LTJG Kaffee: I want the truth! Col Jessep: You can’t handle the truth!
-A Few Good Men
I was reading through the comments of a John Crist video I shared on Facebook recently. In it he addressed how hard he and other Christians could be on pastors who use stunts and gimmicks to get people into church. He suggested that maybe we ought to look at ourselves first because, whether we like it or not, pastors use those things because they are undeniably effective. An interesting thing I noticed while looking through all the comments on that video is that a lot of people talk about how pastors should “preach the truth of the Gospel” or often more simply just, “preach the truth.” Pastors, people say, should to do this in spite of the assumed unpopularity of “the truth” and should not avoid it just to increase numbers or keep people from moving on to other churches.
In of itself, that idea is correct. I mean, who could argue with the statement that pastors should preach the truth? Of course we are to preach the truth! Unfortunately it seems that what people mostly mean by “preach the truth” is “call out and condemn other people for certain sins.” It means to rant about the sinful state of the world and the people in it. Indeed, I have encountered this at times in my own ministry. And this request to “speak the truth” almost always refers to one or two particular things that the person asking me to speak out on does not struggle with themselves. They are essentially saying, “We should not be afraid to offend those people over there, who are not us, by telling them that what they are doing is wrong!”
Not only is that NOT how pastors are to call people out on their sins (pro tip: we are to call YOU out on YOUR sins), that is not really what “preaching the truth” is about, particularly when one adds the appellation “…of the Gospel” to it. If we’re talking about “preaching the truth of the gospel” then that refers to the “good news” (aka Gospel) of salvation by faith alone through Christ. That is the truth of the Gospel, and in that, there are no works! And indeed, that is often an unpopular teaching. It is unpopular because people feel a need to insert themselves into the saving work of Christ, as if what Christ did was not enough. It is also unpopular because it is difficult to condemn people as not Christian, or not Christian enough, because they still sin when you are constantly being taught that it is faith and faith alone that makes us Christians in the first place!
Even if one makes the statement less specific and speaks simply of “preaching the truth” it still doesn’t become about calling other people out on their sins. Oh, that may be a part of it, but only a minute one. What that really means is preaching all of the truth, the bulk of which is about correct doctrine as taught in the Bible. That would include things like the nature of Christ, the sacraments, how justification and sanctification work, what the church is and on and on. Preaching the truth of correct doctrine is problematic for a lot of people. They find it boring, not “deep enough” or not “relevant” to their lives. It also can force them to face the truth that not every church has it and therefor where they go to church should be based on something other than whether they offer all the programs they want or on the strength of the foyer coffee.
“Preaching the truth” is good, and something all churches should do. Definitely hold your pastors accountable to it. Just make sure it’s really the truth, and that you are willing to hear it.
3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
1 Timothy 2:3-4