Recently a preacher (I refuse to call him a pastor) from Oklahoma received over 600,000 hits on YouTube for a portion of one of his recent sermons — for all the wrong reasons. The title of the video declares that this preacher “throws a hissy fit.” It’s worse than that. He degraded his people and even more, he brought shame to the name of Christ and worship.
In the video, he called out by name some members of the congregation, saying of (and to) one individual: “You’re one of the sorriest church members I have — you’re not worth 15 cents.”
So Christianity Today asked the question, “Should pastors rebuke parishioners from the pulpit?” And they solicited responses from a number of prominent leaders and pastors, several of whom I appreciate very much.
And as much as I have a problem with the speaker in the pulpit that day (I even have trouble calling him a preacher, for he neither shepherded his people nor heralded the Word of God), I also have reservations with the responses to the question.
The answer is, “no, a pastor should not rebuke parishioners from the pulpit.” And the reason is that God has designed a process for rebuking sinning church members, which Christ outlined as a four-step process in Matthew 18 —
- A believer sees his brother sinning and he goes to him and biblically shows him his sin (v. 15).
- If the sinner does not repent, the believer takes someone with him to confirm the nature of the sin and the biblical teaching about that sin, calling the sinner to repentance (v.16).
- If the sinner still does not repent, the sin is revealed to the congregation so that they can also exhort the sinner to repent (v. 17a).
- And if the sinner rejects all these opportunities to repent, he is to be removed from the church as a member (v. 17b).
The problem with what was done at the church in Oklahoma was three-fold:
- No specific sin was addressed (the mocking and slanderous statements contained no reference to any specific sin or sinful characteristic).
- The accusations appeared hostile, unrighteously angry, quarrelsome, and impatient (Eph. 4:26; 2 Timothy 2:24-26). His declaration was not a “gentle correction” commanded by Paul.
- The rant was outside the bounds of biblical church discipline outlined by Christ.
A true pastor never speaks that way from the pulpit because he is a shepherd, and he is not a judge (nor the judge) over the members of the congregation. The responsibility of the preacher is to take the inerrant Word of God and expose the truths of that Word in such a way that the people who hear are led to worship and transformation. The pulpit is no place for personal vendettas. It is a place for God-honoring, Christ-worshipping preaching.