Tuesday, February 21, 2012


(Because of the wretched state of Red Deer’s pulpit space, it is now, as predicted by Solomon in Ecclesiastes 3, the time to ‘pluck up that which is planted…a time to break down…a time to weep…a time to cast away stones’ and even ‘a time to refrain from embracing.’ And it is certainly more ‘a time to speak’ than ‘a time to keep silence.’ Be that as it may, the wrecking ball of negative criticism should be followed by the laying down of truth. To this end, we introduce the sermon sketch as an intermittent blog feature. As the term ‘sketch’ implies, this kind of post, in distinction from the usually lengthy analysis, will be pithy. The source for each sketch will be indicated at the bottom of each post.)

Spiritual Revival the Want of the Church

“O Lord, revive thy work” (Habakkuk 3.2.)

Introduction. All true religion is the work of God. It is his greatest work. He views the work of grace as being more glorious than the works of nature. I believe the Eternal might sooner forgive the sin of attributing the creation of the heavens and of the earth to an idol, than that of attributing the works of grace to any thing else but God. There are means and agencies employed, but the work of converting the soul is both start and finish wholly the Lord’s. He converts, maintains, completes, and perfects the life of the soul and Church. Therefore, ‘O Lord, revive thy work!’

(1) Revival in Ourselves. We are too quick to flog the church, too fast to magnify her little errors. Let’s lay the whip on our personal shoulders first. I will not flatter you. London is a huge criminal full of sin; if all of its professors of religion were true, this city would be less wicked. Let us admit it, or our enemies will! How many church members are liars or money-chasers, grinding the faces of the poor? Now if these be true Christians, is not their spark smothered, needing to be fanned into a flame? Ah, it is so fashionable to be religious when persecution is taken away! If you are fake, quit pretending! If you are real, quit your errors! Do you think that God would now stoop from heaven to listen to the conversation of his church? Where is the talk of our Lord and Master? Are we too scared to speak of Christ for fear of being called strange? O, we must not talk about this doctrine or the other because so and so disbelieves it! Then we end up with nothing but worldly talk! Now let me ask—when did you last have a love-visit from Jesus? Do you weep and groan over this lack? Maybe you are content without Christ? Ah, you need prayer most of all! There are many that need revival, but only few that feel they need it. Stir up your feelings by recollecting what the Lord has done for you. If you feel your need you will groan to have the ordinances of song, preaching, and communion to seem as sweet as once they were! Is your emptiness an aching void? Forget about resolutions to revive yourself. Instead, pray, ‘O Lord, revive thy work!’ When you really feel the lack of revival, you will never speak of reviving yourself! He that first made you must revive you!

(2) Revival in the Church. This age is too much the age of form, not enough of life. Men are the rarest things in all the world. Compared with the puritanic times, where are our preachers? our Howes,  our Charnocks? Where is the galaxy of grace that followed Whitefield? We have no real preaching today. Where are the preaching tears? There is a lack of revival because there is a lack in the pulpit. And look at the lack of good teaching. Orthodox men of old would be called heretics today! The decline was gradual, and was begun by ministers who were ashamed to preach the hard doctrines! We need revival of sound teaching. And we need a revival of zeal too. Our prayer meetings are too empty. We are too honorable in the world’s eyes. If we were zealous we would be hated more. Maybe you think we are fine, that there is no need? But some of us will cry out for reviving. We need life, not new plans, forms, and fresh ministers—but life!

Selection from Conclusion. “O! for the days when in this place hundreds were converted sometimes under Whitefield’s sermons. It has been known that two thousand credible cases of conversion have happened under one solitary discourse…O! for the age of deep feeling…Let us ask God for it; let us plead with him for it. Perhaps he has the man, or the men, somewhere, who will shake the world yet; perhaps even now he is about to pour forth a mighty influence upon men!”

{This sermon by C. H. Spurgeon (1834-1892) is sketched by M. H. Gaboury.}

Thursday, February 2, 2012


May 2011

This is the third sermon by Mr. Lane that we have chosen to review. We listened by podcast.

Mr. Lane, Balmoral Bible Chapel, October 31st, 2010, Been Invited to any Good Parties Lately?

