Monday, November 5, 2012


June 2011

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

Mr. Lane, Balmoral Bible Chapel, The Joy of Easter.

Summary: (He begins with a Tim Hortons anecdote, then, with the congregation standing, reads Matthew 28.1-10.) The joy of Easter. He is not here. He is risen. This is one of the great proclamations of the Bible. Without the resurrection, there is no Christianity. Christ’s resurrection is the seal of God on the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. (A) The Joy of Easter. This joy can be reduced to the promise of life. The shining part to the world around us is that we serve a living Saviour and that he’s in the world today. The thrust of the Bible is that we face life and death issues and choices. Through Adam we have come under a death sentence. Jesus’ plan is to lift that sentence from us. (He reads Deuteronomy 30.19, then from Psalm 116.) God wants us to pass from death into life, beginning here and on to forever. Our life here is temporary and physical, not abiding. John shows us that Jesus is the source of life and that this life is truly life. (He reads of life in Jesus Christ in John 11.25.) Life that is really life can only come from Jesus Christ. The resurrection is the proclamation that God has chosen life for us. And he pleads with us to choose life. Jesus is the life. That’s the joy of Easter. Easter is the celebration of joy in this new life. (B) The Worship of Easter. It’s about the worth of the one you are worshipping. It’s about surrendering to the holiness, power, greatness and majesty of the person worshipped. It’s an expression of commitment. It’s saying that my worth is tied up in you. We have no worth outside of Jesus Christ. Easter is a preview of the coming Day. (He reads from Philippians 2.) Every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection. Easter reminds us of that. (He reads Acts 2.36.) To know Jesus as Saviour is to know him as Lord. (C) The confidence of Easter. Jesus has conquered death. That’s our confidence. Death is no longer the end for the Christian, but the doorway leading to God, to life eternal with Jesus Christ. (He reads 1 Corinthians 15.54.) This may sound good, but maybe you have not entered into the joy of that life. The deep-seated joy that God wants us to have comes with a condition. (He reads John 11.25.) You need to believe in Jesus Christ. That life is available to all of us. (He reads a touching story of a woman who regularly shared the Easter story with others.) Have a joyous Easter. And remember: don’t just rise; shine! 

Remarks: As in the first three sermons by Mr. Lane that we’ve reviewed, many Bible verses are read in this one. Mr. Lane reads very well. There is no comedy in the sermon; there are no digressions; everything is smoothly delivered. By the ‘rise and shine’ theme at the start and close, the sermon is neatly packaged. With all the Scripture focus, the subject of joy, and the invitation proffered to receive, what more from a sermon could one want? As neat and Scripture-filled as this sermon is, however, much more should be desired and much is wrong. As our discussion of this sermon progressed, we were surprised at how many concerns emerged and at how cast down we came to be by a sermon that seemed to come off without a hitch. We ended by sincerely praying that this man would wake up to his ministerial poverty and unbecoming timidity so that he might finish his career as an earnest preacher reaching out in agony for perishing souls. He’s not even remotely close to being moved like he should be. Mr. Lane needs to be affected. He must be made to feel. He needs to have his spirit agitated. He seems to have nothing in him of a mortal man preaching to mortal men who are on the edge of a questionable (not to God) eternity. This message is not a sermon. This is a commentary, with essay-like characteristics thrown in, which ends by an invitation to receive joy, the reception thereof he makes to depend on the emotionally-charged story that is tacked on at the end. This comprehensive, critical sentence will serve as our outline for getting our remarks into manageable form. (1) A sermon is not a commentary. By his own admission, Mr. Lane avoids crafting the traditional three-point sermon. But even when he gives in to the three-point structure, as he does this time, the message still ends up being nothing but a commentary! Many of us are familiar with those little manuals that dispense doctrines in summary paragraphs, to which are appended corresponding Scripture verses. There’s nothing wrong with books like that. If the doctrines are properly handled, then supported by verses that substantiate the author’s keen explanation of orthodoxy, books of that sort are excellent. But when a sermon reminds us of the kind of paragraph that books like these are filled with, then something’s wrong. We’re not saying that Mr. Lane plagiarized a paragraph from a book or anything. We’re saying that his sermon is like one of those paragraphs (structurally, not doctrinally, for Mr. Lane is not very doctrinal.) It’s like a paragraph out of a manual or a commentary, with verses added. And we’re saying that that kind of thing is not a sermon and that it does not go well with an invitation to receive.

