In pre-Revolutionary New England, to call someone a painful preacher was a compliment. It meant that he took pains to preach soundly, and usually at length, which was considered a sign of sound faith.
Many present-day Americans no longer have the ability to appreciate such painful preaching, especially if it lasts more than twenty minutes. Some attribute this shortened attention span to the influence of television, where the content is cut into small chunks and sandwiched between commercials. The avid TV-watcher can hardly be expected to digest a sermon that runs along for half an hour or more.
Many forward-looking clergy have attempted to adapt their preaching to the public taste. In many ministerial circles, the twenty-minute rule is adhered to more scrupulously than the Ten Commandments, or even the regulations of the Internal Revenue Service.
On the other hand, evangelicals soon realized that when all else fails, the long sermon may be taken as a token of orthodoxy. Most people today have difficulty understanding even relatively crude theological distinctions, not to mention the fine points that often separate orthodoxy from heresy (as in the difference between homoousios and homoiousios). But almost everyone can tell time.
In America, there is something almost sacred about the hour between eleven and twelve on Sunday morning. A service that begins at eleven is usually expected to end at noon. And that is almost always a sign of a spiritless, soft-living, fleshly approach to worship (to borrow a few phrases from Luther, who did not respect the twenty-minute rule). One way evangelicals have of breaking the mold is to begin earlier—at 10:45 or 10:30. No one expects a sermon to end at 11:45—it’s not a natural time for anything. And once the natural sixty-minute limit has been passed, the clock offers little further motivation to stop. It is now suspect in conservative circles to end a sermon on the hour or to preach less than three-quarters of an hour. One gifted preacher we know changed his service time from 11:00 to 10:30 so he would not be limited to one hour—and now the service usually ends around 12:30.
Painful preaching was an important thing in the seventeenth century. But the point was to take pains, not to cause them. Remember the first Eutychus, O preachers, and beware! If you need forty-five minutes to get your message across, take them. But if you have only fifteen minutes’ worth, you can let the people go at 11:55 without feeling you have betrayed the faith. Good listeners are hard to come by. Don’t abuse them.
Some people are beautiful when they are angry. Ms. Adeney (“Do Your Own Thing—As Long As You Do It Our Way,” July 4) is one of them! And she tells the truth. Thank you.
Bethany Christian Reformed Church
Gallup, N. M.
I enjoyed Carl F. H. Henry’s “Footnotes” article on “The Battle of the Sexes” (July 4). I believe that he said some things which have been needed and certainly were helpful to me as I have worked in this area.
Grand Canyon College
Bryan: Changing The Taste
I thoroughly enjoyed the article by Robert Linder, “Fifty Years After Scopes: Lessons to Learn, A Heritage to Reclaim” (July 18). I still remember with great appreciation the viewing of the movie Inherit the Wind. Surely that left a very bad taste in my mouth. The article cleared the air for me, demonstrating the viability of biblical creation, morality, and most of all salvation based on a reliable Scripture.
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church
Union Grove, Wise.
It is good to see someone stepping out of mid-twentieth century America to find models for evangelical political action. However … Professor Linder should not be surprised to find that Bryan was abused by the press.… Bryan was not a “shining knight” to all Americans (after all, he lost three presidential elections). To the Eastern Establishment he was a “dangerous” man who went about condemning “Wall Street,” corporations, monopolies, and banks. To large numbers of people his solutions were simplistic …
An attack on Darwinian evolution was more than an attack on a scientific theory. Darwin’s theory had become the cornerstone of Herbert Spencer’s philosophy, and that philosophy had swept America in the last thirty years of the nineteenth century. Spencer’s social Darwinism became a principal support of laissez-faire capitalism.… To attack Darwin was to attack the underpinnings of their philosophy.
