Thirty years ago I was a glutton for sermons, but I had specific tastes.
My primary diet was the teaching of Kenneth and Gloria Copeland. They taught exciting things that I’d never heard addressed in church before. I later found there were many others preaching a similar message but the Copeland version was the most accessible, being broadcast weekly on TV. They also made their teaching available for purchase and regularly offered reduced prices through special offers.
I would watch their broadcast each week with a cassette recorder set up beside the TV (this was before the digital age and even before I had a VCR). Then I could replay the sermon in the car throughout the week.
I was introduced to the Copelands through members of a home fellowship group run by the church I attended. After my initial strong resistance I eventually gave in. I finally understood a very important truth: that faith in God means that we believe HIM and HIS word above anything else. Above circumstances, above experience, above feelings, even above what we perceive with our senses.
All of those things were subject to error, but God is not. All of those things had the potential to be lies and to mislead – but God does not lie.
That realisation totally changed my life. But it was not changed enough.
I still hold to what I discovered about faith at that time – in the need to believe God and His word above everything else. It’s something so obvious that that all Christians will probably say they agree – until the consequences become a challenge and start to cost something.
But we need to be sure it IS God and HIS word that we are hearing and believing.
My hunger for sermons was my downfall. I relied too much on what others told me. Instead of trying to hear what God said, I was relying on the Copelands to tell me what He had said. I was listening to their interpretations of God’s word instead of to God’s word itself. I was even foolish enough to push aside the doubts that I had with some of their teaching. I ignored the fact that their teachings didn’t always measure up to scripture.
Because of this some parts of scripture confused me. Sometimes the biblical God didn’t seem to fit into the mould of the Copelands’ teaching. So I took the easy way out – I ignored those “difficult” parts of scripture, and I continued to allow the Copelands to filter and interpret scripture for me. But in doing that those questions about God (suppressed in the back of my mind) were never addressed and to me the bible never became a coherent whole.
In reality my faith wasn’t in God or His word – it was in those teachings ABOUT God, it was in the parts of God’s word that were addressed in those teachings. It was never in the WHOLE revelation of scripture. It was in parts of scripture taken out of their intended context and turned into sound-bites loaded with meanings that were never intended.
I collected an impressive arsenal of those sound-bites – memory verses I could quote and “confess” to counter any opposition I faced. I could run rings around most who tried to argue with me, quoting verse after verse to prove my point. But I never realised how I was misusing those verses because they were texts I’d learned from teaching tapes and not from scripture itself.
I’ve come a long way in thirty years. It took a lot of pain, confusion and at times despair. But over many years the damage inflicted by false teaching was stripped away. And I became aware of the need to protect myself against false teachers by testing everything, to become familiar enough with scripture to avoid obvious error.
I still enjoy listening to good sermons, but they seem to be much harder to find – even though the internet has made so much preaching readily available. There are many preachers with many sermons but it surprises me how the word of God is lacking from far too many of them. Even though there may be scripture references and scripture quotes – the use of scripture often has little in common with the actual biblical text it has been taken from. They are merely used as a tool to “support” a view held by the preacher, used for the preacher’s purposes, to make the preachers intended point instead of revealing GOD and HIS intentions.