(2) Furthermore, a sermon is not an essay. This ‘rise and shine’ motto that Mr. Lane gleaned from Tim Hortons and that he uses at the beginning and close of his message is fit for the essay, not the sermon. (He actually calls the notice of this motto a ‘theologically insight’; thankfully the remark is a somewhat facetious one.) A maneuver like this is done to give an essay an open and close that satisfies by charm. A sermon, on the other hand, opens with a text that is set in context, and closes with lessons from the text that are communicated with earnest love and terrible warning. We’ve listened to four sermons by this man so far. In each one, the same building blocks are set down, without nuance, depth, stimulus, force, or urgency. And this is exactly what you encounter in your typical elementary Fundamentalist essay. Wrapping a message up in a neat ‘rise and shine’ package is not going to make a sermon out of a commentary/essay hybrid. Incidentally, we get, easy enough, what the rise and shine motto means as pertaining to Christ. He is risen; and this event, because it corroborates all that he is and did, causes the whole truth of Christ to shine. But how does this rise and shine motto pertain to us? Mr. Lane tells us to rise and shine. But what does that mean? He tells us that we shine with the joy of the glory of the resurrection. But what more? If a motto is chosen to bookend your message, it must be developed some; otherwise the message fails even as an essay.

(3) An evangelical sermon is not supposed to invite sinners to receive joy, but Jesus Christ. Yes, the sermon is called The Joy of Easter. But joy is not what preachers are supposed to persuade sinners to crave. Preachers are supposed to make sinners crave the Lord Jesus as the vicarious solution for their sins, joy being, in all cases for those who repent and believe, the fruit of sins being pardoned. Mr. Lane is trying to woo sinners into heaven by enticing them with the joy of Christ. The doorway leading to God and eternal life with Jesus may sound good to you, he says. “But maybe you have not entered into the joy of that life.” Mr. Lane, not having entered into joy is not the fundamental issue, but Spiritual Death. Spiritually comatose people are on the broad road leading to an everlasting misery they will be very conscious of. This is the issue. With all the peace and affluence that sinners enjoy in calm Canada, the prospect of greater joy will hardly move them to exchange an abiding curse of spiritual death for life everlasting! The issue is not that sinners need more joy. The issue is that they are being frowned upon by Almighty God on account of their dirty lifestyles and filthy acts, their dark minds and their cursing mouths, their vicious tendencies and stubborn hearts, and their practical atheism. You don’t exhort sinners to look to joy to resolve all of this! You bring them with hands full of sin straight to the cross! You bring them there to get guilt removed and to get sin pinned up. The sanctifying influence resulting from this journey to the cross begins Christian joy. Joy is an effect. Joy is not what you look for. Joy is the effect of having found what you’ve been looking for: forgiveness and pardon that will keep you from being consigned to the torments of everlasting hell. A serious pastor will beseech you to seek after God’s pardon. You see what happens when a pastor is afraid to preach sin that needs to be atoned for, when he is afraid to speak of condemnation that leads to hell. Instead of preaching sin and Christ, he passes over sin completely (not one sin is charged to anyone in this sermon) and preaches an affection (this time joy) instead of the Saviour that every sinner needs. This is not Christ-centered preaching. And, as usual, the timid (our soft word for ‘chicken’) pastor makes no distinction between the saved and the lost, even at the yearly Easter sermon when unconverted souls are all around! The most that Mr. Lane can bring himself to do is proffer joy to sinners who are smug and happy to remain as they are. This call to believe in Jesus in order to get joy undermines the only hard-line truth the pastor was brave enough to utter, the one about persons having no worth outside of Jesus Christ. Mr. Lane, why couldn’t a person have worth, after all, if his need is, as you say, joy? A sad person is not necessarily worthless. If man’s need is love and pardon from God, however, on account of his present hatred of the Almighty, then indeed he must be worthless. Joy is not the remedy for worthlessness, but the outcome of the remedy applied. The obedience of Christ to God is for worthless sinners to benefit from through faith. There’s the remedy. Joy comes after. True, Mr. Lane speaks of choosing life that comes from Jesus. And he speaks of choosing life, which is Christ. He states these things plainly. But the point is that when he attempts to preach, when he attempts to get persons through the door, it is not Jesus he persuades the sinners before him to reach for, but joy. And then he says that believing Jesus is in order to getting this deep-seated joy. He makes the getting of Jesus defer to the getting of joy, the getting of sins forgiven subservient to the joy that would result therefrom. Theology like this is just a little self-centered and backwards! How about preaching Christ in order for sinners to be forgiven their hell-condemning sins? Then someone might be awoken to his need! People who have no worth outside of Christ need to hear something a little more revolutionary than that they must enter into joy! If the gospel message is reduced to believing on Jesus just to get at joy, a sinner will remain as hard as stone to rest content in the joy he already has. Such a sinner might well reason like so: ‘Am I really depressed enough to accept this bit of extra joy Mr. Lane is offering?’ Not being made to see and feel that he is presently preserved for nothing but hellfire forever, the hardened sinner may yet be quite happy; drawing before that sinner what will appear to him as a carrot of joy is not likely to make him jump at an offer to believe in Jesus. Mr. Lane does not show nor preach the necessity of belief. He tries to allure sinners into belief by preaching the consequence of it (joy.) What he should do is preach sin and Christ in order for belief to occur unto joy. His method is weak and backwards; we believe it is on account of his fear of preaching sin and of having to call the sins of sinners out of darkness and into the plain light of day. That would not be fun for him to do. It would be very uncomfortable for a nice, gentle pastor like him to be forward, negative, candid, and ‘preachy.’ He will preach askew, askance, and awry in order not to offend happy sinners, even if it means these self-contented souls will miss, not only joy, but Jesus, heaven, bliss, and the everlasting prevention of unutterable misery! This pastor’s fear of sinful man has the most dreadful consequences! This is why we pull no punches. 

