Monday, December 20, 2010


October 2009

Mr. Vallee, we found your sermon on the internet. We are glad that you are fond of those verses that speak of the body of Christ being made up of many parts. Two of us are of these weaker, indispensable parts you spoke of and that you love. A third is still a seeker whose soul you would like to win. We are all hoping that you will read our analysis of your sermon, that you will praise us for every right thing we say, that you will forgive our excited zeal that might be mistaken for harshness in places, and that you will close with God and his word in order to become better at what you do. 

Mr. Vallee, Living Stones, The Price of Commitment.

Summary: (He begins with prayer for his church to have strength to commit in spite of conflict between good and evil, with the added petition that his church have a biblical worldview to address the evil in our world. He mentions his text as Joshua 10. But he continues, not with the sermon text, but with a fairly long story.) We are shocked when conflict happens. When we come to Christ we have an adversary. We will have enemies. The devil seems to be asleep until we make a commitment. Then we have resistance. But we get strong by resistance. It builds character. God’s people had to fight the battles to get the cities in the Promised Land. God was in it, and they did it by faith, but they had to fight. The greatest battle happens within us, or from unexpected places, like co-workers, kids, etc. That results in resentment. Our fight is not against flesh and blood. It’s a spiritual battle. So don’t take it personally. We need to look beyond the person to the evil behind that person and to take that out. It is easier to bless the person we’re in conflict with if we look at it that way. The normal Christian life is filled with conflict. Unless we know this, we’ll get thrown into tail-spins. If we have no battles, we must question our salvation. Remember, Jesus experienced resistance even from Peter. We mean well when we dissuade our kids from Missionary service. But we may be hindering their purpose to serve God. This is a more subtle form of conflict. (He summarizes Joshua 9 about the Gibeonites fooling Israel into making a covenant with them. Then he takes up chapter 10. I don’t know where his first point really begins, but here it is.) (A) Commitment results in conflict. Why people turn against us when we become Christians: (a) people are threatened by commitment; (b) they feel rejected; (c) they feel they’re losing a friend; (d) maybe they feel they have to reevaluate; (e) interests change. Before your commitment to Christ, you’re saying, “Don’t bring me there [to church]; I don’t like it; I don’t feel good; it’s convicting.” Why all this conflict in the Bible? That’s the way it is. People have no peace in their hearts. There’s conflict because righteousness and evil are at odds. When you said yes to Jesus, you said no to the devil. The more we get to know people, the more we have to work through issues. Deep relationships will have conflict. You get to love persons for who they are, not for who you thought they were. In conflict, the old way is to use criticism, gossip, manipulation, intimidation, etc. We have to use other tools now, or evil will overcome us. Some of our tools: to bless, forgive, pray, do good. When we bless, those who have done us wrong are confounded. We have to take our thoughts captive. We have to win the battle within before we can win the battle around us. Everyone born of God overcomes the world. We can’t win on our own, but we can through God inside us. (He quotes a suitable verse here.) Like the Gibeonites, we have new allies. We have the church. We need the church community. Beware of sectarianism, says Eugene Peterson. It’s easy to hang with a few people who agree with you in every area. God even puts people you don’t like into the family. We’ve got to love these people. The body is made up of many parts. The weaker parts are the indispensable parts. When we minister to these parts, we often get more out of it than they do. We must die to ourselves. (B) Commitment costs you something. Joshua had to defend the Gibeonites in difficult geography. He and his men did a twenty mile march uphill, then fought all the next day. And then Joshua prays for a miracle so they can fight longer! Ministry is not convenient. It costs. That’s the point. Commitment costs conflict, energy, resources, life. Is that not what Jesus did? He poured his life out for us. Then we complain if we have to do the same. Joshua was afraid, but continued to march. We must win the battle within us, fight off resentment, unforgiveness. None of us are equal to the task. It can’t be done apart from God. We can’t be committed apart from God. (He closes with a story about a man who held nothing back in his commitment, and whose commitment is summed up this way: no reserves [no holding back]; no retreat; no regrets.) Commitment impacts people’s lives. The great problem in North America is about lack of commitment: to God, to one another, and to God’s purposes. We like convenience, hate hardships. If you make a commitment to God, you’ll have conflict. Conflict will cost you something, probably everything. But in the end: no regrets.

