Updated: May 24, 2019
Okay, Church Checkers. In addition to doing our regular Church Checks to assess and critique a church based on all the information we can find, we've decided to add the Sermon Check-Up!
What is a Sermon Check-Up?
In an effort to keep our assessments of each church's sermons accurate and contextual, we will be checking their sermons on a regular basis.
This is to gain better context of how they teach, what they teach, and whether or not our previous sermon impressions were accurate.
It keeps things fair for the churches, and it gives us a chance to look at each church that we check with new eyes each time we check in on them for the possibility that something has changed, or something we previously thought about them is actually incorrect. A shift in the way a pastor chooses to preach to his/her congregation can make for big changes in our review for that church as well.
South Mountain Community Church in Draper, Utah
Now, before we get to the Check-Up, there are a few concerns we should address regarding SMCC Draper.
It has been suggested by some of our readers that I am biased in my criticisms of SMCC based on a subjective or unfair and unbiblical basis. While I can admit that we did give them a particularly lengthy and negative rating the first time around, I stand firm in the fact that the only bias involved in it was from our criteria, which to remind people, goes like this:
Worship God Alone: Is the church serving God, or money? God, or the works of men? God, or material? God, or the desires of the world? They cannot serve all of these things, or any of them, and serve God. When money is served, God is neglected, and therefore not being glorified or worshiped. Worship services designed for our own fleshly desires and popularity with the masses rather than for the glory of God alone are not worshiping Him. They are worshiping money and materialism, and they are making worship into a worldly affair. Big beautiful buildings serve materialism and the ways of this world, not God. (Mat. 6:24; Heb. 13:5; 1 Tim. 6:10; Ecc. 5:10; Prov. 23:4; 1 John 2:16)
The Word of God: It is the pastor’s job to feed and take care of the flock. What does that mean? Well, when it comes to the sermon itself, it means preaching and teaching the Word of God. We should be taught the Word to prevent false teachings and doctrines, to help build our faith, and to glorify God, rather than the ideas and words of men. Additionally, the Word is truth, and we must worship God in spirit and in truth. (2 Tim. 4:2-5; Titus 1:9; Heb. 13:7; Romans 10:17; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; Eph. 6:17; John 17:17)
Liberty in Christ: Legalism, like materialism and money, has infiltrated the Christian church, and it contradicts the Gospel of Christ which is about grace, truth, and love, not self-righteous works of the flesh. Legalism cancels our liberty as Christians and puts us in chains, and it inserts man between us and God, rather than Christ and His sacrifice for us on the cross. Churches that neglect the Gospel in favor of their legalism are insulting God just as neglecting His Word and worshiping money and man are insulting to Him. The Gospel, and Jesus Christ, are the center of the Christian faith. Neglecting Christ and His Gospel is abandoning Christianity altogether. (Eph. 2:8-9; John 6:28-29; Gal. 2:16; Gal. 2:21; Rom. 3:28)
Here at Check My Church, we try to major in the majors, rather than pick at the minors like non-salvation doctrinal differences or denominational affiliations. If the worship of God, the Word of God, or the Gospel of God are prioritized, that’s what we’re looking for. If they don’t, that’s a major problem.
If you don’t agree with these biases and you think church is a business, that we should neglect the Word in favor of attracting new members, that the most important thing is for a church to get bigger in numbers rather than growing in love, faith, and truth, then you’re in the wrong place, and you won’t agree with our ratings.
On the other hand, even if you disagree with us, you’ll still receive a lot of information on each church that you otherwise would have to spend months trying to find out for yourself by attending these churches.
Maybe you’re legalistic, or you like those big, fancy buildings with their cafes and strip mall lobbies. Okay, so like those churches. No one’s stopping you. But while you’re at it, if you’re curious about their position on tithing, their membership requirements, their denominational affiliations, or any of the other information we check, check in from time to time, and we’ll tell you.
Now, enough rambling! Onto the Check-Up.
The Sermon Check-Up
Apparently the sermons we were watching for SMCC Draper at the time of our Check just happened to fall on the one time a year that SMCC Draper discusses money with their congregation. It has been suggested that this could have given us the wrong impression. So, we’re going to give them another opportunity to give a different impression with a completely different sermon series, and make them our very first Sermon Check-Up!
The sermon we decided to check this time is from their most recent series, entitled The Man Upstairs. There are 5 parts to this series so far, and we decided to check part 3, which has a subtitle of How To Grow To The Glory of God.
If you'd like to listen to the same sermon and see what we're talking about, you can watch it here.
Here we go!
Before the Sermon
Before the sermon even begins, I noticed something new. They've started adding a clip of Paul Robie to the beginning of each sermon to ask watchers for money. Not as a tithe. Not even if you're a part of the local SMCC Draper church. Just because you like what they're doing and you want to support them.
Before we get into the sermon, it must be noted that the title of the sermon itself puts up a little red flag for me. Whether or not this red flag is a legitimate concern will be confirmed once we hear the sermon itself.
My concern is that the "How To..." in the title will somehow turn into an instructional seminar, teaching Christians how to be righteous in their flesh and through human effort, works, and other man-made means.
Let's get to the sermon and find out.
Here are the four main questions we ask when listening to any sermon, and we'll ask them again in each Sermon Check-Up as well:
Is the sermon topical, or a verse by verse study of the Bible?
The Bible: Is the message Biblical? Is the Bible used frequently, and read in context?
What's at the heart of the message? God, The Bible, Jesus, The Gospel...or something else?
Were you fed the Word of God, or the words of men?
Topical or Verse by Verse?
