george hancock stefanA couple of years ago, someone had what they thought was a bright idea. They hired a group of people who had no experience with Christianity to visit churches and come up with a plan to attract people. When I saw an article about that, I thought of all the TV programs about preachers and churches that have been popular. There were preachers on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and 7th Heaven, and a whole show about a minister and his life on OWN right now, but none of them preach the gospel. The newest one is entitled Preacher but I do not think that he has ever opened the Bible for any occasion.

I find that there is a dichotomy, and some of it is really entrenched in our churches. I often hear the idea that we should preach less and practice our Christianity more. Oddly enough, this is attributed to Francis of Assisi who purportedly said, “Preach the gospel. When necessary, use words.” But it was Voltaire who told us that one good deed is much better than 100 dogmas. When we look to the life of Jesus though, Jesus does both—he goes around Judea preaching and healing. His preaching is not separated from his healing and there is no healing without teaching.

Even in his teaching, Jesus Christ can be accused of negativity because he preached about both heaven and hell. Some people argue that Jesus Christ preached about hell because he was a child of his own time, when people debated about hell often. However, that argument does not make sense. If he was a child of his age when preaching hell, what makes him not a child of his age when he preached about heaven?

I once heard someone state that he does not like the Ten Commandments because they are negative. But God gives us the positive commands as well as the negatives: love the Lord your God and honor your parents, as well as do not lie and do not covet. God in His wisdom gave us both; the choice is not ours.

The reformer Martin Luther emphasized this dichotomy. He held the law and the gospel, commands and grace, and the Old and New Testaments in tension and taught them side-by-side, always acknowledging that they needed the other. In fact, one can argue that the first conversation between God and humanity is both a blessing and a restriction when Adam and Eve are told they could eat everything in the garden except the fruit of one tree.

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Apostle Paul wrote, “Preach the word in season and out of season for the time will come when men will not like to hear the word of God.” When I looked at the suggestions that the hired group made, I heard these words. They had ideas about greeting in the foyer of the church, the coffee and muffins that the church should provide, and accessible ministries, but they had nothing to do with the Bible. They did not want to hear what God wanted to say, they just wanted to change the trappings. But the Apostle James tells us that the Bible should be our mirror. God is holding a mirror up for us so we can see how we look and be willing to change.

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George Hancock-Stefan

Pastor George Hancock-Stefan completed 30 years as the pastor of the great congregation at Central Baptist Church in Atlantic Highlands in 2020. Those 30 years have been a blessed time for him, his wife...