Mac Brunson preached 4/7/08 at the "Empowered Church Conference" in Charlotte, NC at Hickory Grove Baptist Church, pastored by Dr. Joe B. Brown. My intent here is to let everyone know that Mac views Jacksonville as a "Hotbed of legalism". I've never heard him say that before here in Jax, and as you'll see below he doesn't explain this claim, so we are left wondering what he means. But before I give you this quote of Mac's, some up front words of explanation.
You can listen to his 4/7/08 sermon at this link: Hickory Grove Sermons. Thank you Dr. Joe B. Brown for having a website at your church that archives every single sermon at your church, whether it be yours or even one of the pastors who spoke at your recent convention. I don't know of many pastors who would make the sermons preached by popular megachurch pastors at a convention available FREE AND CLEAR on their website. It shows that you're interested in getting the Word out to the world, and not holding a conference and making money off of people to purchase the sermons. I think many megachurch pastors who are intent on gathering money from sheep outside their own church could learn a thing or two from you. And certainly our church could look at your website as an example of one that does provide useful sermon resources as a part of its own ministry, and not just giving its sermon ministry over to the pastor's 501(c)3 website.
But about Mac's sermon. Before I point out a few things about this sermon, I want to first explain why I listen to his sermons out of town as I'm able, and then blog about them. No doubt the few anti-Watchdog bloggers who are vocal here calling me a coward and that make assumptions about my mental state and motives, will say I'm out to get Mac, that I need to get a life, etc. No, the reason I am listening to Mac outside of Jacksonville and I encourage you all to do the same, is that it might serve to give us some perspective on what is happening to us in our church. Mac often times preaches "from the hip", and says things I believe he didn't plan to say and probably at times wishes he hadn't said. So it can only help us to listen to Mac's sermons away from his home church to gain some perspective on what he does here and why he does it. We saw this last year in a few sermons he preached in North Carolina that I blogged about.
On the positive side: a very solid sermon from Mac. Those who might think Mac is a "purpose driven" preacher, or that he is somehow not a true conservative, should listen to this sermon on how a preacher can energize their church. When you listen to this sermon it is absent the anger that he is prone to express to us (presumably because he is not angry at his audience?), seems to speak from the heart to preachers, and he is quite funny actually at times. Parts of this sermon he has preached to us, about the "vanishing church" in northern Africa where the 27 books of the NT were confirmed, yet that church is in ruins while a new mosque sits within eyesight. All in all a good sermon that I think our church should hear. He even addresses "election" that many interested in the Calvinism issue in the SBC might be interested in hearing!
Now some of the critiques:
1. In his 2nd point, he talks about the "sustaining sufficiency" of scripture. He gives some "context" for this point talking about "demoniacal times" as described in 2 Tim 3:1 - after reading these verses he says "...have you ever lived in day where you've seen people more unloving than they are in are our day; irreconcilable, and listen I'm not talking about people in the world I'm talking about guys in the church. Pastors even!! Irreconcilable....mad and screaming at everything, furious, upset, day in, day out, irreconcilable". Then he goes on quoting more of 2 Tim 3: "...'holding to a form of godliness though they deny the power.' That's legalism. And I want to tell you something, down in Jacksonville I'm in a hotbed of legalism. Everybody's got a list of rules, but they seem to have no real relationship with Jesus Christ." I find that quite interesting. Just who is he referring to? Christians in Jacksonville in general? Or the stiff-necks at FBC Jax that he thinks "have a list". Not sure what might be on that list, maybe things like "1. pastor should not take quarter million dollar gifts from donors; 2. pastor should not put son and wife on staff with no stated ministerial responsibilities; 3. pastor shouldn't ramrod bylaw changes." Quite a dangerous accusation to throw around, quite a broad brush to be painting with, without explaining one's self clearly. Furthermore, is it really THAT bad? Are people today IN THE CHURCHES furious, upset, mad, day in day out as he claims? Or is that his perception of his experience at FBC Jax and he is projecting that on to his audience of pastors?
2. In the same passage he talks about how pastors will be persecuted. Mac says the following: "....'and indeed all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.' Pastor: that's you, that's me. If you're serving Jesus Christ this day and time let me tell you something somebody's mad at you somewhere. Now if you want to go over in the corner and suck your thumb and say nothing to nobody, then nobody's going to bother you...so you're going to face persecution." He mentioned pastoral persecution to us this past Sunday night, and now he refers to it two days later to these pastors. I interpret this as Mac thinking the opposition he faces at his church is "persecution" at the hand of people in the church because he is "living a godly life in Christ Jesus." I so wish Mac could separate criticism over his methods and poor decision making, from real persecution that preachers get when they step on toes for righteousness sake. Jerry Vines was one who did suffer persecution when he made his "Mohamed was a demon-possessed pedophile" remark. Boy was he persecuted for that - and yet he handled it with dignity and grace - NEVER complained about it. Never made his own persecution something to preach about. He just responded to his critics one Sunday in the pulpit before he preached immediately after the controversy (as he said, he remained silent until he got back to his church, because he said he believed whatever he had to say on the matter he had to say it FIRST to his own church since he is FIRST a pastor), and then moved on. Mac as far as I can tell, and I could be wrong, he is not being persecuted because he is a great father, husband, preacher, lives a clean life, preaches against sin, etc. Its because, in my opinion, his abuses of his leadership has caused people to doubt his motives, question his decision making ability, and now wonder if he is God's man for our church. His ability to lead has been damaged because of his own actions and attitudes. He has to come to grips with this. Also, Mac will be persecuted for anything he tries to do that is perceived to be part of the "purpose driven" movement. That's just the way it is, and he needs to get over it and stop talking about it. But this purpose driven criticism is separate from what he is facing at FBC Jax and he mustn't confuse the two.
3. When Mac mentioned "election", he said the following: "We've come to this whole issue of election because it gives us an excuse not to lead people to Jesus Christ. I think it gives us the opportunity to explain away why we're not baptizing people any more in our churches. 'Well, they're just not elect'. Well I want to tell you something: from the Friday of Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday morning we saw 118 people get saved. I just hope he keeps electing them in Jacksonville." I never did hear that 118 professions of faith were made that weekend, is that really true? I know we had quite a few baptisms Easter Sunday, but were there really 118 "professions of faith" during this weekend? I just want to be accurate: were there 118 people who expressed professions of faith, or was there a total of 118 decisions, some of which were baptism, some professions of faith?
But I would like to know why Mac thinks Jacksonville is a "hotbed of legalism". Does anyone think this is true? I would assume he is not talking about FBC Jacksonville, but our area in general. When I look at our city, I see a city chock-full of strong churches, many that take strong stands for the gospel, many of which have very innovative techniques to reach a very diverse group of people in Jax. No question, this is a "conservative" city - many church members are in local politics and judiciary. What I and other see about Jacksonville as being very positive, I guess Mac sees it as "a hotbed of legalism". Strange indeed. Maybe he is getting to not like Jacksonville.