A few Sundays back I visited a large church in a major city of India. I have heard about this church and has been eagerly waiting to be there. As usual, there was ‘praise and worship’, then announcements in video format about the seminars, workshops and a whole lot of activities that the church organises. Then the senior pastor stood up to preach. Before preaching he gave another run-down of the announcements orally.
The preaching was quite long. It was about the place of Israel in the Bible. He started with Abraham, through Egyptian bondage, Exodus all the way to Babylonian captivity and return. It continued further on to the Maccabean revolt, and all the events between the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 68 and then the end of British Mandate and the formation of Israel in 1948. I though he will end there but he went on Camp David agreement, the present situation including the murder of a Jewish girl by a Palestinian which took place a week before. Then the sermon ended with a call to pray for Israel.
I noticed that at least some people in the pews were restless, some were sleeping tight, some were on WhatsApp pretending as if they were looking up bible verses (all that were on the two screens!) While we were walking out my wife asked me will this crowd return next Sunday too, to hear such a sermon? I said ‘yes.’ I will explain why if you would hang on.
Before that, I should narrate another incident. This happened in my church. I invited a guest speaker. I have never heard him before in my life, but he had invited me many times to his church. So, it was a time to reciprocate I thought; moreover, I need a change as well as my congregation too.
To my surprise, the guest preacher stood up and gave us a lecture about how the Bible came to us starting from the manuscripts, editions and translations. The congregation was thoroughly disappointed. My congregation returned the following Sunday because they knew the guest preacher is not going to be there.
In many urban congregations in India, the pulpit tends to lean away from the Bible. There is a conspiracy in the pulpits. That conspiracy is to avoid the Spirit speaking to us. It is a conspiracy to avoid Bible addressing the real issues of life. It is a conspiracy to mute the Word of God so that we don’t want to be rebuked and corrected by God. It is a conspiracy to keep God out of our life.
This conspiracy is carried out by speaking about issues that belong to another realm. To talk about things that do not really matter to our walk with God. In some pulpits, they talk about how to be successful and the like—biblical versions of Shiv Kera, Robin Sharma and others. Five days of the week, committed believers have heard such voices and they have lived it in order to eke out a living in this world. There is an eternity waiting for them. The preacher's responsibility is to guide them to lead their lives in this world with eternity in view.
Week after week the same crowd returns. To learn what they already know. They return to their homes and their offices believing that what they learn and practice in their corporate offices is what the Bible also teaches. They fail to understand that the Bible is not a volume of footnotes to what we know, it is the Word of God that challenges us, to raise us to new levels of understanding of our world and its realities. They fail to know that we are on a journey, a pilgrimage. We are sojourners whose eyes are fixed on a city that has foundations.
Why do they return Sunday after Sunday? Because this higher view is hidden from them. So, they come to satisfy themselves with water that makes them thirst again and bread that only causes more hunger.