The clown in the pulpit

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The Scottish preacher and theologian Thomas Chalmers, in a sermon on "The necessity of the Spirit to give effect to the preaching of gospel," declared:
How little must the presence of God be felt in that place, where the high functions of the pulpit are degraded into a stipulated exchange of entertainment, on the one side, and of admiration, on the other! and surely it were a sight to make angels weep, when a weak and vapouring mortal, surrounded by his fellow-sinners, and hastening to the grave and the judgment along with them, finds it a dearer object to his bosom, to regale his hearers by the exhibition of himself, than to do, in plain earnest the work of his Master, and urge on the business of repentance and of faith, by the impressive simplicities of the gospel.
William Plumer, commenting on this, makes clear that no minister should seek to be dull, sour and morose. I do not think that either man would be against the natural use of wholesome humour in its proper place, and to some extent that is a matter of personality. Nevertheless, says Plumer, the preacher should not be "a buffoon, not a jester, not a trifler" (37). Ted Donnelly, in his outstanding volume on heaven and hell (Banner), warns that
Unconverted people may call us gloomy. They may consider our meetings old-fashioned and dull, without the sparkle of the polished ecclesiastical comedians. That cannot be helped. But when they are in trouble, in a real crisis, will they turn to the clowns? Will they look for someone to tell them little stories and make them laugh? Time and again we find that people in need are drawn instinctively to those who are serious, in earnest, in touch with real life. They sense a sterling character, an ability to help on a profound level. In the long run, the jester has less impact than the man or woman with tears of compassion. Those who once mocked us may come to discover that 'it is better to hear the rebuke of the wise than for a man to hear the song of fools' (Eccles. 7:5).

Let us be serious, let us be thoughtful, as we live in a world where so many of our fellow creatures are perishing.
What do you, preacher, strive after in the pulpit? Do you seek the titter or guffaw of the congregation? Do you simply want to bask in the warmth of people who find you amusing, who applaud your comic genius? Do you model yourself on the clowns and jesters of our age? Do you exhibit your own wit or do you exalt your Saviour?

And what do you, hearer, seek from your preachers? Do you want to have a good laugh? Have you confused a good show with a good sermon, the manipulations of a gifted comic with the operations of the Holy Spirit? Are you impressed with your preacher's witty patter and comic timing or with his burning concern and consuming zeal? Though you may from time to time smile and laugh as he illustrates and observes, have you ever wept as he pleads and probes?

Earnest men rarely spend all their time making others laugh. If God has put the weapon of sanctified humour into your armoury, use it well, but do not make it the banner under which you march. We weak and vapouring mortals must get down to business with eternity pressing on our hearts. When souls are in the balance, not entertaining performances but earnest pleading of the impressive simplicities of the gospel must be our labour. Do not make the angels weep.
Posted September 7, 2012 @ 9:46 AM by Jeremy Walker


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