Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Witness vs Gospel

I have a bias.

I don't think I ever really thought of it as a bias until last week. It concerns the content of sermons, or talks at Christian events, whether it be a Sunday morning church service or a weekend conference or an event like Greenbelt.

The bias is this: speakers who preach from the bible and expound what it says = good / speakers who preach about their own life and experiences of God, occasionally using seemingly random verses and passages to support what they're saying = bad.

I know where the bias comes from, I was raised with it. This is exactly the opinion of my parents and the church I was raised in. It was instilled in me from a very young age. So I never really noticed it before, or that it might be a bad thing.

You see, I've always thought that witness really involved telling people about what Jesus did 2000 years ago. And it kind-of annoys me when people / preachers talk about what happened in their lives last year, even if what they're telling is what Jesus did in their lives last week. I suppose my bias could be summed up by saying: 'if it isn't in the bible, its not worth preaching'.

Is this a good bias? Is it right? I'm not so sure.

For about three years now we've been attending a Vineyard church, and the teaching style generally treads the line between the two styles - generally there's a lot of preaching from the bible, but there's also the personal experience stuff too. Sometimes I like this balance, sometimes I wish there was more exposition. Usually I don't notice my bias. But it generally comes out when we have visiting speakers - most of the visitors we have had over the past few years have preached their experiences of God, not expounded. And as a result I have been biased against them without realising it. It came to my attention this week as I've been listening to the talks from the Vineyard Leaders' Conference from last year (I actually meant to listen to this year's talks but downloaded the wrong ones by accident, doh!).

The main speaker, Steve Nicholson, tells some fascinating stories of what God has done in his life and church, with only occasional reference to the bible. And along the way he mentioned that 'witness' is talking about what you've seen. And I realised that he's right. I didn't witness anything 2000 years ago, indeed, I have only hazy memories of the 1970s! If I'm to witness it must be about things I've seen - better still, it should be about what God has done in my life.

So, I've finally realised that witness is not equal to gospel.

Hopefully I can work around this bias, now that I'm aware of it.

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