Summary: (The sermon is prefaced by Mr. Lane’s approving comment on a shelter, which he follows up by a comment on Jesus’ first miracle.) John is excited that the word became flesh. (He reads from 1 John 1.) They saw him with their eyes! Matthew says his name will be Emmanuel, God with us. We need to be Jesus in the flesh. Stand as we read from John 2. Notice the outcome, the disciples put their faith in him. (He quotes John 20.31.) The purpose of John’s writing is to bring people to faith. We see this in John 1.34 and later in the testimony of Nathaniel. The story of the wedding feast at Cana is one of eight signs to bring us to faith in Jesus as the Son of God. That’s the bigger picture. The story is not just a proof of his divinity. There are lessons there. (A) The location, Cana of Galilee. We don’t know exactly where Cana was or is. If I were orchestrating a miracle, I would pick a more known place to do it in. That’s not what Jesus did. (B) Jesus and his disciples were invited to the wedding. Some people explain their own lack of faith as the result of not being helped by God. But they never invited God to the party. God always takes the initiative. But we need to invite him. Without his presence, we can’t benefit from his blessing. Are you inviting Jesus into every area of your life? Don’t expect God’s help unless you’ve invited Jesus into your life. (C) The problem was running short of wine. This was a very serious problem in that culture. Mary realizes the solution is in her Son. ‘Do whatever he tells you’ are the last recorded words of Mary. She expresses trust that he is in control. He hears and he responds. Take it to Jesus because he cares. Trust is followed by obedience. They filled the jars to the brim. Blessing comes from obedience. (He reads John 15.10, 11.) Love is proven by obedience, and obedience is followed by joy. In the Bible wine is equated to joy. Jesus wants to fill us to the brim. The lesson for disciples is that you can only be obedient if you are listening. You need to be in his word. You listen to obey. (D) The water was transformed. We have a God who can transform lives, taking evil and bringing good out of it. (He reads Psalm 30.11.) God clothes us with joy. What a God we have! He can make us a new creation. He transforms rebels into children of God. (E) God is always surprising us, like choosing Cana. He chose Israel, the least of people (Deuteronomy 7.7.) He chooses Mary, humble and of no means. Shepherds are chosen to announce Jesus’ arrival. He is raised in Nazareth, the backwoods town. He chose unschooled, ordinary men for disciples. I’m so glad of God’s choices because he chooses rejected, humble, unqualified people; in short, people like you and me. (He relates a birthday story by Tony Campolo.) We should reach out to the street-people of Red Deer. That’s what Jesus would do. Spiritually speaking, without Christ we are lost, homeless, rejected, as outcasts to God. Jesus comes into the picture and transforms us and throws us a party. We’re all invited. Have you accepted your invitation? (He shares a story about his mother and a nursing home.) The nursing home is a great leveler. Everyone there is on the same level. Communion is a great leveler also. We’re on a level playing-field because none of us deserve to be here. And yet Jesus invites us. He says, ‘Come…Remember what I have done for you?’ Just as his people came from lives of weakness, rejection, and wandering, and have been transformed, we come and celebrate. We invite you to share with us in this. (He finishes with prayer.)

Remarks: This sermon is smoothly delivered; Mr. Lane speaks well and does not stumble after words. Though the outline is indistinct and inharmonious (points one and five are synonymous, for instance), the message runs nicely along. Historical details on Cana and wine help to keep up our interest. We are taken passed apologetics into practical Christianity. Applications are made: wine up to the brim, for instance, is like fullness of joy. The story from Mr. Campolo’s trip to Honolulu is affecting. And hearing that ‘do whatever he tells you’ are Mary’s last recorded words really sticks with us for a lasting impact. Without a doubt, this is the best part of the sermon. The shocking thing is that a sermon that sounds so nice and seems so good could have so much wrong with it. Our list of faults is very, very long. We’ll try to be brief, but this will be very, very hard.

