May 13, 2015

The Perils of Pulpit-Pandering

by Eric Davis

200408-omag-hungry-600x411It usually happens like this: a married couple or an individual shows up at church. They are struggling relationally or spiritually. At some point they say, “I have been attending so-and-so church for several years, but something does not feel right. We know that the Bible says we should be growing spiritually, and we have tried lots of things, but I go away feeling empty. And my [unbelieving] husband even recognizes it.” After many questions, it becomes clear that they have little to no understanding of God, themselves, sin, Christ, and how it all applies to their lives. Very often, it’s because their ears have been tickled. They have been pandered from the pulpit.

Pander: “to provide what someone wants or demands even though it is not proper, good, or reasonable” (Merriam-Webster).

I imagine that these individuals have sat under preaching similar to a kind I heard recently. The pastor approached a somewhat controversial and very important text. He opened by saying that just about any interpretation of the passage is fine, and one cannot really say that this or that view is correct. After reading some of the passage and skipping over other parts, he began to describe his personal ministry experiences which argued against the clear meaning of the text. On the basis of personal sentiment, it was described that the passage could not mean what it said. In so many words, he excused and apologized for the text like one might do for an embarrassing uncle at a Christmas party. The preaching continued around the text without the text being preached.

This is one of the many forms of pulpit-pandering. But I’ve wondered about the long-term effects of this approach to preaching the word of God. What might happen to people as they sit under this all-too-common occurrence week after week? To be sure, it will not be without consequence.

Here are a few perils that can result from pulpit-pandering:

  1. Instead of softening and transforming hearts, pulpit-pandering hardens and endangers.

“Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’” (Acts 2:37)

Heart_Of_Stone_by_MarsilleThe human heart, spiritually speaking, comes pre-packaged in stone. Our fallen nature means that our hearts are minted in spiritual flint (cf. Ezek 36:26). Consequently, we are naturally proud, stubborn, and rebellious. All that we need to do to keep our hearts in that hardened state is nothing.

Pulpit-pandering is impotent to address our perilous state. It’s the type of preaching whose tactics are things like smooth words, flattering speech, avoiding hard texts, and detouring deep doctrines. It sidesteps the great glory, holiness, and righteousness of God, as well as the depravity, inability, and sinfulness of man. Calls for repentance and obedience are evaded. But, sadly, tactics like these are no more effective for softening the human heart than a rubber mallet is to excavate bedrock.

The condition of humanity demands something more.

And God knows that. He loves us enough to bring the solution to our hard hearts. “’Is not My word like fire?’ declares the Lord, ‘and like a hammer which shatters a rock?’” (Jer. 23:29). God cares about us far too much to avoid bringing soft techniques for hard hearts. For this reason, biblical preaching needs to keep in step and lovingly bring the rock-shattering, heart-softening words of Scripture. As the old adage goes: “Soft preaching makes for hard hearts. Hard preaching makes for soft hearts.”

  1. Instead of raising souls up into spiritual adulthood, pulpit-pandering keeps people in spiritual infancy (or worse).

“Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Pet. 2:1-2).

Several years ago a friend let me know that he was eager for me to meet someone. Prior to introducing me, my friend said, “You need to know something about this guy. He looks like he is 11 years old, but he is 20.” He went on to explain that it was not due to any particular disease, but simply because his diet consisted primarily of candy. Sure enough, when I met the individual, he was unnecessarily atrophied and malnourished.

Pulpit-pandering can do the same thing to people spiritually. When people are fed spiritual-candy instead of the meat of God’s word, they simply cannot grow. People remain spiritual-infants, though they may be ten years old in the faith. We would never think that a ten-year old in diapers who weighed 20 pounds was in good physical health. Nor should we, spiritually speaking.

dinnerChristian, would we make it our habit to dine primarily on cotton candy, Oreo cookies, and fun dip? “Hey kids! We’re having tootsie-rolls and jaw-breakers for dinner again tonight! Just what you need to grow big and strong!” If not in physical matters, then why would we do so in far more important matters, like our soul and choosing a church?

But the problem is, many of us, professing Christians, like it. We prefer “First Church of Fun Dip.” As it was said in Jeremiah’s time, “An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule on their own authority; and My people love it so!” (Jer. 5:30-31). We want to be pandered. We are like king Ahab, who lamented of the faithful preacher Micaiah, “There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the Lord, but I hate him, because he does not prophesy good concerning me, but evil” (1 Kings 22:8).

