This series of 26 lessons was developed for classroom presentation from the book by David Miller that should be required reading for every preacher, elder, and Bible school teacher in the Lord’s church: “Piloting The Strait”. This book is available from a variety of bookstores, Sain Publications at www.sainpublicans.com as well as from David Miller at www.apologeticspress.org.
CHANGES IN THE CHURCH
SPECIFICS OF CHANGE - NEW PREACHING STYLE
Acts 20:26-27 “WHEREFORE I TAKE YOU TO RECORD THIS DAY, THAT I am PURE FROM THE BLOOD OF ALL men. FOR I HAVE NOT SHUNNED TO DECLARE UNTO YOU ALL THE COUNSEL OF GOD.”
II Timothy 4:1-2 “I CHARGE thee THEREFORE BEFORE GOD, AND THE LORD JESUS CHRIST, WHO SHALL JUDGE THE QUICK AND THE DEAD AT HIS APPEARING AND HIS KINDOM; PREACH THE WORD; BE INSTANT IN SEASON, OUT OF SEASON; REPROVE, REBUKE, EXHORT WITH ALL LONGSUFFERING AND DOCTRINE.”
One of the striking changes that has come over the church, slowly developing and emerging over the last thirty years, is a new style of preaching. Scripture used to be the sum and substance of our sermon material. We used to literally drench our preaching with Bible. Our preaching was easily identifiable for its sober logic and good sense – like Paul’s.
Act 26:24-25 “AND AS HE THUS SPAKE FOR HIMSELF, FESTUS SAID WITH A LOUD VOICE, PAUL, THOU ART BESIDE THYSELF; MUCH LEARNING DOTH MAKE THEE MAD. BUT HE SAID, I AM NOT MAD, MOST NOBLE FESTUS; BUT SPEAK FORTH WORDS OF TRUTH AND SOBERNESS.”
That’s no longer the case in many sectors of our brotherhood. In recent years, an increasingly popular sentiment has arisen which maintains that the explicit citation of Bible book, chapter and verse is somehow unsophisticated, ineffective, or inappropriate. With this mentality there has come a dramatic reduction in both the amount of scripture used in sermons and the extent to which the sermon’s subject is drawn directly from the Biblical text.
Now much of the preaching we hear as we travel around the country and visit other areas is focused more upon the words of “experts” in theology, psychology and sociology. Once the “big names” in our brotherhood were popular and well-known because of the sharpness, depth, and scripturalness of their preaching. But now speakers are popular and well-known because of their charisma, pleasing personality and dynamic delivery of the latest thoughts from the academic community. Their ability to entertain, excite and dazzle makes them popular speakers around the brotherhood.
This new breed of preachers are masters at endearing themselves to the congregation rather than endearing the congregation to Jesus and the word of God. The denominations have always gravitated toward and focused upon their preachers, their charismatic “pastors”, such as Billy Graham and others. But the preachers in the true churches of Christ have always preached Christ, his church, and the truth which Jesus said would make us free (John ).
The same change came over preaching style in the last century as the church moved toward digression and the creation of the Christian Church denomination. The old style was appealing for its good sense, Scripture and logic. The new style of preaching entails “showmanship’ and sought to be “entertaining,” “animated” and “more exciting.” It is dominated by anecdotes, incidents and numerous references to the preacher’s own personal life. Biblical texts and in depth textual study have been eliminated. When Scripture is referred to; it is often used out of context and simply as a cover for going off into what the preacher wanted to discuss apart from anything the Bible may of had to say about the subject under discussion.
The “Felt-Needs” Fallacy
The new style of preaching and the change in sermon content has occurred largely as the result of the preoccupation with numerical growth as was discussed in lesson seven. The desire to attract more and more people is accompanied by the insistence that our preaching must be adjusted and adapted to our current culture. This is being done to meet the “felt needs” of the audience. By “felt needs” they mean they must give the audience what it thinks it needs, wants, or desires. This preaching is geared to provide what the hearer wants to hear, not what God wants us to hear, or what we need to hear. Paul warned:
“FOR THE TIME WILL COME WHEN THEY WILL NOT ENDURE SOUND DOCTRINE; BUT AFTER THEIR OWN LUSTS SHALL THEY HEAP TO THEMSELVES TEACHERS, HAVING ITCHING EARS; AND THEY SHALL TURN AWAY their EARS FROM THE TRUTH, AND SHALL BE TURNED UNTO FABLES.” II Timothy 4:3-4
This approach, by definition, permits man to set the agenda for topics of discussion. But if Bible history shows us anything it shows us that:
“O LORD, I KNOW THAT THE WAY OF MAN is NOT IN HIMSELF: it is NOT IN MAN THAT WALKETH TO DIRECT HIS STEPS.” Jeremiah 10:23
“THERE IS A WAY WHICH SEEMETH RIGHT UNTO A MAN, BUT THE END THEREOF are THE WAYS OF DEATH.” Proverbs 14:12
Paul declared to the brethren at
“BUT WE PREACH CHRIST CRUCIFIED, UNTO THE JEWS A STUMBLINGBLOCK, AND UNTO THE GREEKS FOOLISHNESS; BUT UNTO THEM WHICH ARE CALLED, BOTH JEWS AND GREEKS, CHRIST THE POWER OF GOD, AND THE WISDOM OF GOD. BECAUSE THE FOOLISHNESS OF GOD IS WISER THAN MEN; AND THE WEAKNESS OF GOD IS STRONGER THAN MEN.” I Corinthians 1:23-25
What men often yearn for, clamor for, beg for, hunger for, and even pray for is not what they actually and truly need. (James 4:3, Genesis 3:6; 13:10-11; II Kings 20:1-3 and others.) Only God knows what man really needs.
