Here is a very interesting quote from Francis Wayland’s Letters on the Ministry of the Gospel (out of print to my knowledge). Wayland ministered 1800’s, but his words are very pertinent today, especially the points on avoiding offense and making unconverted people comfortable by the absence of searching preaching. The point on cultural acceptability and financial stability trumping higher issues is one for us to hear as well.
“…an important change has come over the character and labors of those who appear before men as the messengers of reconciliation. . . . We have in the pulpit far more correct rhetoric than formerly; our ministers are better dressed, and much more familiar with the usages of society. . . . The terms of science and allusions to recent discovery are frequently used, either to enforce or explain the truths of the gospel. The worship of God by singing, accompanied by costly instruments, is frequently performed by salaried professional artists. Everything is in the highest degree decorous and proper. You may attend upon one of our churches for months without any danger of being offended by a single instance of false grammar. But little moral emotion is however aroused, nor does it seem to be much expected. On special occasions, on leaving the house of God you may hear the sermon applauded in terms such as these: ‘What a noble effort!’ ‘That was a beautifully written discourse.’ ‘What a brilliant train of thought!’ ‘That sermon ought to be published; it would give reputation to our society.’ The sermon, however, excites no particular discussion. It gives rise to small self-introspection. No man asks himself, What have I done, or What shall I do to be saved? It is a very rare occurrence for any hearer to be convicted by a sermon, or to be led by it to the cross of Christ. Such a result, as the
immediate effect of preaching, seems neither to be labored for, nor anticipated. Of those who attend the worship of God, I fear that the better part go because it has been their custom from youth. Some go for the respectability of the thing, others for the purpose of setting a good example, and all go expecting to hear a discourse on some serious subject to which a text from the Bible has been prefixed. This discourse is accurately written, and pleasantly delivered; tinged, it may be, with a reference to passing events, and sometimes with an allusion to authors that happen to be in vogue. If all this is successfully performed; if a fair proportion of the audience is wealthy and occupy a prominent position in society; if they pay their pew-tax freely and contribute respectably to the ordinary associations for benevolence; if they take good care of their minister, and provide liberally for his various seasons of recreation, the church is deemed to be in a flourishing condition. All this goes on year after year, and men seem hardly to suspect that these services were intended by Almighty God to be the means of rescuing them from hell and preparing them for heaven. The most that is accomplished is the pleasant occupation of the hour. Those who profess to be the disciples of Christ, and those who make no such profession, are equally at easy under the guidance of one who has assumed the care of their souls; while all are rapidly drawing near to the judgment-bar, and the great majority under the condemnation of the second death.” (p. 13-15)
Thanks to Brian Denker for the quote.