Monday, January 18, 2010

Preaching the Word; Out of Season

"Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables." 2 Timothy 4:2-4

Preaching God's holy word is at an all time low today. Entertainment in the form of (christian?) rock/country/folk concerts, dramatic presentations, magic acts, powerlifting, shouting, dancing, running the aisles, screaming, barking, howling and even the so-claimed miraculous acts of healing and speaking in tongues fill many of churches on the typical Sunday morning. In some congregations politics is the raison d'etre and not the gospel of Christ. In this discussion, I want to look at the scriptures to see what preachers should be doing instead of using worldly substitutes. I am going to be using the text of 2 Timothy 4:2-4 as my base.

In the second verse of chapter 4 in Second Timothy we see Paul, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, command Timothy to preach the word whether it is popular to do so or not. Timothy was to be ready or prepared regardless of how he was received, whether congratulatory or critique. He was to convince and exhort as well as rebuke. Many "conservative" preachers have the rebuking part down as they jump headlong into some diatribe about sin, but neglect the important truth of convincing and with that exhorting. Integral to "convincing" is the presenting of evidence and proof for why either not to do something or why to do something. Notice this is to be done with longsuffering or patiently, and with teaching. Preachers should be patient with a congregation realizing that just as you have to potty train a child so to there are babes in Christ needing time to mature.Paul had to do this with the Corinthian church as we read in 1Corinthians 3:1-3 "And I, brethren could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?" . This does not mean that a preacher should cater to babes, however, but he should inspire growth. This is only possible by "leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ" and moving on to "perfection"(Heb. 6:1).

Teaching is the communication of the sound doctrine taught in scripture. Paul exhorted Timothy to "Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me" in 2 Tim. 1:13 and commanded him to "commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" in 2Tim. 2:2. The ability to teach is an imperative to being a preacher. In 1 Tim. 3:2 we learn that a bishop (pastor, preacher, elder) is to be able to teach and Titus 1:9 expounds on this saying that he is to be "holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict." As a matter of fact there is no distinction between a pastor and teacher as we learn in Ephesians 4:11.

In verse 3 of Second Timothy chapter 4 we are told the outcome of hearts being unreceptive to the truth. They not enduring sound doctrine, get in exchange teachers they do like, who entertain their itching ears according to their own desires and not that which God would have for them. Realize that a pastor can be faithful to the truth and a church still go bad as we learn in Hebrews 4:2 that faith is necessary for truth to profit. By looking at what these unbelievers reject we can also see the pattern of a good preacher. They reject sound doctrine, so he is teaching this and they get different teachers, again alluding to the fact that this pastor was a teacher.
Verse 4 carries on this line of thinking as they "turn their ears away from the truth" and are "turned aside to fables". There is no in-between; you either believe the truth or a lie. A preacher is either preaching the truth of God or he is cheating and lying to people, diverting their attention to unimportant distractions.


One popular method of preaching today is called expository preaching. If understood properly and done right I do not have a problem with this method and even consider what has been done in the above discussion as expository. This is a conservative method and its goal is to teach the word of God verse by verse in its proper context. Unfortunately it has become linked with the Biblical Theology movement which dichotomizes biblical theology with systematic theology. Systematic theology is seen as human philosophy and untenable with scriptural truth. This, however, is ears, deaf to truth, turning to fables. As we see in 2 Tim. 1:13 the sound words of scripture form a pattern or system. Systematic theology takes all the scriptures dealing with a particular topic or doctrine and exposits them to teach and convince people of the truth of this teaching. Topical or, as I prefer, doctrinal preaching when done right utilizes expository preaching. Churches should be grounded in the doctrines of the faith and not left in ignorance. Another problem with the expository method is the tendency to get bogged down with peripheral issues involving textual criticism and historical analysis instead of teaching the truth. 1 Tim. 6:4 warns of people "obsessed with disputes and arguments over words". Finally, expository preaching at least implicitly denies the perspicuity(clarity) of scripture. One leading proponent of the expository method and critic of the topical method has reputedly took a decade to teach through the book of Luke. I doubt it took Luke a decade to write it. I have heard some of them brag about how long they have been on a particular verse as if it is a badge of honor. If scripture is clear it should not take us ten years to teach through the whole bible much less a book of it. How grounded in the faith is a church that does not get the whole counsel of God in the other books of the Bible if they are on one book for 10 years?


Another conservative movement that needs to be considered in this discussion is revivalism. This movement seeks the salvation of souls fervently and desires to inspire other christians in this endeavor. This is a noble aspiration and one I affirm, again when understood and done properly. I do not intend an in depth discussion of this movement here and may take this up at a later date more thoroughly but I do want to touch on how it affects preaching. Sometimes proponents of revivalism make the preaching of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ the only truth in scripture to be taught. They misunderstand 1 Cor. 2:2 and errantly take it to mean this very thing. Acts 20:27-30 informs us that we are to declare the whole counsel of God taking heed to ourselves and the flock. More often in revivalism you see the gnostic dichotomy of a head and heart and a word and power distinction. Revivalists often use 1 Cor. 2:4 and 1 Thess. 1:5 to distinguish between these things. I heard one speaker of this tradition say that in the classroom he teaches to the head but in the pulpit he preaches to the heart. Iain Murray, who is probably the most vocal advocate of this tradition, complains that he "once had the misfortune to hear addresses on 'the five points of calvinism' delivered as though we were attending a chemistry lecture" (John Calvin: A Heart For Devotion, Doctrine & Doxology edited by Burk Parsons p. xv). I am not completely sure I understand his criticism. If he is saying the presentation was boring, is it okay to give a boring delivery of chemistry? I personally try to put my "heart" into whatever I am teaching and would therefore hate to give a boring lecture on chemistry as much as I would on calvinism. Whatever truth you are teaching deserves the same exhortation, if for nothing else so you will not have a bunch of people fail the test. I also find this funny because I have personally sat under Iain at a conference and did not find it edifying and would even go as far as to say it was a boring presentation. Thankfully his books are of a better sort. As to whether there is a distinction between word and power, Paul in both the above listed scriptures is simply meaning that the Holy Spirit gave them an understanding of the truth and not the words only. 1 Cor. 1:18 tells us the message of the cross is foolish to the perishing but to the saved it is the power of God, Rom. 1:16 tells us the gospel is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes and Heb. 4:12 tells us the word of God is living and powerful. Reject anyone who believes the bible to be a "dead word".


Preaching is to pass on the pattern of sound doctrine left to us in the scriptures from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and written by the apostles through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the power of salvation to all who believe. It is clear and we should teach the whole counsel in orderly and timely fashion. It is alive and powerful not needing methods, emotion or a particular style to deliver it. Every member of the church ought to be able to give a defense of the hope that is in them 1 Peter 3:15. Every member needs to know what they believe about the trinity, inerrancy and sole authority of scripture, salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone and everything else. If they do not, you may lose them and even lose your job as they will look for a teacher to scratch their itching ears.

"And moreover, because the Preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yes, he pondered and sought out and set in order many proverbs. The Preacher sought to find acceptable words; and what was written was upright- words of truth. The words of the wise are like goads, and the words of scholars are like well-driven nails, given by one Shepherd." Ecclesiastes 12:9-11

Soli Deo Gloria