Today, I watched a segment on Daystar’s TV channel. It was Benny Hinn featuring a man who claimed to have a revelation from the Holy Spirit. This revelation stated that 3,000 were going to “plant their seed” of a 1,000 dollar donation and would be overabundantly blessed by God in the areas of real estate, romance, and finances. Of course, like most of Daystar Network, it was complete bullcrap (in the technical sense of the term) and also the easiest way to scam 3,000,000 dollars. Other than an obviously fake attempt at prophesying and Benny Hinn saying “Yes, Lord. It’s true!” the only evidence offered in support of this revelation was a few Old Testament passages taken way out of context.
Watching this segment reminded me of the general problems associated with relying too heavily on personal revelation for the foundation of one’s sermon. I am not a pastor, but growing up in the church, I’ve heard plenty of sermons and listened to numerous church podcasts. One theme I found problematic is the over-emphasis on using “God told me to say ___” or “God revealed to me ____” as the crux, authority, and validation of the sermon.
First, as a Christian, I do believe God is actively involved in our lives and gives revelations to individuals often. However, using a personal revelation as the main credibility for a sermon can be dangerous.
One of the dangers is that it requires dozens, hundreds, or thousands of people to accept this message on grounds of an authority figure’s subjective experience. No one in the audience can look inside the pastor’s mind and determine with certain whether or not he or she is being honest. Preferably, one will attend a church in which she trusts the pastor. But even in this circumstance, humans are prone to failure and can ascribe ‘divine revelation’ to their own thoughts (hence every youth-group relationship started at a church camp).
Thus, I think it is vital for pastors to fact-check themselves and cite legitimate sources in their sermons. If a particular insight truly comes from God, this insight ought to be factual in reality as well. Mention professional experts in the particular area you are talking about. Read some statics on Pew Research Center. Keep up with fact-checking websites like factcheck.org or snopes.com. And furthermore, don’t rely heavily on ‘folk psychology’ as a basis for discussing human nature. It is imperative to actually study professional psychologist, scientist, or philosophers in the area you wish to discuss.
Perhaps one idea pastors could implement is to include a ‘further resources’ page with the posted sermons on the church’s website. He or she could include sources or links to scholars relating to the topic discussed in the sermon. This might help the congregation continue to grow even outside the church. However, if this tactic were used, all resources would have to be fact-checked as well.
Maybe churches should hire someone to work as a fact-checker? That might have a really positive impact. I’m sure there are plenty of college students who would love an internship job like that.