A while ago, say, 100 years ago, churches knew that their primary goal week in and week out was to exposit God’s word and preach from the text what the authors originally intended. For example: JI Packer, one of the greatest theologians of our time, now aged 90, said this:
“Underlying the preaching of the Puritans are three basic axioms: 1. The unique place of preaching is to convert, feed and sustain, 2. The life of the preacher must radiate the reality of what he preaches, 3. Prayer and solid Bible study are basic to effective preaching.” (Wikipedia, James (Jim) Innell Packer, viewed January 16th 2017 <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._I._Packer>).
The puritans were a group of Christians that fled the stifling persecution of England to see if America could become a Christian nation through preaching and teaching scripture & having converts that lived a Godly life as born again believers. Their practices led to one of the greatest influential Christian groups in America, and a legacy of reverent, militantly evangelical converts that, when preaching, thundered God’s word out like a mighty hammer to their hearers. But that flame has been snuffed out in many churches, and purely for the sake of keeping people happy. Reading the above quote on the puritans view of scripture, it’s clear to see that their regard for the authority of God’s word was incredibly high, and they esteemed it in their pulpits and homes. It was their guide, their source for truth and they protected it. Those words “deep Bible study” should ring out in every ear of every Bible student across the land. But it doesn’t. Not today. At least not in liberal churches and those seeker sensitive ones that claim to have “worship experiences” like no other.
But despite the extensive lighting, moody music, disco/party atmosphere and ethereal sermons about changing ourselves to become better people – we still have a problem: we’ve drifted a long way from the safety of the shores of sola scriptura to safely swim back again if we continue in this self-help, pop psychology method of preaching to our congregants.
Al Mohler wrote a great article in 2013 about why expository (verse by verse) preaching is such a “bad idea” for modern culture, and being sarcastic he gives 7 reasons as to why this is so:
“Mohler gives 7 common arguments against exposition:
- No one listens to a long or significant oration anymore. The age of speech is simply over.
- No one knows the Bible anyway. People know too little of the Bible to connect with it.
- It is too preacher-centric. Education today is not fostered by the “sage on the stage” but the “guide on the side.”
- It does not relate to my everyday life.
- It will kill a church.
- Not every text of Scripture deserves to be preached.
- It is based on outdated, outmoded ideas of authority. (Preaching and Preachers, Mohler on why expository preaching is such a bad idea, viewed January 16th 2017 <http://preachingandpreachers.com/2013/04/30/mohler-on-why-expository-preaching-is-such-a-bad-idea/>).
Looking at this list you’d think that there’s absolutely no reason to ever, ever read out a Bible verse or entire chapter in your church if you’re ever at the front of it preaching… but you’d be dead wrong in thinking so. You see, this logic is wrong because it places the needs of the hearer far, far above the pleasure and command of God to “rightly divide the Word of truth,” as scripture says. Instead of preaching what Christ told us to (all scripture), we are forced (by popular demand) to tone down absolutely everything about the entire service all for the sake of those who might wander in to a service one day. You see, this view makes the hearer God and dictator of the church, and God a mere spectator in someone with a “vision” building His or her (yikes) particular style of church. This is utter blasphemy, and disobedient to God Himself in so many ways.
Exegetes produce fruitful preaching and preachers
Theologians and exegetes as preachers are few and far between. For every Martyn Lloyd Jones and RC Sproul there’s a thousand Nicole Crank’s, Joel Osteen’s and Christine Caine’s already touring the globe preaching their socks off in multiple countries spreading word faith doctrine, man-made theologies and imaginations every time they open their mouth, so the task of the believer is to “filter out” the false teaching and “hold fast” to what is good (1 Thessalonians 5:12-22). This verse from 1 Thessalonians is in regard to false teaching, and as final instructions for the Thessanolican church! It is written to us also as believers in Christian churches. Our goal, when listening to a teaching, isn’t to “honour the speaker” because they “have a big church” or a “big ministry” as John Bevere patently states in his “Honour’s Reward” books – it is to simply test what they’re saying, and search the scriptures to see if what they said even remotely comes close to what the apostles, Jesus and all of scripture consistently teaches! If it doesn’t, and we find them persisting in their silly games from the pulpit week in and out – publicly in person or online – the Bible is clear: we are literally to “mark them as false” and in Romans 16:17-20 Paul says this of false teaching in his final benediction:
“I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” (ESV)
Church fathers and local pastors used to take this seriously and actually called council meetings where church leaders would get together and test heresies to see if they were in fact just that, such as the council of Arles meeting to denounce the heresy of “Donatism” which was a doctrine that demanded an extreme amount of loyalty from the church members who believed this heresy. A list of heresies we commonly need to watch for and reject have been refutes though church history centuries ago until now, such as:
Gnosticism (a “higher knowledge” is required to properly experience Christ)
Quartodecimanism: A debate over Easter dates in the early church
Montanism: The strange ramblings of Montanus who was …”prophesying that the Heavenly Jerusalem will soon descend in Phrygia, in Asia Minor.”
