Summary: How to subvert a popular theological misconception.
In this lesson I hope to teach you how to subvert a popular notion.
The sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7) is subversive, but wise in avoiding hot political issues. Many preachers around the world get themselves into political trouble by trying to subvert the legally constituted government of the day. In some countries that will even land you in jail. That is NOT the purpose of this sermon, though it is structured in a similar fashion. This sermon seeks to subvert popular notions and religious ideas that are contrary to the gospel. This sermon is similar to the rebuttal, but uses more mutinous language.
We will examine some revolutionary sections of scripture to see what they tell us about subversive preaching. We will see that this is a type of sermon which is best given by seasoned and wise preachers, and that sometimes best not given at all if a congregation is too immature to receive it. We will also look at what I call the Luther and Erasmus crisis and see how ordinary disagreements are handled in healthy churches.
To subvert is to destroy or ruin something, to undermine or overthrow. A subversive sermon is similar to a rebuttal, except that it does not have to attack the bad logic of an idea, merely contradict it. A lot of ideas are easy to contradict by simply quoting scripture which is at odds with them. So, the subversive sermon can basically be a list of ideas or urban myths, which one by one are knocked over by scripture. This is similar to what Jesus did with a list of topics: murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, lawsuits and enemies.
Parts of the Sermon on the Mount are subversive. The structure, "You have heard that it was said... but I tell you..." in Matthew 5 is subversive. What is Jesus trying to undermine? Religion had become a formality which denied the power of God. It needed to be sabotaged. Jesus did not try to point out the bad logic of popular culture. He merely contradicted it, showing a more profound way.
When it came to murder, people thought they were okay spiritually, but Jesus subverts this shallow thinking with the idea that unjust anger and verbal abuse are murder at heart. When it came to adultery, the religious establishment thought that it was above that, but Jesus challenges this self-righteous thinking by pointing out that lust is adultery at heart. When it came to easy divorce Jesus destabilizes this by saying that divorce papers are worthless except for marital unfaithfulness. When it came to making elaborate oaths to God, Jesus undermines this idea by saying not to be involved, except for answering yes or no. When it came to seeking just compensation in a lawsuit, Jesus sabotages this by saying that we should take the loss and be the more generous one. When it came to hating enemies, Jesus contradicted that entirely, by saying that we should love our enemies and do good to them.
Parts of Paul's writings such as Galatians are subversive. The Galatians had been fooled into believing they must return to the Old Testament law and syncretize it with Christianity. Some modern Christians also believe something similar. Paul specifically mentioned the laws regarding circumcision, observance of days and food restrictions. He opposed another Christian leader, Peter, for not eating with gentiles. He says that the law was temporarily put in charge to lead us to Christ. He subverts the mandatory observance of religious days as slavery, that circumcision has no intrinsic spiritual value, and quite bluntly suggests a drastic answer for those who preach circumcision. This kind of subversive material is real meat and not the easily digested milk designed for new Christians.
You may wonder why this sermon is in the advanced category. Structurally, it is an easy sermon to prepare. However, ingredients such as spiritual maturity and tact are essential. It is not a sermon for a novice preacher, or even one who has the teenage attitude of "everything I was taught in the church is wrong." Granted, modern Christianity can easily have just as many faults as Pharisaism or Galatianism. The making of lists of do's and don'ts did not stop with the Jews, nor did the reliance upon the letter of the Law of Moses. However, we are dealing with a very delicate topic here, the sacred cows of Christianity.
I could give you my list of sacred cows and thoroughly offend almost everyone who reads this. Most of us would find it easy to subvert such ideas as the mandatory removal of buttons in favor of a hook and eye because buttons are supposedly "vanity" or the outright banning of TV. However, those are the easy sacred cows to subvert. Every single denomination has erected sacred cows, ideas which are not in the Bible, ideas which are the invention of some 18th century church leader, or some vain tradition of men passed down over many centuries.