Grading this sermon would be impossible to do as a whole. We’re relieved that we’ve not pigeonholed ourselves into having to give a general score. On the one hand, the sermon is charming, heartwarming, uplifting, and extensive in its use of Scripture; on the other hand, biblically, evangelically, and theologically it does not come up to an acceptable standard. Because of its very serious faults, it is more fit to line a birdcage than rest on a pulpit. It might sound terribly harsh to hear it put that way. But if we are allowed to have our say, taking the Bible for our measure, we will be faultless of the charge of sinful faultfinding.

First, there is a comment near the opening that we need to be Jesus with flesh on, or Jesus in the flesh. We know that he simply means by this that we need to do the works, or attempt to do the good works, that Jesus did, and would do if he were here on the ground with us, like feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, etc. We know this. But not all do. If Mr. Lane thinks that there are no churchgoing people who will take his comment too literally, he needs to go over to Family of Faith, or have a ‘heart to heart’ on doctrine with Mr. Huizing at the next Ministerial meeting! Belief in the self as god is not limited to new-agers, crackpots, and users of crack. It’s the belief of many of these far-out, emotion-based professors of faith too. That we must be Jesus in the flesh is a precarious comment to leave unqualified when there are so many persons in our churches who are unhinged from the most basic doctrines. Mr. Lane may be in touch in some ways with the churches of Red Deer. But he is not in touch with what’s being preached by some of his ‘brothers’ in the ministry. Instead of being involved in so many programs that tend to give a show of unity, he should get into what his peers are preaching in order to see if unity is genuine and warranted.

Second, in order to highlight the eternality and deity of Christ, Mr. Lane repeats the supposedly astute remark by someone, that Jesus’ first miracle was not, in fact, this one at Cana, but the act of creating all there is. About this miracle at Cana where Jesus turned water into wine, the Bible says ‘this beginning of miracles’ (John 2.11.) The act of bringing the universe into being was no miracle, but something infinitely more wonderful. A miracle is God working above the governing laws of his universe in order to bring something supernatural to pass inside this natural realm. Creation is the generation of a milieu in which a miracle may take place. It is more than a miracle. It is before, above, and beyond the miracle. Maybe Mr. Lane would not hesitate to accuse us of ‘semantics’ here. He does point out Jesus’ divinity by referring to the universe being created by him, and by this point does elevate that act above the miracle at Cana. But to suppose that creation is a prior miracle than the one at Cana is to make a category mistake and to understate the case for Christ’s creative act. It is not small-minded or nit-picky to bring this up. “So much for the miracles which do small and quick what we have already seen in the large letters of God’s universal activity…I must guard against a misunderstanding. Do not imagine I am trying to make the miracle less miraculous” (C. S. Lewis, Miracles.) The difference between a miracle that is wrought in the universe and the universe being created from nothing by decree is an important theological distinction, a distinction that the pastor would not muddle and confound if the books he read were more worthy of a minister’s time. Theological treatises (like those by B. B. Warfield, William Cunningham, or John Bunyan) would help this pastor keep to distinguishing definitions. Popular paperbacks like those by Campolo and Wiersbe will not. If the pastor were to adopt a more serious reading curriculum, he would be enabled to teach Christians something they do not already know and need to learn. The most basic act of Jesus, or God, is qualitatively above even the wonder of doing a miracle. Would teaching this fact not be a practical ministerial act? Could such teaching not evoke some wonderment about what the transcendence of Almighty God must amount to? Theological study is practical. By it we can learn to magnify Divinity above what the average intelligence can reach to. God is magnified by his nature being opened up to people who need to learn about who their Creator, and perhaps Redeemer, fundamentally is. Sadly, arduous theological study is not much respected among ministers today. They dismiss hard reading because they believe (falsely) that deep truth cannot be communicated from the pulpit to their church members. Another reason may be that they are simply too lazy to apply themselves to hard mental work. Throwaway paperbacks are what they feed upon; and because most men can’t tell a husk from a good piece of bread, churchgoers are content to feed on the husks that these ministers serve.  