Remarks: What he says is factual. Commitment brings conflict, and comes with a heavy price. It’s good that he teaches this. Many churches do not. Our fight is really with spiritual powers, and cannot be won apart from God. He emphasizes the conflicts that we have with those closest to us. This too is helpful. His lessons in point B fit the text, though they are quite general. But there are problems with this message.

(1) His lessons in point A are not drawn from the text. For instance, did the Israelites feel rejected by any commitment the Gibeonites made? Or did the Gibeonites feel rejected by any commitment made by the Israelites? No, therefore why is rejection presented as one of the sub-points of the sermon? The five lessons he offers under his first point are entirely detached from the text used to introduce them! If there are any connections at all, they are purely accidental. Commitment indeed results in conflict with others. They might feel threatened or rejected by our commitment. Or they might feel as though they’re losing a friend. They might also resent the need to reevaluate as we have done. These things may be true, but do we get these lessons from our text in Joshua? No attempt is made to show how his first point and its five lessons might have been culled from Joshua because they weren’t. In fact, there is conflict in the text (9.22); but that is brought on by deceit, not commitment! It seems obvious that he did not labor long in these two chapters in Joshua in preparation for his message. Why even present a text if you’re not going to teach lessons from it? Pulling lessons out of the hat like this is a poor way of feeding the sheep. It is nothing less than trying to yield life without offering the pure milk of the word. It reminds us of an attempt to make bricks without benefit of straw. But God is neither a Pharisee nor a Pharaoh. He has given us plenty to work with if we’ll only get out of our heads and into Scripture. If Mr. Vallee had stuck with his text to lift lessons from it, then deeper lessons than the ones he came up with would have arisen. It says in Joshua 10 that Joshua slew the five kings he had committed to destroy. Is that not a useful analogy of the converted sinner who goes all out in his commitment to God and slays all his chief sins? Would that not take us deeper than Mr. Vallee took us? This would have made the sermon look heavenward to God instead of at the problems around us. And this is not ‘to be so heavenly minded as to be no earthly good.’ No, this lesson arises naturally from the chosen passage, and so we may have confidence in the usefulness of it. The truth is that when we slay our sins, the greatest earthly good is done by it, for as the slaying of kings by Joshua drew his brethren to him, so our slaying of sins will draw seeking sinners to us, and so to our Saviour and our way of life. This lesson we offer as one better than all five that fall under his first heading was gleaned from just a cursory look in the right place. Imagine what lessons could be gleaned by the diligent pastor! Because of his lack of concern to have some agreement between the text and his lessons, here is a further problem. When a connection is attempted, it can result in the most absurd and perilous incongruity. At one point he says that like the Gibeonites, we have new allies. But can we present the Gibeonites as models of commitment when their commitment came by lies and hypocrisy? Do we become allied with God and with other Christians through deceit, or else by grace and faith? Our commitment must always be in doubt if it was come by ‘wilily.’ Some Gibeonites were no doubt truly committed, but to say that like them we have new allies is too close to saying that we and they have come by our covenant the same way. Awkward pitfalls like this appear out of nowhere when the passage we should exposit is just used to help us preach our own inventions. The Bible commands men of God to rightly divide the word. It isn’t stretching things to assert that Mr. Vallee did not even attempt to divide it! How may this prayer of his for a biblical worldview among his members be fulfilled unless he unfolds the word of God for them?

(2) This message is not convicting. There is no law to fear, hardly any mention of Jesus, and no dire consequences. For instance, what does he say about sin? Sin is not prominent in this message. It might have been if the text had been handled. No sins are mentioned as having to be repented of, except in an incidental way when he says we need new tools to replace the tools of gossip and the like. Nowhere does he put his people on the spot for sin. Or when he does, it’s with little nudges in a tender tone, ‘Come on now.’ This kind of talk almost excuses sin when it should be reproved and shown to be the consequential evil that it really is. Sin is really soft-peddled in this message, not preached. Any speaker is naturally averse to offending the audience in front of him. So when he pulls lessons out of thin air, it is no wonder that he comes up with no command to repent of particular sins. At one point, he states the following attitude a person might have before he commits to Christ: “Don’t bring me there [to church]; I don’t like it; I don’t feel good; it’s convicting.” A church service ought to be convicting. But would anyone feel convicted to commit to God by the sermon in this service? Not likely, because there is little or nothing in here to convict him. If someone did get convicted, it would have to be in spite of the sermon as much as because of it.

