Friday, 13 November 2009

A ridiculously lame sermon

In the past two weeks, I've been going to a church called Newbern Alliance which is somewhat close to where I live in Vancouver. I've tried both the English and the Chinese services, the former definitely seems better. Everybody was so long-winded in the Chinese service that I attended: the guys who led the singing said there's no need to say much because the songs' lyrics are so well written, and then he gave a speech on the song... But the worst was during the communion. The guy who administered the communion gave a 15-min SERMON on the purpose of communion right after the official lengthy sermon.

In any case, so I decided to go to the English service. And last week, at the English service, I chanced upon one of the most ridiculous sermons I ever heard, an experience totally worth recording.

The speaker's speech had a title, something along the line of "spiritual inputs & outputs". He began with Matthew 12 and James 3, saying that we gotta watch our tongues, which is the "output". But that'd be too simple, so he went on to say that we also got to manage our "input", so we'll have the right "output". He encouraged us to throw away our DVDs, video games, and music CDs, which might pollute our pure mind, just as a drop of cyanide can poison an entire cup of water. He then cited Job 6.24: "Teach me, and I will be silent; And show me how I have erred." According to this guy, Job found out that the reason why he suffered so much was because of what he had said; he didn't watch his tongue, so he lost his family and properties. So how shall we watch our tongues? He suggested that we shall not utter expressions such as: "unbelievable", "break a leg", and "it blew my mind". These are exaggerations that we don't mean. If we speak unreal things in the morning, our prayers at night will have no chance of being realized, or so he suggested.

Now, this sermon errs in so many points that it is difficult to criticize in a systematic manner, but I'll try. First, his two key passages, Matt 12 and James 3, do condemn the practice of bad-mouthing (output), but they don't talk about the inputs at all. Matt 12 relates bad fruits to bad trees, but it says nothing of what inputs the tree has received to become bad in the first place! So one of the 2 main points that he's making isn't even talked about in the biblical passages that he focused on. The other support for his point about inputs is the cyanide analogy. But whenever someone appeals to analogy as an argument, we should see a red flag. While it sounds reasonable, we have to question what is cyanide in water to do with DVDs in our life? I can argue in the same manner in the opposite direction: just as a chicken dropped into the Pacific Ocean won't turn the ocean into chicken soup, DVDs won't have much effect to our spiritual life. There, analogies don't make conclusive arguments.

His interpretation of Job 6 is even worse. It says: "Teach me, and I will be silent; And show me how I have erred." Job isn't saying he suffered because he spoke to much, and now he shall shut the hell up. It says it right there in this passage, he has no idea why he suffered at all, that's why he challenges God to "show me how I have erred". If God can tell him even just one thing he had done wrong, he'll shut up; otherwise he'll keep whining. And this speaker turned this passage around to say the exact opposite. Man, this is just bad exegesis.

The applications of these teachings are equally lame. Regarding the inputs, I have already said that his teachings find no basis in the 3 main passages that he cited. Regarding the outputs, although Matt 12 and James 3 do talk about controlling tongues, I'm pretty sure they do not mean to say that it is wrong to say "unbelievable" or "mind-blowing". They're talking about curses, blaspheming against the holy spirit; they're not forbidding the use of figures of speech and rhetorics. In fact, the bible itself does that all the time. When it describes God as a man with hands, or a heart, it isn't being untruthful to its readers. Any sane person will recognize the use of anthropomorphism in such descriptions. Why not?

Well, all in all, this sermon was so unbelievably lame that it is mind-blowing.


kato said...

your blog is very detailed and insightful. i enjoy reading it. -k