The Danger of Moralistic Preaching

In my reading today I came across the following observation from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

I am increasingly convinced that so much in the state of the Christian church today is to be explained chiefly by the fact that for nearly a hundred years the church has been preaching morality and ethics, and not the Christian faith. It is this preaching of the ‘good life’, or being ‘a good little gentleman’, and of viewing religion as ‘morality touched by emotion’, as Matthew Arnold put it, that has been the curse. Such men have shed the doctrines; they dislike any idea of atonement, they dismiss the whole notion of the miraculous and the supernatural, and ridicule talk about re-birth. Christianity to them is that which teaches a man to live a good life (Life in the Spirit, 19).

Those words are from one of his sermons he gave about 50 years ago! Even at his day MLJ observed and warned against preaching that is mere moralistic and ethical, and devoid of any doctrinal substance. When I hear such exhortation, I somehow think of guys like Joel Osteen in our day, though he certainly is not alone in this. He just happens to be the posterboy of today.

Currently I am preaching through Ephesians on Sunday mornings at Sovereign Grace. I am just a few passages away from the “marriage text” (i.e., 5:22-33). I say “marriage text” because that is a typical pre-understanding of most people. I don’t know how many times I have heard sermons on that text or at marriage seminars/conferences that completely negate some of the major theological themes in Ephesians, namely the nature and work of Christ and the church. In fact, Paul even states in verse 32 that “this mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church” – just in case you and I miss the whole point of the passage.

However, we have missed the whole point of the passage by simply giving pep talks about marriage when there is a theological disconnection from its doctrinal foundation. What is so Christian about telling the guys to love their wives? That’s no different than what a Mormon can say! That’s no different than what you’ll find at the “self help” section of your local Barnes and Noble or from a “marriage guru.”

I am getting sick and tired of preaching that is so Christless and/or devoid of any doctrinal substance, especially in the media. By the way, why is it that so many “preachings” in TV are so off-the-wall or wrong? I mean who support such ministries? And I am getting sick and tired of watching so called Christians who 1) do not know what biblical preaching is (perhaps because they have never heard one), 2) desire everything else but sound expositions of God’s word, and 3) simply complacent.

I certainly do not claim to be the prince of preaching. I just want to be faithful to the text. That means making God look so glorious that I and my listeners want to treasure him alone.

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4 thoughts on “The Danger of Moralistic Preaching

  1. I agree with you on some degree but to be honest with you, your blog comes off a bit angry, condescending and judgmental. It kind of reminds me of a dogmatic group of people who say KJV is the only true Bible that should only be read and questions others about their salvation if someone supports other versions such as the NIV.

    There are many preachers who share God’s message in different styles. Some may share their expository message on one Sunday, share a topical message on the next week, share a “inspirational moralistic” message the next month, etc. Even if one may not share God’s message with a “doctrinal flare” on tv, they may be teaching classes on Biblical doctrine away from a tv setting.

    One of the things I wouldnt be supportive of are messages that will lead others to false doctrines (ex: hell doesnt exist, salvation by works), live in sin, worship another jesus, follow another god, etc…

    • Dear BL78,

      First, you need to state your first and last name as mentioned in the disclaimer as a rule of engagement.

      Second, you said, “…your blog comes off a bit angry, condescending and judgmental.” Really? What do you call that? Are you not being judgmental by judging me?

      Third, I was intentional about my word choices and the tone. I was intentional about expressing my anger about preaching that is devoid of making God and the gospel look glorious. Obviously, you are making erroneous moral/value judgment that somehow being angry and judging are wrong. If that is the case, then you need to reread what and how Jesus said in his dealings with the religious people.

      Fourth, my issue is not about the styles of preaching, though I do have an issue with defining/describing preaching to “sharing” as you do. The biblical mandate for preachers is not to “share,” but to “preach the word.” Hence, I wasn’t particularly addressing the issue of preaching style in this post, but its substance. But for some reason, if you think preachers can share expository message one Sunday, a topical the next week, and share a “inspirational moralistic” message the next, then I would say you have the right to your opinion. However, you don’t have the right to define what a true preaching is, nor what a true church is – God defines both.

      Fifth, if any preacher has the opportunity to appear on TV whether one time or regularly, does he not want to maximize such opportunity to address the essential matter of life, namely getting the gospel right? And I do not mean a prosperity gospel or “God has a wonderful plan for you” kind. To get the gospel right in midst of this pluralistic culture or even to define what the gospel is in a simple level requires sound theology.

      Sixth, I know of no church who says that they are supportive of false doctrines. I have yet to see a church that says, “We teach salvation by works, worship another Jesus, follow another god, etc.” Although no church may be that blatant, getting there is not too difficult, especially, if they are already on the down-slope. The schemes of Satan are very subtle. It usually begins with “Did God say?”, which basically is a challenge to the sufficiency and authority of Scripture.

      I would love to discuss or write further. But since I’m the pastor of a local church, I must now get back to the work that pertains to our local body.

  2. Pingback: POISON: Christless Preaching « gospel muse:

  3. Jim,

    Good article (which, in my opinion, did not come across as angry or judgmental). As a pastor, I know how hard it is to be faithful to the text and not give in to the pressure to preach moralistic sermons.

    Keep preaching Christ!

    Don Owsley

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