Off and on for the past couple of months, I have been reading the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Recently, I came upon a passage in which he describes a series of events which lead him to decide to never return to church again. As a pastor, it is a sad story.
As a young printer in Philadelphia, he had a friendly relationship with the local Presbyterian pastor. From time to time the pastor would drop by Franklin’s shop and engage in small talk and invite him to church. At this point, Franklin, who was raised in a church-going home, was an infrequent, but regular attendee. One Sunday Franklin learned that the pastor’s text was Philippians 4:8, and because he had a great deal of interest in morality, he decided to attend and hear what the pastor had to say about the role of virtue in the life of the believer.
Unfortunately, instead of preaching on the content of the text the pastor spoke on several points of Reformed Doctrine and the respect due to a minister.
First of all, to miss the opportunity to teach on the content of Phil. 4:8 is a travesty all by itself. Secondly, this story stands as a kind of cautionary tale to pastors. Franklin was an intelligent man who saw (on his own) an opportunity to relate to the Church, and ultimately to the things of God. But instead of getting a clear presentation of the content of Scripture, he received an opinionated homily. In my view, the problem was not that the doctrine was necessarily wrong or somehow divisive because it was denominational, but that the minister failed to faithfully interact with the text. In the place of the proper position of submission to the text of Scripture, the minister placed his personal and his denomination’s doctrinal considerations first.
It is this submission to the text and faithfulness to the things of God which makes our churches lights on hills. Os Guiness has made the point that too many churches and church movements see the masses as sovereign and not the message. For the Church, the message should always be sovereign. Let the culture come and go as it may-that is what cultures do-but always let the Church remain rooted in the things of God. Having ministers who are humble and submissive when they approach the text of Scripture is where that begins.