Wednesday, March 12, 2014

If the Text Had the Smallpox

  Life of Christ 42

          The best homiletics textbook in the world is the Bible because in that Book we find the record of the best preacher, Jesus. One of the features that marked His preaching was authority (Mark 1.22, Matthew 7.29) and that authoritative preaching was tied to Scripture.
          Paul said to his preacher boy Titus, 'Preach the word' (Titus 4.2). In other words, the Word of God is to be subject of our preaching. There are some men who like the idea of being authoritative, but are either too lazy, too ignorant, too proud, or too sinful to tie their preaching to Scripture. Oh, they read a verse or two at the beginning of the message, but what follows is all manner of human opinion and philosophy. At that point, it doesn't matter if you preach authoritatively. All you are assertively emphasizing is mere human words, not God's words.
          It is my contention that God's people need to learn to identify preachers such as this so that they may avoid them. Authoritative preaching of mere human words inevitably, sooner or later, leads to unscriptural teaching on the part of the preacher, and that, just as inevitably, leads to unscriptural living on the part of the people.
          The old phrase says it well, albeit sadly, 'If the text had the smallpox the sermon wouldn't catch it.' Apparently this has been a recurring problem in the Church for centuries. Many a man simply uses the opening text as a springboard, launching himself majestically on flights of fancy, and never returning to the solid ground of God's Word. The Word of God sits on their pulpit, but other than that first perfunctory reading it is never referred to in the message again.
          Other men spiritualize the text, giving it a secondary meaning God never intended it to have. They wax long and eloquently about some wonderful 'truth' that isn't actually the point of the text. This preaching appeals to preachers very much for it lets them say anything they want from any text, and look rather cute (they think) while they are doing so. In reality, they have taken the authority for their sermon away from the Word of God, where it ought to reside, and placed it instead in themselves. At that point, both preacher and church are in deep trouble whether they realize and accept it or not.
          Other men find themselves unable to offer any authoritative messages because they don't actually think they have the Word of God in their hands. Oh, they believe it exists in theory, in the original manuscripts, but in reality all they think they have access to is a good guess at what God originally said. I reject that position whole cloth. No, for those of you that care, I do not believe in double inspiration, but I do not have to in order to believe my Bible is the actual Word of God. I believe in original inspiration and continuing preservation, and thus when I stand to preach I can do so with authority for I am confident that the words to which I refer are actually God's Word. Every. Single. Word.
          In my preaching I place great stress on individual words, and I do so unhesitatingly for the above reason. I have seen, on the other hand, that churches which refuse to take a position on the English version issue, and allow every man to do that which is right in his own eyes, cannot possibly place any authoritative emphasis on any particular word of the text.
          This was brought home to me on a recent vacation. I love to visit other churches while I am traveling. I find it incredibly educational, and on this particular trip I was not disappointed. I stumbled into one fine disaster in a start up Baptist church in the Lancaster, Pennsylvania area that was meeting in an office park. When I walked through the front door I found myself in the auditorium where the worship band was practicing, and I knew I was in for a delightful evening. I followed their directions to a small back room where a group of about 15 adults were sitting around two tables preparing for the evening's Bible study. The people welcomed me kindly, and began the study. As it progressed the pastor, who didn't know me from Adam, asked all of us to take turns reading verses as he taught through a chapter of James. No, he didn't make the mistake of using a text as a launching platform and never returning, nor did he spiritualize it, but he still could not preach an authoritative message for one simple reason: everybody in the place had a different Bible. As each person read aloud the others were reading along to a different set of words. I noticed, in a way that only a fellow preacher can, perhaps, that this brother couldn't point with any authority to any particular word of the text. He couldn't pin anything down. It was fuzzy and gauzy and soft. I don't know what he called his performance that evening but I certainly couldn't call it a sermon. A lecture? A speech? A presentation? No, I think the right word is talk. Yes, that's it. It was a talk. He wasn't assertive or confrontational about anything, and the book of James is both of those in spades. But he couldn't be authoritative for he didn't have any specific words on which he could heavily lean.
          Beloved, the preacher must believe he holds in his hands the complete, inerrant, infallible, inspired, preserved Word of God. He must marry his messages to it with painstaking care. Only then can he preach with the authority with which he was designed to preach.

          After all, that is exactly what Jesus did.

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