Third (the character of the sermon), this is watered-down preaching that hypocrites are made by. There is no use saying it any less plainly than that. We’ll keep to the policy of being honest and biblical in our criticism. Anything less would be to water down our own beliefs. What good could be accomplished by that? Pay attention to Mr. Lane’s description of street-people. They are those who need to be reached out to and loved because they are homeless, rejected, weak, wandering, and outcasts to God. We agree. They are homeless, rejected, weak, wandering, and outcasts to God. That’s part of the truth (a small part.) But do some of them not spurn love? Do some of them not hate? Do some of them not wander about committing crimes? Do any of them wander into taverns? casinos? strip clubs? brothels? Are some of them not rejected because they are dangerous, lazy, or abusive? Oh no, not in Mr. Lane’s rose-colored world! Don’t preach to them as sinners! They need only to be loved! Not one single sin is mentioned in this sermon that such persons might be guilty of! No, they must all be perfect saints! Turn your back to some of these rogue vagrants, then, and see what such saintliness amounts to! Go down to the shelters and soup kitchens and see if they should not be called sinners, and if many of them should not be called wicked, bloody, vicious, and ungrateful! Love them, yes, but when will they be commanded to ‘repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’? Give them a helping hand, yes, but when will they be warned that a person who can still work but won’t is ‘worse than an infidel’? Will treating sinners like perfected saints rescue even one of them from a life of sin and crime, and a death (the second death) worse than a homeless person’s present hell on earth? Mr. Lane would have to say yes, apparently! Some homeless people have been robbed, beaten, and raped. Yes, and so pity them and help them. But have none of them been robbers, abusers, and rapists? Everyone needs to be preached to. Jesus called sinners to repentance. He himself said so. We must imitate him. Simply mentioning that street-people are outcasts to God, by the way, is not preaching, for who knows what that even means unless some sins are mentioned also? You’ve heard of watered-down doctrine. What is watered-down doctrine? In Mr. Lane’s sermon you have a definitive example of it, a sad spectacle of sinful substitution of Scripture terminology for something soft and pleasing. Asking people whether they have invited God to the party, is this evangelism? No, this is the substitute that a ‘nice’ pastor has to come up with because the language of his own Bible offends him! Nice pastors who use ‘party’ language for evangelism do not realize how crude they are in scared matters. This is the kind of dirt you end up with when you let the fear of man determine the character of your ministry. Invite God to the party? How will street-people take this? There they are in bushes passing their bottle around. ‘Hey, let’s invite God to the party, man! ha! ha! ha! Pass me the needle from the needle exchange, Bud, and I’ll show you how to invite God to a party! ha! ha! ha!’ That’s the effect you can expect from sissified evangelism! If one were to invite God at all, it would be because the party is over, not because it is in session! Invite God to the party? That sounds like we’ve got to save God from some sad estate! Maybe God is the one who is a sad, lost outcast, eh, Mr. Lane? Invite God to the party. There’s Mr. Lane’s solution for lost men in a state of condemnation leading to hellfire. “Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13.3.) Mr. Lane says to invite God to the party. Everything must be okay! Jesus Christ says to repent, or else perish. Something must be dramatically wrong! Now in regards to evangelism, is Mr. Lane following Jesus? If you do not see the startling difference between Mr. Lane’s cowardly evangelism (which is no evangelism at all) and the warning by Jesus Christ to repent or else, then you are a poor, lost, sin-filled soul, and ‘ye must be born again.’ If you are a Christian who is not offended by Mr. Lane’s party substitute for evangelism, then you are among the most unsanctified of saints in all of history. Does the dignity of God and the glory of the gospel mean anything to anyone anymore? Does it mean anything to you? Should the words of our Lord Jesus Christ determine a minister’s message and method, or not? If the answer is yea, then this criticism by us of Mr. Lane’s sermon is a blessing to you. You should be happy to see the man’s corrupting message pointedly corrected.

