Sunday, June 10, 2007

Assumptions in preaching -- Rich Young Ruler

Every once in a while I hear a sermon which contains the four typical errors that annoy me no end.

This time it was a sermon on the rich young ruler.

And the four errors – perpetual errors, mind you! Errors I hear ALL the time--- are these:

• Minister being very judgmental toward a Bible character and assuming bad evil motives to a character.
• Minister assuming that if he were in the position of that Bible character he would behave so much better than said Bible character
• Minister assuming everyone in church agrees with him about said Bible character
• Minister assuming something happened in the story when from the way the story is told a reader can’t really tell what happened.


• The minister said the rich young ruler loved his money more than following Jesus.
• The minister assumed that if he was asked to give all his goods to feed the poor that he would do it.
• The minister assumed that we all thought the rich young ruler was greedy.
• The minister assumed the rich young man didn’t give away his goods to the poor.

Why do ministers do this?

• Perhaps they learned to interpret this story in seminary and never learned to think about the passage for themselves.
• They have been trained that Bible stories are about good people and bad people.
• They assume things as they read instead of reading carefully.
• They don’t know much about reading comprehension
• They don’t trust themselves to hear God
• They don’t trust the Holy Spirit to tell them how to interpret the story.
• They don’t read their Bibles and meditate on it.
• They skim a Bible story and prepare sermons half-heartedly.

Call me cynical but I’m not. I want Bible stories explored. I want my minister to listen to God. I want to hear ministers preaching from parts of the Bible no one preaches about because I want to see if the minister is actually listening to God instead of reading other minister’s sermons.
We are told to find root in ourselves. We must read the Bible and see what it says and then say what we see. We aren’t supposed to be living off someone else’s revelation. Especially if we are ministers. We should be reading what is written –and only what is written—and then allowing the holy spirit to talk to us instead of re-treading stuff we learned from others.

As for my interpretation of the rich young ruler story.

I think the guy went away grieved because he had much possessions. That’s what the Bible said. As for my interpretation, there are two possible interpretations:

The rich young ruler was grieved because he didn’t want to go so far as selling all he had to follow Jesus.


The rich young ruler was grieved because he WAS going to sell all he had to the poor and follow Jesus. Hey, he might have been one of Jesus’ disciples. Jesus had at least 120 by Pentecost.

As for the minister’s judgmental attitude toward the rich young ruler, has the minister ever been told to LITERALLY sell ALL he has and GIVE it to the poor? I don’t it. Ministers like to tell that story and to soften it by saying that Jesus was saying we should be “willing” to sell all we have. That, my friends, is not what the Bible says. The Bible says Jesus asked the man to sell all he had.

None of us have ever been ordered to do that?

Or have we?

And if we were ordered to do that? ---Or if we have been ordered to do that?—wouldn’t we be grieved?

I'm not saying there are no good preachers, just that there are so many lazy preachers it's hard to wait and be patient until one hears a good one. The churches in town are having a lot of revivals. They have revivals every year and ministers from all over come and preach for a week or whatever. I'm always encouraged to come. Being a faithful hopeful type, I drag myself down there and what do I hear? The same old messages from the same old passages with the same old unexamined assumptions. It just upsets a Christian. I sometimes wonder if I'm in a spiritual campmeeting or a Walmart business conference.

I so wish Christians would get rid of this judgmental attitude towards so-called “bad” people in the Bible. Whether it’s Michal, Hagar, Job’s wife, Delilah, whoever…all this kind of thing does is train us not to understand each other. And it makes us Christians become uncompassionate people with easy cruel judgmental knee-jerk answers. Just my opinion.

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