Mr. Vallee, as you can see, this is another analysis of one of your sermons. Permit us to point out that you say that you want to be outside your comfort zone—‘outside the box.’ If these words of yours are sincere, then you will carefully look over this analysis of the sermon you said these things in, will you not? Once we state that we want to be challenged and that we want to grow, do we not have to follow through and prove ourselves honest? Are we correct in guessing that your sermons do not receive a lot of examination? You would certainly be outside your box by perusing this exercise of ours. We believe that if you are an honest man, you will scrutinize your sermon and our analysis of it in light of Scripture in a prayerful, humble spirit toward God, and that your prayer to God will include asking him to show you what we, as weak as we are, are trying to show you.
Mr. Vallee, Living Stones, The Difference Jesus Makes.
Summary: (He begins with a prayer concerning what difference our lives make as Christians. Then he follows with a story of tragedy that begs the question, ‘Why?’) His text is Luke 7. His theme is the difference Jesus makes in four areas of our lives. (A) Sickness. We all have an appointed time. We have to have a vision beyond this life. (Anecdotes of terminal illness follow.) The centurion in Luke 7: “We would describe him today as a non-believer, if I can use that term, right?” Merit does not attain anything in the kingdom of God. The centurion said, “I do not deserve….” He recognized that Jesus had authority over disease. Some people are healed; some are not. It’s about more than just faith, and faith is about more than results. (He reads a little from Hebrews 11.) We must put our faith in God regardless of outcomes. (The example is the faith of three Hebrew boys before king Nebuchadnezzar.) Bring your crisis to Jesus, not because of what you have done, but because of who he is. (B) Sorrow. This happens to all of us. Then we ask God, “Where are you?” We get angry with God. Sorrow shatters our image of who we think God is. When we suffer, God’s heart goes out to us just as Jesus’ heart went out to the woman at the funeral of her son. Here we have the author of life encountering death. There is hope beyond this life. Jesus conquered death for us. We will be reunited with our loved ones. Life is not a right, but a gift. (Anecdotes follow.) In our darkest times, Jesus is with us. (C) Personal Struggle. John the Baptist went through this. “John is telling people to straighten their lives out, and Jesus is hanging out with sinners…John is telling them to repent, and Jesus is hangin’ with them.” God’s ways are not our ways. God asks one to do this, another to do that. It is so dangerous for us to be critical. John the Baptist needed to be encouraged. Jesus sent the disciples to him to explain. Job became a better man after his tests. Job declared to God that he didn’t know what he was up to but that he was going to trust God anyway. We can’t understand the mind of God. We need personal affirmation. Jesus affirmed John’s ministry. When we see no results, we get discouraged. If you’re struggling, the word for you today is, ‘Stand firm.’ Our labor in the Lord is not in vain. Our lives make a difference. How do I know this? Because the Bible says you are greater than John the Baptist. Why are you greater? Because you’re in the kingdom of God. (D) Sin. (He references G. Campbell Morgan.) This woman in Luke 7 who washed Jesus’ feet went from sin to worship. I like what Michael Wilcott points out, “The formal religion of the Pharisees had no answer to the problem of sin, and could only respond with disapproval and condemnation.” (Vallee): “Sometimes we become Pharisaical when we look upon other people disapprovingly and condemningly.” Jesus could actually do away with sin and bring salvation and peace. He doesn’t disapprove and condemn. He forgives. “Have you, like the centurion, discovered life as a gift of grace? Do you realize, like the widow of Nain, that Jesus is the author of life? Have you ever wondered, like John, what Jesus was doing in your life, because it didn’t match your expectations? Wherever you are, the issue is how you respond to him: in worship, like the woman with the tarnished past whose sins were forgiven, or in a distant, self-righteous mode like Simon, who had no idea that God was at his house. And he was totally indifferent to him. What difference does Jesus make? I think he makes all the difference in the world. He can deal with whatever situation you’re faced with today.” We should never be critical. People are all different. They do things differently. We could be children of God, and be coming at it from a totally different angle. Sometimes we’re very harsh with each other. Say this, “I want God to do some exciting things in my life. I want God to open the play-book.” He wants to do it anyway. He’s going to do it anyway. You’re just opening yourself up.
Remarks. The title and division of this sermon suit the text. On the first point, sickness is presented as something faith cannot always remedy; and healing is always undeserved. Faith is not just about results, and it should be applied regardless of outcomes. On the second point, sorrow is presented as that which all will experience, and as that which shatters our image of who we think God is. On the third point, personal struggles are presented as tests that make better people out of us and that happen regardless of our obedience. On the fourth point, sin is presented as that which Jesus forgives and takes away. This is all good, as far as it goes. Facts like these are lost on many pastors today, sad to say. But this presentation of Luke 7, even with such excellent facts, is not that enlightening nor convincing. The difference Jesus makes is not made very clear, and therefore it is not very memorable. And, if we may be bold enough to risk saying so, the pastor comes off just a little self-righteous because of his oft mentioning all the good that is done behind the scenes by the staff in his church. Also, many of his expressions seem calculated to generate a chummy relationship with his listeners. Because of this, the atmosphere is no doubt unbecoming of a pulpit space.