Conclusion: When sermon lessons are not taken from the text, this shows that the sermon is not centered on the text of Scripture. And when the whole sermon is wedged between two stories, this shows that Scripture is not the foundation of it. And so this sermon is not founded on Scripture and not Bible-centered. Not until at least fifteen minutes in does he touch upon any textual content. When Scripture is not made the basis and center, we are not surprised that the result is a non-convicting, man-centered message that contains no grand doctrines to speak of. This sermon is not really a sermon, and not even a commentary, but a kind of talk one might give in a cafĂ© or on a street corner. It’s all very casual, almost interactive, if you can believe it, and the contents are little more than one might offer in a therapeutic lecture or a motivational speech. At best, this is public speaking, but more relaxed than that. Mr. Vallee has a talent for delivery, but the manner and tone are unsuitable for the pulpit. There is no solemn authority here. One might get a temporary lift from the talk, but one will learn little, be convicted not at all, see Jesus only in passing, and be taught to treat Scripture as a springboard for whatever one has in mind to say. What we should have is a real sermon: one that teaches right from the word, convicts us of sin, gives us both a lovely and an awful sight of Christ, and that models a proper approach and use of the Bible. A congregation that is out for God does not want to hear what the man in the pulpit thinks, but what God has to say. Is this congregation really committed, I wonder? Do these people know what real preaching is? If the members of this church were committed, would they not demand something from God and his word instead of something cobbled together from their pastor’s imagination? And how can a pastor expect God to speak through him unless he draws from the word that God has ordained as the medium by which he would reach both saints and sinners?

Three persons reviewed this message. One of these is responsible for writing the analysis. The other two generally agree with it. One of these three may be described as an intermittent seeker, but not a Christian yet. It seems fitting to end with his comments, for we’re sure that Mr. Vallee should be anxious to win seeking souls like this to Christ. The seeker says that except for a few references to Scripture, the message was like something by Dr. Phil, the talk show host, and that Mr. Vallee should quit the ministry and do something like that instead. In light of these comments, especially, the following question is appropriate: These young persons killed on the highway just recently might have been to this church on the Sunday before their end. If they had gone there to hear this sermon, could they have gleaned any saving message from it in their dying moments?

Mr. Vallee, we welcome and desire your consideration and communication. The Bible commands us to prove all things and to hold fast that which is good. For the sake of your people and your own soul, we beg you to test your ministry against what the Bible reveals your message ought to be like.  

Friday, December 10, 2010


October 2009

Mr. Cochrane, you have put your sermon on the internet as a podcast for people to listen to and to be blessed by. You should be pleased to learn that while we have listened, we have been like the noble Bereans too, ready to receive the word you preach, but searching the Scriptures as we go, to see whether what you preach is right (Acts 17.11.) We pray that you will be like the apostle Paul: that you will commend us for being so careful. And we know that if you are like the apostle, you will be even more anxious than we are to get the Bible right, and that you would sooner count yourself accursed than continue in error. “Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9.16.) This is the same as saying, ‘Woe is unto me if I preach not correctly! 

Mr. Cochrane, Crossroads, January 4, 2009, The Spirit Moves the Church into the World.

Summary: (He begins with a prayer, followed by a joke.) We are in Acts 11.19-30 and 13.1-4. The main thing is to make disciples. Acts 1.8 is what the book of Acts turns on. It is the key verse. We should learn to read the Bible well. (He gives a general sweep of the contents of Acts.) Peter and Paul are the chief characters, behind the Holy Spirit. The disciples are ignited, then sent out into the world. The Spirit is a missionary Spirit. Now the church at Antioch. (He gives a little historical context.) Here are five marks of a church ignited by the Spirit. (A) A church leading people to a relationship with Jesus. The Church is a place where there’s always room for one more. It is in Antioch that the Gentiles are first preached to deliberately. (B) A church that nurtures new believers. Barnabas teaches how to live the new life. “When you become a Christian, you need to be taught…how to read the Bible, how to hear from God, how to live the new life.” Barnabas was humble to ask Saul to help him, not caring that by doing this he might live in Saul’s shadow. That’s the kind of people that make a difference. They are not threatened by other gifted people in the body. Their concern is that people get cared for. (C) A generous church. In Acts they gave ‘each according to his ability.’ Righteous living is to disadvantage yourself to advntage someone else. (D) A church with a plurality of gifted, godly leaders. There were five at least in Antioch. We have prophets today. A man in church told me, “You need to tell the church today that there’s people in the body here that need to forgive each other…I heard Jesus say to me this morning that they need to do that today, or at the latest this week.” And (the pastor speaking now) “I believe that’s a true word from God. I believe it means the Lord is positioning us for a greater thing. And he can’t do that if there’s wrong relationships.” There’s godly leadership at Crossroads. (E) A church that sends people out on mission. Prayer, Spirit, Mission—this is the pattern. We build the church for worship and missions. “What’s the ‘so what?’ I struggle with that every week.” It’s about a church ignited, not just one man. Do you want to get in on the action of God? What’s your next step, then? A home group? Sunday night church? We’re going to end with Communion today. By taking Communion you’re saying, “Thank you, Father, for sending your Son to die for all of my sins. And thank you for bringing me into your body. Your forgiveness cost the life of Somebody else.” That’s the value God places on you. You might be new, and this is all new to you. If you want a personal relationship with Jesus, why don’t you come to the Table with us? Say in your heart to Jesus, “I would like forgiveness of sins and eternal life.” The worse thing we can do is to take the Supper unthinkingly. We ought to examine ourselves.

