Believing is seeing

Sermon preached at Our Saviour Lutheran Church on Quinquagesima Sunday, 19 Feb 2012 (typos and all).

You can listen to the sermon on the Our Saviour website.

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Seeing is believing. So we are told, and so we feel. We find it easiest to believe that which we can see, because who could doubt what is before their own eyes. That’s why there are some areas of human knowledge that are more frequently disputed than others. No one is capable of doubting the roundness of the earth these days, since we have all seen the photos from space. On the other hand, when it comes to the theory of evolution or man-made global warming, we have to rely on the word of scientists, since the evidence is not something we can easily verify by our eyes. And so there are sceptics as well as believers. Because seeing is believing.

But in order to see properly, you need the right kind of eyes looking at the right thing. Faulty or impaired vision prevents you from seeing things as they are, and you are left in ignorance. Likewise, even with 20:20 vision you can be left in the dark if you don’t know what to look for, or if you are looking at the wrong thing. How many people have suffered needlessly when physicians have failed to diagnose correctly their illness, not from any incompetence but because they were looking for the wrong thing? How many scientific discoveries were missed or delayed because the scientists failed to recognise the facts that were staring them in the face? Or in more mundane settings, how many times have you failed to recognise a friend simply because you didn’t expect them to be there at that time? If it is true that seeing is believing, it is also true that much of the time we see what we expect to see. That’s the secret behind the art of magicians and camofleurs alike.

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On megastars and small-time ministers

The entire congregation of Our Saviour Lutheran Church, plus visitors. I'm not a megastar.

As has become well known, Mark Driscoll has managed to be very rude about Christian ministers in the UK. The essence of his criticism is that there are no nationally famous young “Bible teachers” in this country, and so we are a lot of cowards who aren’t telling the truth.

I have no doubt that there are plenty of cowards who aren’t telling the truth here, as anywhere. I suspect one or two may even be lurking in Washington State (Driscoll works in Seattle). But I would contend that the proportion of cowards amongst the anonymous small-timers is unlikely to be significantly higher than amongst the megastar peers of Driscoll.

In fact, in the light of what the Bible has to say about the nature of sin, I would even contend that cowardice is positively helpful if you want to be famous and grow a large church. It is the coward who preaches to itching ears what they want to hear, often becoming popular in the process. It is the coward who can only believe in the veracity of his message and the genuineness of his call if it is affirmed by the approval of crowds.

By contrast, it takes great courage to preach sin and salvation in a culture that doesn’t believe in the former or the need for the latter, and to be condemned to unpopularity or (even worse) oblivion. It takes great courage to confess the reality of the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church”, which the gates of hell cannot overcome, when leading a dwindling and ageing congregation. It takes great courage to be a small-time nonentity, faithful to the Lord and His flock, because there is nothing else to commend it than the promises of God’s word.

[Disclaimer: I’m not making any claims here about whether or not Mark Driscoll himself is a coward. Only that he’s both wrong-headed and wrong on this point.]