Having said that, here are the major faults. (1) His misrepresentations. About the doubts that John the Baptist entertained, he says, “John is telling people to straighten their lives out, and Jesus is hanging out with sinners…John is telling them to repent, and Jesus is hangin’ with them.” But were the Baptist’s doubts really because Jesus treated sinners differently than he had? Why did Jesus praise John, then? In light of what seems like a subtle attempt to contrast the ministries of Jesus and John the Baptist in an unbiblical way, what Mr. Vallee’s position amounts to is that John the Baptist must have been wrong to preach as strongly as he did, and that Jesus did not preach like him at all. John the Baptist preached repentance. But Jesus hung out with sinners. This is what Mr. Vallee communicates. Maybe he doesn’t mean to, but this is what is communicated. This idea that Jesus hung out with sinners connotes a very different Jesus than the New Testament reveals. It is irreverent language. And it is no exaggeration to say that this sort of language borders on blasphemy. It gives the impression that Jesus did not reprove sinners, but just hung out with them, forgiving without warning or commanding, and maybe even participating in some of their sins to make them feel comfortable. That’s the kind of image we get from the phrase, ‘hanging out.’ No one can blame us for seeing this image because participating in sin is what people who ‘hang out’ do. Lazy people hang out. Immoderate sinners hang out. People who gossip hang out. People who ‘walk in the counsel of the ungodly’ hang out. People who ‘stand in the way of sinners’ hang out. People who ‘sit in the seat of the scornful’ hang out. This is the kind of Jesus communicated in this sermon: someone who hung out with sinners the way we see vagrants hang out downtown near the library. But we do not accuse Mr. Vallee of this misrepresentation of Jesus solely on the ground of his use of the phrase ‘hanging out.’ This is not just a case of using unguarded, careless language. The tendency of this sermon is to present a ‘non-judgmental’ Jesus who just loved and forgave and never accused anyone of anything. To bolster his misrepresentation, Mr. Vallee misrepresents the case of the sinful woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her hair and tears in Luke 7. Jesus did not disapprove or condemn in this instance. This is true. But what Mr. Vallee fails to mention is that Jesus, unlike anyone else, knew her heart, and that this woman was approved and commended because she was repentant. And so the disapproving attitude we should no longer have toward sinners is not, as Mr. Vallee presents it, toward all sinners, but only those who are repenting. Because people do things differently, or are coming at it from different angles, we should never be harsh with each other, Mr. Vallee says. It is difficult to know what he means by statements like this one because he does not qualify. But the tenor of his message is that we should not criticize people even if they are continuing in lifestyles of sin. This must be it, because with Mr. Vallee, it’s all about forgiveness, but nothing on what should be repented of in order to the blessing. This is a gross caricature of the method of salvation, and no one can be saved by it. We’ve got to wonder on what basis Mr. Vallee says to his listeners that they can hope to be reunited with their loved ones hereafter. How can they unless they repent to be forgiven? And for all we know, assuming these loved ones died under the ministry of this church, they might not even be in heaven to be reunited with! It is blunt and uncommon to draw a deduction like this, but is it not a logical one? It worries me when this pastor speaks about his obligation to be ‘outside the box.’ The tone and content of his message indicate that this means that he thinks he’s supposed to become less and less critical of sin and more and more accepting of unrepentant sinners. Messages pervaded with this kind of uncritical mood and manipulation of Scripture can only result in a church more and more filled with hypocrites. Mr. Vallee fears that he and his congregation might take on a Pharisaical spirit by a disapproval of sinners. But a Pharisee is not one who simply disapproves and condemns. God sometimes disapproves and condemns. Christians are commanded to do the same when necessary (Galatians 1.8.) Therefore it is not always wrong to disapprove and condemn. A Pharisee is a professing child of God who disapproves and condemns others for not obeying his own superfluous commands or additions to the law and who does so even while he himself remains unrepentant. And the unrepentant hypocrite is just the sort of person Mr. Vallee can expect to create by not preaching, as Jesus and John the Baptist both did, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ This is the sad truth. And it is not a pleasant thing to have to point out. Though Mr. Vallee is wrong to classify the centurion as a ‘non-believer,’ it is revealing of his fearful unwillingness to sound like a ‘condemning’ preacher that he apologizes for having to call him that. A message of forgiveness without any command to repent is not the gospel, but a heresy of the most dangerous kind. Heresies result in hypocrites. A hypocrite is a Christian in profession and name only, who has not repented and yet assumes he is forgiven. And so what heresy will more greatly tend to make hypocrites than this omission of having to repent in order to be forgiven? How does this pastor know that the labors of his members are not in vain? Not by being convinced of the state of their souls as a result of sound preaching, faithful, instructed lives, and spiritual fruit. No, but because the Bible says they are greater than John the