About mid-sermon he mentions how his children used to get excited playing Easter—how they used to run about banging on doors, yelling, ‘He is risen; he is risen.’ Now this was the moment of opportunity; Mr. Lane could have snapped into reality right then; he might have come to himself; he might have been shaken out of his utopian dream; he might have begun to solemnly preach. Have all his children continued to believe in the resurrection? Should this question not have descended upon him? We wonder if it did. Do any of his children live in sin today? Is one of them not agnostic? Not that a pastor should use one’s children in a sermon in this way—we do not advocate that. But if you will speak of your children in the context of their experience of the resurrection, why not take the opportunity that telling the whole truth would give you? Why even mention an anecdote like that without telling us how it turned out?—without telling us about feigned belief, agnosticism, and the non-Christian lifestyle? Is it not negligent, cold, dishonest, and willfully blind to paint a portrait of one’s children that is, regarding one, or perhaps even some, of them, no longer representative of the truth? This is painfully personal. But we mention these facts to point out this pastor’s refusal to preach or believe anything but a good turnout. He refuses to look at the bad side of things. A conscientious man used to attend this church. At one time he was an elder there. What became of his post? When it became obvious that just one of his children had gone astray, he took 1 Timothy 3.5 seriously, and resigned. Has Mr. Lane wrestled with this verse?   

