A recent blog post on the LifeWay Christian Stores blog claims that the biggest problem in the Christian Church is that pastors commit pastoral malpractice.
Not medical malpractice, but pastoral malpractice. What is that? Sexual misconduct? Stealing money from church coffers? Naaah.
What do I mean by pastoral malpractice? I mean ministers who stand and preach a gospel other than God’s rightful need for punitive justice against our sin and His wrath being appeased by pouring out upon Christ judgment intended for us.
Ouch. Read on to see that malpractice is nowhere near as dangerous as malpraxis, or failing to reflect on what you preach.
As both Henry and Will comment, pastoral malpractice is essentially preaching any atonement theology other than penal substitutionary atonement. If we water down what happened on the cross, then we are committing pastoral malpractice and leading our flock astray.
Will goes on to emphasize the love of God as opposed to penal substitutionary atonement
Never mind that this God of wrath is hard to reconcile with John’s view that “God is love,” and that “perfect love casts out fear” (and if there was ever a God to fear, it is the one described above). Never mind all that and so much more besides. If you don’t preach what Rainer says you must preach, you are guilty of treason and pastoral malpractice.
I’m also most struck by Henry‘s comment here:
A commenter on the Lifeway post cheers on Mr. Rainer, and comments on how people are tired of a “watered down gospel.”
What I’m wondering is this: Why is it OK to water down God’s love, but it’s somehow “treasonous” to water down his wrath?
Amen to these insightful comments on the theological issue at play, and the ridiculousness of narrowing the grievous sin of pastors to not preaching a particular atonement theory.
However, I would claim there is a bigger issue here. Malpractice is defined as failing to act when you have a duty to act. It’s not about getting something wrong! Malpractice is professional negligence that causes harm to someone.
I don’t think it is negligent to fail to preach substitutionary atonement. Given our diversity of Christian thought, you can preach alternative atonement theologies and still be within the realm of Christian thought.
In my opinion, the bigger sin is neglecting to study the effects of your preaching or actions.
This is the essence of pastoral malpraxis, or failing to reflect on what you preach.
There are some preachers who get one message, have crafted that one message, and are unable to deviate from it. They walk the walk and talk the talk consistently. Their Christian practice is impeccable. However, at what point do they reflect on their ministry and remove their personalities from it to see its effects on people?
It is precisely the act of reflecting on practice that makes it become praxis.
Liberation theologians Gutierrez and Sobrino define Christian praxis as “a combination of reflection and action that realizes the historicity of human persons.” Gutierrez further defines praxis in this way:
The understanding of faith appears as the understanding not of the simple affirmation–almost memorization–of truths, but of a commitment, an overall attitude, a particular posture in life (A Theology of Liberation, 6).
To be pastors, we have a responsibility to ensure the whole of our Christian life is in line with the ideals of God. That includes the effects of our sermons and actions on people and ministries. We are called to constant refinement and accountability, and failing to reflect on our deeply personal sermons can lead to unnoticed hurt in people’s lives. For instance:
- If I preach Jesus gave his body to be broken, then am I hurting those battered women who willingly give their bodies to be broken so their families can stay together?
- If I preach that if you just pray to Jesus, your prayers will be answered (Mark 11:24), then am I giving false hope to people?
- If I preach that God wants you to be rich (3 John 2 and the prayer of Jabez), then am I siding the church with consumerism and empire rather than the kingdom of God?
It is precisely the act of reflection and action that Christian praxis is built on. And thus any follower of Christ, regardless of their atonement theology or ordination status, who does not reflect on their practice of their faith is committing malpraxis.
This isn’t some sort of teleological ethics that focuses on the effects and end results of ministry. It is praxis in the pure sense, of considering Christian ministry by reflecting and acting and reflecting again in a constant circle of refinement to make us holier representatives of Christ to all we meet.
What do you think?
- Is failing to reflect on your message and life’s message (malpraxis) more dangerous than preaching a watered-down gospel to the masses (malpractice)?
- In what ways can we better encourage those cult-of-personality churches to better reflect on the praxis of their ministries in ways that remove egos from the picture?
Thanks for reading, and I hope you will post your thoughts!