I have always been a question asker. I probably drove my parents crazy with my favorite word – why? As I’ve gotten a little older my curiosity hasn’t waned, but it has gotten a little more complicated. Instead of the standard “why is the sky blue,” I am more into questions like, is the Church being and doing what God intended?
That question is more puzzling and more troubling. Mostly because I’m scared of the answer. Here’s what I mean, let’s say that I have never heard of, or seen any type of Church, church building, Christian or had any religious exposure at all and someone just walked up and handed me a Bible, and then walked away and let me figure it out on my own. Just simply from reading the Bible, would I come up with the same thing that we have today? Would my faith look the same? Would the Church look the same way and do the same things? There’s no way! If I just followed the Bible without any background information, or any subjective opinions or preferences my faith would look differently. My focus would be on other things.
Here’s an example. I have been taught through my childhood and into my adult life to have an almost ascetic approach to my faith, particularly to worship. Why? That’s not what the Bible teaches. If I just read the Bible without any background interference I would be the most excited, joyous person – ever. I would be so excited to worship God and wouldn’t be nearly as concerned with what people thought of me, or if I was going to be judged or looked down on. Yet the opposite is often the reality. We come to worship, not filled with awe and excitement and humility for who God is and what He did for me. But instead we’ve taught each other to come to a well-planned, yet minimalist performance that’s designed to appease the people in the room rather than worship the Creator of life.
Somewhere along the way we seemed to have gotten turned sideways. Actually, I’m probably closer to upside down. One last thought to chew on . . . for all the good that the restoration movement did and intended to do, we find ourselves back in the same place nearly 200 years later. Too many of us have become members of a denomination and enslaved to traditions instead of Christ, worshiping doctrines instead of the Sustainer.
I think it might be time for another restoration. It’s time to do it again when we stop following those principles like speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent. Consider this one question as a bit of litmus test. 1 Timothy 2:8 says, “Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing.” Be honest and ask yourself, how much trouble would it cause if your preacher offered a prayer before he began preaching, and lifted his hands high in the air while praying? How many people would care? How many people would be upset? Now answer the question: are we speaking where the Bible speaks and being silent where the Bible is silent?
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Have you ever noticed patterns in the lessons coming from a preacher? In other words, does the preacher seem to constantly preach on a specific topic or theme? Does there seem to be an agenda underlying the lesson choices? This is an interesting topic for me—both on a practical level for myself and then as a student of church history.
There’s a danger in developing a pattern or habits when it comes to what is being preached. Really I suppose there are two significant dangers. First, if a preacher focuses on one or two themes then many others are getting left out and the congregation isn’t going to receive the meat they need. The second danger is a little more practical. It can create problems for the preacher within the congregation. It’s simply more likely to alienate people who don’t share in the same concerns, interests or motives that led to that particular focus.
This is common problem for many preachers. Sometimes it stems from a lack of confidence. Other times it might be motivated by the current trends that are prevalent in the Church. And sometimes it’s simply a result of a specific agenda. I was recently reading through a book of sermon outlines by Gus Nichols. If you’re not familiar, he was one of the more well-known preachers of the early 20th century. His strongest influence was in Walker County, Alabama.
In this book there are 122 sermon outlines. Here’s the breakdown on a few of the topical themes represented.
- Baptism: 9
- Church: 21
- Conversion and Salvation: 9
- Grace: 2
- Love: 1
- Jesus as the theme: 0
- Christ as the theme: 3
This only accounts for about a third of the sermons. So it’s definitely not a true representative sample. However, aside from funeral sermons (which there were nine) there were no other themes that showed up more than four times (prayer). Even after looking at this for just a moment it’s easy to notice some significant discrepancies. How can a Gospel preacher who experienced so much tangible success and is held in such high regard only have preached on Jesus, love and grace a total 6 times in a sample of 122? That doesn’t make sense! That is so far removed from the nature of Christ’s preaching, Paul’s preaching and the entire theme of the Bible (including a lack of OT sermons). Jesus himself said that love is the greatest command (Matt 22:36-40). Perhaps the greatest evangelist ever (aside from Jesus himself) was Paul; and when the topic came up he simply stated that he didn’t preach anything but Jesus Christ crucified (1 Cor 1:23). This is an example of what can go wrong when a preacher consistently chooses topical over expository preaching.
What’s the solution or answer to this potential problem? Well, there seems to be two answers. First, do what Paul did. He preached Jesus Christ crucified, at least to the Corinthian Christians. Second, limit the number of topical sermons and spend the majority of the time just preaching through texts. For example, pick a book then preach it passage by passage. This limits the opportunity to interject an agenda and proof-text your arguments. It’s tough to go wrong by taking a passage, figuring out what it says and then applying to the current culture.
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