Remarks: He gives some context to the book of Acts. He stresses the need for evangelism and missions. His church is a giving church and a welcoming church. A spirit of humility like that of Barnabas is emphasized. Programs are underway attempting to bring his members deeper and to heal their wounds. This is all good. But there are some serious faults in this message and service.

(1) About our chief end. “The main thing is to make disciples,” he says. Here is where Creeds and Catechisms prove useful. As important as evangelism is, the main thing is not that. Making disciples is just a means to the following end, “To glorify God and to enjoy him forever” (Westminster Shorter Catechism.) Who would dare say that this is incorrect? Inadvertently, Mr. Cochrane gets the order right later when he says that we build the church for worship and missions. Since Mr. Cochrane seems to be so cursory on doctrine and the method of saving souls, what are we to believe he means when he says that making disciples is the main thing? A person could not be blamed for thinking that what he means by the main thing is to increase church attendance.

(2) About his administration of Communion. He invites visitors to Communion who will in that moment ask Jesus for forgiveness. This is very reckless, especially when very little content about the gospel has been given, and almost no instruction on the method of salvation shared. When he bids these visitors to ask for forgiveness so they can join in Communion, not even one sin is pointed out that they might need forgiveness for! After giving this invitation, he says that the worse thing is to take Communion unthinkingly, not realizing that this is precisely what his invitation just tempted these visitors to do! To put sinners on the spot like that in front of your people is a coercive act that might impel them to pretend repentance and to join in some holy thing they have not been prepared by God for and invited by him to share. They might be tempted to accept the invitation just to fit in, and nothing else. This invitation is a sure way of making sinners into hypocrites, which would only serve to increase God’s anger toward them and to make them more liable than they already are to receive God’s punishment. The pastor’s conduct in this appears to be perilously close to the same as making sinners twice the children of hell, like it says in Matthew 23.15. We do not want to say that the pastor is a Pharisee, like in the first part of this verse. Only God knows. But what we can say and what we must say is that the cavalier invitation reminds us of that conduct reprehended by Jesus in there. We would not cite this reproof of Jesus if there were no parallel to be drawn. It is a significant charge. But someone has to care for souls (the pastor’s included) enough to warn him of this terrible similarity at the risk of being thought slanderous and cruel for so doing. This irresponsible invitation of his makes it appear like he is more concerned to increase his membership than to make true disciples.

