When you hear the names Alice Cooper, Madonna, Marilyn Manson, or even Lady Gaga what comes to mind? They all made/make their claim to fame by being Shock-Rockers. They made their millions by selling people their devilish lyrics, seductive clothing (or lack thereof), and a broken needle on their moral compass. This type of fame should come as no real shock to anyone who has a firm understanding of the doctrine of total depravity. People sin; it is what sinners do best. I was recently at a church service (that was geared toward youth) where a pastor chose to use some very worldly and vulgar language to drive home his preaching point. At one point he chose to use a widely know curse word. I am afraid it did not have the impact that he was hoping. Most of the audience was under the age of 18, and many of them could not move past his choice of language to actually hear what he was trying to say. Using this type of language from the pulpit is nothing new. Over the past 20 years it has become more prevalent because of guys like Tony Campolo and Mark Driscoll. Although it may have gained some popularity, is it really something that is helpful to the church? Is it something that glorifies God? Do we really need the “Cursing Preacher?” In short, I don’t think we do, and here are a few good reasons why I stand behind the language of God, and not the language of the world.
The Gospel is Shocking Enough:
What is more shocking than the fact that all of humanity stands before a Holy God condemned for their sins, and are helpless to do anything about it? The sentence for those sins is an eternity separated from God in a place called hell where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth,”(Luke 13:28) and “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48). Hell is shocking! However, God because of His love for His people wrapped Himself in flesh and came to earth to die in the place of all who would follow Him and confess Him as Lord by faith. He who was just, died for those who were unjust. He who was holy, dieing for those who were unholy. He who is God, dieing for vile sinners. The King in the place of the peasant. If this truth is digested, there can be no word or words that we could use that is more shocking than this: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him”(II Corinthians 5:21). Why use worldly words when God’s are more shocking?
The Scripture Says Enough:
There are times when Scripture uses strong language. Jesus called the Pharisees “Whitewashed tombs,” (Matthew 23:27) and a “brood of vipers” (Matthew 23:33). John the Baptist called them snakes as well. However, we need to be careful that we do not use these examples to justify worldly language. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:29, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification . . .” James wrote, “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless” (James 1:26). We are also reminded that older men are supposed to teach young men how to have “sound speech, that cannot be condemned,” in Titus 2. While there may be times that we need to use strong language, it is clear that we are not supposed to use vulgar language. There seems to be no room for a loose tongue in Scripture.
The Church Has Enough:
We are called to be “salt and light” (Matthew 5:13-16) to the world. We are also called to “not conform to the patterns of this world” (Romans 12:2). When a preacher brings worldly language into the pulpit he brings conformity to the world’s language there as well. There is no need to bring the world into the church, but we should be taking the Word to the world. When we dress like the world, look like the world, and talk like the world, it is hard to be salt and light to it because the world sees no difference in themselves and the Church. The world has enough language for itself . . . the church does not need it in an effort to make their message more palatable.
In the end, I don’t see the need or biblical support, for vulgar worldly language from the pulpit. God has given the preacher a job to “rightly divide the word of truth,” (II Timothy 2:15) and “to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). We are to be in the world and not of it as the old adage goes. There is most certainly a time to say hard things in a prophetic voice to a stubborn-hearted people, but that does not give the preacher the right to drag the language of the bars into the place of the Bible. So preacher, the next time you think about dropping that four letter word from the pulpit in an attempt to shock people, make sure that word is holy. If you preach the holiness of God before an unholy people, you will get all the shock that you were hoping for. And if you just really feel like you want to curse . . . preach Genesis 3.
Soli Deo Gloria,
Adam B. Burrell