Biblical preaching – preaching that centers on and majors in what God says are man’s needs rather than preaching that centers itself upon what the latest “scientific,” “sociological,” or “psychological” research dictates as “modern man’s felt needs” is the kind of preaching that we must have in order to please God. Biblical preaching will not bring in the big numbers that naturally result from the kind of preachers and preaching that give people what they want and think they need but it will genuinely fulfill those who will accept it.
We hear a lot these days about “balanced preaching.” What is often meant by this admonition is that the preacher should refrain from being “negative.” Granted, we should “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians .) Our approach to life and preaching should not be dominated by a harsh, critical, unkind demeanor (Galatians 6:1, Colossians 4:6; I Thessalonians 2:7; II Timothy -25). But the Bible repeatedly tells us that the human mind is in frequent need of correction and discipline – that which to most folks is negative. Anyone who patterns themselves and their preaching after the Master Preacher, Jesus Christ, will provide liberal and frequent doses of this kind of preaching.
In Jesus’ case:
“AND THERE WAS MUCH MURMURING AMONG THE PEOPLE CONCERNING HIM: FOR SOME SAID, HE IS A GOOD MAN: OTHER SAID, NAY; BUT HE DECEIVETH THE PEOPLE.” John 7:12
Time and time again Jesus’ doctrine and bold actions stirred up division and controversy among the people:
“SO THERE WAS A DIVISION AMONG THE PEOPLE BECAUSE OF HIM. AND SOME OF THEM WOULD HAVE TAKEN HIM; BUT NO MAN LAID HANDS ON HIM.” John 7:43
“THERE WAS A DIVISON THEREFORE AGAIN AMONG THE JEWS FOR THESE SAYINGS. AND MANY OF THEM SAID, HE HATH A DEVIL, AND IS MAD; WHY HEAR YE HIM?” John 10:19
The prevailing mood in the church of today is “peace at all costs,” “smooth it over” and “whatever you do, don’t create division.” No one wants division for division sake or division because of man’s opinions. But we’ve missed an extremely important element of biblical religion if we fail to hear the words of our Master when He declared:
“SUPPOSE YE THAT I AM COME TO GIVE PEACE ON EARTH? I TELL YOU, NAY; BUT RATHER DIVISION.” Luke 12:51
The division that Jesus brought about and we should as well; was the division of our hearers from the world. We need to create the desire of our hearers to be “NOT OF THE WORLD” John -16.
Another contrast between Bible preaching and human ideas about preaching is seen among our more sophisticated brethren who demand that we never “call names” or speak too directly about a false doctrine, false teacher or false church. The argument is that this serves only to alienate people and we need to use some discretion to avoid unnecessary antagonism. We should not be divisive; but what does the Bible example provide for us in terms of a pattern to follow?
John the Immerser and Jesus labeled their contemporaries with rather direct names such as “brood of vipers,” “fools,” “blind guides,” “hypocrites,” “child of hell,” “serpents,” “of your father the devil.” (Matthew 3:7; , -17; ; John 8:44). Paul publicly called individuals down—by name – for their misdeeds such as Demas, Hymenaeus, Alexander, Philetus, the Apostle Peter, Alexander the Coppersmith – Galatians 2:11-14; I Timothy 1:20; II Timothy 2:17-18; II Timothy 4:10, 14.
The conclusion is hard for many to accept; but biblical preaching – preaching that is balanced – will frequently prick people’s hearts as Peter did on Pentecost, and usually be negative and offensive to those who are listening that enjoy the sin they have in their lives.
