On vacation in Branson, MO, we found ourselves engaged in ecclesiastical snobbery. It's not an unwholesome allegiance to the OPC. We have lived long enough in this denomination to realize that John Mitchell was right when he dubbed us the "Overly Prickly Church" rather than the "Only Perfect Church" as some aver.
My friend, John Toebe, drinks voraciously of reformed preaching, and he says, "Rollin, you just don't know what it's like out there." Well on vacation away from reformed centers is the only time I can get a taste of what John says. And we did get a taste this last week. We were in Branson, MO, a thoroughly "churched" tourist trap.
We scanned the Internet and perused the yellow pages and the consensus was to try the local "Bible" church. I figure that any church that respects the Bible enough to put it in the church's name must be worth trying. They also have an evening service, which is another good sign.
We were rather bitterly disappointed, however. It was not really because the pastor was an emotionless monotone. Nor was it the fact that cute pictures were flashed on the screen during the sermon (I guess to keep us awake and wondering where he was going). The order of service did not include a scripture reading of any sort. The fatal flaw, however, was the tragic fact that the pastor did not preach Christ! He sorta worked his way through John 13 for the account of the washing of the disciples' feet. What a wonderful text to display our servant Savior, who came not to be served, but to give His life a ransom for many! But instead we were given a moralistic harangue about how we ought to wash each other's feet. He told us about a time when he actually did wash the feet of another minister and they both felt humiliated. Aww, how good it is to be humbled. But it was not the humbling that comes from seeing the Savior bearing our sins. It was just the awkward social circumstances of culture.
So for the evening service we chose the local Southern Baptist Church. We thought we knew what to expect, but we did hope to hear the gospel preached. Again we were disappointed. The text was Ephesians 6 and the Christian armor. We should have guessed we were in for disappointment when the preacher said this text was going to be a jumping off point for his message. Here too there were distracting slides on the overhead to help us follow the sermon outline. But by his own admission, the sermon outline did not come from the scripture, but from literature published for a neighborhood watch group. There was some cleverness here, and even some good advice given, but I wanted the minister to bring me to Christ, and he did not do that. It really is amazing how close and yet how far one can get from preaching Christ while using the Bible.
Many years ago (again while on vacation) we visited a church where the minister announced as his text a paragraph from Elizabeth Elliot's book, "Through Gates of Splendor." We met some wonderful Christian people who took us to their home and treated us to ice cream and fellowship. I wept internally to think how these brothers and sisters were being fed with sand instead of the pure milk of the word.
When I ponder these experiences I tell myself, "These are by brothers in Christ. They will be sitting on the same pew with me in glory. While I think so harshly of their preaching, they are out there talking to people about Jesus and bringing them to the Savior. Who do I think I am to pass judgment?" Is it possible that Jesus will tell me that I was right about good preaching, but I ruined my contribution to the kingdom work on earth with pride and laziness and fear of conflict?