This is the first sermon by Mr. Fox that we have listened to, and the sixth from Balmoral Bible Chapel. We listened by podcast.
Mr. Fox, Balmoral Bible Chapel, April 17th, 2011, Jesus Equals Division.
Summary: (Mr. Fox demonstrates his equality with his listeners, gives some context, then reads the passage.) Jesus is often the cause of division. How can we be satisfied? By coming to Jesus and receiving. A vessel can’t be full unless it’s being filled. We leak. We need to be receptive to what he instructs us to do. This is not a burden because we are doing ministry out of the overflow. It doesn’t mean it’s easy and peaceful. We must receive from him before we can give for him. (He stops to pray.) Some heard these words and believed Jesus was a prophet. A prophet causes men to test truth. When we have a true prophet, we must be careful to receive what the prophet says. The response to him being the prophet is what causes the division. To acknowledge he is a prophet but not respond is useless. John presents Christ as the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us. He’s building on this theme here. The speech that the prophet speaks is in obedience to the Father. How many of you keep a list of events on the calendar? When
instructed to keep these feasts, do you not think that this hour was appointed?
Questioning whether Christ could come out of Israel Galilee
is an example of not responding, of falling back on a misunderstanding of
Scripture. The Pharisees could quote prophecy. But they rejected Christ who was
right before them. How useless to have facts and yet not respond. It is the
difference between religious information and saving knowledge, or between the
spirit and the flesh. They stumbled around with the written word, not the
living word. They’re not responding to their profession that he is the Prophet,
the Christ. They don’t trust him and they don’t obey him. We must find
ourselves in a place where we are being filled up in order to do what is
required of us. You may know deep doctrinal things; but you must be molded,
pounded by the Holy Spirit. Otherwise, you are no better off than a starving
man holding a cookbook. The things recorded by John are in order for you to
believe. We can’t just rush through the book of John. These people crying out
hosanna, hosanna, if their heart is that Jesus should be setting up his kingdom
now on earth, making life easier, delivering them from Roman bondage, they are
fools. Do not be in that camp. Have you discovered the plague of your own
heart? Do you see yourself as a sinner? have you tasted the goodness of the
Lord? ‘Yes. I have tasted the goodness of the Lord Jesus Christ, and my heart
cries out, hosanna! hosanna!’ We want to be doers, not just hearers. You may be
altogether ignorant of deep doctrinal truth, and yet find yourself at Jesus’
feet asking for more grace, mercy, Spirit, understanding. Do not rest until, by
divine grace, you can say, ‘I was lost, but now am found.’ Simeon predicted the
division that was to happen. Jesus predicted it. Division will happen in
households today. ‘Once saved, always saved’ is not a verse. It’s when you
persevere that matters. If there was division when Christ was on the earth, why
would we be surprised to find it in his absence? Woe to you, when men speak well
of you. 1 Corinthians 11.19 tells us there must be division. If you’re
proclaiming the full counsel of God, don’t be surprised by division. If there’s
no division, regard it as a warning. There are some that refuse to bring forth
the whole counsel of God. They say that God has a wonderful plan for your life,
that he’ll fix your marriage, that you’ll have a nice car…If the unregenerate
man points out hard verses, like ones about having to suffer, we say ‘never
mind that; just repeat this prayer.’ Put the world behind you, and the cross
before you. Verse 44 comforts me because they had no power over Christ on
account of the decrees of God. Jesus is sovereign. Nothing happens without
authority from above. (Here he pretends to be an agent using a walkie-talkie, speaking
of apprehending Jesus.) Instead of arresting Jesus, they were arrested by his
spoken word. (He asks for a show of hands to see if he can continue, then the
sermon ends abruptly with two illustrations, one from a Viking ship, the other
from football.) We shouldn’t judge what’s happening until the game is
Remarks: Mr. Fox delivers most of this sermon in a loud whisper, which speaks, either of artificial emotion, or of genuine passion. After he begins to use the whisper, his normal voice issues forth infrequently; and when it does, it seems to happen by accident, and then his pitch comes up to a shout. Since he testifies to sensing the burden of delivering a message from God, we’ll assume that the whisper is prompted by reverent fear. The delivery of his matter, moreover, is accomplished to an average degree of proficiency. He elucidates the passage a bit by going over
ceremonial background. This is helpful. The sermon hits its highest point,
maybe, when some hard verses are quoted, one from 1 Corinthians 11.19
concerning heresies in the midst, another from Luke 6.26 concerning the curse
of being popular to the world. Mr. Fox seems to exude some righteous
indignation. During what seems like a fit of zeal, he blurts out ‘you wretch’ one
time. He especially hates the current practice of promising a good and easy
life from God on the basis of inducing a sinner to repeat a contrived prayer.