On the strength of his anecdote about his kids yelling ‘he’s alive; he’s alive,’ Mr. Lane says that’s the kind of excitement we should have today and that we should exhibit to the world around us. This whole idea of getting excited about the resurrection of Christ needs to be examined. When the disciples learned that Jesus had risen from the dead, they cried, they ran, they jumped for joy with shouts and acclamation. This would be the case with us if we’d believed on the Man Christ Jesus back then, if we’d followed, listened, served, questioned, and loved him, then found him suddenly to be alive after a Roman crucifixion that seemed to have put an end to him forever. But this is not our case. We did not know him on the ground of his Palestinian ministry. To force guilt upon us for not acting as the disciples of his day did is an unfair, ignorant persuasion. Contemporaries of Christ acted in a way at the news of his resurrection that persons thousands of years removed honestly cannot; and we should not be expected to imitate first century Christians in this way concerning this matter. It would be nothing more or nothing less than a revolting excitement to God if we tried, for our excited manner would be loaded with pretence. Getting your kids to knock on doors and shout ‘he’s alive, he’s alive’ may be cute. But this action of theirs is nothing but theatrics. And we should never imitate that. We should never be insincere about sacred events. Suppose the friends of Abraham Lincoln had been told that he who they thought was dead had just been resuscitated. You can imagine a certain kind of joyful excitement resulting from this news, an exuberant effect not unlike (though this would be because of an infinitely inferior event) what the disciples exhibited upon receiving the good news that Jesus was alive from the dead. Now suppose that one century later some foreigners are brought to believe in the Yankee, abolitionist ideal, and that part of the teaching involves the historical detail that Lincoln was resuscitated in spite of a seemingly deadly bullet wound to the back of the head. Would the foreigners’ excitement be of the same character as that exhibited by the actual friends of Lincoln, the friends who were there when the shot was fired and who heard firsthand the news of his resuscitation? No one would expect these later foreigners to act as the 19th century Yankees would have acted. The foreigners would experience a peaceful kind of joy at such news; such news would not produce in them, just as the resurrection does not produce in 21st century Christians, the kind of excitation that would result from seeing one’s risen Master standing there in the flesh. We did not see Jesus perform miracles and heal the sick. We simply cannot be caught up in the rush and fever that the apostles were in when they discovered that their crucified Lord was risen from the dead. That is not possible. We were not there. We did not know him as one knows a neighbor. Christians should not be goaded into a behavior they would have to ‘uncentury’ themselves to honestly display. “Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples” (Acts 15.10.) Yes, we should have joy, even ‘joy unspeakable’ because of the glorious prospect that the resurrection of Christ seals to believers. No convert, however, should be told he needs to react as Peter did when he was running to the empty tomb, or like Joanna and the two Marys did when they rushed to tell “these things unto the eleven” (Luke 24.9.) It is a sin to put a Christian on a guilt-trip like that. It is a yoke upon the neck. “And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed” (Mark 16.8.) Christians of our day don’t get this reaction from the resurrection. Nor should we. And to my knowledge no modern-day convert ever has. This reaction can be pretended, nothing more. Looking more closely, let us ask toward whom the disciples’ excitement was directed? To other disciples was it directed—to no one else. The fact of the resurrection was first told “unto the apostles” (Luke 24.10.) Yet we are urged in 2011 to get excited exactly like these earliest disciples did (errant advise in itself), and to get excited like this before sinners who have absolutely no interest in Christ’s resurrection! That’s a good way to get a lot of disciples of our day ‘certified.’ Only after the initial news had sunk in, only after their excited hearts had begun to pump down a little, did these first disciples go out and preach beyond their group the resurrection. The women are told to “go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead” (Matthew 28.7.) Then the disciples gather together. Only after that are they given the formal commission. The sequence of events is the same in all four gospel accounts. They did not go out preaching to any and all in the fervor of Peter’s running to the tomb. Neither can we. Neither should we. That said, one must nevertheless go a-preaching with something more than the calm charm that Mr. Lane goes out with! Soothing mildness will do no more for the unconverted soul than a milky-white tablet of Tums will do for the tummy. In either case, no inborn infirmity will be cured; it will be whitewashed for awhile, that’s all.

