Clowns in the Pulpit?

Karl Barth is reported to have said that all music should have only one goal; the honor and glory of God. What an ideal! What a challenge for the music departments of our schools and colleges. And that this ideal applies equally to the other departments such as literature, sports, etc., goes without saying. One just wonders how far this ideal is pushed in our schools today. Perhaps we too have gone along with the band-wagon of popularity, forgetting whom we are, and what our purpose in life is; namely, living to the honor and glory of God.

What a challenge for us all, from restless teens to staid old age. An inspiring article could be written on the above from many angles. However, my intent at this time is to view it in connection with the preaching of the word of God.

Being a farmer with little education, I hesitated to write, remembering that those I write about are men who studied hard to attain to the ministry. And—oh the awesomeness of it all—called by Jehovah, our covenant God, to be His messengers. However, as I have heard various messages proclaimed from different pulpits, I could no longer refrain from writing.

What has become on so many of our pulpits today of that glorious message: all to the glory of God? What has happened so that often the message is a general moralizing with a few texts thrown in to make it sound authentic? Where is the all-powerful message from the King of Kings who is announced as being in His holy temple and before whom all must be silent? Has the minister himself trembled before Him as he prayed for guidance in his study before he ever mounted the pulpit? Trembled, as he realized that once again he must face God’s people as God’s ambassador and bring a message only from Him, nothing more or less? What a terrifying thought! Can any human being dare to attempt it—to represent the living God and bring a message from Him? And yet, what a beautiful thing—commissioned by the King himself, the only King in the true sense, to tell His people more about Him and how they may be able to sense Him better.

But the King has not left His ambassador in the dark. He has given him a guide, the book of true knowledge, the word of life, the Bible. And He commands His ambassador to speak to the people the words he gives that they may live and enjoy life both here and forever. Search deeply and you will find riches untold. What a thrilling, challenging, heart-stirring commission to speak to the people about Him, who is and was and is to come, who willingly gave Himself that we might live. He gave Himself, so that we might have communion with Him and be able to love and sen>e Him. How it should move a minister as he searches the scriptures and finds these riches: how our gracious God rules, directs orders and sustains all things; how He has made and kept covenant throughout the ages; how He sent His only begotten Son into the world to redeem us. Who can keep silent about such things?

Sad, sad to say some ministers do. Beautiful are the texts they choose. How they could stir the congregation to renewed love and service if only the whole Bible were brought to bear upon tile spoken word! If only the refrain—all to the glory of God -would echo and re-echo in the minister’s heart! But no, apparently the newspapers, or digests, or a fishing trip have provided better material. And the text, a glorious diving board, is left behind as one plunges off on a long swim, perhaps to return to it, perhaps not.

Oh, said Paul, the depths of the riches…! Amos said, The lion has roared, who can but prophecy! And the church of all ages echoes—God has spoken, spoken in His Son, tell it forth! Tell the world that the ruler of the universe has spoken, that He alone call and does give life. Tell that He has sent His Son into this world to redeem His chosen, that He paid tile terrible price in their stead. How can a minister keep silent on these things? How can he, for example, preach on Ketura, or Amos, or Noah, or Moses with· out bringing the whole gospel? Search the scriptures, says Jesus, for they speak of me. What must we think then when a minister chooses a text and then fails to bring a message from Jesus about Himself? Has the minister perhaps not searched deep enough to find Him? Or having found Him, is He not worth preaching about and therefore Moses or Noah becomes the topic? It must be either of these alternatives. I know of no other.

Who would want to substitute anything else for Christ-centered preaching once he sees Christ in all His fulness? And as the Bible unveils Christ more and more to him who searches, who would dare?

All to the glory of God is not just a challenge. It is a must. Nor can it be different, for Jesus said, He that hath seen the Father hath seen me; I and the Father are one.

“Must I drag Jesus into every sermon?” a minister once asked. All I want to say here is that without Christ as the central theme of a sermon, we hear no sermon, but a pep talk. Recently Mr. Pue commented in the Sun Life, Preaching which is not Christ-centered just is not preaching. It is high time, he added, that when a preacher gets on the pulpit and starts moralizing, someone in the congregation stand up and say, “Have you a message from God? If so, tell us; if not, come down—don’t be a pulpit clown.”


“Pulpit clowns” in the Christian Reformed Church? Listen to some of the so-called sermons and notice where the emphasis is placed. Then judge for yourself. It is not simply a pleasant or terrible pastime to judge a sermon—it is your duty as well as that of our elders. But it should not be merely duty; it should be our natural response. It should be natural that we thrill to the challenge as our minister lends tiS deeper into the untold riches of God’s word and its meaning for us. So stirred to deeper love we go home rejoicing that the Bible has become more and more an open book to us.

But it should be revolting to us when this is not done. Mere generalization and story-telling sends us home empty while patting ourselves on the back on how good we are or can make ourselves.

Somehow the illusion has crept in that love for God and our fellow man can only grow in proportion to our lack of doctrine from the pulpit. Doctrine is supposed to be good for the head but kills the heart. Whether this fallacy accounts for our surge of spineless preaching, I do not know; certainly it has influenced it. However, any sincere Christian knows the error of such thinking.

Only as Christ is revealed more fully from week to week does our love grow in depth and meaning. And as the scriptures are revealed more fully to us, the minister too grows in power. Then we see the minister as he really is, an ambassador of God bringing to us the message from Him and telling us that we, as His image-bearers, should grow more and more like Him : in keeping covenant, in love, in work, in play, in all things. Certainly there is no dearth of material. No monotony is necessary. And let the minister tremble because all this power leaves him when he becomes a mere moralizer. Then God is against him and says, Why have you given my people stones for bread?

For God or against Him—is this so serious? Yes, for God is jealous of His honor and glory. And He wants us to know who He is, what He has done and how we must serve Him.

Let us all turn in deep penitence to our God and ask Him humbly so to direct our paths that we may completely dedicate our lives “all to the glory of God.”