Mr. Lane has a special reason (though not a good one) for being faint-hearted this time round. He is on this day entertaining this woman from the shelter; and she may have brought some street-people with her. ‘How will I not offend?’ This must be the question haunting his mind. But don’t worry; he has dug up this story from some Tony Campolo romance. He will show this lady and all the street-people she represents that the gospel need not be offensive to any, no matter how sinful. Here, then, we will bring something in from the real world of C. H. Spurgeon:

“Hear me, then, brethren! What the apostle Paul did, every minister ought to do. He selected a topic appropriate to his audience. It is ours ever to do the same. But are there not to be found many ministers who, if they addressed kings and princes, would pour out before them the vilest adulation and flattery that ever came from mortal lips? Are there not many who, when they are aware that great and mighty ones are listening to them, trim their doctrine, cut the edges of their speech, and endeavor in some way or other to make themselves pleasing to their audience…Are there not some to be found, who think the highest object of the minister is to attract the multitude and then to please them? O my God! how solemnly ought each of us to bewail our sin, if we feel that we have been guilty in this matter. What is it to have pleased men? Is there aught in it that can make our head lie easy on the pillow of our death? Is there aught in it that can give us boldness in the day of judgment, or cause us happiness when we face thy tribunal, O Judge of quick and dead? No, my brethren,we must always take our texts so that we may bear upon our hearers with all our might. I hope I may never preach before a congregation — I desire always to preach to you…I would simply say, ‘Hear me, my fellow men, for God doth send me unto you. There are some things that concern you; I will tell you of them. You are dying; many of you when you die must perish for ever, it is not for me to be amusing you…it is for me to fit the arrow to the string and send it home — to unsheathe the sword — be the scabbard never so glittering, to cast it aside, and let the majesty of naked truth smite at your hearts’…But some men will say, ‘Sir, ministers ought not to be personal.’ Ministers ought to be personal, and they will never be true to their Master till they are. I admire John Knox for going, Bible in hand, to Queen Mary, and sternly upbraiding her. I admit I do not exactly love the way in which he did it; but the thing itself I love. The woman had been a sinner, and he told her so flat to her face. But now we poor craven sons of nobodies have to stand and talk about generalities; we are afraid to point you out and tell you of your sins personally. But, blessed be God, from that fear I have been delivered long ago. There walketh not a man on the surface of this earth whom I dare not reprove. There are none of you, however connected with me by ties of profession or in any other respect, that I would blush to speak personally to, as to the things of the kingdom of God; and it is only by being bold, courageous, and sending home the truth, that we shall at last be free from the blood of our hearers. May God grant us the power of Paul, that we may reason on appropriate subjects, and not select generalities, when we ought to be pushing home truths to the consciences of our hearers. After all, the apostle Paul needs no eulogy. The best eulogy that could be passed on the apostle was the fact that ‘Felix trembled’” (Paul’s Sermon Before Felix.)

What ministerial eulogy will be passed on Mr. Lane? Did anyone tremble during this ‘party’ sermon of his? Has his preaching made anyone tremble ever? Has he ever really ‘reasoned,’ as the apostle Paul did, ‘of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come?’ These are impolite questions that will disturb men, who, like Agag, walk ‘delicately’ (1 Samuel 15.) But listen, you persons who will not tolerate just criticism! The sword of Samuel hewed Agag to pieces; and the sword of God’s justice may be hanging over your head right now, for he who does not think men need to tremble from a sermon has probably never been humbled by the word of God. Agag thought the bitterness of death was past. But it was at the door! It may be likewise the case with you. Maybe the sting of death will gain the victory over you, after all. “O death, where is thy sting?” Maybe that rhetorical question is not your victory to claim.