(4) An emotionally-charged story is not supposed to be the coup-de-grace of a sermon. What Mr. Lane is trying to do is make the story he closes with do the job his non-preaching style can only fail to do. Instead of a stirring finish by actual preaching, he ends by reading a heart-warmer story from a book. And so instead of convicting and warning, he comforts and tranquilizes the very persons he regards as those who need to fly to Jesus for salvation. Not only does he try to make someone else’s story do his preaching for him, but that story is not much more convincing of sin than Mr. Lane’s own message. The story is more affecting than the sermon, or the most affecting part of it, being like point four of the sermon or something. But the whole effort amounts to this: The pastor tries to emotionalize people into the joy of the Lord after they’ve been given no knowledge of their desperate condition and barely a crumb of insight into the nature and deeds of Christ—and this is the evangelistic height that is attained by a pastor who is thoroughly compromising and unassertive in the sphere of work he believes God has ordained him to. He fears man too much to make man fear God. That’s why he soft-peddles doctrine, passes over sin, and bypasses the cross when preaching to sinners needing to be saved. 

Intimately connected with this fear is a weak, contradictory system of theology. Mr. Lane says that God has chosen life for us but that he also pleads with us to choose life. God does plead with sinners, through preaching and the word. But if God, who is all-powerful, had chosen life for all, then all men would choose life. The Bible tells us that many sinners go to hell. This is consistent with the fact that God has not chosen all for life. Pharaoh and Esau are the proof of particular election (Romans 9.) We will soon upload a sermon sketch or two on this important biblical doctrine. 

Conclusion: The lesson we take away from this message is that we should believe in Jesus on the basis that life will be more joyful as a consequence. Easter, says Mr. Lane, is to remind us that every Sunday is about resurrection. But if every Sunday is about the resurrection, why this Easter Sunday above all the rest? Why a special Easter Sunday service? It’s not like Mr. Lane is going to actually preach to the unbelievers who come on that special reminder day! Think about this: A fireman calls certain homeowners over to the stationhouse to save them from the condemned dwellings they presently reside in. But when they come to him, he only tells them about the joy they can have by living elsewhere. He doesn’t have the heart to tell them that their roofs are ready to fall on their heads. The news is just too ghastly to tell. That’s what this sermon is like. Can Mr. Lane, in his quiet moments alone with God, honestly say, like certain preachers of old, that he has preached so as not to have the blood of men’s souls drip from his hands? If he can, he is clued-out concerning his obligation to minister, without restraint, the full counsel of God. Hopefully, he is not hardened beyond repair against improving on his ministerial duties. But, like the last quick swirls of water that go down the sink, his time is getting away. Has he run the race behind that pulpit? Has he fought the fight of a man commissioned by God to preach the whole truth, in both its pleasing and disturbing aspects? This man is not discharging his pulpit responsibilities, not very much at all! Through silly, saucy, self-important, spiritless 20th century theology, our present stock of ministers, not just here but throughout the world, have been misled into thinking that a half-hearted, half-baked, half-gospel will do. It will not do! It has done next to nothing, and more damage than good in some instances. Knowledge of sin, shame, and judgment is the responsibility of preachers to convey. Until this groundwork is done, one cannot build on the Rock (not that our pastors would know how to do that either!) The only remedy is to plead for new pastors from better seminaries, or for God to put the present batch of pastors through a prolonged experience of seclusion and suffering in order to arrest their attention and direct their hearts and minds to the essential things of God. What can we do until that happens except study, not just read, our Bibles, apply what we should and can, look to God earnestly and regularly, get our instruction from better books than petty pastors read, and then influence others? Pews full of people are under the judgment of God, no matter what out modern preachers tell us about the age of grace we are in. Rootless, worldly spirituality leading to religious ruin is being administered from the very stations (our pulpits) that churchgoers flock to every Sunday to get their blessing. This is the general truth of our sorry situation. The kind of preaching reviewed here is what perpetuates the ‘I’m spiritual, not religious’ crowd. This preaching is a kind of spiritual opiate for unconverted people and stunted Christians. The faithful, competent, awakened pastor knows this. And he preaches, instead, a full word of love and warning, mercy and misery, heaven and hell, sin and grace, joy and gloom, bliss and torment. In other words, he preaches both law and gospel, carefully distinguishing between the two, in consideration of all the kinds of people, be they unregenerate or converted, who are present before him. He is a rare bird that can, and will, do this. The faithful, full-counsel preacher of God’s word is more rare in Red Deer than the sighting of an oriole in Oriole Park!  

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