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Letter from Australia 58 – Why we need Incarnational Preaching and the Parable of a Dead Parrot

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The more this pandemic goes on – the more it reveals both the madness and the weakness of humanity.   I came across this extraordinary quote from Michael Mosley – son of a C of E bishop – and a British documentary maker and science journalist.  When asked if what he had seen had shaken his faith in anything at all, he responded by dissing politicians and then adding this”

 “I do have faith that science will deliver, that we will have a vaccine, and that we’ll be able to get back to normal.  Because if that isn’t true, then it’s going to be horrendous.  It’s reinforced my faith in the power of science to respond to crisis.  I believe science will come to our rescue ultimately”.

It’s ironic that a science journalist makes a statement which is so unscientific.  I believe in science.  Science has to deliver.  Because otherwise we are stuffed!  Talk about a blind faith.    It’s also somewhat short-sighted to want to return to a ‘normal’ which was so wrong for so many people in so many ways.

Speaking of which – I am really missing normal preaching.  I’ve had my share of zoom – both speaking and listening.  This past Sunday I had the joy of being at Sassoon New Life Presbyterian Church – it is a large Korean church as you can tell by the building.

You turn up and there are yellow jacketed stewards in the massive car park – you enter a cavernous building, by pass the men in suits and head past the main sanctuary (where the main Korean service was being held) and into a side room that is the size of many churches.   There was a presider, three sound and vision people, a greeter and a praise band for the English service.  The congregation was online, so I have no idea how many were ‘in attendance’.  Nor do I know whether they were all Korean, young or how they responded to my preaching on a very difficult passage (for today’s culture) – Romans 1.   I enjoyed the people I met and largely preaching to the worship band! But I hate preaching to camera.   For so many reasons – not least that preaching is interactive – or as we might put it in the theological jargon – incarnational. 

There is nothing to beat the preaching of the Word, in the flesh, by the Spirit!  It’s great to have reading and other means of communication, but incarnational preaching is the primary means the Lord uses, both too convert and to build up.   It is by the foolishness of preaching that people are saved (1 Corinthians 1:21).

I am however thankful that preachers, being dead, can yet still speak!  Richard Sibbes has in a sense been my pastor for the past months.  This morning I read this in his sermon on 2 Corinthians 1:15

“Personal presence has more efficacy than writing (the Internet).  For there the holy things that are delivered, they are, as it were, acted to the life. Men are wondrously affected when they see gracious things delivered with life and feeling:  It has a wonderous lively working…….it is wonderous good praying for others, and writing to others; but presence, when the minister is the mouth of God with them and to them, their mouth to God, to pray together with them, and God’s mouth, to speak to them, this presence is of a wonderous efficacy.” 

I heard a preacher telling other preachers that because of the Internet what they preached just now, or what they did in Bible study, online  – was going to be around in 100 years.  He compared it to Martin Luther.  I understand his point but if you stop to think about it – it’s not really true.  Yes – in theory people may be able to access our words in 100 years – but in reality, most of us are preaching into a cyberspace ocean which will quickly forget everything we have said.   Preachers who think that on Zoom they are preaching to thousands throughout the world will soon discover that they are fortunate if more than half their congregation, plus their great Auntie Bethel in Canada are listening to them.  And very few, if any – will listen to Sunday’s sermon in the following week – never mind the following years.   I think its much better to preach to real people in the here and now – and to preach to them for eternity.

None of this is too decry the wonders of modern technology, but just to reemphasise that cyber church is not church, because it is not incarnational.    Speaking of incarnational preaching have a look at this sermon from a couple of Sundays ago.

I have been listening to and very much enjoying Andrew preaching from Charleston in Dundee.  This was the first time they have ‘live’ church – complete with people, masks, social distancing etc.   The contrast with previous ‘non-live’ preaching is stark.  Both were the Word of God.  Both had clear application of what God says.  But one was a sermon preached to people through a camera – the other was preached to people present and filmed through a camera.  The first was good.  The latter was brilliant.  Why?  Because there was interaction with the people. This is what I miss, and this is what we need to get back to.

Imagine if a year ago you had been told that within one year, on government orders, you would be told that you could not meet in public worship, how would you have responded?   Leaving aside the arguments about whether that was necessary or not (and I tend to think that on balance it was – at least for a short time), we have now gone far beyond that.  We have government dictating how we should worship – no singing, wear masks, keep 2m (or 1.5, or 1 depending on which ‘science’ politicians have faith in) – and for me, worst of all, no communion.   Does no one question why a government will pay people to go out to a public place to eat and drink but ban Christians from having the bread and wine of the Lords Supper?!   Worse still are the churches who ban themselves!

