And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom…and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5 ESV)
The other night I had my wife and two teenage daughters gather around the computer to watch something on YouTube that I thought they would really appreciate. It was only about two minutes into the video that in total disgust and embarrassment I quickly reached for the mouse to hit the stop button. I could not believe the profanity and subject matter being discussed by the man in the video. This was not some sleazy daytime show or Hollywood production. It was a video of a sermon by a leading American pastor. Now, I realize this isn’t necessarily new. I have heard all this before from pastors, both in person and online—and I have been hopeful that we could move on as we mature—but the shock factor of having some of my own family as hearers of the pastoral filth really ticked me off.
There was a time when non-Christians (and Christians) carefully cleaned up their language around pastors because they knew certain ways of speaking were inappropriate. Especially with the pastor around, it was almost as if God Himself were visibly present, they didn’t dare utter things that required a “pardon my French” to follow. Today, however, the tables are turned. Pastors, even doctrinally sound pastors, many of whom are helping in the resurgence in gospel-centered ministry, are leading the way believing that it is OK—even cool—to let the four-letter words rip. They don’t seem to mind talking in ways that put me back in my middle school days with giggling little boys discussing the not-so-finer points of the bathroom. What is going on?
I can’t say for sure what is going on or even begin to understand the motives and thinking behind this trend, but there are a few biblical points that need to be made. First, no matter what lies have been promoted and believed, there is still a difference between appropriate and inappropriate (sinful) speech. God’s standard has not changed. There is “talk” that is out of place and not fitting for the holy ones of God, a.k.a. Christians. What the free-speaking pastor is airing does not build up or impart grace. It tears down and does not profit the listeners.
Second, pastors are to preach and to live with a holy, Christlikeness. If they aren’t the ones to faithfully man-up to the call, then who will? Sorry guys, but your lives are to be “imitatable” by the ones you shepherd according to Hebrews 13 and thanks to technology, you are reaching an even larger flock than previously. My sons and daughters aren’t interested in imitating your “higher” use of the English language.
Third, it appears as if some of these pastors are using profanity to contextualize the message in the subcultures of the people they are trying to reach with the gospel—the same gospel that transforms and teaches us to say no to all ungodliness and worldly passions (Titus 2:11-12). However, as the apostle Paul pointed out, it’s not the eloquence, wisdom or trendiness of our speech that converts the heart, it is the power of the Spirit moving in the message proclaimed. Contextualization can cross the line of compromise and sin. And beyond this, bigger questions come to the forefront, questions like, “Are we putting all our confidence in connecting with the audience through a contextualized message and lifestyle or in ‘the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes?’” and “Do I need profanity to contextualize the gospel?” Somehow I don’t think so.
I am making this appeal to every pastor, but especially to our national church leaders. Please guard the words the come out of your mouth. I thank God for all that you are doing and your faithfulness to the Word of God. We are living in challenging days, but the light of the glorious gospel burns brighter now than it did ten or twenty years ago, and I believe it is in large part because of your dogged determination to display the greatness of God. Please do not diminish or corrupt that light with language that is out of step with who we are in Christ or our high calling to holiness and world evangelization. And remember, children are watching.