– In response to Bishop Noel Jones’ Interviews –
It was only a matter of time before preachers would be on reality TV. Recently we were introduced to the first episodes of Preachers of LA, in their various personal settings. The show ‘‘Preachers of LA’ is advertised as a Docu series perhaps a more sophisticated name for what is commonly referred to as reality TV’.
The show invites its audience into the private off the stage lives of the preachers who are on varying degrees regarded as “stars” of the preaching circuit. It is important to make the distinction of various degrees because firstly, not all featured are pastors secondly and not all are that popular.
Like most Reality TV – Shows it is bound to hone by virtue of editing on the sensational unexpected acts of these men of the cloth their families and their associations, in keeping the interest afloat. I am not privy to how much the preachers are paid for this and maybe it does not even matter in the greater scheme of things, because they have a right to legally earn whatever they do.
There has been much outcry from some in condemning the show for a variety of reasons. These vary from a blatant show off bling, luxurious accoutrements, lives of opulence etc, to the things aired as the spoken words of the preachers, including actions on the set. Fellow preachers had to find ways to explain themselves financially in the wake of the show’s arrival.
Subsequent to the cross-section of responses to the show, some participants have responded in attempt of clarifying their positions, convictions, and raison detre for participating in the show.
One such response came from Bishop Noel Jones, Pastor of City of Refuge Church of Gardena California. I will attempt to engage Bishop Jones on his responses to the varied outcries. It is also appropriate to respond to Jones because, he ensembles the modern-day ‘eagle of preaching’ in Black Circuit Television in the USA and is world renown much more than all the other participants, who are really LA based preachers to varying degrees. Jones graces pulpits of many conferences, convocations, church gatherings seminars etc. He also travels extensively and is a reputed international preacher.
It may be worthwhile to first attempt a dissecting of what I shall call the psychology of perhaps a Jones. Yet most who know Jones would concede he is in a sense a simple unassuming character who seldom wants fanfare and can easily sit in a crowd without being noticed. An avid chess player and one who loves a good debate, he would debate anything and roar with laughter as he broaches and treads subjects most will never go. Jones who is of a renown intellectual gifting, crowned with an extensive vocabulary and a epistemology of admiration. He is unique since his insatiable passion for intellectual stimulation and his reading of a crossbreed of intellectuals and theologians on a multiplicity of subjects concerning the Christian Faith makes him for some unparalleled in presentation of the homily. I must admit I was personally surprised to have seen him as part of the cast, yet I was not shocked.
Such is the candour of Jones that I often regard him as perhaps more accessible than other less known for preaching on the circuit. Jones is not your typically flamboyant bling- bling personality and almost appears a contrast of the intellectual and the Hollywood-star. He seldom is seen with the typical security detail that others have become notorious and defend as necessary. When most roam around with bodyguards in the ilk of Men In Black stance, Jones would often walk into a gathering by himself and take a backseat. He prefers a trademark jumper-suit for preaching less with bling defined.
Jones in his grasp on preaching in engaging him proves very rational about the separation of God and the Preacher. His stance is not a simplistic one but one that is deeply rooted in contemplation and proven thought consideration.
Jones is known for saying and readily admitting he like all preachers are flawed. I am in agreement with Jones on the flawed state of all preachers, and think anyone denying that lives in a fool’s paradise. The best of those who grace pulpits have an innate flaw, which according to us the audience should disqualify them from being called to preach, yet that very flawed state appears the contention when it raises its head in stark contrast to the call. A calling exacted less by them but by the ONE who called them. Yet perhaps 2 Corinthians 4: 7 underscores the fallibility and easily broken state of the ones who are called to preach as opposed to what they carry. “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and no of us.” There is equally no short supply of biblical characters assigned with critical responsibilities that showed this flawed contrast.
I shall advance to argue Jones have and always will wrestle with the stardom of his call, as he puts it “people put you on pedestals.” This wrestling is perhaps rooted in this that fundamentally he does not embrace at a mental level the reality of his personal impact defined through ministry. It is as if it has not fully sunk and perhaps never will because his mind on such does not allow him to make that crossover like so many have by assuming their stardom and demigod status. In conversation with Jones you are never too far from the reality of this innate struggle.
My hypothesis is Jones at his age over 60 feels he is grown and old enough to be real with all. I am comfortable to assume he would never have done this twenty years earlier. In a sense he is saying I have earned the right to be this controversial. It is almost as if he is persuaded that the church and the world needs to know we are ordinary as preachers we wrestle like all others and we make mistakes and can never be equated with the preached Word. His premise is if we as church can enjoy a biblical figure like David, who is known for his multi-flawed state, readily quote his psalms, and accept that God pronounced him “a man after my own heart” why cannot we accept that preachers are flawed and struggle in many ways yet celebrate their work of ministry. He plays on this hypocrisy of those of the Christian Faith who embraces David but find it difficult to embrace others of similar flawed status.