He pits a truth against itself in order to confront this error of
easy-believism: by renouncing the ‘once saved, always saved’ slogan in favor of
a doctrine of perseverance. His intention, obviously, is to renounce the
current misunderstanding that ‘once saved, always saved’ implies a
non-perseverant coasting all the way to glory. Regardless of this clumsy clash,
he does well to hit head on the false belief that a sinner may get saved, have
all his problems resolved, and then lie back in lazy, irresolute repose until
grace whisks him off to his rest in peace. Israel
The first sign of trouble is in the sermon’s title. ‘Jesus equals division’ is not a true statement. If it were true, Jesus would be nothing else than a negative cause. This critical remark is not a matter of splitting hairs. Seasoned pastors are careful to avoid nonsensical speech, especially in their title, for that is often what draws the crowd. A better title would be something like, ‘Faith in Jesus Occasions Division.’ The second sign of trouble soon follows. The act of sticking his nametag on the chair in order to demonstrate his equal standing with persons in the pew may appear humble, and there may be some cause at some time for a pastor to exhibit his equality with Christians as a sinner saved by mutual grace. But this act is hardly necessary at this period in history when ‘everyone and his dog’ is allowed to enter the sacred space to speak whatever seems right in his own eyes. The nametag display makes the pastor seem clued-out to the present crisis the pulpit is in. The pulpit needs to be elevated; the pastor needs to be set apart; we need a word to descend from above. We already know the pastor is no different from us. The problem is that he is too much like us. We need some emphasis on the pastor’s high calling and his need to live up to it. The nametag demonstration is apropos, though, for this pastor is into kid-stuff like varsity football, and his preaching proves that he knows little more Bible than the newest babe in the pew. We need a pastor who is above the rank-and-file in order for truth to descend through him and down to us. If he’s just like us: no more instructed, no more holy, and no more righteous, then why even listen to his sermon? For sure, in that case, there can be nothing out of the ordinary about it. You can get more good for your soul from a simple Christian chat. The pastor is supposed to be a mediator of sorts. He is appointed to teach us something from God. That function supposes a greater degree of learning, understanding, and virtue than the Christian pupils have. The pastor is one of the people, and it is not wrong to state as much when necessary; but like Moses and Jesus, he must be much closer to God than the average saint in order to be authoritatively affecting when he speaks. Moses and Jesus had their authority challenged and their works disparaged in spite of their close communion with the LORD. But in the end, it was by their holy speech and their good works that rebellions were thoroughly answered. The pastor can do no ministerial good except by uncommon speech and the work of a higher life. The third sign of trouble is in how the sermon unfolds. He begins with a speech about being a pastor, follows up with textual context, reads the passage, continues by preaching some, then stops to pray, and then resumes his preaching. There is no sense of order, no points in the sermon, and no main point to the message. You have to wonder if this man was ever taught the basics of sermon order. It’s natural to be shocked at his random discharge from the pulpit. If this sermon shocks you, do grieve for what pulpit preaching has come to, but rejoice also, for your shock is a sign of spiritual discernment. Have a heavy heart about poverty in the pulpit; but realize that your discerning the fact is your ‘oil of joy for mourning’ in this instance. The ‘house of mourning’ is the good place to be these days. We shouldn’t judge a game until it’s over, he says at the sermon’s close. But anyone would be justified in judging this sermon near its beginning. Disorder guarantees disaster. Just listen to how this sermon ends. Whoever calls a sermon that finishes like that something less than a disaster must be okay with being dishonest. (We refer to the illustrative efforts near the end, which we’ll comment on later.)
The error that runs right through from first to finish is the same sin of surface preaching that
Mr. Lane is guilty of. But Mr. Fox is
much lighter in his matter even than Mr.
