Is Preaching Obsolete?
Many people in our day view the authoritative preaching of the Word of God in
the same way they view the telegraph. Both, they feel, are outmoded and
obsolete. "Why tap out our message in archaic Morse code when we have the
advanced inventions of the fax machine, cellular phones, and e-mail?" Likewise,
"Why grind out the gospel through the tedious instrument of preaching when we
have available the sleek methods of dramatic and musical productions, multimedia
slide presentations, and town meeting-like group discussions?" Unfortunately,
many Christians and churches treat authoritative preaching as an embarrassing
relic from a bygone era.
God thinks otherwise. After His baptism, "Jesus came into Galilee, preaching
the gospel of God" (Mark 1:14). "He appointed twelve, that they might be with
Him, and that He might send them out to preach" (Mark 3:14). The Spirit's
coming at Pentecost issued in Peter's preaching a mighty sermon (Acts 2:14ff.).
Paul and Barnabas evangelized sinners and edified saints by preaching to them
(Acts 13:5; 14:7, 21, etc.). With the final dying strokes of Paul's pen, he
wrote to young Timothy, "I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and Christ
Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His
kingdom; preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke,
exhort, with great patience and instruction" (2 Timothy 4:1-2).
The authoritative preaching of the Word is the "Cannon of the Kingdom." It is
God's primary appointed weapon in spreading the gospel and strengthening His
people. By the Spirit, preaching tears down strongholds of the enemy by
directly confronting the consciences of men with the truth of God. In the
faithfully preached exposition of the Scriptures, we can hear the voice of God
(1 Thessalonians 2:13). We ought to settle for nothing less than that blessed
When the Lion Roars
Not long ago, some dear Christians fled from their church home of many years
because a mouse had replaced the lion. That is to say, conversation had
replaced preaching. Their church's new pastor had removed the pulpit from the
platform. He replaced it with four bar stools upon which sat four church
members who discussed religious issues with their pastor while he sat
cross-legged at their feet. The fleeing Christians reported that this
innovation was the crowning touch in the pastor's bid to banish any hint of
authoritative preaching from the church. He told the congregation that church
growth experts believe the conversational "open-forum" approach better appeals
to the appetites of modern men who don't appreciate being "preached at."
The Apostle foresaw this trend centuries ago. That's why he wrote to Timothy,
"I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus . . . preach
the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with
great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not
endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will
accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires"
(2 Timothy 4:1-3). To Titus he wrote, "These things speak and exhort and
reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you" (Titus 2:15). To the
early church which was filled with many aspiring "teachers" who burned to share
their own opinions in the public worship, James wrote, "Let everyone be quick to
hear, slow to speak . . . . in humility receive the Word implanted, which is
able to save your souls" (James 3:1; 1:19-21).
When the lion roars, the forest is silent. When the God of heaven speaks in the
preaching of His Word, His creatures are to humbly listen. May the Lord grant
us a fresh baptism of faithful authoritative preaching.
Sweet and Awful
In the early 18th century, the famous hymn writer Isaac Watts wrote a hymn that
began with the words, "How sweet and awful is the place with Christ within the
doors." He was referring to the profound presence of Christ among His people as
they are gathered for public worship. Watts understood what many have forgotten
in our day-that where two or three are gathered in Christ's name (i.e. as the
church), there He is in their midst (Matthew 18:20). This profound reality is
sweet, in that our blessed Redeemer walks among us in worship as the Friend of
sinners kindling a boldness before the throne of grace. His presence is also
awful, in that our ascended Lord walks among us in worship as a majestic king
whose eyes are as fire, from whose mouth comes a sharp two-edged sword,
inspiring in us a reverent awe and fear.
John the apostle also understood this sweetness and awfulness. In the upper
room he confidently reclined on Jesus' breast (John 13:23.) On the isle of
Patmos, he fearfully fell at his glorified Lord's feet as a dead man
(Revelation 1:17). The Old Testament speaks of the seraphim covering their
faces and feet in the presence of the enthroned thrice-holy God (Isaiah 6:1ff.),
and the intense joy of David before the ark (2 Samuel 6:14-15).
