Monday, October 31, 2016

A Needed Reformation in Pentecostal Preaching

There is a quiet buzzing that is beginning to rise from the grassroots among Pentecostal preachers.  Increasingly I am hearing a faint drum beating that is somewhat like music to my ears.  I am listening to remarks about Pentecostal preaching and its need of reformation at all levels; local, district, and national.  Our preaching has somewhat degenerated into cheerleading sessions that tout the accomplishments of the preacher or a local church or parachurch organization.  Our preaching has deteriorated into messages that take grand liberties with the text that the preacher may have read and wrested it from its true biblical context.  When we take liberties with the biblical text and take it out of context, we have basically said that what we have to say is more important than what God has to say by His Word.  It is my belief that out of context preaching is a very shrewd form of idolatry.  Furthermore,
our preaching has disintegrated into the very popular health, wealth, and prosperity messages of our times that believes that God is going to put a chicken in every pot.  Our preaching has become filled with one-liners and sound bites that show the wit and cleverness of the preacher instead of the great majesty of the Word of God.  Our preaching has gotten so bogged down in the topical approach that those preachers rarely turn over any new stones in their preaching, they simply are just rearranging material they have already learned in the distant past.  Some of our preaching has gotten to the place where that the preacher has become the showcase event instead of the God and His Word.  My brothers. . . these things ought not be so!

One of the greatest tests of all preaching should be to boil down the message completely.  Remove all the personal references, the anecdotal stories, and the enlightening illustrations and see what is left.  If a fifty-minute message is boiled down and there is only about 15-20 minutes of solid biblical preaching left in it, it cannot be defined as biblical preaching.  It may be called a motivational speech, a pep-talk, or a social commentary but it certainly cannot be pressed into the mold of a biblical message.  We as preachers should routinely put our preaching through the rigorous testing mode that I have mentioned.  In the distant past one of the great marks of a quality product was for it to have the Good Housekeeping stamp of approval on it.  It was something that most manufacturers sought on their work.  As a preacher, we should seek the same approval on our preaching as well.     

But there are a few out there who are slowly discovering the absolute power of simply preaching the Word.  Those few hardy souls are watching the remarkable ability of the Word to do its work instead of having to lean on the personality and charisma of the preacher.  They are in a small majority but if I have my part to play in it, I am going to do my best to move apostolic preachers toward expository or verse-by-verse preaching over the next few years.  We can do no better than to preach the Word as it is laid out to us in God’s Book.  God gave us a Book called the Bible and he told us to preach it.  When we dig into the Word there are several things that happens to the preacher and the church that hears him preach. 

Doing this will be no small feat because it is going to require a paradigm shift in our thinking.  It also is going to require the necessary discipline to get a grip on an out of control schedule.  First, our thinking must change because for too long we have looked at this kind of preaching as that which has been the norm for denominational preachers.  But it is my contention that expository preaching goes all the way back to Acts 20 when Paul was leaving the Ephesian elders.  He told them that he had given them the whole counsel of God which meant he had preached the entire book to the church at Ephesus.  Paul was setting the example for apostolic preaching at that point.  We perhaps got ruined by reading too many sermon books 40-50 years ago and felt it was justifiable to take those sermons and tweak them a bit and preach them.  That is what moved us away from Word preaching and it has hurt us.  Second, a matter that may be the most difficult to change is the preacher’s schedule.  If you are going to be an expositor, you must get a rigorous grip on your schedule especially if you are full-time in the ministry.  Hours on end are wasted that could be put to profitable study time.  I have come to observe that study time is that which includes constant interaction with the Lord in His Word and being on your knees pleading for God to put what you have found in the Word into your soul.  For those few of you who are starting to find out about the power of this kind of preaching, my hat is off to you and my encouragement is there as well.  Just do it!     
One of the reasons we need a reformation in apostolic preaching is because of what it forces the preacher to do.  It forces him into the Word like he may have never been pushed into it before.  Expository preaching calls for a man to honor the divine revelation of Scripture.  Therefore, when he comes to the text, he cannot think, “This text seems to say such and so.”  He will look at the text and he will be compelled to say, “This text states clearly such and so.”  There is no equivocation in the Scriptures and this is what creates the authority of an apostolic preacher in the pulpit.  This kind of preparation leads to him becoming more adept at cross-referencing.  Truth is then derived from a variety of texts instead of certain proof-texts that only to shore up his own prejudices or pre-conceived ideas.  This will make matters of salvation, principles of holiness, and qualifications for ministry to be very clear in our minds.  When a preacher is forced to deal with a text in that manner, what a commentary, or a study help, or even Brother So-and-So has to say, is unimportant.  While commentaries, study helps, and even skilled teachers are significant and have their part to play, at the end of the day, they matter little when they are stacked up against the authority of Scripture.  If there is a high view of Scripture, the controversial matters that are cleared up very easily by the simplicity of Scripture. 