This reasoning is not necessarily flawed because it pleads for seeing preachers less as demi-gods but ordinary people. He advocates for us to appreciate the distinction between the one who exacts the call (who is perfect) and the one who is called in imperfection, less by his own volition.
Whilst the psychology or the premise for this is palatable for me, yet that is where it stops.
My challenge is not us nay saying or denying our individual flawed states, my challenge is not even the definitive distinction in paradigm and essence of preacher and God. My challenge is why we think it even remotely appropriate to parade our flaws in a sense of celebrated achievements.
It should be that our recognised flawed state must prove a humbling aspect of our call. The same, which we may never reach a place where we equate ourselves in any, shape size or form to HIM who exacted the call. It must render us perpetually humbling and constantly mindful of how unworthy we are in mercy embrace.
Our flawed states should drive us to a deeper search of God, and an almost hiding in HIM, as opposed to be shown off in star achievement claim.
The show therefore cannot take its yardstick from the secular standard in which Jay – Zee, P-Diddy etc in lifestyle and opulence and success is emulated as the standard. The truth is the Church of Jesus Christ regardless to how we preach will never be a gathering of super wealthy billionaires, in which opulence becomes ordinary.
To therefore advance a view that ‘I preach prosperity because I believe it as for all’ is no corroborating evidence that opulence mirrored in Hollywood success as the standard is the standard for the church. When I raise it here it is not in romanticising poverty as the dictum for the Christian not at all, yet it is to be conscious the world in which we are called to proclamate remains the antithesis of what was a paradise of Eden embrace. It is this broken and corrupt world in which the King of Salvation chose to reveal HIMSELF. It is against the backdrop of this fallen state that HE articulated ‘you will always have the poor with you..’ This is no defence for a doctrine of poverty because that would be utter scriptural rape, but it articulates a reality of poverty expected by Jesus Christ to be prevalent beyond HIS earthly ministry.
Equally, as preachers we must prove circumspect to be considerate to others. Not only does the display of an embraced and praxis of opulence flies in the face of the very audience of preaching, it also casts a conflated image on why we preach. It was the scholar Bornkamm who helped us understood repentance when he articulates repentance in saying “to lay hold on the salvation which is already at hand, and to give up everything for it”. Again I shall ask of my colleagues of Preachers of LA what part of the giving up of everything did we not understand until we in blighted sense protest this giving up of self.
The challenge therefore resonates in this that whilst the protagonists of this ‘come see us for who we are – as ordinary flawed people’ argue for a distinction between God and the preacher, this type of show puts the preacher as the centre of attention and naturally reduces the God of the preacher to a secondary level. Exactly what the protagonists supposedly argue should not happen.
Is it perhaps not opportune to once again reflect on the words of the German theologian and scholar, Dietrich Bonhoeffer when he unequivocally declares ” when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die”. What do we make of this clarion call to self death and denial when we today in stark contrast to this death protests to live in celebration of our flaws.
My final point is perhaps the implied understanding and interpretation of preaching as what I do for a living or an in colloquial sense a job, versus an exacted call. Off course there exists a natural dialectic tension between my job as a preacher and my call, which often renders one confused. Yet what is undeniable is the work of a preacher in prognostication of the WORD is not ordinary and nor is it a vocation the preacher chose for a career. My experience has been most of us did not want this calling exacted against our lives without our permission. In my personal case, I just wanted to be an attorney and God found it fit to manifest an exacted a call less based on my preference but HIS choice. This makes the preaching assignment a different vocation and distinct from any other.
You almost get the sense that for the ‘Preachers of LA’, preaching is what they do as a job separate from who they are, and therefore the job requires certain things for the time of the job, but once they leave the pulpit, they are no more the preacher.
It is right here that the words of Charles Spurgeon rings true ‘for the herald of the gospel to be spiritually out of order in his own person is both to himself and to his work, a most serious calamity’ Let us also not hasten to critique a Spurgeon but glean from this mouthful exemplifying a challenge for all who share the privilege of preaching. I still contend ‘preaching is not my right, I was privileged to preach’ (cnsr)
We simply cannot afford to attempt a hiding behind – I am human – , for the GRACE encountered demands of us a changed life evidence in lifestyle. Such changed lifestyle comes embodied in an acceptance that the Christ who encountered me in Salvation necessitates a change in walk and practice, otherwise salvation in manifestation change is not a reality. This means we continue in the state before we were encountered and yet we attest to changed lifestyle.
Therefore, whilst I agree that we as preachers are all flawed and in a sense works- in- progress we must never reach the place where we resign to our flawed state in attempt a celebration of such.
I therefore cannot accept the show as beneficial for the advancement of the Kingdom of God, nor as beneficial to any of those in the cast (except for a few extra dollars) but necessarily a burden placed upon all preachers as co- labourers in a called VINEYARD.
The show thus us is in bad taste, and should not live through more than one series, and pray that those who participated in it come to see the burden their participation brings to bear.
Bishop Clyde N.S. Ramalaine
November 6, 2013