This post is a guest post by my friend, Charlie E. Dates. In 2011, at the age of 30, Charlie became the youngest pastor of the Progressive Baptist Church of Chicago’s rich 93-year history. Charlie is married to Kirstie and is the proud father of their firstborn son, Charles Edward Dates II. To learn more about Pastor Charlie, click here.
The place was packed. He grabbed the microphone and went to the pulpit. He pulled out his phone, read several verses from an Old Testament passage, and then put the phone back in his jacket. He was smooth.
Not long ago I visited a thriving church in Chicago to hear one of America’s top preachers. I mean this guy can do it! His delivery is masterful. He can talk a starving dog off the back of a meat truck. I’m tempted to write his name, but I won’t to protect the guilty. He came with it. He was preaching about justice. (Let’s be clear, justice is a worthy theme to be proclaimed from the scriptures!)
The people around me were visibly responsive, eating up every word. It was the kind of pulpit-pew interaction that most young preachers crave. Electric, exciting, and energizing are a few words that describe the atmosphere. It was the place to be.
Then I realized something. He mentioned, almost in passing, that ‘God had seen people through their personal dark night of the soul: racism, classism, sexism and… homophobia.’ I paused, looked around, and wondered if anybody else noticed what he said. Then like ice he smoothly slipped in another statement implying that homosexuality was not sin.
The cheering never stopped. The crowd never paused in their celebration. My conscience grew uneasy. It was that moment. The one when everybody around you is cheering and you want to ask them, “What are you cheering for?!” I realized that although he was preaching about justice, he did no justice to the scriptures.
The quick conclusion is that this preacher, as profound and gifted as he is, abandoned the authority of the scriptures. He is affirming a lifestyle that God has not. Now before you dismiss me as a homo-phobic hater of people, or label me a narrow-minded preacher, let me assure you that I am not. I actually think it is the president’s job to uphold the constitution. I don’t think we should discriminate against gay people. All people are entitled to human rights. I am NOT in favor of same-sex marriage, but I am just about sure some form of it will be legalized in my lifetime. But whereas it is the president’s job to uphold the constitution, it is the church’s job – and therefore the pastor’s responsibility – to uphold the Bible.
Therein lies my concern. Where is the commitment to the scriptures? What will be the authority of the church if pastors start denying the reliability of the scriptures? If this preacher can deny part of the Bible as true, can he not dismiss the whole as false?
These are questions that must be answered by every generation. From Ireneaus to Tertullian, from Augustine to Aquinas, from Haddon Robinson to H. B. Charles, Jr., every young preacher has to land on his convictions regarding the authority of the scriptures. The true success of ministry depends on it. As Paul wrote to Timothy, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:16).
My heart sank deep within as I watched that crowd cheer louder and louder as this pastor basically debunked the Bible.
Now I am not declaring the decline of a particular ethnicity’s theology. That would go too far. I do, however, want to propose these two questions for your consideration:
- If the Bible in its entirety is not true, who gets to determine which parts are true and which are false?
- If the scripture is no longer the authority in the church, who or what is the authority?
It’s a sad day when the pulpit has a preacher but no bible.
Feel free to join the conversation in the comments section.