(3) About his discernment. He says that a man, a prophet of some sort, told him there was unforgiveness in the church between members, and that Jesus wanted this dealt with today, or at the latest this week. So there is unforgiveness among members of a church containing hundreds of people, many of whom must have been admitted to fellowship without examination. Do we need a prophet to reveal this? And this ‘prophet’ says that Jesus told him the people should forgive each other today, ‘or at the latest this week.’ Because Jesus does not equivocate or speak like this, we know this man is not a prophet at all, but just a presumptuous guy pointing out the obvious. What does it sound like when Jesus reproves? “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This is his well-known general reproof. Would it be like Jesus to add, ‘at the latest this week’? A reproof from Jesus does not come with a qualification like that. Even in his most tender moments, when speaking with the woman caught in adultery, for instance, he does not permit that repentance should lag. “Neither do I condemn thee,” he says. Then he adds, “go, and sin no more” (John 8. 11.) Can we imagine him saying instead, ‘go, and quit sinning: at the latest this week’? We know that Jesus never spoke like that; he never would and he never will. This ‘prophet’ at Crossroads is false, then. Not one single person speaking for God—not one prophet in the whole Bible, utters an equivocal reproof. Here is what a true prophet sounds like, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (Jonah 3.4.) Was this forty days interpreted as time enough to put off repentance? No, for it simply says after this, “So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them” (verse 5.) No one reasoned, ‘Well, it looks like we’ve got forty days.’ The Ninevites did not reason like this, for they did not understand the prophet to mean they could put repentance off. Jesus’ treatment of the adulterous woman and Jonah’s preaching to Nineveh are the closest cases we can think of where some lukewarm message of repentance might be supposed. And of course, repentance is unequivocally commanded in both instances. Prophets of God, both Old and New, never communicated messages to repent, ‘at the latest this week.’ And so this ‘prophet’ at Crossroads is not for real. He is a very careless, unsanctified man who thinks little of putting lies in Jesus’ mouth. This is very sad. The sadder thing is that Mr. Cochrane can’t see through this, or doesn’t want to. He wants to believe the prophecy is genuine, for he hopes it might mean the Lord is positioning the church for a greater thing. And perhaps the saddest thing of all is that, relative to this issue, Mr. Cochrane misinterprets 1 Corinthians 13.9. The verse says, “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.” He gives this as proof that true prophets ‘don’t bat a thousand.’ Is he not covering his tracks in case this ‘prophet’ is wrong? Maybe he suspects that the man has spoken presumptuously, after all. Regardless, this passage does not mean that true prophets may speak falsely, but that in eternity there will be no need of prophecy. This interpretation is well known, at least among dependable scholars. Deuteronomy (18.20-22) is quite firm in stating that anyone presuming to be a prophet must be right every single time he speaks in the name of the Lord. If he’s wrong just once, “even that prophet shall die” (Deuteronomy 18.20.) This must mean, then, that the true prophet must indeed bat a thousand. Pastor Cochrane says he’s been to seminary. He should not be making mistakes like this.

(4) About what new believers ought to be taught. He seems to reduce this to three things: prayer, reading, and living. But notice that he leaves out doctrine. Everything seems to be geared, not for learning, really, but for getting people into programs and for controlling habits. This is evident from the Crossroads ministries he advertises during this message, like Celebrate Recovery, which is about dealing with ‘hurts, habits, and hang-ups.’ And his Growing Deeper ministry may include a Bible-book study, but our sense is that not much doctrine is doled out there either, especially considering that a ‘young adult’ is the one leading the program. This is not encouraging at all. Modern therapy instead of doctrinal instruction is the contemporary way. Though doctrine is what would really help against habits and the like, modern therapy is applied instead. And this is exactly the kind of thing that is done in place after place, over and over with failure after failure, both in churches and in the secular realm. There is no reason to believe that the results will be much different here.

(5) About his use of Scripture and lack of explanation. He grazes the surface of a few verses, and says nothing except what may be gleaned by the most superficial reading. Inadvertently, though, he mentions a verse from somewhere in outline form: Prayer, Spirit, Mission. He should have dug into that. Then his people might have gotten some food to eat. He assumes his listeners are Christians. But with preaching like this, it is hard to believe that many of them could be. He says that righteous living is to disadvantage yourself to benefit someone else. On the face of it, this is a good saying. But unless it is explained first, or at least somewhere in the sermon, that righteous living is possible only through faith and the righteousness of Jesus, the listener will likely take this statement to mean that generosity and other works must be the way of obtaining a righteous life and standing before God. Someone perhaps might object and say that a pastor cannot preach every single doctrine in one sermon and that he can’t preach to sinners and teach the saints at the same time. But the trouble is that this pastor (I’m referring to this sermon in particular, only suspecting that this is the kind of subject matter all his other sermons contain too) preaches no gospel and teaches no doctrine. Good preaching edifies the saints when the gospel is preached to unbelievers; and it results in the salvation of sinners when the doctrines are taught the saints. There are some who will no doubt testify that they go away from this church on Sunday with strength enough to go on until they come back a week later. But are such people really dedicated to learning and sanctification? How much strength is needed to go on when we are not attempting to learn what we should learn and walk as Christ would have us walk? How many persons attend church just for the social uplift they receive from going? There is a kind of strength in that, but is it from knowing Jesus? Is it evangelical strength? Persons who think this sermon contains good enough matter have little knowledge. If a pastor mentions many disparate things that are in the Bible, they think he knows much. But knowing what’s in the Bible is not what counts. What counts is knowing what the things in the Bible actually mean. When the sermon is a mile wide and an inch deep, it usually indicates that the pastor has not learned to interpret, or does not think it necessary to do so.