Monarchianism: Improperly defining the trinity as one God alone, not one God in 3 distinct, separate persons.
Arianism: The teaching that Jesus was not fully divine, but a man “anointed” by God
Monophysitism: The belief that Jesus only had one divine nature, and nothing else.
Pelagianism: The false belief that salvation is attained by good works, in one way or another.
All of these were debated, and the people who believed the heresies and were preaching them were literally cut off from the church, and condemned publicly for believing such nonsense contrary to scripture. This is frowned upon now as some kind of unkind act, and to dare question someone’s preaching and doctrine is like stepping on a little child’s freshly painted picture of a flower they just made… it’s preposterous, but this is the day in age we live in. If there heresies were not deemed as just that during these periods of church history – we’d still be preaching and teaching them today, blaspheming God and slapping our congregations across the face with man-made teachings.
Today, anything goes! I’ve attended around 7 Charismatic churches during 29 years, and to be honest at every single one I attended where I was in tune and listening to the teaching, comprehending each sermon with my Bible open I have to say that I’ve heard many, many heresies at each one. Word faith is strong in the charismatic movement. There are very, very few charismatics I know that don’t like this theology, despite it being a prevalent heresy well-known to those who do their research that it’s completely false and damnable. When I used to talk about the “health and wealth” gospel with my charismatic pastors over the years – they weren’t even aware that it was a heresy, or even a doctrinal stance on claiming lots of money and physical eternal health for the believer! And when I gave them systematic, specific, direct quotes from the perpetrators of this fraudulent theology – they simply threw it back at me and exclaimed, “who are the people writing these articles? Do they have an orphanage, a ministry team or a church?” That standard response alone is damaging to Christians everywhere, and a sure sign that your local pastor doesn’t listen to the sheep who are concerned about wolves, and certainly isn’t interested in an open, honest dialogue about theology whatsoever.
Today, preaching and scripture has been reduced to 3 things:
1. Life principles – This means that every single time the scriptures are opened and read, they’re thrust into the category of “life-improvement passages only” and only ever read as such. This reduces the Holy Scriptures to a mere self-help book, equal to, say, a Tony Robbins speaking tour or a Dr. Phil life class on how to improve your sex-life. There’s no salvation, redemption, crucified saviour, rich exposition or language studies – just “how to’s” and, “how do not’s.” Which is pure legalism.
2. A sidekick that supports the main character: the Christian – Instead of the Bible being about what Jesus said it is about – Him – we’ve reduced it to a few words written about the real hero of the millennia: us! Eisogesis is one of the most prevalent doctrines I’ve heard over the last 5 years, and it’s an epidemic. People everywhere are preaching about themselves and their church members with no regard for Jesus Christ, painting Him as some kind of worshiper of humanity and how awesome it is. Instead of the bleak, dark picture scripture paints of sinful man, we’ve cuddled safely up to the fuzzy doctrine of the Bible being a love letter to us about how great we are, and that we don’t need any silly self-esteem issues anymore. Talk about missing the point!
3. A vehicle for purpose – At the risk of sounding “orthodox” – The Bible isn’t about mankind finding his/her divine destiny! Preaching isn’t about people fulfilling dreams and getting their ideal life. Scripture is about sending out people who are regenerated by the Holy Spirit and forgiven of their sins by Jesus Christ to be ambassadors for Him – who preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins to every creature, no matter how this is done or where. God isn’t in the business of handing little anointed messiah’s their own messianic destiny – He’s in the business of reconciling the world to Himself. And He uses forgiven people to do so, using the foolishness of the gospel as the message, and seemingly unwise, unschooled people to do so! He isn’t a “destiny giver” like a divine genie – He’s a redeemer who loves forgiving wretches that call out to Him in faith and repentance!
Rick Warren, who famously ripped apart Biblical churches through his “purpose driven life/church” book series, has this to say about modern preaching methods. I hope you’re siting down, and not drinking anything:
“You can’t communicate with people until you find something you have in common with them. With the unchurched, you will not establish common ground by saying, ‘Let’s open our Bibles to Isaiah, chapter 14, as we continue our study of this wonderful book.’ The ground we have in common with unbelievers is not the Bible, but our common needs, hurts, and interests as human beings. You cannot start with a text.” (Rick Warren, The Purpose-Driven Church: Growth Without Compromising Your Message or Mission (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1995), pages 294-295).
