A Dearth of Biblical Preaching
I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by appearing and kingdom, preach the word (2 Timothy 4:1-2).
Eschewing his privileged religious pedigree – having been circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is found in the Law, found blameless – Saul of Tarsus was wonderfully arrested and converted on his way to persecuting more Christians. From there the Father set him aside as an apostle for the gospel of God which he promised beforehand through the prophets in the holy Scriptures. He was to proclaim the unfathomable riches of Christ. He told the Corinthians that his intention was to know nothing among them except Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2). Paul faithfully carried out his calling. And then, as he was awaiting execution at the hands of Nero in Rome, he pens his last letter to Timothy, one of his sons in the faith. Paul, while in prison, says that he was sending Timothy to the Philippians because he wanted to be encouraged when he heard of their condition. He could count on Timothy for he had no one else of kindred spirit who would genuinely be concerned for their welfare (Phil. 2:19-20). Now, as Paul awaits his execution, he commands or solemnly charges young Timothy to preach the Word of God. This is not an idle, flippant suggestion. This is a charge from an apostle of Christ, given in the presence of God and Christ Jesus, stressing that he, Timothy, will give an account for how he executes that charge. Timothy is to preach the Word. This is not a suggestion. This is a command straight from heaven. To preach does not mean to dialogue. He is not to give his opinions on sociological or geo-political issues. To preach is to proclaim, like the medieval ‘town crier’ who came to a village with a word from the king to his subjects. The town crier did not have the luxury or freedom to give his own message, or his own spin or interpretation of the king’s message. Novelty was not part of his calling. He was charged to give the king’s proclamation, whether or not the people wished to hear it, whether they rejected or accepted the messenger, whether or not the message would play well to its auditors. Carrying this calling still further, Timothy, the town crier, was to be sober-minded. No doubt Timothy knew the words of Paul who said the gospel is a savour of life unto life and death unto death (2 Cor. 2:16). Some love to hear the Word of God and delight supremely in it, embracing the message, gaining eternal life (Rom. 10:13-17). Others despise it, reject it, and kill its emissaries (John 15:18-25). Paul also told Timothy to suffer hardship. Paul knew all about hardship and suffering for the sake of the gospel (2 Cor. 4:8-12, 11:23-29); and Jesus told us that those who persecute his messengers are actually doing them a huge favour (Matt.5:10-11). And though Timothy was not an evangelist he, nonetheless, was to act like one. He was regularly to take the gospel to the lost. And he was also to fulfil the ministry to which he had been called, never neglecting the spiritual gift he had received through prophetic utterance (1 Tim. 4:14-16).
A pastor, your pastor, is first and foremost a preacher. He is not a comedian. He is not a strategist, therapist, sociologist, political commentator, economic forecaster, movie critic, sports analyst, or cheerleader. We are so much a product of our politically correct, media culture, so accustomed to talking heads who never raise their voices, who maintain their professional, non-emotional air, that to see a man raise his voice, make use of animated gestures, speak directly about sin, death, and the judgment to come, seems so strange and out of place to us. I suggest there is a dearth of preaching in today’s evangelical and Reformed churches. Preaching is definitely ‘out of season.’ We increasingly are finding fifteen minute sermons with little heart-searching application which calls people to repentance. We are finding music and the sacraments increasingly the focal point of worship. Perhaps the more remarkable thing to me, in light of these recent trends, is that many of these churches are growing numerically, or at the very least, maintaining their membership and attendance. How can this be? Could it be that increasingly the church has not a stomach for true, biblical preaching? Could it be that many in our churches really are not Christians in the first place and consequently have no appetite for biblical preaching? If only seven per cent of Americans are born again, as Christian Smith has suggested,1while twenty-five per cent of our country are in evangelical churches, then there are lots of people listening to sermons each week who are not truly in Christ. No wonder so many are tired of preaching. They have no spiritual appetite for it!
What, then, is the remedy? If you are a pastor, then perhaps you should begin asking yourself, ‘How many to whom I preach every Sunday are not true Christians?’ Perhaps you should make more specific, heart-searching use of the law of God to drive sinners to Christ for salvation (Gal. 3:24). I remember recently preaching an evangelistic sermon at a church with no evidence that anyone came to know Christ that day. Now, of course, conversion could have happened without my knowing it, or perhaps it happened later. But as far as I know, no one was converted. When I was discussing this with my wife, she asked, ‘Well, did you preach the law?’ It was as though a knife went through my heart, because the answer I had to give her was, ‘No.’ I made a distinction between the benefits of salvation coming to a Christian, and the curses of unbelief coming to the non-Christian; but I failed biblically to mark the contrast between believer and unbeliever. I should have said, ‘If your life is characterized by immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, or carousing; no matter your church membership, profession of faith, or religious, conversion experience, then your life is a fleshly one and if you continue to practice such things, I warn you, you will not inherit the kingdom of God’ (Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:1-4). Preacher, renew your zeal to preach the terrors of the law to believer and unbeliever alike, so that you may afflict the comfortable. And after you, by the work of the Spirit, have stripped your hearers bare, exposing them to their wretchedness, misery, poverty, blindness, and nakedness; then comfort the afflicted with the balm of Gilead, the sweet rose of Sharon, the lily of the valley, the lover of their souls, the One who sticks closer than a brother, the One who alone is able to save them to the uttermost, the only One who can keep them from falling and make them stand in the presence of his glory blameless with great joy. We must recover the primacy of preaching in our day. The dearth of preaching must stop, if we are at all to arrest our slide into Sodom.
And if you are a church member, please renew your commitment to pray for your preacher – that he will enter the pulpit, not only well prepared but also ‘prayed up’, that he will have the anointing of the Spirit upon him, that it will be evident to all that he has come directly from the presence of the Lord, like Moses as he came from Mount Horeb to the people of God. Pray for him to have a divine eloquence, an efficacy of speech, a heaven-sent authority and power, a divine swagger, a fearlessness, a shamelessness, an earnestness to be heard; and when you hear him, that you will know God Almighty is dealing with your soul, and that because of it, you are more sanctified, leaving the worship service more in love with Jesus than when you came.
- John Dickerson, ‘The Decline of Evangelical America,’ New York Times, December 16, 2012.
Rev. Allen M Baker is an evangelist with Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, and Director of the Alabama Church Planting Network. He planted (2003) and served as Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in Hartford, Connecticut, until December 2011. His weekly devotional, ‘Forget None of His Benefits’, can be found here.
If you would like to respond to Pastor Baker, please contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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