Confront the Scandal of Our Prejudices—Part 14
READINGS – Part 3
I am a graduate of four distinctly conservative institutions Bob Jones University, Reformed Episcopal Seminary, Covenant Theological Seminary, and Concordia Theological Seminary. I am also a professor of theology at Wheaton College and Graduate School, an evangelical institution known for its conservative point of view.
As you might expect, I have been decidedly influenced by my experiences at these various institutions and the church groups they represent. And, as the philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer would say, I carry around within me these influences as well as influences from home and from life in general. Gadamer calls these experiences “prejudices.” I have, you might say, a conditioning within me that I cannot completely overcome; I hold prejudices from such diverse sources as fundamentalism, Calvinism, Lutheranism, and evangelicalism. These points of view influence the way I think about the Christian faith and the way I worship.
All of us—and our churches—have dispositions of this sort. It’s not that we are intentionally prejudiced. Instead, the environments in which we were raised and in which we have worshiped build within us convictions that we may not even be able to identify.
For example, the nonliturgical background of my early years naturally made me skeptical about both the liturgical and charismatic traditions of worship. I was suspicious of anyone who did not believe or practice the Christian faith as I did. And I was dead certain that I was right and they were wrong.
These prejudices became ingrained during my years at home and my formative years in college. I can point to an incident when I was twelve years old that surely built prejudice within me. The story goes like this: A Reformed couple came to our Baptist parsonage to visit with my parents. As they were deeply engaged in conversation about some religious matter—the favorite topic in my home—the male visitor lighted a cigarette right there in our living room. I was shocked. How could someone talk about religion and smoke at the same time?
As soon as our guests left, I quickly made my way to my mother’s side. “Mother, I thought those people were Christians. How can somebody smoke and be a Christian?” My mother’s answer was classic: “Well, Robert, they are Reformed. And Reformed people, though they are Christian, have funny ideas and do worldly things. But we are Baptists, the best of the Christian groups. We don’t have funny ideas and aren’t worldly.” Right then and there, in that young and impressionable mind, a prejudice was set in place.
I had similar experiences in college. I can, for example, distinctly remember the founder of the college cupping his hands over his mouth in chapel and crying, “Do you want to know where a man stands with God?” Obviously anyone who is spiritually sensitive wants to know how to determine a person’s standing with God. I leaned forward, anxiously awaiting his answer. “You only have to ask that person one question,” he continued. Then, after a moment’s pause, came the confident, dogmatic assertion, “Ask him, ‘What do you think of this university?’”
Now I was aware of how people felt about that university. Some thought the school was reactionary, racist,, legalistic, dogmatic, and arrogant. “What about those .people?” I thought. “Is God angry with them? Have they really fallen away from the truth?” As I recalled other assertions I’d heard proclaimed at the college, I found myself asking, “Is everybody in .the World Council of Churches an apostate renegade seeking to destroy the true church? Are all liturgical people really ritualists, servants of a dead orthodoxy given to vain repetition? Is the charismatic movement really of the devil?” With all of these questions, I was dealing with prejudices that had long ago been planted in my mind like seeds placed in the rich, dark soil of a spring garden.
Signs of Wonder, Robert Webber, Abbott Martyn, pages 6-7.
Sunday’s coming. Do you have your sermon ready? Is it relevant? Will it effectively motivate your congregation to walk more in step with the Master? What about that Sermon Series you’ve been thinking about?
Or, if you’re someone who plans well ahead, have you asked yourself what you will preach for your Easter Sermon, your Advent Sermon, your Christmas Sermon?
David Mains and Mainstay Ministries can help. We offer a wide variety of Sermon Starters and Full Sermons that will give you Sermon Ideas to help you prepare for regular Saturday or Sunday sermons, Mid-week Bible Sermons, and Sermons for special occasions.
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For more information on how to create better Bible Sermons and how to turn Sermon Ideas into Sermon Outlines, and then into effective, meaningful Sunday Sermons, please click here to visit David Mains’ website.
You will also find a variety of resources for pastors and congregations at the Mainstay Ministries website. Just click here.