Another reason that there is a reformation needed in apostolic preaching is for the sake of bringing doctrinal preaching back to the forefront.  Recently I did a very unscientific study on apostolic preaching.  I took the main three apostolic preaching apps and listened to all day long to a host of sermons.  When I had finally recovered my sensibilities, I cannot remember a single message over an 8-10 hour period that was doctrinal in nature.  The bulk of it was what I have commonly began to refer to as “atta boy!” preaching.  That kind of preaching is primarily the preaching that is the old felt-need preaching that tries to tell folk that they need to keep going and they will make it through their problems.  “Atta Boy!  You can make it!”  There were a few messages mixed in that were vision-casting sorts of dream-casting American dream things that ran the range from church growth to personal accomplishment.  There were some “holiness” sermons mixed in that took pot shots at television, ball-games, and Facebook and social media but otherwise missing the whole matter of holiness being the awe and reverence of God.  When we preach holiness with the overarching theme of the awe and reverence of God, you will find people doing everything in their power to rid themselves of the beggarly elements of the world.  There were even one or two sermons that were preached by philosophers who attempted to “go deep” but in the “going deep” their obfuscations muddied up the simplicity of the Scriptures.  The apostolic church needs preaching that is doctrinally sound and has great authority in it.  It does not need to be watered down by such shallow showings.  There are a few out there who are beginning to see the power of expository preaching because it turns them into biblical, doctrinal preaching.  There is a famine in the land of doctrinal preaching and we need to make the turn back toward it if our pulpits are going to be anointed by the power of the Holy Spirit.

John Broadus in his classic work, On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons, that is more than 100 years old wrote:

For the Scripture to have value for preaching and for the preacher’s text to become God’s message, the Bible must be interpreted correctly.  To interpret and apply his text in accordance with its real meaning is one of the preacher’s most sacred duties.  He stands before the people for the very purpose of teaching and exhorting them out of the Word of God.  He announces a particular passage of God’s Word as his text with the distinctly implied understanding form this his sermon will be drawn.  By using a text and undertaking to develop and apply its teachings, he is solemnly bound to represent the text as meaning precisely what it does mean.   

Another reason that there is a needed reformation in apostolic preaching is because of what takes place in the preacher’s soul.  A man who is preparing to preach and is in constant interaction with the text will have what I call a sanctifying effect.  Sanctification or the act of becoming holy is crucial in my life as a preacher.  Holiness is something that is imperative in its development in the life of every preacher.  Just because a preacher has a calling it does not preclude that he will be a holy man.  Holiness in its final work is that which is leading us to becoming more Christ-like in our character, our work, and our spirit.  If there is a steady interaction with the biblical text he cannot help to either be changed by his work or he will be required to advance a state of a hard heart so that the Word has no effect on him.  Recently, I was working through 1 Peter 5 and came to the command to be clothed in humility and I was thunderstruck by that text.  For those who have the proclivities to drink a tall glass of self-importance every morning before they beginning their ministry of leaping tall buildings, you should do what is holy and cloth yourself in humility.  This is just another small nugget that was dropped into my soul in the matter of personal holiness.  This has happened to me so many times over the years as I have meditated on a passage of Scripture that I was about to preach on. 

I want to do everything I possibly can to encourage men to become biblical expositors and do the hard work of preaching so that our churches can experience the life-giving message of the Word. 

Thanks for reading. . .               

10 comments:

James Willoughby said...

My brother, you nailed this one solidly! My respect for your scholarship and preaching grows every day. Thanks for setting the bar high for us. I want to go there!

John Carroll said...

Tremendous!

I couldn't agree more.

Bryan Aaron said...

An expositor cares little if his audience says, “What a great sermon” or “What an entertaining speaker.” What he truly wants them to say is, “Now I know what that passage means,” or “I better understand who God is and what He requires of me.”

scott phillips said...

"Preach the Word!"

Abe Dillman said...

I absolutely love this article, Bro. Harrelson! The message needs to be heralded from the housetops all across our movement. I, too, have been wearied by topical preaching. I believe it has its place but I don't feel it should dominate our pulpits. Expository teaching and preaching is indeed challenging in its preparation. Let's let the text speak for itself! Again, great job with this article.

Blessings,
Bro. Dillamn

Abe Dillman said...

This message needs to be heralded from the housetops within our movement! Great article, Bro. Harrelson. I, too, am wearied from the menagerie of topical sermons that are thrown together which dishonor contextual meaning. Expository preaching and teaching is indeed challenging to both preacher and listener alike. Again, great job with this article.

Blessings,
Bro. A. Dillman

T Ritchie said...

I'm glad I can honestly say that my Pastor does Preach from the word. He also has a Bishop he takes counsel with when needed.

Philip Harrelson said...

Thanks much for all of the comments and positive remarks... I realize this is a sensitive subject but it bears discussion.... The emperor has no clothes and we can't continue to act like he is wearing a new suit... God Bless

Eric Bolenbaucher said...

Excellent post. Absolutely true. We need Biblical Apostolic preaching more than ever before. Thank you for the reminder to remain consistent in The Word.

theress said...

I have sat under line by line Reform expository preaching as well as under personal anecdotes and personal applications of typical Pentecostal preaching. It is my opinion we need BOTH- preferably combined within the same sermon. Each withers on the vine without the other.