I’ve been reading John Fletcher’s Five Checks to Antinomianism this morning. At one time, the Five Checks were as dearly held by Methodist preachers as John Wesley’s sermons. The Checks speak to the problem, rampant today as then, of Christianity that amounts to little more than baptized heathenism. People go by the name Christian, but their lives show little or no change.
Fletcher’s concern was with Antinomianism, a teaching that since we are saved by faith without any works, we should set aside the moral laws of God and/or religious practices such as praying, Scripture study, or visiting the sick. Fletcher wrote that the Methodists and Anglican clergy ran astray when they stopped preaching repentance. When they did not preach to convict men and women of sin and exhort them to “take up their cross” daily and to live in conformity with the law, they nurtured shallow-rooted and false Christians who could well be described as whitewashed tombs.
His word to clergy was to “take heed to your doctrine.”
Let it be Scripturally evangelical: give not the children’s bread unto dogs; comfort not people that do not mourn. When you should give emetics do not administer cordials, and by that means strengthen the hands of the slothful and unprofitable servant. I repeat once more, warp not to Antinomianism, and in order to this, take heed, O! take heed to your doctrine.
These words stand out to me this day, in part, because we lectionary preachers will be spending the next two weeks with John the Baptist. Here was a preacher not afraid to step on the pious toes of his congregation. His boldness grew out of his conviction that people’s very lives were at stake. His words do not show up in many Christmas carols: repent, brood of vipers, unquenchable fire.
So now as Christmas approaches, how do we preach from his words? At no time of the year is the impulse to please people and churn up warm feelings stronger. People crave “cordials.” Do we give them what they crave? They will like us if we do. But is our task to please people?