John MacArthur on “Profanity in the Pulpit,” and my two cents

John MacArthur, one of the greatest preachers alive, is always willing to speak his mind about what the Scripture teaches. I have many of his volumes in my library and am honored to count him as a friend.

In addition, John was one of the featured speakers at our recent Preach the Word Conference.

He recently posted an article on the topic of the frank discussion of sex in the pulpit and more that caused quite a stir. This article was brought to my attention, and I was asked my position on what he said.

My response was that I am in complete agreement with it. In fact, I wrote a similar blog post on the topic about six weeks ago.

So, here is that article for you to read again.

Reverence or Relevance?
March 11th, 2009 Posted in Pastor’s corner, sermons
It seems to me that for some we have lost the “fear of the Lord,” even in the Church.

There was a time when things were perhaps too uptight, and one spoke in whispers in the Church, and laughter was rarely heard. But today, many churches, in their attempt to be thought of as “cool” or “contemporary,” they have lost their focus.

I am not suggesting we attempt to be irrelevant and uncool, but my question is “Have we traded reverence for relevance?”

For instance, you have preachers talking in great detail about sexual issues, ranging from programs to have “sex every day for seven days” to more extreme versions in which they speak very graphically about specific sexual acts from the pulpit.

The cussing preacher

Then you have the “Cussing Preacher” syndrome. The pastor thinks it’s cool to use profanity in the pulpit so people will see him as one of them.

Is this all really necessary? I don’t think so.

Look, I have been a pastor for 35 years, and we have never had a problem reaching our culture and seeing people come to Christ. I am all for being real and authentic, but I also stand up on the platform to speak God’s Word.

1 Peter 4:11 says, “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God” (NIV).

We are also told in Scripture to watch what we say. Speaking of the tongue, James writes, “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men who are made in God’s likeness. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so” (James 3:9-10 ESV).

The early Church had it right

The early Church, the Church of the book of Acts, had it right, of course. And let’s not forget they “turned their world upside down” (see Acts 17:6). Do we ever need that today!

These first-century believers were filled with both joy and the fear of the Lord.

Acts 2:46-47 tells us, “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people” (NKJV).

This phrase “gladness and sincerity of heart” literally means “with unaffected joy!” I love that–they were not afraid to express joy in their faith.

But there also was a sense or reverence and awe among these believers.
Acts 2:43 says, “Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles” (NKJV).

What is the fear of the Lord?

It does not mean you should be afraid of God. To fear God means that you have a healthy respect or reverence for Him. Another translation describes it as “a wholesome dread of displeasing God.” In other words, I love God so much that I want to do all I can to keep from displeasing Him.

Look, I am all for relevance. We need to make sense to the people we are reaching. But let’s not lower our standard in order to extend our reach.

Let’s not trade reverence for relevance.

I think for us to seek to live godly lives is very relevant, and very different than what this world has to offer. That’s how we will turn our world upside down, instead of the world turning us upside down.

14 thoughts on “John MacArthur on “Profanity in the Pulpit,” and my two cents”

  1. Bill says:

    As a Christian we should not use dirty talk and as a spirit filled preacher you just won’t use profanity in or out of the pulpit we are called to draw people to the cross not repell them from it.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    I witnessed this swearing phenomenon by some preachers on YouTube and I thought my ears were deceiving me. The thing that I found laughable, yet tragic were the comments left by atheists in response to this. They had a far more healthy outlook on Christian preachers cussing in the pulpit than the Christians who were commenting.

    Frankly, the atheists were rather taken aback, some even horrified that they should hear such words come from the mouth of a preacher. The Christians, on the other hand, thought it was funny and “modern” to hear a preacher using such language in the pulpit. Using the Scripture, “To win a Jew, I become like a Jew,” they justified the preacher’s actions. Yet they could not see that the very people they thought they would reach with this rubbish were speaking out vehemently against what they were hearing. Sometimes, “faith” truly comes by hearing a word.

  3. Jonathan says:

    Pastor Greg, thank you. You teach in a church much “hipper” than mine, but that hasn’t made you compromise on the Word of God. You are in this world more than most Christians, yet less of the world than almost all. Weird how these “relevant” pastors get more airtime and publicity, ain’t it? Keep fighting the good fight, finishing the race, keeping the faith. God bless you on your way.

  4. Rick says:

    Pastor Greg, thank you for reprinting John MacArthur’s commentary and for standing with him. The Word calls us to be “in the world but not of the world” — how much more true for pastors and spiritual leaders than for the laity?

