“It is a poor sermon that gives no offense; that neither makes the hearer displeased with himself nor with the preacher.” – George Whitefield (1714-1770)
Many folks who remain in the churches have learned to live with poor sermons. Others have heard them and moved on.
One of those who had given up met one of America’s great preachers one day in a casual encounter.
“I don’t go to church any more.” he said, “They’re just a bunch of hypocrites!” To which William Sloane Coffin replied, “You bet. We are! And there’s always room for one more.”
William Sloan Coffin’s sermons always gave offense. As Chaplain at Yale, it was his pulpit that sparked and led the campus civil rights movement and protests against the Vietnam War. It was Coffin who presiding at the burning of draft cards. It was this offensive preacher who co-founded Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam and served as leader of SANE/FREEZE, America’s largest movement for global nuclear disarmament. Coffin became Senior Minister of Riverside Church in NYC, one of the nation’s great preaching churches built for Harry Emerson Fosdick, the pacifist preacher thrown out of his previous congregation for sermons that status quo maintainers found offensive.
In the parlance of William Sloane Coffin, the well known statement that “the church is a hospital for sinners; not a museum for saints” [variously attributed to Augustine of Hippo, St. John Chrysostom, Abigail van Buren, and others] might be re-rendered “the church is a hospital for hypocrites; not a museum or a mutual congratulations society for the sinless.”
In a future post Views from the Edge will reflect on the American religious landscape in light of Whitefield’s observation and this retired preacher’s search for a new church home.
– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 7, 2015.