Omaha Bible Church (OBC), in Omaha, Nebraska, is an independent Bible church with roots in religious fundamentalism and present legalistic tendencies. It is generally within the pale of Protestant orthodoxy, but it has a problem with an angry spirit and abusive behaviors. The following review is based on about eight years of personal experience (ending in 2015) and organized around the 9 Marks of a Healthy Church.

Preaching

Sermons at OBC tend to be of a good length, center on Scripture, and emphasize truth. Notwithstanding these things (which are good so far as they go), a number of characteristics of the preaching at OBC render it, in my judgment, something between unedifying and positively toxic:

  1. Eisegesis, or what you might call hobby horse preaching. Scripture is a personal word from a relational God, with content, emphasis, and tone–all of which must be preserved if a sermon is to be faithful. In my experience, the preaching at OBC consistently errs in all three areas. To be specific, with respect to content and emphasis, there are a handful of major themes (mostly “liberal correctives”) which seem to feature in every sermon whether or not they belong to the point of the text, while other themes receive little treatment even when conspicuous. As to tone, it is more often sarcastic and condescending than anything else. (The pastors argue that scripture itself is sarcastic. And sometimes it is, of course–but not always, about everything, and to every audience, whereas OBC’s preaching more or less is.) In general, the preaching seems to be shaped more by the pastor’s personality than by the Word, and the God thus portrayed is something of a caricature as a result.

  2. Lack of depth. Observation of the naked facts of a passage, with the repetition of a few evangelical slogans and the bare exclamation that “Christ is awesome!” does not a deep sermon make. It saddens me to think how many people I spoke to after sermons over the years who could repeat some catchphrases from the message but could not explain them or connect them with the passage purportedly expounded. Too much time is given to frivolity and theological controversy and not enough to simple exposition.

  3. Irreverence and inappropriate speech. It should go without saying that the pulpit ought to be characterized by purity of speech, and to imagine that one should have to warn one’s children not to imitate the behavior of one’s own pastor there is absurd; but it came to that for me at OBC. I have heard the senior pastor from the pulpit call Mormons and Roman Catholics “stupid”, refer to historical church figures with whom he disagrees as “sissies”, joke about certain people in the church being ugly, and quip that he is “a lesbian trapped in a man’s body”. I need not defend my mention of these sayings since they are published in the public sermon archive where anyone on the Internet may listen to them under the banner of “the Word of the Lord”.

In summary, I believe that while the preaching at OBC has some admirable qualities, its defects render it on the whole dishonoring to God and harmful to its hearers.

Leadership

OBC’s leaders give every appearance of caring deeply about their church, and they clearly work hard in their roles. They seem, however, to misunderstand the nature of their authority, which they tend to lord over tender souls in their care. They are friendly people in general, but when it comes to shepherding, they tend to be impatient, controlling, and intolerant of dissent. I would go so far as to say that some of the pastors can be abusive. Worst of all, they altogether lack biblical accountability. They are self-protective to the extent that I have known them to collectively flout Matthew 18 when applied to one of themselves. They seem to me to not to be above reproach so much as above the law.

Coming up…

Biblical theology, the gospel, conversion, evangelism, membership, discipline, and discipleship, as I get to them.