Did you read that people? Today, in church, if you want it to be successful and large and cool, you cannot start the preaching part of your service with, “we will now open to Romans 6:12.” You must start with, “hi…how are you? Are you good? Are you happy? How are you feeling deep inside? Did your life pan out the way it should this week? No…ok…well then…um…” End of sermon. This is utterly ridiculous, blasphemous, demonic and silly to say the least. And churches everywhere have been adopting this method to draw crowds for decades. And the congregation remains silent! Why? Because they have grown up thinking that this is church! A place to have fun, be entertained, get some free babysitting and to have great coffee in a great chair. That’s it! Preaching has been reduced to principles for success, which is identical to what Jeremiah warned about in Jeremiah 23:16,17:
“Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’” (ESV)
Preaching God’s Word is not relevant anymore. It’s not even alarming anybody that it’s not being done in a reverent, correct way with a good understanding of law and gospel, hermeneutics, sound theology, good cross referencing and basic grammar! Scripture isn’t taken at face value anymore. It’s spiritualised where it isn’t meant to be, frequently quoted completely out of context, and worst of all it’s used in a ridiculous way to support people’s own imaginations and theories. And the congregations aren’t saying anything! If they do – there’s pre-built defense mechanisms to silence the critics, and words used to describe them such as “religious, critical and small-minded,” to name a few repeatable ones.
My final word here is that preaching used to exalt Jesus, convict people of their sins and then the gospel would soothe their souls and provide them with living water that never runs out. And scripture used to be treated like a sacred text that is the sole source of revelation given to the preacher for his sermons. This is no longer the case, and the simple solution is to teach your congregation and up and coming preachers how to handle scripture in a pulpit. This isn’t easy, because even modern charismatic Bible colleges regularly teach that their students are to “use scripture to interpret scripture,” but in practice in their public speaking and ministry trips they are given free rein to preach whatever they feel is right at the time, with no action taken to run the student through what exactly was wrong or could be improved with their hermeneutic or stance on a doctrine (or their ignorance of the original meaning of a verse). This simply isn’t a priority anymore.
There is an epidemic of a lack of discernment among evangelicals, and the diagnosis is laid out here – but the solution is a long and dusty road. Teaching people who have been preaching heresy for years that their faulty hermeneutic is a blasphemous disgrace isn’t exactly productive at first, so it takes a humble, graceful, direct approach to this matter to really have it sink in. Perhaps your friend that’s preaching the Song of Solomon as a sex manual could do with a gentle chat about how it is primarily a book about Jesus and the church. Perhaps that pastor that just preached a sermon on how we can be “warriors..not worriers” from Corinthians needs a gentle reminder that Corinthians is primarily about issues facing the Corinthian church in terms of idolatry and misusing the gifts of the spirit, and how it is a call for Christians to love one another. Maybe that woman down the road who pastors a church needs to lovingly be told that women were never permitted to be pastors in the New Testament, and that the qualifications for a pastor are for a man to have “studied to show himself approved,” and that he must be the …”husband of one wife, apt to teach, humble and not a drunkard.” These clear passages of scripture are the ones that largely get ignored and misused time and time again in the church, and are deliberately missed to cover up practices, behaviours and invented doctrines to disobey God without feeling guilty. That is the preposterousness of it all. The enemy’s plan is to undermine the word of God subtly, over time, until people don’t even realise that they’re church is painted black, has a female pastor and every sermon week in and out is about how to become a better person inside and out. The plan works because people have felt needs, and want them met. So Mr and Mrs pastor attempt to meet every single need the congregation has except their actual need: a real Saviour called Jesus who died in their place and rose again! Itching ears are scratched, people are happy, kids are fed and everybody goes home thinking they’ve been “fed God’s word,” when in actual fact they’ve attended a circus and been starved to death by hearing nothing preached or taught properly, and then been steered away from Jesus to distracting myths, fables & man made doctrines that damn.
So keep praying for your pastor, your church and your friend’s doctrine, that it lines up with scripture. Keep writing letters to people, emailing pastors and warning friends, and of they never ever listen & keep preaching and believing heresy (especially your pastor) – you are actually allowed to find a Biblical church. There will no doubt be one on your area: you just haven’t ever attended one yet! It may be hard, but we left an unbiblical church to find a faithful one, and have attributed it to God’s mercy.