Anxiety In The Church: A Homilectic Dilemma

The preaching of a Law (or Hellfire) sermon gives everyone a good fright: it emphasises the holiness of God, His hatred of sin and the necessity of penitence. Once upon a time a sermon called ‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God’ made people cling to the church pillars in terror. A Gospel (or Grace) sermon, on the other hand, stresses God’s love for sinners, the Atonement, forgiveness and salvation. If we assume for the sake of arithmetical convenience that half the congregation are naturally the self-congratulatory type and half are the self-accusing, then we can see that each type of sermon might have both positive and less positive effects.

With luck, the Law sermon will scare the self-confident man and make him take a hard look at himself. It may give even the pharisaical food for thought. Well and good, but such a sermon will terrify the self-critical man even more, and he is perfectly capable of terrifying himself without further assistance. Conversely, the Gospel sermon may make the unconfident feel that there is hope even for him, but it will simultaneously give the pharisee an extra shot of assurance, which quickly turns into superiority.

Many denominations are well aware of this homilectic problem, and make a brave attempt to solve it by always preaching both together, Law and Gospel. First the bad news, then the good. There are two difficulties about this. First, human nature being what it is, the optimist will doze through Law and nod happily at Gospel, while the pessimist will not listen properly to Gospel because he is in such a fright after Law. Within the framework of a sermon there is nothing to be done about this, the remedy is surely in individual pastoral care and counselling. The second drawback of the double-barrelled approach is that it makes the preacher give exactly the same sermon on every occasion, and so nobody listens to any of it.

Posted on January 2, 2010 at 08:56 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: THE LONGEST CON, The Soulbusters

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