    As a side note, I empathize with Robyn and her husband, who had to leave a church to stay true to their understanding of God’s direction for their lives. My wife and I had to do the same several years ago, though for a different reason. After a period in the spiritual desert, we found a non-denominational church and have been blessed with Biblical wisdom and insight we were never getting before. The “new revolution” is not in mega-churches and acceptance by political leaders, but in Christians fleeing from worldly and unanointed “leaders” back to the real meaning of God’s Word.

  5. Jenna says:

    Thank you for your well-balanced and wise perspective. What bothers me at times with this casual attitude toward language and explicit preaching is that kids are often in services and there’s no warning for parents to censor. I too believe in being relevant and real to our cultures, but I also believe the Lord’s given us plenty of room for reality within the confines of honorable communications.

    Jenna Aussie

  6. Chris says:

    Thank you, Pastor Greg, for having the bold courage to call that which is wrong and abominable in far too many pulpits today exactly what it is. You have always maintained a very clear and consistent message in your ministry that striving after holiness in the Christian life is a given, not merely an option, so I cannot say I’m surprised by what you’ve written here on the subject. You, like the incredible Dr. MacArthur, are refreshingly and predictably consistent in this age of rampant compromise and cowardice!

    Not only is there so much of this filth out there flying under the banner of so-called Christian ministry, thus providing fodder for a mocking and watching world of unbelievers who know how to show more decency, but I see this latest trend as yet another manifestation of a postmodern spirit of rebellion that has crept into the vast majority of Western evangelical churches everywhere.

    Also, thank you for keeping the emergent heresy (and its many tentacles) out of your ministry over the past few years, especially when it has been popular to embrace for so many others, especially minsitries aimed at reaching young people with a so-called “contextualized” or “relevant” message, which is simply postmodern, rebellious nonsense.

    Continue preaching the Word!

    Chris C.

  7. Greg says:

    Pastor Greg, thank you for your great post on this topic. It’s becoming a hot topic in some Christian circles, and trends in this direction have disturbed me and my pastors. Relevance is important, but it’s no excuse for worldliness. How can we be a light in a dark culture when the speech from the pulpits is profane?

  8. Heath says:

    Pastor Greg, thank you so much for these words. I appreciate them and you and the ministry that God has given to you very much. It blesses this East Coaster to know that even way out there in “SoCal” there are unashamed men of God who stand on God’s Word and declare the Good News unapologetically. Thanks so much, my dear brother. May your and Dr. MacArthur’s tribe increase, and may our words always bring honor and glory to our King and Savior!

    Heath Lloyd

  9. Gary says:

    Well put, Greg. When you throw out the Bible (or minimize its importance), what should we expect? Nothing else. To quote Judges, every preacher is doing what’s right in his own eyes. The really sad part about this is that they are not even reaching the people they are trying to reach. They think that by cussing in the pulpit, they’re reaching some “rough people” – the reality is that the “rough people” are laughing at them. As a former “rough person” myself, I know I would have laughed at them.

  10. Doug says:

    Excellent post, Pastor!

    Doug Eaton

  11. Gerald says:


    Gerald s. Szewczyk

  12. Tim says:

    It’s not even about “relevance” anymore. It’s just “religion our way.”

    What relevance is there when you’ve already taken the Bible down from its utmost place? You’ve treated it tritely and irreverently by blatantly not hearing what it says and putting your own authority above it.

    It clearly tells us to get rid of cursing, perverse speech, and so forth. Yet someone who’s supposed to be representing God is going to flat-out contradict Him?

    It’s ludicrous is what it is.

    1. Holly says:

      Thanks – you just gave me some good wording for a letter I need to write to my pastor. The lack of reverence is concerning us.

  13. Robyn says:

    Pastor Greg,

    I would like to thank you for bringing up this topic. My husband and I recently left a church we had loved & were very involved in, because the pastor began speaking so crudely and so often about sex and in very profane ways. Not only did we feel he was behaving unbiblically, but we felt that he could be causing men (or women) with a sexual addiction or dealing with adultery to stumble.

    When I went to him with my concern, his response was that I was asking him to be “inauthentic.” That is who he was and asking him to keep it out of the pulpit made me a hypocrite. He went on with a few other not so kind words and basically told me to leave if I was unhappy. I was devastated by his quite nasty response and the fact that when we left and were asked why, we told them honestly and they were angry at us. It was a very painful time for us because we were made to feel that we were wrong in feeling that his preaching was inappropriate. Thank you again for showing us that we are not the only ones who think this is not ok.


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