Lane. That we must obey or respond is the only
thing that comes across. But not one solitary command is given for us to
respond to. Faith is the only thing mentioned in connexion to obedience.
Because of this, to the listener faith may seem like a meritorious work instead
of an instrument of grace. Superficial preaching on a vital matter! Faith is a
grace from God that we lay hold of salvation with. The merit is not in the
instrument, but in what and whom we lay hold on by the instrument: the Person,
Life, and Blood of Jesus Christ. If basic teaching on faith is intended, then
we should have some of the basics clarified.
Getting down to errors more specific, he says that the Pharisees are not responding to their profession that Jesus is the Prophet, the Christ. Did the Pharisees ever profess as much? Some persons did (John 7.40, 41.) But the Pharisaic sin is that the truth of Jesus’ person is not so much as professed. The Pharisees are religious hypocrites, not because they profess Christ but don’t believe, but because they profess to be right with God through some other way. Like the ‘orthodox Jews’ of today, they profess God, not Jesus Christ. They profess God, but believe that a true profession indicates that the professor must be saved through heritage, law, or manmade tradition. This is why they appeal to Abraham (their heritage), Moses (the law), and rituals like the washing of hands (the tradition of the elders.) The next error concerns his remark that a person could be entirely ignorant of truth and yet be at Jesus’ feet. Everything seems to come down to obedience with this pastor (though he directs us to no commands at all.) In his mind, doctrine (which he calls ‘deep doctrinal things’) is nothing to be very concerned for. Is obedience not based on doctrine? Will disciples obey without teachings? One may be a disciple without any knowledge, he avers. But if a person has no knowledge, why would he just happen to be found at the feet of the only Man capable of redeeming him? Coincidence? Even grace does not bring us to Jesus’ feet without some pebble of truth as a medium. This is why the Scripture asks, “How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?” (Romans 10.14.) You believe in him (which is to be a disciple at his feet) on account of having heard some precious nugget of truth about him. You are not sitting at his feet as a disciple, in complete ignorance, but because of some prior knowledge of him. Is that a true disciple who sits at Jesus’ feet in blissful ignorance? This is exactly what New Agers believe! Basic theology is not Mr. Fox’s strong point. For a corrective, we can stoop as low as to quote a passage from a sermon for the young: “We must not expect to find real goodness in those who are destitute of divine knowledge. The devotion of such is only superstition and false worship, like that of the Athenians in Acts 17.22, 23. There can be no true godliness without faith and repentance, and both of these are grounded on and flow from a doctrinal knowledge” (God’s Call to Young People, p. 5.) This is basic stuff the pastor should know. The cause of this pastor’s deficiency is no doubt manifold. But a partial cause of it is the lifestyle he indulges in. He is entangled with worldly amusements like football. “May you find from your own experience that it is infinitely better for you to serve God in the duties of prayer, reading, and catechizing than to spend the Lord’s day evening in gadding abroad in sport and sin, and lose the relish of the holy things of the house and day of God, as is the unreasonable and vicious practice of too many among us” (God’s Call to Young People, p. 57.) This same book of sermons for the young is mature enough to reprove whatever seminary leaders this pastor was ordained by: “They should see that seminaries of knowledge and religion are planted and maintained for the training up of youth and that such public fountains be kept pure, and be in a condition to answer the end for which they were founded” (God’s Call to Young People, p. 25.) Does the Bible-school Pastor Fox graduated from not have for its end the production of godly teachers? Is it answering its intended end? Will someone dare to volunteer a yes to this good question? If the answer is yes, then why is Mr. Fox inadequate in the basics of sermon content and construction? Is this pastor communing with God any closer than the average person in the pew? Can we call him a godly teacher? It’s not nice to raise questions like these. But hard honesty will do him better than undeserved compliments, which pastors get cursed with enough as it is.