(6) About his failure to be specific about sin. Whenever he speaks about sin, he never mentions it as stealing, or drinking, or sex outside of marriage, etc. He must be avoiding specifics like these in order not to offend. For instance, when he speaks of what Jesus paid for, he says, “He paid for our stuff.” Does that not leave sinners off the hook? Who is going to get convicted by language like that? All sins, it seems, amount to ‘stuff,’ whatever that could mean, or maybe ‘habits, hurts, or hang-ups.’ Will soft language like this not leave people with the impression that sin is not serious? Will people even think they need to repent when sin is put like that? This is the language of being irresponsible for sin, of being a victim rather than a sinner. He goes out of his way to avoid real preaching.   

Conclusion: To begin the sermon by telling a story instead of something about the text is a poor way to start. But this approach agrees with his light, offhand treatment of Scripture. By beginning with a story instead of with the Bible, a lighthearted mood is created. And so from the start, the people are not set to take what the pastor says seriously. This is why we start with the Bible. It sets a serious tone. This message he gives never comes up to a serious level. It is more like a conversation than a sermon, and is so informal that it must be a reproach to God. This is not preaching, but some kind of leisurely, blasĂ© pep talk. It’s not even up to the level of a commentary. You really have to hear it in all its distinction from something that could be called a true sermon to see what we mean. Ironically, he calls himself a preacher, not a teacher, in this message. But in this sermon (if we are to judge by this sermon alone) he is neither a preacher nor a teacher. This may sound like a severe judgment to make. But we can make the judgment with all confidence that we are right in making it, for he does not preach up Christ and preach down sin in this sermon; and neither does he teach anything on how to be saved or sanctified. During the sermon, he drifts into comments on how his church is doing, its programs, etc. There is a way to do this briefly and to make it serve the sermon. But this he does not do. And then he comes to a full stop at one point when he senses his congregation getting weary. To resolve their weariness, he tells a story. That’s what he was taught to do at seminary, he says. But if the congregation grows weary, could this not mean that they’re tired for lack of substance? Maybe the last thing these people need is another story. Maybe the advice to him should be, not to go into a digression to wake the people up, but to preach some living water to keep them awake. This whole sermon is a specimen, not only of shallow content, but of nonchalant delivery. Clearly, this man is handicapped by the chumminess he has cultivated with his people. How can you point out the sins of your chums? How can you be serious with them? They call him ‘Pastor Dan.’ He is probably able, though, to preach something more substantial to them. From some of his comments, and the prayer just before the administration of Communion, it seems that he knows what the gospel is, and even something of what Jesus accomplished by his death. Example: “His blood really is sufficient to settle accounts with you for all of our sin…When you raised him from the dead it was like a big statement from you that you’re satisfied with the death of Jesus.” But he does not delve into these riches. And he’s way too faint and brief on the method of salvation. (It involves more than asking for forgiveness.) It is quite illogical for the pastor to think that forgiveness among his members may result in God positioning the church for a greater thing when the more fundamental issue of receiving forgiveness from God is left so unexplained by him. To think that our better treatment of each other will result in a blessing while our sins to God go unreproved is a man-centered way of thinking. And it’s not even man-centered in a useful, moral sense, for in order to this forgiveness among the members he does not even single out any sins that should be put away. If he did, no one would get saved through it, for the law is not the gospel, but it might at least result in some persons quitting their sins of a more gross character. “We want to be a church where anyone can walk off the street and learn about Jesus and God,” says the pastor. Would sinners learn about Jesus, then, if they were to walk in during the preaching of this sermon? We think they would be more confused upon their exit than upon their entry. And our sense is that the majority of members in this church, if quizzed, would not be able to say much about what the gospel is nor how sinners may be reconciled to God. They might even know very little about the law, or even think the law is the gospel. We hate having to be this negative. We think this pastor must be a jolly, pleasant fellow. But this sermon just doesn’t come up to a passing standard. And we must say that we believe it can do more harm than good to those who come to it with a timid, undiscriminating intent to receive bread from heaven.  It may seem, at first glance, that this analysis is just a fault-finding exercise. The truth is, there is very little good in a sermon of this nature; and if an analysis is to be done on it, every serious fault that can be discovered should not be passed over without comment. The Bereans would do no less; and the apostle Paul would not commend if any less were done.

