12 February 2014

Acting Like Men? Pastors, Pulpits and Profanity

It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. (1 Timothy 3:1–3)
Pastors sin. Few would argue with that statement, especially your pastor! And like the rest of us, they should be shown grace because they, too, are being sanctified and are growing in holiness. At the same time, the pastor is a shepherd of the people and a model for his flock. In fact, one can often tell the character of a pastor simply from engaging in conversation with members of his congregation, because a student will reflect the qualities of his teacher.

This is undoubtedly one of the many reasons why pastors and elders are to be "above reproach" in their life and conduct. This is not to say that they do not sin, but that their lives exemplify a walk desirous of holiness. These are the men who have been called by God to tend to His sheep on this earth.

Photo: YouTube; A Christmas Story
When a pastor abuses this privileged position, Christians ought to grieve. When a pastor publicizes his sin from the pulpit or, even worse, acts sinfully in the pulpit but does not acknowledge his behavior as being sinful and reprehensible to God, then those watching cannot help but begin to question that pastor's qualifications. After all, if a man cannot present himself as above reproach when he is in the pulpit, what might he be doing outside of it? This is not meant as an accusatory statement, but rather stands as a logical question that might be asked.

There was a time when Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll was well known as the deliberately crude, "cussing pastor." He seems to have since softened his language (or perhaps has traded it for other, more disturbing pastimes), but the trend of cussing in the pulpit has not entirely faded from evangelicalism. And since a man is understandably influenced by the company he keeps, it seems rather interesting, if not disheartening, to listen to the following clip of James MacDonald, pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel, as he preached this past Fall at the Act Like Men conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. A conference, it may be noted, where one of MacDonald's co-stars was Mark Driscoll.

(Language warning.)

An eyewitness report of this sermon with more details is available here.

Now, this audio clip may not surprise many readers. After all, it is no secret that James MacDonald does not take criticism well. "Oh, but that word isn't that bad!" you may argue. Really? Is this word the one exception to verses such as Colossians 3:8 and Ephesians 5:4? Are there degrees of profanity and inappropriate language? Is there a chart that ranks which words are okay for a pastor to say on Sunday mornings, Wednesday evenings and outside conferences? Is this really a demonstration of how to "act like men" as Paul exhorted in 1 Corinthians 16:13? Or how about this question—does the language and tone that is evident in this audio clip exhibit the character that you would want to see personified by your own pastor? Are these the words of a man who fears God? Yet one only need hear the cheering and applause that followed MacDonald's rant to know that he is giving the people exactly what they want.

Somewhere along the way, as the professing Christian church tumbled headfirst down its slippery slope, we softened our requirements. We decided it was better for a pastor to look and sound "cool" than to exhibit reverence, respect and honor for the Lord. We decided that emotional music that makes our hands wave in the air was more important than hearing the Word of God proclaimed, preached and rightfully divided (2 Tim 2:15). We decided that we preferred tickled ears to the truth (2 Tim 4:3). We decided that we desired a charismatic CEO more than we desired a shepherd for our souls.

The visible church has lost its fear of God and with that it has evolved into a chaotic circus of carnality. What is the solution? Rebuke and repentance. Rebuke of those who personify from the pulpit what a pastor should not be, and rebuke of those who love to have it so. Finally, repentance from a desire for worldliness and a return to the true gospel and word of Jesus Christ.

Further Reading
Acting Like Men? Mark Driscoll Crashes Strange Fire, James MacDonald Watches
'We Can Work It Out': Is James MacDonald Qualified to Have This Conversation?
The Elephant Room Continues to Stomp On Its Critics


  1. I agree with your take on this 95%. But I think we can love Jesus, His Word, His truth and rightly divide the Word of Truth, and still enjoy songs that lead us to wave our hands in the air. If that's not your thing, so be it; but there's nothing unscriptural about it, and as such, had no place in this otherwise excellent tome.

    1. Hi Tom,
      Thanks for your comment. My point was that if we desire the emotional experience of the music in church over and above the preaching and proclamation of the Word, then we have our priorities skewed.