It is good to be able to say after fifty years under a cloud that “Bryan’s personal and political reputation is being restored, and evangelicals are rediscovering a respected hero of the faith.” One reason, overlooked by Professor Linder, why Bryan was so vilified was because of his lifelong dry position. For many years he was a popular platform speaker for the Anti-Saloon League of America.… At the fifteenth International Congress Against Alcoholism held at Washington, D. C., he [said]:
I believe the two greatest reforms for which the world awaits today are the abolition of war everywhere, and the driving of intoxicating drinks from off the earth. And I am praying that our own beloved land may, in the providence of God, be permitted to lead the world in these two great reforms, and if we can do so, we shall have placed to the credit of the nation the two greatest services that any nation has been able to render to mankind.
Editor, The American Issue
American Council on Alcohol Problems
Washington, D. C.
I write particularly to encourage your news department.… Many times what you present is stuff which newspapers have no space for.… Lately I’ve been taking the opportunity to cut out and “snip edit” some of your news accounts, pasting them in a notebook for future reference. I thank you very much for your magazine.
St. Louis Park, Minn.
I want to respond to the second point of the editorial, “Coping With Crime” (June 6).… Studies show there is no correlation between rape and pornography. It appears that the rapist commits his crime not out of a desire for sex but out of his hostility toward women. His is an act of violence. It just might be that the increase of rape is due to the tremendous growth of violence in America.
We Americans exhibit contradictory attitudes when it comes to violence. We abhor child abuse, cruelty to animals, beatings of our senior citizens, or the assassination of world leaders, but we enjoy violence on the football field as well as in our movies or TV programs.
I do not condone the sale of pornographic literature, but I wish to state that as Christians we ought to speak to the violence of our American culture with the same fervor that we speak out against pornography.
Social Work Department
St. Davids, Pa.
I was distressed to see that you gave great prominence to the semicentennial of the United Church of Canada (“Canada’s United Church,” by J. Berkley Reynolds, June 20) and, so far as I could find, did not even mention the fact that The Presbyterian Church in Canada is celebrating its centennial. While it is true that possibly two-thirds of the members of The Presbyterian Church in Canada did, for a variety of reasons, leave their church and join the newly created United Church of Canada, The Presbyterian Church in Canada did not, in spite of what Dr. Chown and the government acts said, become part of The United Church of Canada but did continue and is still a very important part of the life of Canada.
‘Crisis’—Correct But Confusing
Your July 18 editorial entitled “One More Time: The Crisis in Higher Education,” though largely correct in pointing out the danger of a Christian college’s over-reliance on government funding, was quite confusing in that it did not set out the continued independence of Christian colleges as a separate discussion from that of secular collegiate attitudes. In addition, the editorial’s basic thrust all too painfully endorsed the cross-flag assimilation which Christians of late have attempted to distinguish.
The first fallacy on the latter point was to compile several characteristics Christians find undesirable and to label them “left.” Many persons with leftist inclinations deplore the ideas of legalized abortion or marijuana. Moreover, some of the goals of the left, e.g., economic leveling and social cooperation, can uncompromisingly be fit into a proper biblical social view.…
The second basic fallacy was the imputation that there exists a categoric and necessary correlation between Christianity and Americanism, “America as we have known it.” The obvious response is that much of what we know about America is patently non-biblical, and that in some circumstances, the goals of the left may more closely emulate the biblical social principles we are commanded to proclaim.
Stein: Fine On Wine
The article by Robert H. Stein on “Wine-Drinking in New Testament Times” in the June 20 issue is the best thing I have ever read on the subject. It makes many Bible passages much clearer, and it focuses deftly on a raging contemporary problem. Evangelical Christians can be helpful by taking seriously a problem which plagues many people and which needs responsible handling these days.
Board of Global Ministries
The United Methodist Church
New York, N. Y.
Thank you for publishing “Why I Oppose the Ordination of Women” (June 6). Elisabeth Elliot has aptly articulated much of what I feel but have not known how to express. I am an ex-feminist and have seen both sides of the coin. I am now really finding my identity as a woman, wife, mother.
In the August 8 news story on the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, William Kohn was erroneously identified as head of Partners in Mission, the mission wing of the dissident ELIM movement. Although initially associated with the group, he later became pastor of a church in Milwaukee. James Mayer is the mission head.
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