As we've already mentioned, this is a topical sermon. SMCC appears to solely do topical sermon series. We do have a bias against topical sermons because in our experience, topical sermons tend to neglect the Word of God in favor of the words of men.
Sometimes sermons are Biblical and the message is good while being topical, but unless a church is merely entitling their sermons because it relates to something they're studying in their current verse by verse study through the Bible, topical sermons in general are fairly light on the Word.
This one is no different.
Is the Message Biblical? How frequently is the Bible used? Is it read in context, or cherry picked to support the topic?
Is the message Biblical?
No. The entire message seems to rest on the claim that "grace is not opposed to effort. It's opposed to earning." That is not Biblical. Effort and earning are two sides of the same coin. Grace is opposed to effort AND earning. We are not saved by ANYTHING of ourselves. The very definition of grace negates the suggestion that we need to put in effort in order to receive it. (Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5; Rom. 5:1; Rom. 6:23)
On the other hand, if pastor Rick is talking about sanctification, and not salvation, then I agree with him. As a result of being saved by grace, Christians are filled with the Holy Spirit and are new creations, living a new life. A life of work and effort for the Lord will follow, but the grace itself given to us by God for our justification and salvation are a separate topic from sanctification, and precede it.
Since Rick specifies grace, I assume he's talking about justification and salvation. So I have to disagree with his claim, and say this is not a Biblical sermon. It is possible that it is just unclear to me that he's talking about sanctification, but again, he doesn't say, so we're left to assume.
Additionally, he basically says that God's role in our growth is all about our efforts. Again. Not Biblical.
How frequently is the Bible used? Is it read in context, or cherry picked to support the topic?
Overall, the Bible is read about 3 or 4 times, but not in context. Cherry picked to support the topic. The most glaring example of this is when pastor Rick reads from Matthew 11:28-29 in order to support the claim that "grace is not opposed to effort." He reads over the two verses and then says:
"I mean Jesus, you're using work language and rest language at the same time. How am I supposed to make sense of that? Which is more important, the doing and the working, or the resting?"
Instead of reading verse 30, which immediately follows the verses he reads in this sermon and perfectly clarify what Jesus means by "rest," he makes up his own ideas about it.
He proceeds to talk about the word "yoke" and how that is in reference to work that is meaningful, and that even though we are free from the "chaotic deception" that we could earn anything from Him, it doesn't mean we're free from work.
But verse 30 tells us, "for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
I don't know, pastor Rick. Sounds to me like Jesus is saying that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. I don't know...I'm not a Biblical expert, but that's what the verse actually says.
So why didn't pastor Rick read all the way to the end of Jesus' explanation of His yoke? Did he do that on purpose, or does he really not know that Jesus has told us in the very next verse that His yoke is easy and His burden is light?
I don't know, but I have a really hard time believing he chose these verses for his sermon without knowing what verse 30 says immediately following them.
What's at the heart of the message?
The heart of the message seems to be about what you can do to "grow" your relationship with God by going to church and performing lots of works.
Don't get me wrong. It's not that I disagree with reading the Bible, praying, journaling and the other methods of getting closer to God that Rick mentions. My problem with this is that he makes it sound like we can do this by our own volition, and that without these works we cannot grow in our relationship with God.
It manipulates Christians into performing and serving the church, rather than going directly to God for guidance. He speaks as though Christians aren't filled with the Holy Spirit, living as new creations in Christ, and through Him, capable of figuring these things out for themselves. It takes God out of the equation entirely, puts us in the driver seat, and the church in the backseat, nagging us about how terrible our driving is and how we keep missing our turns.
On the contrary, our relationship with God according to the Bible has little to nothing to do with our local church, our pastor, or the people we go to church with. It's 100% between us and God, and we grow in Him in the same way we are saved by Him: by and through Him directly. We don't produce the growth. He does. (1 Cor. 3:6-7; Mark 4:26-27; Ephesians 4:15-16)
So it's not us in the driver seat with the church nagging us. It's us driving, and God isn't sitting in the back seat. He's either right next to us in the front or if you want to be really literal, He's actually inside of us, telling us what to do.
A great article on this very topic which explains growth in Christ much more accurately and Biblically can be found here.
In fact, David Mathis, who wrote the article at DesiringGod.org, literally contradicts what pastor Rick is preaching here. He says:
"Our focus is not to be on our actions, our technique, our efforts and resolve to improve, but on the glory of Christ."
"The repeated focus in our spiritual exercises must be on Jesus, and not our effort. He is the greatest grace on these paths, not our improvement."
Were you fed the Word of God, or the words of men?
The words of men. Being that pastor Rick neglected verse 30 of Matthew 11 at the very beginning of the sermon in order to push a message of works and neglect the role of God in our lives and our walk with Him, and then only referenced a few more verses out of context in order to support that message, this was definitely not in the Word.
The Word of God tells us that God gives the growth, not us. The Word tells us that growth is not our primary concern or goal, Jesus is. The Word tells us that our focus should not be in our own efforts, but in our relationship to Him. Rick contradicts all of these Biblical truths within this sermon, so I was not fed the Word. I was fed the words of men.
When we tried to ask pastor Rick to clarify this sermon for us and explain why he left Matthew 11:30 out, this is how it went:
And with that, I think this is a good place to end our first Sermon Check-up.
In the end, the focus here seems to be entirely on us and our own efforts, and not nearly enough on God and His true role in our growth, which is mostly about Him, not us.
If you attended this sermon at SMCC, please read the article at desiringgod.org that I referenced above to learn the Biblical truth about how to "grow in glory toward God". Because this was not it.