Chameleons in the Pulpit
I am not a biologist by training, but I am amazed at the ability of a chameleon to mimic the colors of its surroundings, creating a form of natural camouflage. I’m sure that someone who specializes in the biology of lizards could give an answer as to how the animal does that, but I am content to marvel not only at the remarkable little creature but also at the God who would design and create this creature to do such a wonderful thing…mutations and random chance my foot.
There is another kind of chameleon, though, that is far less marvelous and needs almost no scientific explanation. This kind of chameleon is the person who essentially tells people whatever they want to hear and who takes no firm positions on anything that matters. This is sometimes done to win supporters and “friends” and sometimes it is done to avoid conflict. Nevertheless, it is a form of camouflage that many people practice in our society.
I suppose that we most commonly associate this behavior with politicians. This is not an insult against all politicians, I have known a number of them over the years who have had a great deal of integrity and who will stand against popular opinion if it is the right thing to do. At the same time, there is often a reason behind the development of a stereotype. My son and I have been watching the various presidential debates over this past year and sadly it seems that these folks largely fit the stereotype to a tee. It is sad to me that politics in America has more to do with rhetoric and campaign finances than with real ideas about real issues. Our nation is poorer because of it.
Yet, though I grieve over the death of politics in America, what grieves me even more deeply is the death of the pulpit in our nation (and beyond!). If there is someone who is not called to be a chameleon, it is the preacher. His calling is to pronounce absolute right from absolute wrong to the people, reproving them in their sins, and teaching them the way they should go. My grandfather, who was a Methodist minister, used to say, “If you aren’t stepping on toes, you aren’t preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” Sadly, preachers in our country rarely step on toes and have sought to be liked rather than to be respected as a man set apart to proclaim the truth.
I am no Wesleyan in my theology, but I do heartily concur with his statement that we are to be men “of one book.” That does not mean we do not read widely and study well; we are to be pastor-scholars as both Calvin and Wesley would have agreed. We are called, though to lift one book high above all of the others. It is the source of all truth and is the absolute guide for our lives. Telling stories may be interesting and telling the occasional joke may endear a congregation to their pastor, but the Bible convicts. And preaching is to be about convicting the heart, not entertaining it.
But, as politicians who do not wish to ruffle the feathers of their political base, so too, pastors often seek not to ruffle the feathers of their churches as well — and in fearing offense or seeking to avoid conflict, they fail to do what they have been called to do. Let the entertainer entertain, but let the man of God proclaim. He who is called to preach must do so even at the expense of offending those closest to him for Truth compromises for no one and God will hold those called to teach it doubly accountable.
Be warned, ye chameleons who stand in pulpits, you are nothing to marvel at.