We would never say we prefer pandering. We would not admit that we really do not want to grow. It’s typically cloaked in, “We are comfortable in this church. Our kids like it and we really feel at home here.” But comfort is not a biblical barometer for growth. As Christians we are to grow. And a Christian who does not want to grow is called an unbeliever. Pulpit-pandering, then, imperils us to such things.t

  1. Instead of trusting in the sufficiency of God’s word, pulpit-pandering demonstrates and models a distrust.

“I trust in Your word” (Ps 119:42).

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Pet 1:3).

At the heart of much of this issue is the sufficiency of Scripture. Did God really give us what we need in his word?

Trusting in the sufficiency of God’s word is tantamount to trusting in the sufficiency of God. If we cannot trust in something that he has spoken then we cannot trust in the sufficiency of something he is; who he is. The alternative is that we trust in the sufficiency, ultimately, of ourselves; of fallen, finite man.

The sufficiency of Scripture is one of the most critical truths for a man to embrace before he should ever step into the pulpit. The preacher and his preaching must affirm what is true: we can trust God. God knows how to care for people. He has been at it much longer than we have been around. And the inspiration and preservation of holy Scripture is one of the foremost demonstrations of God’s deep, competent care for humanity. Now, the necessary consequence of combining trust in God’s competent care for us together with trusting in the sufficiency of God and his word is biblical exposition. This all means that we can simply bring the biblical message (Scripture) with the biblical method (exposition).

Pulpit-pandering, then, is a trust issue at heart. Though one’s mouth might not say it, the method says loud and clear: “Since I am pandering you from the pulpit, I don’t really trust God. And all of you listening probably shouldn’t either.”

  1. Instead of equipping people for the throes of life, pulpit-pandering leaves people disarmed and defenseless.

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17).

Any work that is categorically good has its preparedness in one sufficient source: the Bible. So, much soul-work can get done through surrendered biblical preaching. Every rightly-explained verse is like a specialized surgeon, sent into the soul to recognize and repair the damage of human depravity.

kangaroo-punch-glock-disarmedHowever, since pulpit-pandering dilutes God’s word, it fundamentally fails to outfit souls for every good work. It sends soothsayers to the soul instead of surgeons. People are disarmed for the throes of life. Marriages are not equipped to thrive. Parents are weakened for the years of principled self-denial. Young men and women are left floundering to figure out those formative years. And all this because of a detouring of surrendered exposition.

But expository preaching does great good by outfitting souls for the coming week, and all eternity. As such, it is God’s great instrument for hope and help with struggling marriages and defeated parents. It is God’s means to bring comfort and courage for the doubting and the depressed; vitality and vigor for the suffering and the sick; authority and admonishment for the rebellious and defiant; depth and discernment for the shallow and ignorant. Biblical exposition sets the course and strengthens the soul to go God’s way in God’s strength no matter the storm. Pulpit-pandering sets no course, punctures the ship, and yet sends it into storms only to be lost at sea.

  1. Instead of furthering people towards salvation, pulpit-pandering leaves sin unconfronted and people falsely assured.

“Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16).

The most dangerous thing about us humans is our sin nature. We are able to intentionally and unintentionally deceive, blind, and flatter ourselves. Our sin is able to cleverly assure us that all is well though we remain under God’s judgment. That’s what sin does.

Yet, in God’s remarkable grace, he has provided us with his word which fundamentally counteracts those hazards. By correctly exposited Scripture, the Holy Spirit exposes and eradicates that sin nature through preaching. For this reason, biblical preaching is a great grace of God by which our salvation is completed (cf. 1 Tim. 4:16).

However, pulpit-pandering muddles the word of God, thereby puncturing the power of the Spirit of God. In so doing, preaching decays to addressing sin as mere external misbehavior (at best) or leaving it unconfronted altogether (at worst). Consequently, souls are quietly assured in their sin, and possibly unsaved state.

  1. Instead of putting ourselves under the authority of God and his word, pulpit-pandering seats itself in authority over God.

“I will bow down toward Your holy temple and give thanks to Your name for Your lovingkindness and Your truth; for You have magnified Your word according to all Your name” (Ps. 138:2).