Jeremiah “is NOT MY WORD LIKE AS A FIRE? SAITH THE LORD; AND LIKE A HAMMER that BREAKETH THE ROCK IN PIECES?”
I Corinthians “FOR THE PREACHING OF THE CROSS IS TO THEM THAT PERISH FOOLISHNESS; BUT UNTO US WHICH ARE SAVED IT IS THE POWER OF GOD.”
Matthew 15:12-14 “THEN CAME HIS DISCIPLES, AND SAID UNTO HIM, KNOWEST THOU THAT THE PHARISEES WERE OFFENDED AFTER THEY HEARD THIS SAYING? BUT HE ANSWERED AND SAID, EVERY PLANT, WHICH MY HEAVENLY FATHER HATH NOT PLANTED, SHALL BE ROOTED UP. LET THEM ALONE: THEY BE BLIND LEADERS OF THE BLIND. AND IF THE BLIND LEAD THE BLIND, BOTH SHALL FALL INTO THE DITCH.”
Book, Chapter, and Verse
Another characteristic of the new style of preaching is the insistence that the explicit citation of Bible book, chapter and verse in pulpit preaching is somehow unsophisticated, ineffective, or inappropriate. In this emerging mentality; the Word of God has been replaced with appeals to modern “experts” in theology, psychology and sociology. Preachers who follow this practice pride themselves in staying abreast of the “latest thought” available from the academic community and draw freely from this body of information as source material for their sermons. Such is dangerous as it encourages the decline of God’s spiritual nation.
Four reasons why gospel preachers should provide direct scriptural citations:
1. Such a practice helps hearers learn the Bible. Countless are the times that one’s understanding of the content and structure of the Bible is strengthened by knowing precisely where a particular doctrine, principle or truth is taught in Scripture.
2. Quoting Scripture and requiring direct citation minimizes the tendency to make vague allusion to Scripture and, in so doing, to fail to take into consideration its context. Error is often undetectable when disguised in the garb of a few familiar sounding biblical words or phrases separated from their original context.
3. Direct Scripture citation encourages a repeated assurance that what is being taught is of the authority of God. It impresses upon the hearer that the preacher is not speaking “of himself,” asserting his own ideas, but rather is allowing God to speak for Himself.
4. Finally, giving hearers sufficient information for them to locate a passage is appropriate because Jesus and other did essentially the same thing. Even though chapter and verse divisions were unavailable in apostolic times faithful speakers gave sufficient indication by which their claims could be verified by turning to the Scripture that was available.
Omission of the Invitation
Our change agent brethren have a tendency to minimize and even eliminate the sermon invitation. Some would insist that the sermon invitation is really a product of Protestantism and not the Bible. They say that it is simply a tradition that has evolved over time.
Please consider this the following:
When people hear the word of God, God wants them to obey, to act, to do.
“WHEREFORE LAY APART ALL FILTHINESS AND SUPERFLUITY OF
NAUGHTINESS, AND RECEIVE WITH MEEKNESS THE ENGRAFTED WORD, WHICH IS ABLE TO
SAVE YOUR SOULS. BUT BE YE DOERS OF THE WORD,
AND NOT HEARERS ONLY, DECEIVING YOUR
OWN SELVES. FOR IF ANY BE A HEARER OF THE WORD, AND NOT A DOER, HE IS LIKE UNTO A MAN BEHOLDING HIS NATURAL FACE IN A GLASS:
FOR HE BEHOLDETH HIMSELF, AND GOETH HIS WAY, AND STRAIGHTWAY FORGETTETH WHAT
MANNER OF MAN HE WAS. BUT WHOSO LOOKETH
INTO THE PERFECT LAW OF
Examples of responses:
I Kings - Elijah extended an invitation for them to align themselves with God
Exodus 32:26 - Moses extended an invitation at the foot of mount Sinai
Joshua 24:15 - Joshua called for a response from his hearers
Ezra 10:10-11 - Ezra called for compliance with Bible teaching
The book of Acts has numerous examples of the preacher working to generate a response from the hearers starting with -37 all the way through to .
An examination of the book of Acts also reveals that when the gospel message was preached, several possible visible reactions were forthcoming:
Acts 17:5 - hostility, rejection and violence
Acts 18:8 - conversion of the hearers
Acts - repentance and correction of sinful behavior
Acts 16:5 - being strengthened in the faith, a silent, nonvisible response
Acts -27 - declaration of allegiance to a particular group or congregation
When we preach the gospel in our worship assemblies, we do so specifically in order to generate faithful obedience to God’s word. It is only natural for us to give the entire assembly an immediate opportunity to make whatever correction may be needed in their lives.