A church without preaching, without praise, without communion is to all intents and purposes, a dead church.  A bit like this bird that I found out walking yesterday.   The birds are driving us crazy – for some reason they seem to be wired to start singing, not at the crack of dawn, when normal birds start – but at 3am!  It’s now 7am and they are silent.   Although I joked about wanting to shoot them, it still saddened me to see this dead one.  Beautiful plumage which will fade as the carcass rots.  I cannot but see it as parabolic. (see the Python video below!) We need Resurrection!

I leave you with this beautiful singing – it is about the Trinity but mostly gathered from the psalms.  This is my ‘chill’ music at the moment.  Perhaps if we are not permitted congregational praise, we should all move to Gregorian chant!

See you next week,


Letter from Australia 57 – Fear Not…

Letter from Australia 33- Preaching and the Plague.

Owen on Preaching, Sinclair on Children and Christ

PS.  Given the dead parrot I had to post this classic….







  1. I take your point about preaching into an internet vacuum, but what if things don’t go “back to normal”? What if gatherings of any kind are severely curtailed for the foreseeable future? Are we going to let the Gospel fizzle out because we can’t preach “incarnationally”? I’m part of an online “quasi-church” called The Gathering on Zoom, where there is some preaching, but a lot of interchange and fellowship with people from as far-flung as Melbourne VIC (where, as you probably know, they’re on virtual lockdown until 13 Sept) and La Ronge, Saskatchewan. We need to adapt, and praise God that He has given us this ability to use technology to help us do that.

    I get what you mean about preaching to a camera. I felt flat, the first couple of times I preached at The Gathering, which I put down to “being rusty” and not having a living, breathing audience to play to. Then I saw Brian Houston, also sounding flat, trying to preach from his living room, and I felt a bit better (if he was having trouble, it’s OK for me to have trouble) … then I saw TD Jakes, “givin’ ‘er snoose”, as the Canadian prairie types would say, in front of maybe 6 people in his cavernous church, and I realized it’s possible to have that same spirit and fervour (if he can do it, there’s no reason I can’t).

    1. Its revealing who you cite as an example – TD Jakes – of course he can be animated and have ‘fervour’….he’s a superb actor. Yes you can have some interchange and preaching online – but to me saying online church is church is like saying online sex is making love….!

    1. I never said that science would not deliver a vaccine….it might…it might not. I was talking about the folly of having faith that science can solve everything – who needs politics, morals, beauty, religion or love?!

      1. But the quote you referenced had absolutely nothing to do with politics, morals, beauty, religion or love David – so I don’t understand why you have used it.

        The writer was talking about his trust in science being the means by which the worldwide pandemic could be dealt with through the development of a vaccine – which you apparently agree it could quite likely do.

        His wanting for things to “get back to normal” is simply voicing a desire for the threat of the virus to be dealt with and a return to life as we knew it previously – no mask wearing, no curfews, normal social interaction etc etc.

        You’ve gone out of you way to create a little storm in a tea cup.

      2. The quote I referenced had everything to do with politics, morals, beauty, religion and love – because it was in the context of an article speaking about those things. The writer was not talking about how we would get a vaccine. In response to a question about whether he had lost faith in anything – he said politicians, religion etc but he had faith in science getting a vaccine – not because of any scientific reason – but simply because he could not imagine the consequences if we didn’t. I would suggest you read and seek to understand before writing to condemn!

      3. That explanation and a link to the whole article would have been the logical thing to present to your readers then David – instead of posting several lines removed from what you say is the relevant context and attacking them.

        You attack politicians on a frequent basis here; it must be one of the most common subjects on your blog so I find it a little odd that you are wringing your hands over someone else doing the same.

      4. The explanation was in the article I wrote – you just choose to comment on something you did not know – assuming the worst. I have no problem with questioning or not having faith in politicians – I do have a problem with blind faith in anything (including ‘science’) just because you want it to be that way – otherwise everything would be horrible…!

  2. “Perhaps if we are not permitted congregational praise, we should all move to Gregorian chant!”
    I’m not sure how Gregorian chant gets round the ban on congregational singing (unless you mean using recordings) but do please pass on your thoughts to every Catholic priest you ever meet. The Second Vatican Council said that, “All things being equal, Gregorian chant should hold a privileged place, as being more proper to the Roman liturgy. Other kinds of sacred music, polyphony in particular, are not in any way to be excluded, provided that they correspond with the spirit of the liturgical action and that they foster the participation of all the faithful. Since the faithful from different countries come together ever more frequently, it is desirable that they know how to sing at least some parts of the Ordinary of the Mass in Latin, especially the profession of faith and the Lord’s Prayer, set to simple melodies” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 41).
    Nowadays you would be very lucky indeed to come across a Cathlic church that pays any notice of what the Second Vatican Council said about Gregorian chant.