Only two persons have signed this analysis. The third person was so turned off when the pastor began his sermon with a joke that he could not go on. (This person was not R. P., who did not participate this time, but some other fellow.) He felt like the pulpit was being used for entertainment rather than worship. The two persons who listened right through concur with that sentiment. But they went on anyway, hoping that God would have them do it so an analysis might be done, to the end that something might change for the better on account of it.

Mr. Cochrane, if you examine your sermon beside these notes and an open Bible, we believe that you will come to the same conclusions as we. No thing has been said to the negative unless the grave nature of the issue called for such criticism. Without substantive changes in your ministry, we believe you and your people may come too wide of the cross of Christ. And what are the consequences?    

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


July 2009

A discussion with a member of your church prompted the listening of, and the following analysis of, a sermon you delivered. This member of your church did not participate in what followed that preliminary discussion. But a copy of this analysis has been given to him. We think it would be helpful to your ministry if you gave the following copy of it your close attention. “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”

Mr. Cochrane, Crossroads, April 26, 2009, The Way of the Lord.

Summary: ‘Follow me’ is the text. To change your thinking and to believe are the first two imperatives. ‘Follow me’ is the third. The text, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life’ is a springboard from which to explain ‘follow me.’ “Jesus’ truth gets far more attention than Jesus as the way.” Jesus is not just our way to God, but God’s way to us. “Some of you have repented; you’ve changed your thinking; you’ve changed your heart.” Jesus claims to be the only way to the Father. “The Way to God is not a proper set of beliefs…not a lot of activity in the name of God…but a person and relationship with Christ.” Jesus is just like us, God in the flesh. The way is a person, but also a way of life. The way is to obediently follow Jesus Christ. Characteristics of the Jesus way: (A) It is a holy way. This is to be separate, distinct. God is holy. By the work of Jesus we get to God, who is holy. We must deal with sin, turn away from wickedness. People who walk in the way become increasingly holy. 1 Corinthians 13 shows us what a holy person looks like. A holy person is loving, patient, etc. (B) A way on the margins. Jesus chose to spend his time on the margins, like in Capernaum, among the marginalized. Follow him to the lost. You can measure your progress by this. (C) A way of sacrifice. This is to take up your cross, to lay your ambitions at Jesus’ feet, to give rather than accumulate. There are two ways in Psalm 1. There is the Jesus way; there is another way, or variations of it. Why choose the Jesus way? Because both ways have outcomes. “The way of the wicked will perish. C. S. Lewis said, utterly, irrevocably, and forever lost. It’s tragic.” The ones on Jesus’ way will stand in the end. They do not repent of the way of holiness and sacrifice. “Death where is your sting; death where is your victory.”

Remarks: (1) Concerning repentance, which he mentions a few times. He says this is a change of mind, and he’s right about that. But he never comes to any specific sins that must be repented of, except for what is mentioned incidentally, like when he cites the instance of the woman caught in adultery being forgiven. Sins like this are never mentioned as being possibly committed by his listeners. He keeps things very general and non-offensive. For instance, he mentions wickedness, but nothing specific like drunkenness and sleeping-around, which his members might be committing in secret. How are people to know what to repent of unless they are told? If they are not told, will they not think their pastor is okay with them going on in sin? He mentions the specific virtues common to holiness, but he says nothing specific about sin. This is a lopsided emphasis. The Bible lists both our virtues and our sins.

(2) Concerning regeneration, which he does not mention per se. He says that these persons who’ve signed up to repent have ‘changed their own hearts.’ When preachers in pulpits speak of a change of heart, they usually mean that change traditionally understood to be accomplished by the Holy Spirit alone, in that work the Bible calls regeneration. So what this man is doing, hopefully by mistake, is attributing this work that only God can do, not to God, but to man. He seems to confuse repentance and regeneration.

(3) Concerning the way: (A) It is a holy way. This is to be separate, distinct, he says. This is correct. He speaks of this as it is with God. But when he says that those who walk in the way must become increasingly holy, he does not say how holiness is obtained, maintained, and increased (by the Holy Spirit, through faith in Jesus’ life and death.) (B) A Way on the Margins. The way might be on the margins. But being on the margins of society does not prove we’re on the Jesus way. Just go and look at all the unrepentant sinners down at the soup kitchens and at the Buffalo Hotel, not just those who are helped, but the helpers. And consider, too, all the sinners in prominent positions in societies in history who have repented, like the Haldane family, for instance, who were aristocrats. And so to be on the margins with the marginalized may mean nothing at all. (C) A Way of Sacrifice. What kind of ambitions must we lay down at Jesus’ feet? He does not tell us. How are we to know which ones? Earlier in the sermon he cites 1 Corinthians 13 as the passage exhibiting what a holy person looks like. This is good. But this passage also shows that even the most sacrificial soul may be in a lost condition. Since this is the case, a qualification pointing this out seems necessary. One could be on as sacrificial a way as Mother Theresa was on, and still be on the wrong way.