Baptist! What ‘greater than John the Baptist’ means, at least, is that those referred to are in a saved condition. But should Mr. Vallee just assume that all his listeners are saved? He assures them of a reward even while he undermines the doctrines by which they must be saved in order to any reasonable prospect of reward! Mr. Vallee may not be attempting to deceive. We will not even assert that his misrepresentations are from his own mind. Maybe he borrowed them. We’ll give him the benefit of doubt. But deception must be the effect of such lukewarm preaching. Sinners will be deceived all the way to hell by preaching like this. And we cannot warn of such a thing too severely. Mr. Vallee is obviously shy of preaching sin and repentance. This is our best guess as to why he misrepresents as he does. For instance, consider his misrepresentation of that passage about John having come to neither eat nor drink, while Jesus came eating, drinking, etc. This passage is about John the Baptist and Jesus both being rejected and caricatured by faultfinders just for fulfilling their respective missions. But Mr. Vallee uses this passage, not to warn against judging sinfully or hypocritically, but to warn against judging at all. Paul says to Timothy to ‘preach the word’ and he tells Titus to ‘speak the things which become sound doctrine.’ Mr. Vallee preaches a softened word, a word without teeth, an emasculated word that falls far short of sound, solid doctrine. When he mentions the various duties fulfilled by Jesus Christ in his mission (see Luke 7.22), it is no surprise that he leaves out his preaching the gospel to the poor. This is the very aspect that Mr. Vallee is most shy of.
(2) His coercion. It might seem like a contradiction that a pastor could be timid and coercive at the same time to the same people. But Mr. Vallee is coercive in spite of his timid spirit because he seeks a response from his listeners. Why he seeks this response is an open question. Maybe he suspects his listeners are not saved after all, even though he’s just treated them as if they were. Maybe he thinks they can be saved even by his watered down gospel and modern methods. Maybe he’s looking to add numbers to his church, not saved souls, but numbers. We just don’t know. What he’s doing is just what is in vogue in evangelicalism today. Near the end of his sermon, he starts to speak in a very orchestrated, scripted manner. And then the background music begins to play while he coaxes the people to ‘open up’ to God. This is a manipulation of the emotions and wills of the people, especially considering that their intellects have just been misinformed and deceived. And because the minds of these people have not been properly instructed on how salvation is obtained, any response elicited is liable to be an emotional response merely, without any genuine repentance to speak of. Instead of commanding repentance, Mr. Vallee coaxes the people to adopt the following approach to God, “I want God to do some exciting things in my life. I want God to open the play-book.” Is this preaching? No, this is psychological jargon that manipulates instead of saves. And this kind of language teaches people to be vague in their approach to God. It is indefinite, indeterminate language that people use who do not want to commit and sanctify. This pastor’s behavior is quite contradictory. On the one hand, he assumes the people are in a state of salvation, while on the other hand, a watered down gospel is given by which to be saved; and on the one hand, he asserts that God will do everything anyway, while on the other he goes so far as to manipulate emotions to elicit a response. Why is this sermon not convicting? Because there needs to be a preaching of sins to sinners for that to occur. It is useless for the pastor to try to manufacture a response like he does at the end. The Holy Spirit will induce his own response according to his own will. But for any hope of this happening, the pastor must preach rightly, then stand back and trust the Spirit to move sinners to repent.
Conclusion. Mr. Vallee thinks that preaching sin and exposing sinners is wrong. This would be too ‘disapproving’ and ‘condemning.’ Mr. Vallee would have us believe that Jesus cultivated a buddy relationship with sinners that John the Baptist was too hard on. But the Bible shows that both John and Jesus disapproved of sin and that sinners are under condemnation. To preach the fact of condemnation is not condemnatory in any sinful sense. Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world. But he said, “He that believeth not is condemned already” (John 3.18.) If it’s so wrong to speak like this, why did Jesus do it? And since Mr. Vallee’s preaching is that which tends to make sinners into hypocritical professors, the perilous probability is that instead of approving and affirming these people deceived by Mr. Vallee, Jesus will instead address them as vipers just as appointed to hell as the Pharisees of old. And the pastor guilty of being the blind man leading others into the ditch of hell will receive the greater damnation. It may sound unfriendly and even combative to say these things. But it is the loving thing to do, for souls, including the pastor’s, are in danger. If the apostle Paul blurted out his own condemnation at the mere thought of not preaching the gospel, then should every pastor not fear? No one who understands even a bit about what Jesus is truly like and how deadly his judgment will be, will maintain for a second that these warnings are unwarranted or overly sharp. Any sermon that aims to show Jesus as an indulgent fellow who forgives without demanding repentance must be regarded as an abominable heresy that the devil takes advantage of to deceive souls into hell. Strong warnings are therefore necessary.