The request I am about to make has nothing to do with my blog today. Right now, close your eyes and, for a few moments, picture the color red in your imagination. Great! Now, as you read the rest of this blog, do not imagine the color red.
What just happened? Despite my disclaimer, the above paragraph is the introduction to my blog. My “non-introduction” introduction colors what follows. Maybe you are the exceptionally disciplined person who can read the remaining prose without the color red popping up in your imagination. For you I will make the challenge even more challenging!
Recently, I watched a well-known leader and orator in the contemporary Church employ this same technique.
The preacher began by stating that his following comments were not related to the morning message. Despite his disclaimer, what he addressed next became the de facto introduction for his message, the ‘non-introduction” introduction. An introduction establishes the foundation for a sermon, setting up the playing field, as it were. An introduction provides a context in which to understand the message. If this preacher intended these comments to be “off-message” he should have given these comments after the message or in a completely different context.
The preacher introduced the word socialism in his “non-introduction” introduction and presented his opinion about that political system. In the context of our contemporary US culture, the word socialism is a polemical term. Polemic words tend to activate visceral emotions.
(here is a link for a definition of visceral, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/visceral )
In traditional New Testament vocabulary, the word “carnal” could replace the word “visceral.”
By using this term, the preacher had aroused the visceral emotions of his listeners. I include myself in that statement. I engaged my visceral emotions not because of my view of socialism but because of a pet peeve. I’m not too fond of the practice of those who include such polemical words in their conversations and arguments but never define how they understand the term. The preacher did not clarify for his listeners his understanding of the word socialism.
My prefered definition is, “Socialism is a theory or system of social organization that advocates the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, capital, land, etc., by the community as a whole, usually through a centralized government.” The historical use of the word socialism in varied contexts and by different thinkers is more complex. All the more the reason for the word to be clearly defined by one using it.
Were the preacher to present his listeners with his definition of the term socialism, he would engage the rational mind of the listeners. His “non-introduction” introduction set the playing filled for the rest of his message. The nature of the playing field remained visceral. The rational mind governs emotions. Engaging the rational mind of his listeners would benefit listeners. This engagement would encourage listeners to acknowledge and evaluate their emotional response and plot a positive, productive, and healthy way forward.
A preacher’s message should engage the human soul and seek to make a spirit-to-spirit connection with the listener. It is in the realm of that spirit-to-spirit connection that the Holy Spirit can best operate. Raw, visceral emotions create strife. Unity is in the Spirit.
Another tidbit included in this “non-introduction” introduction was the preacher’s opinion about our country’s current political leaders. He believes they lack a backbone. Again, there was no further explanation given for his assessment. Do all political leaders lack a backbone? I doubt it. Is it only political leaders who have a different political ideology from the preacher who lack backbone? He didn’t specify.
The “non-introduction” introduction established the playing field and context for the sermon. Reminding the listeners that the morning’s message is not related to what was just said is akin to telling you in my “non-introduction” introduction not to magin the color red as you read the remainder of my blog. (How’s that working for you?)
What was the topic for his morning’s message? I would briefly summarize the sermon as an appeal to pray with a backbone for the sake of Jesus’ Kingdom. That is an important and timely appeal. The issue for me is that the leaven of Herod, the political spirit, was sown within the message by the “non-introduction” introduction. Jesus instructs his disciples to be aware of that specific leaven. I have written in a previous blog about this issue in the Church.
This preacher is someone for whom I have respect and with whom I have agreed for the most part over the years. I have three takeaways from this experience.
First, this is a reminder of the seductiveness and the power of the leaven of Herod. It is a spiritual power that seeks to undermine the Kingdom priority of the Church. All of us who lead, preach, and teach in the Church are susceptible to this leaven. Do you want to test the power of this leaven? Engage someone on their political views about current political issues and monitor how quickly the conversation becomes visceral. Most people have robust emotional ties to their political worldview. Church leaders and ministers must remain vigilant and guard against this spirit leavening their hearts and thus the heart of their constituents.
“Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.” (Mark 8:15, NIV84)
My second takeaway is that we as the Church must stay true to the Kingdom priority established by Jesus. His command to his disciples is to seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness. We are not on the planet to make our particular nation “Christian.” We are here to make disciples of our nation’s citizens.
“Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:18–19, The Message)
The third takeaway has to do with integrity in leadership. I will not ascribe a malicious motive to this preacher. I know him to have a good and generous heart. This particular message may have been a “one-off” for him. Even so, this experience illustrates and reaffirms my concern for the encroachment of the political spirit in the Church whether overtly or covertly.
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33, NIV84)
Listeners Be Alert!