(4) Concerning the two ways in Psalm 1. No sins are singled out here as being committed by those on the wrong way. All we get from his quoting of the Psalm is that it must be wrong to be ungodly. But this is a state, or condition. What sins are involved? This is what the people need to be told. He says that the way of the wicked will perish. The wicked will be irrecoverably lost. But what does it mean to be lost? Is it hell? We are not told. What are some of the characteristics, at least? He does not give us any. 

Conclusion: Because of the mention of these first two imperatives, repentance and faith, possibly he is addressing Christians alone. At one point he does say that by the work of Jesus we get to God. But then he contradicts this by presenting ‘the way’ as a lifestyle. Here is how that happens. He says, “The way is not a proper set of beliefs, not a lot of activity in the name of God, but a person and relationship with Jesus…It is a person, but also a way of life.” I don’t know what he means by ‘not a lot of activity,’ for this seems to contradict the way as being a self-sacrificial lifestyle among the marginalized. The way is a person and a relationship with that person. This is true. But what about the statement that the way is not a set of beliefs? This statement is not surprising since John 14.6 was not exposited, but used as a springboard instead. John 14.6 teaches Jesus as the way to God. Mr. Cochrane is teaching lifestyle as the way. Maybe Mr. Cochrane did not mean to communicate a method of works as the way, but this was my first impression. It is natural to get this impression because John 14.6 is about Jesus as the way of access to the Father. When lifestyle is presented as the way instead of Jesus, who he is and what he did, the sermon comes across as getting to God by how we live. This is salvation by works. And this shows the danger of using a text as a springboard instead of expositing it. When people see access to God in the verse, and then they pour Mr. Cochrane’s content into it, they will interpret the way as access to God by a lifestyle of works. There is no real exposition and preaching here. Exposition would have prevented these errors. The message feels like advice and self-improvement. In this sermon there is no content to repentance, regeneration is by the sinner, and the way seems like nothing else but salvation by the moral law, though this is not well defined. The way presented seems to be a self-reformation of whatever the sinner believes must be reformed, for no sins that must be repented of are specified. These errors are the common lot of contemporary theology, and are committed by those who hold this idea that Christianity is nothing but a relationship. “Jesus’ truth gets far more attention than Jesus as the way,” says Mr. Cochrane. But truth is exactly what gets least attention today. Truths like justification and redemption are precisely what are needed to show the way because he who is the way opens the door through these realities. And a singling out of sins is needed because only by conviction of sin will sinners repent and be ushered by God into this way of Jesus. The way can never be disconnected from belief, as was done in this sermon. If the way does not include a set of beliefs concerning Jesus and our sin, it cannot be the Jesus way. The way in John 14.6 is about access to God by Jesus for salvation from hell and admission into God’s kingdom. The necessity of believing as much is implied. So the way is a set of beliefs, after all.

This sermon was listened to and discussed by three Christians. The first one wrote this analysis, which is based mostly on what he thought. The other two generally agree with it. And these two persons were asked two questions at the end of the discussion. First, in case the sermon was for the lost, “Did you see the way of salvation in the sermon?” The first one answers, “This must be preaching to the saved.” The second one answers, “Not clearly.” Second, in case the sermon was for the saved, “Could you stay comfortable in your sins during this sermon?” The first one answers, “Yes!” The second one answers, “Yes, I was not convicted at all. Without the conviction of sin, how can there be any true repentance? Without repentance, how can there be salvation and growth? The preacher’s goal in every message must be to bring sinners to repentance while drawing genuine believers closer to Christ. Nothing less pleases Almighty God.”

Mr. Cochrane, we have brought our discussion and notes of your sermon together into the form of this document so that nothing we aim to share with you is lost. Your communication to us is welcome and desired. While we understand how busy you must be, we encourage you to examine whether or not what we have said is true. Our concern is for the proper conveyance of God’s truth.