Moralistic Preaching leaves listeners in a place of immaturity. Before getting much further, let me define ‘moralistic preaching’ and lay out some qualifications as well.
Moralistic Preaching is preaching that regularly focuses on telling listeners what to do and what not to do. It is not so much the picture of a shepherd with staff in hand guiding the sheep, but the picture of the ‘New Sheriff in town’ who roams with his pistols and shotgun making sure order is kept. Perhaps the hard to define word in the definition is “regularly.” How much is regularly? With that one issue ‘out there,’ let’s move forward anyway. When a preacher spends most of their sermons telling people what to do and what not to do, I think they have (given a few qualifications) failed their listeners. Moreover, there is a difference between moralistic preaching and preaching that lays out moral principles. It is clear that many a sermon leans into a conclusion which warrants action. But sermons need to be more than mere moralistic preaching.
Why do I think this? I think this for a number of reasons.
- Moralistic Preaching focuses too much attention on the “What” and little to no attention on the “how.” Teaching people “what” to think by drilling in a long list of rules and obligations, is a lot easier than teaching people “how” to process moral problems. If every time a person comes to a crossroads or difficult situation, and they are told what to do. They will never figure out how to process consequences. They will not have developed there sense of ‘self.’ They will not have utilized their God given talents. In sense, they will have failed at what it means to be human.
- Because of number 1 above, people who only listen to moralistic preaching, seldom become autonomous thinkers. In other words, they rely so much on the preacher to determine what is right and wrong that when they come across the complex and varied scenarios of everyday life, they will not have the tools to process.
- It misses the main point of the Gospel. Certainly, there are rules in the Bible. Yet, there are communities too. Communities that are called to develop the fruit of the spirit. Communities that are reached through epistles that weighed into moral problems without constantly commanding and telling. Rather, they used methods of persuasion to draw people around to their point of view.
- Moralistic Preaching has the tendency to ‘guard its turf.’ If a preacher cannot be asked inquiring questions about their sermons, then they may have bought the lie that they are the determiners of all truth.
- Moralistic Preaching is boring. Listening to preaching that commands all the time is frankly mundane. Heard one, you have heard them all. Moralistic Preaching thinks it can solve every personal problem from the pulpit as well. Yet focuses so much attention on what a narrow percentage of a given population (congregation) is dealing with, while failing to address the whole population. That population is then taken captive by the one who is being ‘covertly’ addressed through preaching.
- Moralistic Preaching can take advantage of those who lack the tools to process complex information. Some people place ultimate trust in their preachers. That means someone is going to take seriously what the preacher is saying. If the preacher is saying ‘junk,’ then the person is going to live out a junky Christian life.
- Moralistic Preaching plays into the stereotype from non-believers that Christianity is just a list of do’s and don’ts. All the commands in Scripture are framed in particular contexts. They offered the people a level of order, a level of revelation about God himself. What are we doing with that revelation?
Now, about those qualifications. Certainly, a sermon here and a sermon there which says “do” or “don’t” is not all bad. There are times to ‘tell it like it is.’ Yet, these should be few and far between. A shepherd guides the sheep. Moreover, one of the grandest plans God has for the world is to create thoughtful and virtuous people. When I say “thoughtful” I mean to say of ‘sound mind.’ When I say virtuous, I am saying of ‘good character.’ Both a sound mind and good character are developed through time and testing out one’s current ‘skills.’ Pastors and preachers alike need to give their congregations a gift. Namely the gift of having the tools to process life. The ability to think critically. Just think of Jesus. He did not spend all of his time moralizing. Rather, he often used analogy and metaphors from nature and he kept his audiences guessing. They were often left unsatisfied at his answers, because his answers were always leading them somewhere and not just giving them a stop-gap answer.
All for now.