I work a few days a week as a Mental Health Practitioner in our local NHS Mental Health Resource Centre. GP’s refer to us people with such concerns as anxiety, depression, and eating disorders and we then offer assessment and interventions such as counselling, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Mindfulness.
There is a church not far, far away that I drive past on a Sunday night after dropping my adult children off at their various residences. As I pass I see people leaving, having stayed behind for the familiar tea and biscuits after church fellowship. As I see them walk home I find myself wondering if they realise that they attend a church that can be thought of as the last bastion of eighteenth century Welsh Calvinistic Methodism. What is ‘eighteenth century Welsh Calvinistic Methodism?’ I hear you ask. Well, it can be summed up by the phrase ‘It is better felt than telt’, as a way of expressing what is viewed as important in Christian experience. Eighteenth century Welsh Methodist placed great store on subjective experience. It wasn’t enough to believe in Christ, you also had to ‘feel’ your belief in Christ. ‘Mere’ faith was viewed as inadequate, even dangerous and so Christians were encouraged by their leaders to ‘seek’ experience, ‘not to rest’ until experience was found and even to ‘sue God’ until you ‘felt’ what you believed.
The phrase ‘the chief of sinners’ seems to have moved from 1 Timothy 1v 15 via the hymns of Lucy Ann Bennett and Charles Wesley into the self-understanding of many Christians. Over the years I have heard many Christians refer to themselves, both in their conversations and public prayers, as ‘the chief of sinners’. Is it right to do so? I would argue that it is not. To do so not only misses the point of Paul’s argument to Timothy but also undermines the Christians’ experience of grace.
A few years ago when read the reflections of a well-known preacher I came across a comment he made on his Ministerial colleagues. He said that whilst he was always glad to ‘see the faces’ of his colleagues either in his own church or at Minister’s Conferences he ‘got very little from their preaching’. This preacher is a frequent speaker at both Ministers’ Conferences and Christian gatherings.
I’ve been a Minister for over twenty five years now and during this time, for about ten years, I sought to engage with the wider church scene. I attended Minister’s Conferences, led a local Pastor’s Fraternal, took part in Workshops and counselled individuals with mental health problems. I had two aims: first to share the fruits of my PhD studies in Ethics and second to enable Pastor’s to better help those in their congregations suffering a mental health problem.
For the past month or so a Cement Mixer belonging to the Hope Construction Company has been parked overnight and over the weekends on the pavement on the road that leads up to my house. The pavement is completely blocked by this cement mixer and it obstructs the flow of traffic. Yet there is it, night after night, left by the person who drives it, who must obviously live in the neighbourhood.
It seems to me that there are two basic approaches to preaching the Bible. Let’s call the first the ‘Should’ position and the second the ‘Right’ position. ‘Should’ preachers use the Bible in order to tell their listeners what they ‘should’ do, how they ‘should’ live, what kind of faith they ‘should’ have and how they ‘should’ be attending meetings and telling others about the Gospel. ‘Should’ preaching makes the Bible all about ‘Us’. ‘Right’ preachers seek to lead their listeners to God through the pages of the Bible in order to encounter Him and His Glory. ‘Right’ preaching makes the Bible all about God.