Just one more concern before we conclude. The pastor uses two illustrations near his close in order to hammer his meaning home. We cannot, try as we will, fathom what that meaning is. He who thinks himself wise for condemning our criticism should first prove himself wise enough to uncover the meaning of the Viking ship and the football game! Does anyone want to experience the poignancy of meanings hitting their mark by illustrative means? We do not have to resort to textbooks in theology for examples. We could; but maybe the surest way to get a pastor into a shamefaced spirit and to get him scrambling after the knowledge he desperately needs and already should possess is to teach him through the mouths of babes. We submit two examples from our experience, of evocative speech from the babe quarter. A girl of three remarked that God had his yard-light turned on, which meant, of course, that the moon was out. A boy of four remarked that his grandmother was the one who had cracks in her face, which meant, of course, that she was the one with wrinkles. Each example consists of succinct, figurative language that is immediately apprehended, unlike the lengthy, incomprehensible illustrations this pastor uses in this sermon. It may be a shame to put this pastor to shame by the mouths of babes. But we should do whatever we can to kill this lie that says pastors don’t need to be educated people (either by self or seminary) set apart from the common Christian crowd. Until pastors become godly teachers, the Christian crowd will continue to fail in their witness to the world. The pastor rises no higher than his perception of the pulpit. His people rise no higher than their perception of him. We reckon that this is the case generally.
Conclusion: Mr. Fox repeats these two phrases over and over: ‘I want us to understand something’ and ‘we must find ourselves in a place where….’ But he teaches nothing to our understanding and he never tells us where we should be and how to get there. We would like to know how much he studied for this sermon. Either he studied and got nothing, or he got nothing because he did not study. Only he knows. The poor training he received is no doubt largely to blame. The sermon is full, not even of the most basic truths, but of redundant sayings that are nothing but repetitions of the most elementary propositions. For instance, he is continually telling us that we must be careful to respond to what Jesus says. This is idle, superfluous talk. The pastor is supposed to compel us to a response, not just state over and over that we need to respond. He’s supposed to preach, not simply state and restate that we must respond. Give us some reason to respond! Don’t just talk to us like some parents talk to their kids, always telling them, without reason, knowledge, and communication, that they should just listen. This sermon is on the level of Mr. Doeksen’s performance (Deer Park Alliance) and Mr. Bueckert’s effort (
.) Like them both,
Mr. Fox seems anxious to communicate something.
And like them, he has no idea what he’s doing. To quote his own saying,
he’s just ‘bumping around in the dark.’ Because he communicates nothing, his
trembling appeals come off ridiculously. We must not rush through the book of
John, he warns. But even though this sermon runs on to a tedious length,
rushing through is exactly what he does. His ‘expository’ method is supposed to
cover a dozen verses. He makes it to six, but without unfolding so much as one!
He gives us no gold, no silver, and if anything (we’re being generous), just a
few specks of bronze; but mostly he pushes a lot of dross around. That’s
rushing through, and ineffectively. If there was any measure of holiness about
the sermon, it went by the wayside the moment he imitated a secret agent coming
to arrest Jesus. Playacting drives away any sense of what is sacred. Not to put
the pastor in the same sinking boat as the persons referred to in the context,
but 1 Timothy 1.7 describes him precisely: “Desiring to be teachers of the law;
understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm.” By this failed
sermon effort we are persuaded that Balmoral Bible Chapel has, at best, a baby
Christian, instead of a young man, in its pulpit. The form, the matter, and the
spirit of this sermon, and perhaps also the voice with which it is delivered,
all testify to this conclusion. Red Deer
Mr. Fox, we are sending you this analysis because it is our practice to communicate at least once with the pastor whose sermons we are in the process of examining. In other words, if we have had occasion to communicate with a pastor some time in the past, we do not necessarily send that man a copy of our analysis of his work. We have had nothing to do with you thus far. So we are sending you a copy for sure. We are generally hard-hitting, but we believe, not without righteous cause, not without biblical principle, and not without the Lord’s approval. The reason you are referred to in the third person in the analysis is because the analysis is the outcome of a discussion of a sermon preached by a man who is not right there with us. We don’t mean to be impersonal. And we are not in the business of starting controversy. This is not about that. If you have read this analysis through carefully and with a fair spirit, you no doubt recognize that we have been fair and careful in what we have said, notwithstanding our hard-hitting zeal. We give no thoughtless pats on the back. No good pastor would wish us to. And no good pastor should urge you to dismiss this analysis without consideration and prayer. You may, if you wish, contact us, and peruse the blog for more examples of circumspect, conscientious analyses of local sermons.
Blessings, M. H. Gaboury.