The Deadly Sin of Sermon Listening

Sometimes our biggest problem is feeling comfortable in our Christianity because we do things that feel spiritual while not doing the things that are really spiritual.

Here is another quote from Elton Trueblood's Book Your Other Vocation:

"Our heresy has been to look upon the church as a society in which a few speak and many listen. Consequently, there has arisen the strange idea that the primary Christian observance of most people is that of listening to sermons. There are many who, when they try to reform a bit, piously undertake to do some sermon listening. Now sermons may be wonderful and some actually are, but the notion that listening to human words is an especially religious act is very far from self-evident. In practice sermon listening may be a vice, because it may be a substitute for a more effective witness.

Elton Trueblook goes on to quote John R. Mott from Liberating the Lay Forces of Christianity:

"A multitude of laymen are today in serious danger. It is positively perilous for them to hear more sermons, attend more Bible classes and open forums and read more religious and ethical works, unless accompanying it all there be afforded day by day an adequate outlet for their new-found truth."

Elton Trueblood later writes:

"We need to understand that the Christian witness lies not in some passive attendance, but rather in sharing the missionary effort at some point in human contact. In this case, at least, it is more blessed to gvie than to receive and men learn more of Christian truth by what they share than by what they hear.

This reminds me of a section I read in one of Martin Luther's sermons. It's rather lengthy, but it is one of the best quotes ever written.

"Who stumble at Christ? All that teach you to do works, instead of teching you to believe. Those who hold forth Christ to you as a law-maker and a judge, and refuse to let Christ be a helper and a comfoter, torment you by putting works before and in the way of God in order to atone for your sins and to merit grace...For if you desire to believe rightly and to possess Christ truly, then you must reject all works that you intend to place before and in the way of God...Before God no works are acceptable but Christ's own works. Let these plead for you before God, and do no other work before him than to believe that Christ is doing his works for you and is placing them before God in your behalf."

"In order to keep your faith pure, do nothing else than stand still, enjoy its blessings, accept Christ's works, and let him bestow his loe upon you. You must be blind, lame dead, dead, leprous, and poor, otherwise you will stumble at Christ...But those who intend to atone for sins and to become pious by their own works, will miss the present Christ and look for another, or at least they will believe that he should do otherwise, that first of all he should come and accept their works and consider them pious."

If we would stop there, we would be able to believe what is said about Martin Luther being "faith only." But he didn't stop there.

"In the second place, Christ teaches us rightly to apply the works and shows us what good works are. All other work, except faith, we should apply to our neighbor. For God demands of us no other work that we should do for him than to exercise faith in Christ...After this think of nothing else than to do to your neighbor as Christ has done to you, and let all your works together with all you life be applied to you neighbor. Look for the poor, sick and all kinds of needy, help them and let your life's energy here appear, so that they may enjoy your kindness, helping whoever needs you, as much as you possibly can with you life, property and honor. Whoever points you to other good works than these, avoid him as a wolf and as Satan, because he wants to put a stumbling block in your way, as David says, 'In the way wherein I walk have they hidden a snare for me,' (Ps 142:3)."

"But this is done by the perverted, misguided people of the Papists, who with their religious ceremonies set aside such Crhsitian works, and teach the people to serve God only and not also mankind. They establish convents, masses, vigils, become religous, do this and that. And these poor, blind people call that serving God, which they have chosen themselves. But know that to serve God is nothing else than to serve your neighbor and do good to him in love, be it a child, wife, servant, enemy, friend; whithout making any difference, whoever needs your help in body or soul, and wherever you can help in temporal or spiritual matters. This is serving God and doing good works. O, Lord God, how do we fools live in this world, neglecting to do such works, though in all parts of the world we find the needy, on whom we could bestow our good works; but no one looks after them nor cares for them...If you do not find yourself among the needy and the poor, where the gospel shows us Christ, then you may know that your faith is not right, and that you have not yet tasted of Christ's benevolence and work for you."

"This one clings to his religous ceremonies and his own works, that one is scraping all to himself and helps no one. Even those who gladly hear and understand the doctrine of pure faith do not proceed to serve their neighbor, as though they expected to be saved by faith without works; they see not that their faith is not faith, but a shadow of faith, just as the picture in the mirror is not the face itself, but only a feflcetion of the same, as St. James so beautfifully writes, saying, 'But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deluding your own selves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a mirror: for he behjoldeth him self, and goeth away, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was,' (James 1:22-25). So also there within themselves many behold a reflection of true faith when they hear and speaak of the Word, but as soon as the hearing and speaking are done, they are concerned about other affairs and are not doing according to it, and thus they always forgeth about the fruit of faith, namely, Christian love, of which Paul also say, 'For the kingdom of God is not in work, but in power,' (I Cor 4:20)."

We are at a crossroads. We can continueto go to church, listen to sermons, sing praise songs, and think that we are right with God. But none of those are things that make us right with God. They do not even matter to him.

Elihu, the young one who was not reprimanded in the end by God, said to Job:

(Job 35:6-8 NASB) "If you have sinned, what do you accomplish against Him? And if your transgressions are many, what do you do to Him? {7} "If you are righteous, what do you give to Him? Or what does He receive from your hand? {8} "Your wickedness is for a man like yourself, And your righteousness is for a son of man."

If we want to do something for God, then we need to do it for our neighbors. Our righteousness and wickedness do not effect God. They do, however, build up or destroy others.

(Mat 25:41-46 NASB) "Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; {42} for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; {43} I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.' {44} "Then they themselves also will answer, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?' {45} "Then He will answer them, saying, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' {46} "And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

God could care less if we listened to a bunch of sermons, sang a bunch of songs, or attended church every Sunday of our lives. We show him our love by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, nursing the sick, visiting the prisoners, and housing strangers. That's how we show love to God.

Let us put everything else in their proper perspective. The large gathering of believers needs to be an equipping time, but not just for the sake of equipping. What good would it do for a military to hand out guns and ammo every week to the same people that received them the week before when they never go out and use them? They would just have a useless, although maybe collectible, collection of guns. Many of us have a novel and intellectual faith, but we are called to much more than head knowledge about the Kingdom of God. We are called to live out the Christian life from the time we leave the gathering to the time we reassemble. It's not what we do at the gathering that shows if we truly love God; it's what happens in between them.