Who is this sermon for, anyway? Disciples who have put their faith in Christ? Or those persons who have ‘never invited God to the party?’ Whichever it is, consider this business of ‘inviting God to the party.’ The lost sheep that was recovered by Jesus, did he invite Jesus to find him, or did Jesus have to go fetch him without having heard so much as a bleat? The certain man who was wounded and left for dead, was it by some invitation of his that the Good Samaritan came to his rescue? What about Lazarus? Did he invite Jesus to resurrect him from the dead? Mr. Lane’s theology of invitation is at odds with the theology of the Bible. There is not one single instance in the whole Bible of anyone ‘inviting’ God to a party or anything else, and not one single instance of anyone inviting Jesus into his heart. The inviting is done by Jesus, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11.28.) Jesus invites; we receive. The concept of inviting God or Jesus or the Holy Ghost, if that may be found in the Bible, must be very cautiously integrated with, and tempered by, the more obvious call by God for sinners to repent, which call to repentance the invitation by Jesus implies. The invitation, or command, by God for sinners to repent, where is this to be found in the works of Mr. Lane? If it is to be found at all, what is it worth when he will not tell us what it is we are to repent of? What is it worth when he will not expound to us the consequences of not repenting; that is, what judgment and hell are? What worth is it to say that God takes the initiative when this fallacious form of ‘invitation’ is preached instead of regeneration? It is a fearful thing when we search a sermon for precious stones, only to find stubble instead! What will the piercing eye of an all-seeing God find? Will a pastor stand when his sermon does not? We fear for you, Mr. Lane, and for ourselves too! yes indeed! for who does not fail every day! But the Bible teaches that your sermon must make the cut! And does it? Who is willing to stand out and reprove you? Love like this is a thousand times better than all the flattery you receive! Has anyone in the Ministerial ever pointed out the faults in any one of your sermons? Are they not willing? Are they not qualified? And these are your brothers?! Is this brotherly love?! Is this the sacred unity that you hold so dear?! 

