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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Artificiality Is a Disease of the Soul

When I was a young lad and first beginning to observe the human scene, one thing that stuck me forcibly was the artificiality of preachers. The word they inhabited was, it seemed to me, always once removed from reality.

I was not brought up in a Christian home and so was not accustomed to the conventional language of religion, and when I chanced occasionally to hear a sermon I listened with an ear undulled by familiarity. How strange the preachers sounded to me, how artificial their tones and how unnatural their demeanor.

They were men, obviously, but they lacked completely the candor and downrightness I knew so well in other men. The bold, man-to-man approach was missing. They seemed to be afraid of something, though I could not tell what, for certainly the tame, patient, almost indifferent persons who listened to them were harmless enough. No one paid much attention to what they said anyway. I am sure that if one of them had slyly interspersed into his sermon stray bits of the Gettysburg Address repeated backward few of those present would have noticed or cared. Yet they spoke so gingerly and apologetically that one got the impression that they  would rather remain silent forever than to offend anyone. After listening to some of them now and again, I knew the meaning of the French saying (though I did not hear it till many years later), "There are three sexes: men, women, and preachers."

Now I am all for preachers and I do not expect them to be perfect, but I am all for downrightness, too. I think it highly improbable that anyone who speaks cautiously can speak effectively. His timidity will deactivate his effort and render it impotent.

It is true that the church has suffered from pugnacious men  who would rather fight than pray, but she has suffered more from timid preachers who would rather be nice than be right. The latter have done more harm if for no other reason than that there are so many more of them. I do not think, however, that we must make our choice between the two. It is altogether possible to have love and courage at the same time, to be both true an faithful. "Let you speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt" (Colossians 4:6). It is the absence of salt that makes so much of our preaching vapid and dull. "Can that which is unsavoury be eaten without salt? or is there any taste in the white of an egg?" (Job 6:6).

Our theological schools may be at fault here. They strive to turn out preachers who will be all things to all men in a sense Paul never had in mind. They want their students to be cultured if it kills them and they begin by draining off all salt and leaving only a sweetness and light that appears to some of us to be neither sweet nor light. Everything natural is as far as possible refined away. All tang is eliminated from the speech, all angularity carefully filed off the language. The young man is trained to gesture gracefully, smile faintly and sound scholarly. The direct language that men naturally use when speaking to each other is edited out and a vague, stilted jargon is substituted for it. The total result is artificiality and ineffectiveness.

But back to my own experience: it was by the mercy of God that I was later permitted to hear an evangelist who was completely human and paid his hearers the compliment of assuming that they were human too. He knew what he wanted to say and said it fearlessly; and the people knew what he meant and either took it or left it. Thank God a good number of them took it.

Every man who stands to proclaim the Word should speak with something of the bold authority of the Word itself. The Bible is the book of supreme love, but it is at the same time altogether frank and downright. Its writers are never rude or unkind, but they are invariably honest and entirely sincere. A  great sense of urgency is upon everything they write. They are deeply concerned with moral decisions. Protocol is of less interest to them than the glory of God and the welfare of the people.

One is tempted to offer advise to the young preacher to prevent him from becoming a mere purveyor of artificial religious platitudes, but further consideration shows how useless that would be. One might urge him to study the best writers and speakers, to strive to be original, to look at and through things before speaking of them, to avoid cliches, to speak in the vernacular; but this is to miss the point entirely. Religious artificiality is not a technical thing but a deeply human and spiritual one. It is a disease of the soul and can only be healed by the Physician of souls.

To escape the snare of artificiality it is necessary that a man enjoy a satisfying personal experience with God. His must be totally committed to Christ and deeply anointed with the Holy Spirit. Further, he must be delivered from the fear of men. The focus of his attention must be God and not men. He must let everything dear to him ride out on each sermon. He must so preach as to jeopardize his future, his ministry, even his life itself. He must make God responsible for the consequences and speak as one who will not have long to speak before he is called to judgment. Then the people will know they are hearing a voice instead of a mere echo.

~A. W. Tozer~

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