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, blasé 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?