Now directly to this story of Mr. Campolo’s that Mr. Lane is so enthusiastic about. Mr. Campolo threw a party for a prostitute after overhearing that she’d never been the subject of a party before. That is the gist of it. And then comes the emotional pitch: “Wouldn’t we all love to join a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at three in the morning? Well that’s the kind of church that Jesus came to create.” We’re all supposed to gush (without thinking), ‘O yes! yes! Let’s have a church like that!’ But what’s the proper answer? Not the emotion-based one, but the cool-headed, biblical one. The answer is no. Churches (not good ones, anyway) don’t throw parties for prostitutes. They preach to them as sinners that will end up in a worse hell than the street corner or the back alley unless they crawl out of the sewer to embrace the bloody cross of Christ! The prostitute is not going to go to heaven because you threw her a party. Street-people are not going to be saved by our catering to their whims and sins. Mr. Campolo’s background is sociology; popular sociology, it seems, pretty much sums up his unbiblical methods. His is an indiscriminate acceptance of sinners to whom it would be a sin to preach. And this sermon, especially given its shameful title, seems more based on Tony Campolo’s story than the formal wedding feast of Mr. Lane’s Bible text. Mr. Lane’s object is the same as Mr. Campolo’s: to get people into church at any cost, even at the cost of dumbing down Scripture and refusing to call evil evil, and sin sin. To get listeners to assent to what he is teaching, Mr. Lane appeals to their emotions, not Scripture doctrine. This is what you call demagoguery, which is the favorite tool of crooked politicians. This story is the tool for manipulating listeners by appealing to their emotions. Did Jesus throw parties for prostitutes? Or was it not that prostitutes were laid low before him, stricken by their sense of sin? Does that sound like a party? What good would it do to get prostitutes and street-people into a church like Mr. Lane’s? For sure, he will not preach to them! He won’t preach to them on the street because he’s not an evangelist. And he won’t preach to them in church because he’s afraid of his own pulpit. He thinks they’ll be ‘transformed’ by niceness. When you leave it to this word ‘transform’—I mean without explanation and without regenerative doctrine, what will people take it to mean? What will sinners take ‘transformation’ to mean? Self-reform? By being transformed, you’ll have a story, the pastor says. Through preaching like this? What kind of story? Like the one the prostitute in Campolo’s story has to tell? She was still on her way to hell after the party was over. Is that a good story? Street-people will be on the same broad way after they are fed, clothed, sheltered, financed, drugged, and catered to. Is that a good story? By imitating Tony Campolo instead of Christ, Mr. Lane comes up with a party theme instead of a wedding feast. And that is a sure way to end up with a bad sermon; and in consequence, with people under your charge who will be forbidden access to the Wedding Feast that matters most of all. Prostitution, instead of being preached as the degrading, disgusting sin that it is, is romanticized by Mr. Campolo, and through a ‘green as grass’ evaluation of material for sermon illustration, by Mr. Lane also. The Bible is misrepresented by Mr. Lane in order to get the unchurched into church. This is not done by the title of his sermon merely. The title is just the sign that something will be wrong in the sermon. The whole sermon is a misrepresentation: of sin, of preaching, of Scripture, and of ecclesiastical order, or church discipline. There can be no doubt that when sinners are referred to, almost exclusively, as victims only, and not sinners on their way to hell, that there is a case of misrepresenting the revelation of God. Near his close, the pastor invites whosoever will come, to the ordinance of Communion. By this open invitation, he thinks to put everyone on the same footing, those in church who have come to know Christ as their Saviour, beside those who haven’t. He tries to make the mingling of both these groups together look biblical by equating those who came to Christ in the New Testament era with those who might come to Communion right now alongside Christians. He puts them all together as people who come from lives of weakness, rejection, and wandering. (This is beginning to look as bad as what we saw at Crossroads and Living Stones!) What’s wrong with that? Were New Testament saints those who came from lives of weakness, rejection, and wandering? Is that a fair representation of the case? The outcasts who believed on Christ in the New Testament time were, first and foremost (at least this is what the Bible teaches!), no matter what else they might have been, repenting sinners who turned away from lives of degeneracy, like drunkenness, prostitution, adulteries, fornication, etc. Outcasts, repenting outcasts, may be invited to Communion. Being a rejected wanderer, this alone qualifies no one. Sinners who came to Christ believing in his name were fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, thieves, revilers, and such like. “And such were some of you,” says the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 6.11.) Notice the word ‘were.’ They had repented. Our street-people, by-and-large, have not. And notice that wanderers are not in Paul’s list. Wandering is not necessarily a sin. Neither is rejection, much less weakness! Everyone’s on the same ‘playing-field’ at Communion, says Mr. Lane. Well, they’re supposed to be (and on something a little more holy than a playing-field!) But in this church, if people respond to his invitation as eagerly as he gives it, we have a mixture of Christians and hypocrites, hypocrites made, by the way, by Mr. Lane! Are Christians and hypocrites on the same ‘playing-field’? They’re not on the same level at all. Christians deserve to be communicants based on the merits of Christ received by faith; all others don’t deserve to be there, period, for they are wanderers and worse, and not repentant converts. (They can’t be converts, not through soft preaching like this!) They have not ‘crept in unawares’; well would it be, or at least better, for Mr. Lane if they had! They were openly admitted. And this is why churches burst almost to busting with ignorant sinners who are as hardened as brass against doctrine, Christ, moral conduct, and holiness. The only grace in their souls is the counterfeit kind that pastors like this have convinced them they possess. They care no more for the death of Christ than their next television drama or illicit fix! It’s never been more true to say that the church is full of hypocrites than right now right here in Red Deer (notwithstanding the few ‘which have not defiled their garments.’) The cause of this evil principally rests on the guilty shoulders of pastors like the one whose party sermon is being reviewed in this analysis. As if his open invitation to Communion were not bad enough, he seems to present the ordinance as if those coming to it, perhaps for the first time, might be converted thereby. We’re not dogmatic on this last point. But he seems to be hoping that new communicants will be seduced into getting saved by participating in a holy ordinance they know nothing about and that does not apply to them. Listen to the invitation for yourself, if you can, and then see if it does not sound like a ‘converting ordinance.’ Again, big, hard theological treatises would have helped Mr. Lane; in this case, such ponderous volumes could have helped him observe ecclesiastical order and decorum, to the purpose of keeping worship and fellowship undefiled. But Jonathan Edwards’ Qualifications for Communion is not on the bestseller’s list and never will be. Few readers read what they need to read; even fewer know what their literary needs are. Ministers need to be the wisest of all readers, for the good of the rest of us. 

