The Church and Story
A couple of weeks back, I let myself get sucked into an argument about whether drama or story should be allowed within a church service.
The argument was played out at Christ and Pop Culture, which gave a link to an interview with Pastor John Piper, which you can read here. (A better rebuttal of Pastor Piper than mine can be found here.)
In a nutshell, Pastor John argues that while no one will go to hell for doing so, that any use of story or illustration anywhere within the church service will damage the kingdom.
The purpose of a church service, the argument goes, is to provide a specific style of “till Jesus comes” preaching. Any church that uses anything that helps the congregation “stay with them and be moved and get helped” undermines the power of such sermons as being the core provider of salvation, and thus is anathema to Pastor John.
This includes any use of illustration, from a drama performed by an actor to a story the preacher himself tells.
I have to admit, I wasn’t even aware of the “sermon wars” – the existence of a “my type of sermon is the one true way, and anyone who preaches another way is of the devil” struggle.
Sure, I was aware of the music wars (“If it has a beat, Old Scratch wrote it!”) and the communion wars (“If the wine is fermented, it negates the power of the bread!”), and we all are aware of the baptism wars (“Dunking if for donuts, not disciples!”).
Apparently such a sermon war exists. (Kenneth E. Bailey, in the first chapter of JACOB AND THE PRODIGAL addresses this tangentially, as he feels he must start the book by validating the use of metaphors, parables and dramatic action while discussing theology.)
I do agree with Pastor Piper that not all churches should use illustrations within their sermons; but I do not agree with his notion that to use anything within a service that “moves” or “helps” the congregation is a danger to the power of sermon.
Paul and Jesus used illustration to clarify their points; it did not negate their power and authority. Many of our brethren have entire church services that do not even contain sermons; their communion with G-d is in no way diminished by that omission.
Pastor Piper argues that if anything other than preaching is shown to either hold, move or help a congregation, that therefore we can (and shall!) assume that preaching can do none of those things.
Thinking that everything must be an “either/or” doesn’t not fit with a G-d that refused “either/or” in his very Gospel; in a savior that is not either G-d or Man, but rather a “both/and.”
The use of parable or illustration does not work for Pastor Piper — all the more power to him (I mean that sincerely). Does that mean all other congregations must choose to believe that either there is no power in parable, or that there is no power in preaching?
It is a false dichotomy from the get go.
Tomorrow: The question about church drama that should have been asked.
Just my thoughts,