  3. “Perhaps if we are not permitted congregational praise, we should all move to Gregorian chant!”

    Like Mike, I am unsure as to how this gets around any ban on “singing” – unless it is the lack of instrumental accompaniment! In that case, what is wrong with the Free Church tradition of singing the Psalms (maybe that could be construed as “reading the Word” !) without the assistance “o’ the de’il’s kist” (I wonder what those worthies would have to say about electric guitars and drum-kits, etc.!)?

    My first experience of that form of worship was in “Highland Presbyterian Church” in Vancouver – and it was not the “dirge” that I have heard from some Highland and Island kirks in Scotland (no offence intended!).

      1. Yes, we do, perhaps, associate the singing of Gregorian chant with monks in monasteries but before 1970 congregational singing of Gregorian chant was common in Catholic churches. I have tried to find an example of a congregation singing Gregorian chant on YouTube but have not, so far, been successful. However, I repeat part of my quotation from the Second Vatican Council Decree on the Sacred Liturgy. “Since the faithful from different countries come together ever more frequently, it is desirable that they know how to sing at least some parts of the Ordinary of the Mass in Latin, especially the profession of faith and the Lord’s Prayer, set to simple melodies”. One of the highlights for me of attending Mass before 1970 was the singing of the Credo in Gregorian chant. Everybody in the congregation took part. They knew the Latin and the melody. Here it is:
        After 1970 they took the Latin away and introduced appalling melodies to replace the chant.
        There are some churches today where they sing the Credo in the pre-1970 fashion but there are not many of them. However, the number is increasing.
        If anybody wants to hear some other parts of the Mass we used to sing in Latin, here is a YouTube video:
        The Kyrie is, of course, in Greek, not Latin.
        Please note, however, that chanting in English is also perfectly possible. There are several good modern composers of chant in English. Here is the Gloria in English:

  4. As was pointed out believers miss ‘Communion’. But there is no reason that they should.
    Communion (as currently practiced) is far far away from the biblical model. Aside from the archetypal example set by Jesus in the upper room, we see it replicated in Acts 20:7 – 11.

    Somewhere around the early 90s I sent the following letter (it was published) to the Free Church of Scotland’s monthly magazine ‘The Record’.

    >>>>> quote>>>
    I have, over the years, found your magazine a great help in terms of the level of biblical debate contained therein. Indeed I have a question on which I would very much value the views of your readers.
    However, the question relates to a portion of the Westminster Confession and it has been suggested to me that the Confession is held by some to be at the same level as Scripture itself; a view reinforced by a letter in [an earlier edition of the Church’s magazine] whereby the correspondent says that “if the Confession is in error …. then Scripture is in error.”
    Surely this is putting the cart before the horse and ascribing an inerrancy to the Confession which is due only to the canon?
    The writer continues: “We cannot pick and choose what statements in the Confession we can accept, and which we reject; we either accept all of it, or none of it.”

    For any in the Reformed church worthy of the name this is an astonishing statement regarding the implied immutability and infallibility – the justifiable criticisms made of other traditions – of a sub-scriptural creedal statement and a denial of the “sola scriptura, semper reformanda” [Scripture alone, always reforming – Ed.] maxim of the Reformed church. Surely every reformed church, and individuals within, must at all times be prepared to re-examine any (and/or all) parts of subordinate statements in the light of Scripture itself? Which brings me to my question.

    With regards to the administration of the Lord’s Supper, I cannot find any justification in Scripture for preventing a group of the Lord’s people, decently and in order, “proclaiming the Lord’s death until He comes.” This the Westminster Confession (Chapter XXVII para, iv) effectively does.
    I would argue there is no scriptural support for a so-called ‘ministry of the sacrament’ which would preclude believers, committed to Christ and to each other, breaking bread together, with or without a “minister of the Word lawfully ordained.” It may be necessary in any age for a church or denomination to introduce such church laws as will ensure the integrity of acts of worship but to include such laws within creedal statements is surely asking for trouble; and the more so if the latter is regarded as sacrosanct and beyond question.

    P.S. With regards to the section of the Confession mentioned above, perhaps I should first of all be asking myself questions regarding what the Bible has to say about “ministers” and “lawfully ordained?” And perhaps I am.
    <<< end quote<<<

    In 2012 I published an article entitled: 'Remembering His death – in small groups'.

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