    2. I liked this and agree. Too many people believe the above reproach standard is antiquated, or rhetorical. It wasn't that long ago (4 years) that Mr Driscoll not only used profanity in the pulpit but carnality and vulgarity so shocking it caused a controversy across two continents. It was when he "preached" the Song of Solomon in Scotland, and John MacArthur was so shocked he wrote a 4 part blog series about Driscoll and his language in the series titled The Rape of Solomon's Song.

      How we speak, what we say, the words we use, matter. And preachers more than most because of their calling to preach holy scripture.

      Matthew 15:18, But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.

      Matthew 12:34, You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of

      James 3:6, The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one's life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

      Anyway there are so many verses which speak to this, but I value your use of both scripture AND practical application of scripture to show us these things.

  2. I'd like to comment to some things in the first paragraph:

    First of all, yes, "pastors" sin, and those in positions of eldership or other places that the Lord has gifted them to be in are not yet perfect. But calling them "shepherds" when the Lord Himself is our Shepherd seems out of place. Also, overseers are not models of the flock, nor should they ever be...regardless of how visible churches do and have done it for centuries, this is not how the ekklesia do it ( or should do it ).

    Christ said to Peter, " Feed my sheep"...not LEAD them. Christ is our leader, Priest and King...all others are equal under Him.

    Going on to the rest of the article:

    Secondly, while it is true that the student will reflect the qualities of their teacher in many things, since the Holy Spirit is our teacher and we as believers are being transformed by the renewing of our minds and conformed to the image of Christ, then we reflect the qualities of our Teacher...anything else is aiming short of the target IMO.

    1 Timothy 3:1-13 lists the qualification of those who serve the body as "rulers", and these qualities exist both in the presence of, and in the absence of, the other members of the local body that he is serving.

    Profanity? Colossians 3:8, 4:6, Ephesians 4:29, 5:4, and 1 Timothy 4:12 are but some of the passages that clearly show us that elders and in effect, all of us as believers, are to be free of it.

    But then, there's that ugly flesh that keeps rearing its head, isn't there?

    I agree with much this article had to say, and its subject matter reveals just one of many reasons I left the visible church some 10 years ago. I now fellowship with a few people in my home and other places, where we study God's word and thank Him for our salvation.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Booster. I think you may be reading too much into some of what was said. Nowhere was it implied that a pastor should take the place of Christ in the mind or sight of the Christian. However, God has given pastors to the church. And yes, they are called shepherds:
      And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, (Eph 4:11–12; cf. Acts 20:28)

      So yes, pastors are undershepherds of our great Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, watching over and protecting His sheep.

      Next, you said, "Also, overseers are not models of the flock, nor should they ever be...regardless of how visible churches do and have done it for centuries, this is not how the ekklesia do it ( or should do it )."

      But, if the pastor meets the biblical qualifications, and is striving to live like Christ, then why would the flock not desire to imitate him even as he imitates Christ? If the pastor is not to be a model for the flock, then perhaps someone should have informed Paul:

      For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church. (1 Cor 4:15–17)

      Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. (1 Cor 11:1)

      I believe this addresses your second point as well.

      The position of pastor/overseer/elder is not one to be taken lightly, to be sure. But God was gracious and good to design His Church in such a way that some would be called to teach, lead and protect the flock. There are many wonderful pastors who serve the Lord dutifully by proclaiming His Word clearly, unashamedly and without compromise. We ought to thank God for these men and pray for them daily.

  3. This is so sad.... I was just telling my husband about a conversation I had with a Christian school teacher the other day. She used some "choice" descriptive words that maybe some wouldn't necessarily consider "actual swearing", nevertheless... it shocked me, and it also made me sad. This is a lady teaching children in a supposed Christian setting, and she can't keep her speech clean.

    Yes... somehow many have this idea that "some" swear words are OK and others aren't. It's like, are there levels of Murder? Lying? Pride? Stealing? Once we start categorizing OK sins and not OK sins, we are going down a very dangerous path! Jesus said even to hate someone is as murder!!! What would HE say about the language that comes out of our mouth?!

  4. What's sad is that people clapped. With the passing of time James MacDonald is revealing more and more of who he really is.


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