Gold-Lion-Throne-psd98981The great danger of pulpit-pandering really comes down to a hazardously low view of Scripture. I mess with Scripture because I suppose that I am superior to it. I apologize for it because I have determined by my judgment that there is something wrong with it. I skip over it and preach around it because I assume by my reasoning that only fractions of it are helpful and relevant. I argue against it because I suppose by my judgment that I am right and it is wrong. I subject it to my experiences because I value my fleeting experiences over the eternal word. And in doing so, I sit in judgment over the word of God. And to sit in judgment over the word of God is to sit in judgment over God. Pulpit-pandering boots God off the throne of the universe and seats itself in his place.

But, because it typically does so with a friendly smile, a pleasant demeanor, and filled-pews, pulpit-panderers get affirmation and applause. Yet blood could be on our hands (Acts 20:26-27).

In the end, people are simply not ours to pander. They belong to God. Since he shed his own blood for them on the cross, God’s people are entitled to the full, meaty, transforming meal of the sufficient Scriptures.

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim. 4:1-4).

 Photo credit: static.oprah.com, fc04.deviantart.net, peta.org, everydaynodaysoff.com, officialpsds.com.

Eric Davis

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Eric is the pastor of Cornerstone Church in Jackson Hole, WY. He and his team planted the church in 2008. Leslie is his wife of 14 years and mother of their 3 children.
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  • Chilling thought:

    But, because it typically does so with a friendly smile, a pleasant demeanor, and filled-pews, pulpit-panderers get affirmation and applause. Yet blood could be on our hands (Acts 20:26-27).

  • calebkolstad

    Thanks for this!

    • Eric Davis

      Thanks for stopping by, Caleb. Grateful for you and your faithfulness. Preach the word.

  • tovlogos

    Thanks Eric — The Spirit gave you a large portion here. I was saying, Amen, throughout the article.

    “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16).” One of my favorite.

    As for the second article, when people spin the Scripture so far off track, it is safe to say they are not keeping a close watch; and no Spirit guidance is hugely apparent. To think that Jesus was a sinner ( it was difficult to even say the word) is evidence of a person who has sadly lost his way.

    • Eric Davis

      Thanks for making that point, Mark. Agreed. The work of the Spirit will keep us in step w/ Scripture.

  • Karl Heitman

    Very well done, sir. Thank you.

    • Eric Davis

      Thanks Karl.

  • wiseopinion

    what a great title…pandering…what a great description for what is going on now. Actually been going on since the beginning when the first couple believed the greatest panderer…the one who planted a small doubt in the minds of them that had no reason to ever doubt God….all of the sudden, God’s word was not enough for them and the evil one was able to deceive. Not to say that we are not watchful but to be on guard, diligent, discerning, and above all faithful to God’s word. Sola Scriptura.

  • acha648

    this is rich…
    considering almost all christian preachers always pander to women and their feelings ( Chandler et al) and keep criticizing men for not being a real man and doing whatever the wife wants, and not becoming an excellent male homemaker…

    fact is almost all pastors do pulpit pandering, especially to women as they have no guts to stand for what the bible says…

    • Tom

      You need to listen to more preachers.

      • acha648

        like who?
        Chandler?- does not believe women have to be home focused
        Greear? – believes being a wife and a mom is insufficient, women need a career or external ministry- he also hopes that his daughters are NOT just a wife and a mom ( cause you know Mary, the most famous woman in the bible, was a wife and a mom but I guess according to him that is not enough)
        who else?
        Chandler’s beliefs basically encompass anyone from the ACTS 29 network, and you will find none of the ACTS 29 network ever preach about a woman’s commitment to the home

        in fact many like GREEAR think Titus 2:5 is written to younger men, NOT younger women…

        so yes most of the TGC/SBC preachers pander to feminism or are scared to utter words like “Men Provide” or “wives your primarily responsibility is the home”

        • Tom

          As in, get your head out of the Acts 29 network, and you’re going to need a lot more evidence than what you’ve got.

          • acha648

            Your role is not to sit on the sidelines, make casseroles, and have kids. You are not simply your husband’s wife or your children’s mother. So do you know your calling? Have you risen up to obey it? Like Deborah, you need to get in the fight

            http://www.jdgreear.com/my_weblog/2015/04/the-church-needs-more-deborahs.html

            and almost all their manhood sermons demand men do homemaking duties
            -i.e they are not different from the culture or the feminist Sheryl Sandberg…
            all these men pulpit pander and pretend 1 Corinthians 11:9 does not exist…

          • Tom

            “Our ministry to women at the Summit doesn’t aim to simply create better wives and mothers. Yes, if that is God’s role for you, we want to equip you to do it for his glory. But women’s ministry needs to be about more than being a wife or a mother; it needs to be about seeing women leverage their lives for the kingdom of God. And when God has called women to lead, it means we equip them to lead.”

