O Be Careful Little Mouth What You Say!

In days gone by it was common for parents to resort to washing their children’s mouths out with soap as punishment for using foul language. Gutter talk, locker-room jokes, bathroom humor, and vulgarity were unacceptable. In fact, the inability to control one’s speech was seen as a mark of immaturity.

Yet in today’s culture, free-flowing foul language is not only acceptable, it’s considered “cool.” Movie celebrities, rock stars, and shock jocks like the edgy public persona crude talk gives them.

Sadly, some pastors and preachers have drunk the same cultural Kool-Aid. They are using scatological terminology—vulgarity—in their sermons. Thankfully, this practice is not widespread, at least not yet. The preachers who use actual profanity are most often YouTube extremists and crackpots. But there are those in positions of spiritual influence who are using vulgarity in more traditional church venues. And that situation is disturbing.

The most popular and well-known is emerging church Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington. One of Driscoll’s drawing cards is his sense of humor. Unfortunately, in the past, much of his humor has been off-color, sarcastic, degenerative, and sophomoric. The New York Times described Driscoll in 2009: “He has the coolest style and foulest mouth of any preacher you’ve ever seen.”1

Despite the foul mouth, the church’s website boasts that Driscoll’s “hour-long sermons received 10 million plays and downloads in 2011, with another 5 million views of his sermon clips on YouTube and other channels.”2

According to the website, the Mars Hill Church, which started as a home Bible study in 1996, “has exploded with upward of 13,000 people meeting weekly across 14 locations in four states, Washington, Oregon, California, and New Mexico.”3

To his credit, Driscoll recently has toned down his rough rhetoric. But earlier sermons and his 2006 book, Confessions of a Reformission Rev.: Hard Lessons from an Emerging Missional Church, held little back. In one message, Driscoll called Jesus “a dude” while wearing a T-shirt with a picture of what he called “drag queen” Jesus. The caption under the picture read, “Jesus is watching you download porn.”

Other comments are too coarse to print. Because form communicates significance, Driscoll’s crude efforts to humorously portray Jesus as merely one of us ends up demeaning Christ and lowering Him to a level that trivializes Him.

Anyone who would seek to make the message of the gospel palatable to itching ears by making Jesus common and using crude language would be wise to heed the admonitions of Scripture:

  • Titus 2:7–8: “In all things [show] yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned.”
  • Colossians 3:8: “But now you yourselves are to put off…filthy language out of your mouth.”
  • Ephesians 5:3–4: “Let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.”

In the old days, the tops of some pulpits bore an engraved plaque to remind the preacher, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” (Jn. 12:21). If the current trend continues toward blurring the distinction between the sacred and the profane, it might be good to see a resurgence of that plaque attached to the top of pulpits, along with a soap dispenser.

  1. Molly Worthen, “Who Would Jesus Smack Down?” The New York Times magazine, January 6, 2009 <nytimes.com/2009/01/ 11/magazine/11punk-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0>.
  2. “Pastor Profile: Mark Driscoll,” Mars Hill Church <pastormark.tv/about>.
  3. Ibid.

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