Conclusion. Mr. Campolo’s story is a carefully measured attempt to get anyone at all into church and to have him treated as a full-blown Christian. Mr. Lane’s reiteration is to the same purpose. We imagine (for we can see no other) that this is the main thrust of his sermon. Incidentally, each point in the sermon would have been sufficient for its own full, separate treatment. If that had been his approach, the chance would have been greater for a main point to emerge. And, while resisting the persuasive emotionalism of Mr. Campolo’s story, an expository treatment of some little piece of text might have given us biblical preaching. Mr. Lane, because of his sensitivity toward persons on the margins of society, coupled with his light reading habits, is all but powerless to resist the temptation to wrest the Scriptures as he does in this charming, pernicious message. This will not absolve him, though; we’re not saying that! He’s in love with people who are hurt. We understand that. We wish that we had his love, only without his blind eye to sin and his disregard for biblical precedent. People are going to hurt a lot more in the long run if you don’t preach to them, Mr. Lane. Have you no sensitivity for that? This pastor is taking a conservative Plymouth Brethren assembly, and driving it into the same ditches that most other churches are already stuck in. It’s good, very good, that he’s an outgoing pastor, though it is possible that he’s the one restraining error there most of all! As poor as his teaching is, he may be the best man there! What then? In any case, it’s a pity that he must go out on such a sad note. He needs to have his ministry ‘transformed.’ It should have been done long ago. Now it might be too late. Now we look to the future, hoping that the men (hopefully they will be men, and we mean this both biblically and biologically) who follow after will be less like-minded in the preparation and delivery of their sermons. It needs to be understood that a minister need not preach against every sin in every sermon. But in a sermon that’s for people to be converted by (like this one), a sermon inviting anyone to Communion (like this one), the doctrine of sin is essential, and that of judgment also. Whitewashing the corrupt nature of man is not done merely in deference to the shelter official who spoke just prior to the sermon being given. This fault seems to be part of Mr. Lane’s modus operandi. Ministers should be blameless, the Bible says. In fact, the Bible says they must. Therefore to be loyal, we must hold them up to that standard. They need to be examined according to what the Bible says they must be. There is no good excuse that a minister can put forward for committing errors like the ones in Red Deer commit. They are far less gifted and educated than ministers of the past. But by depending on former scholars, blamelessness is not out of reach. The best works of history are now available to all to check one’s mediocre sermons by. And so blamelessness in pulpit content is more possible than it ever has been! There is no excuse. Ignorance is a sin. “Though he wist it not, yet is he guilty, and shall bear his iniquity” (Leviticus 5.17.)

You really have to be on the lookout for omissions, these days. It’s not just what’s in a sermon that matters, but what’s missing from it. There is a lot of serious mishandling of God’s word in this message. But what’s missing from it is even worse: the doctrine of sin for sinners needing to know their need of salvation; and passion in the preaching, which will carry the arrow (by the Spirit) of conviction to their hearts. Not much can happen until such reform takes place. Both the minister and his sermon need to be (to use Mr. Lane’s own word) transformed. Unless you deliver some teaching to convict and humble sinners by, the Holy Spirit will not use you as the messenger through which he quickens them and saves them from their perilous course. Pulpit speakers are supposed to be so afraid of God that they’re scared not to faithfully preach. This one is so scared of men (and women too) that he simply can’t bring himself to preach at all. The apostle Paul had the right kind of fear: “Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9.16.) 

Mr. Lane fears man and he dreads gospel preaching. Look at what confusion this causes. On the one hand, he says to invite God to the party. Later, he says that God throws a party and that we are all invited. Which is it? This or that? Who invites? Who’s party is it? What kind of party? Will unrepentant prostitutes and hardened street-people be there? Can Mr. Lane clear up this confusing cacophony of contradictions and concerns? No, even a theological genius would come to his wit’s end trying to unravel this, not that one of these could be found. This party sermon is a dog’s breakfast; as such, it is not fit for the ever-living soul of man. 
There is a sermon by Mr. Lane on the wedding feast at Cana in John 2, Been to any Good Parties Lately? There is a sermon by C. H. Spurgeon on the same text, The Feast of the Lord. When the fire tries the merits of each one, like it says in 1 Corinthians 3.12, guess which sermon will be consumed as wood, hay, and stubble, and which one will endure the fire, and yield up gold, silver, and precious stones? If you were to make your guess, on the sole basis of the title of each, your guess would prove correct. The sermon containing the best wine will stand the test. Parties for prostitutes and the feast of our Lord are not exactly equals.