a creature and his Creator. He has asserted his defiance of God's will.

The church is God's answer to this human rebellion. It is not as though God looked down upon mankind and said, "What can I do to bring joy and happiness to my children? and then established the church. Rather, the prime reason for the church is sin — man's defiant rebellion against God. God provided a way by which sin, or, more accurately, the guilt of sin, could be removed. He rent 'his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh." (Rom. 8:3)

"Joy And Happiness" By-Products

The Houston brother confuses the by-product with the essence. Joy and happiness are the by-product of a right relationship with God. They are not an end objective within themselves. The man who deliberately sets out to capture "joy and happiness" in the church is a dunce. These rewards do not come by direct assault, either in the church or in life. The man who thinks the church "is designed to provide joy and happiness for all mankind" has a childish, naive, and superficial idea of sin. It is almost as though he ignores sin, disregards it, treats it lightly and airily. It is about on the level as saying, "the design of a watch is to tick." While a watch that keeps good time (or any time) does tick, a man is certainly a fool who thinks that ticking is the real purpose or design of the watch. The ticking is a by-product, and not the real purpose for which the watch exists.

Of course the Christian is a joyous and happy man.

But he is joyous and happy because he has received forgiveness of sins, and has been the recipient of the divine mercy; he is joyous because the right relationship with God has been established through Christ. Paul says,

"Being therefore justified by faith, we have peace with God." (Rom. 5:1) The justification comes first; the peace we enjoy is a by-product and a fruit of that fact.

The church today is being filled with too many people who have little or no conception of the awful depravity and degradation of sin. Our Houston brother is certainly not the only preacher in the church whose "favorite sermon" completely ignores the tragedy of sin and the terrifying burden of separation from God. Thousands of people throughout the land are being encouraged to join the church (that's exactly what they do!) because it is a fine institution, affording them the opportunity to associate with interesting and cultured people, enhancing their social position, widening their circle of friends, and in numerous ways bringing them "joy and happiness,"

And since "joy and happiness" are the chief end and goal of all human striving and yearning, naturally such preaching is popular and such churches grow rapidly!

Whether this shallow superficial, Christ-degrading attitude makes the angels weep or not, we cannot say. Probably it does. We know it certainly depresses us. Not for one moment do we believe our brother would willfully or intentionally or even knowingly seek to belittle Christ's sacrifice or make a mockery of his church. That is what makes the tragedy all the more ghastly. It is so clearly obvious that many of our modern preachers and multitudes of our modern Christians are so much "the children of our age" that they would be hurt and puzzled to be told that the chief design of the church is not "to provide joy and-happiness for all mankind." They simply can't conceive that it would have any other purpose at all! If not for that, they would cry, then what is the reason for having a church at all? So deeply has the spirit of Rotary Clubs and Kiwanis permeated our pulpits!