NEWS | John Sandeman
Tuesday 22 March 2016
Celebrating the arrival of a new church leader is usually an occasion for politeness. But when Tasmanian Anglicans got a new Bishop (regional leader) this week, he was given a very direct set of instructions. They are worth reading by Christians in all parts of Australia, and whatever brand of Christianity you follow.
“But Richard, at this point, you are here to listen, and what fun it is to be able to preach to you, when you are not allowed to interrupt, object, or walk out!” said Peter Adam, who used to run Melbourne’s Ridley College, to Richard Condie, stepping up to lead Tasmania’s Anglicans. “It is a rare and thoroughly enjoyable treat.”
As at most services for new church leaders, there is a heap of promises to be made. Adam summarised them in one line: “A Bishop without a Bible is no Bishop at all.”
But added: “And it is not enough to use the Bible in the liturgy, if you don’t preach from it.
“It is not enough to have learnt the message of the Bible, and not continue to study and learn from it. It should be a book which is old, but always new; familiar but always strange; known, but always giving us new and deeper revelations of God and his ways.”
Adam promised to pursue Condie throughout his ministry with some key questions of his own.
“Questions I will ask you at regular intervals for the rest of your ministry:
- Do you still trust the Scriptures?
- Are you still studying the Scriptures, and learning at ever deeper levels as you study?
- How long is it since your reading of the Scriptures changed the way you live or do your ministry?
- Are you using the Scriptures in your preaching, not merely as a launching pad for the rocket of your own ideas, but as the substance, content and purpose of your preaching and for the substance of your application?
- Are you using the Scriptures in all other parts of your ministry: in counselling, evangelism, in pastoral conversations, and as the guide to your leadership and wider ministries?
- Are you giving God the microphone in your teaching and preaching, by projecting God’s eloquent words in the Bible?
“I wonder if you know of the famous character in ancient Greek mythology, whose name was Procrustes. He was an innkeeper, and had a famous bed in his inn, which he boasted was wonderful bed, which would be comfortable for anyone to sleep on.
“What actually happened to hapless travellers, attracted to the inn and the bed, was that Procrustes would ensure that they fitted the bed, either by cutting off their legs if the bed was too short, or by stretching their bodies on a rack, if the bed was too long.
“I am sorry to say that it is very easy to preach Procrustean sermons, in which the Bible is either cut short to fit what the sermon is about, or stretched beyond its natural meaning, to fit the mind of the preacher.
“The most common way in which is done today, is to say, ‘Well, this Bible passage reminds me of something Hildegard of Bingen said, or ‘This reminds me of a comment of Tim Keller’. The Bible is then left behind, having been used as a mere launching pad for the preachers own agenda. When the Bible is preached as it is, God’s voice is heard in the Bible reading and the sermon. For, as Christ said, quoting the Old Testament,
“‘It is written, “We do not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”’ [Matthew 4:4].
“Well Richard, All obvious? Yes. All elementary? Yes. All clearly taught in the Bible? Yes. All clearly expressed in this service? Yes. But, as a friend of mine often says, ‘It goes without saying, so it needs to be said.’”