            From the same blog post.

            Also, you seem to have missed 1 Corinthians 11:11-12.

            Finally, thinking that “Women can and should do stuff outside the home” and “The radical edge of second-wave feminism” are similar at all is the reason why the latter movement got traction in the first place. Furthermore, Paul himself advised that people–gasp–not get married at all, as it distracted them from doing God’s work.

          • acha648

            does not matter woman was made for man not the other way around

            and yes because woman was made for man, MAN IS dependant on woman

            http://thevillagechurch.net/resources/sermons/detail/womans-purpose/

            absolutely nothing on being a wife an mom, only that when men make decisions they should submit to their wives…

            so now you blame men for feminism instead of the sinful nature of women ( cause women are humans…)

            you do realise “women should do stuff outside the home” is in contradiction to TITUS 2:5

            the best part is when he says the command to younger women to be workers at home, applies to men as well…

            if it did why did paul address younger men later?

            http://www.jdgreear.com/my_weblog/2015/02/everyday-faith-3.html

            meh I guess you are no different

            another one who panders to feminism

            https://deepstrength.wordpress.com/2015/05/05/how-servant-leadership-is-twisted/

            enjoy being a house daddy, and being the helpmeet to your wife under the guise of servanthood…

            christians who support role reversal , or no difference between genders ( men and women provide, protect and submit and do the homemaking)

            have NO real grounds to be opposed to us who are gay…

            if a man can do what women do under the guise of servant leadership
            2 men could make a perfect biblical marriage, one of them would just servant lead and be the woman!!

          • Tom

            Wow. Just…wow.
            You stopped arguing, and jumped to psychologizing, which means that I win. Furthermore, your arguments involved a whole lot of prooftexting, and a refusal to view the whole Bible–seeing as the same Bible that contains Titus 2:5 contains, oh, the entirety of Proverbs 31.
            Get out of here, and take your willful ignorance with you.

          • acha648

            sorry but Chandler made it quite clear that the home is not uniquely the priority of women..
            Greear clear that Titus 2 :5 was written to younger men as well as women…
            and being just a wife and mom is not good an example of Godly womanhood…

            and the P31 woman was supporting her husband, she is not shown to make her husband do homemaking, the home was her priority…

            feel free to support role reversal and house husbands, typical christian, changes what they believe based on the culture and not the bible…

            but if you oppose gay marriage, based on those beliefs,
            you are a hypocrite!

          • acha648

            not to mention marriage at their church is taught by

            http://www.bradhambrick.com/

            ho believes there is no scriptural guidance on who does what except for headship and submission
            aka provider, protector, homemaker, child rearing are roles up for grabs by either gender…

            say one thing, mean something else

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  • Jason

    “Trusting in the sufficiency of God’s word is tantamount to trusting in the sufficiency of God.”

    This brings to mind accusations of “worshipping the idol of the Bible”, which commonly start flying whenever the Biblical stance is supported from the text to oppose the type of teaching mentioned in this article.

    According to that line of reasoning, God is the only relationship where you can ignore (or probably more commonly, speak ill of) what He says and have a better relationship with Him specifically because you’ve done so.

    I don’t have the frijoles to test that reasoning in my marriage. Call me “fundamental”, but I’m going to stick with my assumption that relationships work best when you listen to what the other person has to say and life works best when you listen to the source of your existance.

    • Eric Davis

      “God is the only relationship where you can ignore what He says and have a better relationship with Him specifically because you’ve done so.” Great observation, Jason. Let’s get back to the sufficiency of Scripture.

  • Thanks, Eric, tons of good here, and especially needed at a time when the church is preferring fluff.

  • acha648

    yes
    especially the pandering to women in most conservative churches, where the pastor just bashes men for not being excellent homemakers, for focusing on their calling instead of being a helpmeet to their wife…
    of course women like it, it caters to their sins
    churches nowadays never pander to men and rightly so, but they need to apply it to women as well…

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  • Never heard a pandering preacher in person. Have only seen it on TV.

  • Pecasone

    Eric, a hardy amen. A thought; “By correctly exposited Scripture, the Holy Spirit exposes and eradicates that sin nature through preaching.” A comparative thought, Romans 8:13

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