In view of these truths, what elements ought to characterize the public worship
of our God? Shall we be casual, careless, noisy, funny, light, sleepy,
halfhearted, impatient, and laid back? May it never be! Rather we must
cultivate an atmosphere in public worship that is solemn, quiet, earnest,
joyful, fearful, confident, serious, attentive, sweet and awful. May God keep
us from the modern plague of casual superficiality, and may He implant in us a
spiritual appetite for the sweet and the awful.
A few years ago, an article entitled "Mighty Fortresses: Megachurches Strive to
be All Things to All Parishioners" appeared in the Wall Street Journal. The
article described how a certain church staged a Sunday evening wrestling match
featuring the church staff, who had been trained by a professional to "pull
hair, kick shins, and throw bodies around without doing any real harm". How can
this and other modern innovations such as Super Bowl services, Singing Christmas
Trees, and dramatic theatre be justified in the public worship of God on the
Lord's Day? Church growth experts justify such gimmicks as the application of a
"consecrated pragmatism" which encourages us to use whatever techniques bring
the best statistical results. If an entertaining activity brings in crowds of
sinners, let's use it in worshiping God!
The Word of God, however, declares the Lord's anger against methods of
worshiping Him which are the inventions of men. God considers all methods of
worship not specifically prescribed by His Word as "strange fire." This truth
is strikingly depicted in Leviticus chapters 8-10. Here, the priestly
ordination and tabernacle institution were conducted very carefully with the
refrain "just as the Lord had commanded Moses" repeated over twenty times.
This reverent submission to God in worship, bringing only what He had asked for,
resulted in "the glory of the Lord appearing to all the people" (9:23). Notice
what happened next however when men invented their own approach to God in
worship. "Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took thier respective
firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered
strange fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. And fire came
out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the
Lord" (10:1-2). The lesson is clear. Human pragmatism in worship is a stench
in the nostrils of God! Let us examine our own practices in the light of the
Scriptures and see that we bring to God only what He calls for and thus what is
pleasing in His sight.
One of the sad consequences of the influence of modern technology on the
Christian church has been the effort to make the church "user-friendly." The
user-friendly philosophy calls us to make our churches comfortable and appealing
to the unbeliever, making him feel as if he is at home in familiar surroundings.
It persuades us to conform our public worship to meet the needs and hold the
attention of a generation that has been raised on television. In 1955, as A. W.
Tozer witnessed the introduction of such things as dramatic skits, glitzy
special music, and religious comedians into the public worship of God, he
lamented, "The church appears to have decided that if she cannot conquer the
great god Entertainment, she may as well join forces with him and make what use
she can of his powers."
Tozer reflects the mind of God in this matter. God warned the Israelites before
they entered Canaan to avoid conforming to the pagan styles of living and
worshiping. "Beware that you are not ensnared to follow them, . . . saying,
'How do these nations serve their gods, that I also may do likewise?'"
(Deuteronomy 12:30). The church has pitiably backslidden into a sad state when
she finds her methods of worshiping God in the pop habits of its pagan
surroundings, instead of in the unchanging authority of the Word of God. That
Word tells us to bring to Him in worship only those activities He has asked for,
not what the worldlings crave. "Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to
do; you shall not add to nor take away from it" (Deuteronomy 12:32).
User-friendliness may be a wise approach in designing computers that will sell,
but not in worshiping the living God. Let us give Him the reverence which He
deserves by bringing into His worship only what He requires.
Bored with God?
If the church of Jesus Christ begins to sacrifice reverent worship and faithful
preaching of God's Word for entertainment, a couple of questions are in order.
First, when it comes to the unconverted, what good purpose does attracting
crowds to church serve if the drawing card is fun and amusement? The Apostle
Paul envisioned a worship service in which the Spirit of God was so powerfully
present and active in the ministry of the Word that the response of an
unbeliever would be to be "convinced" and "convicted," having the "secrets of
his heart revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and
report that God is truly among you" (1 Corinthians 14:24-25). But how likely
is such a scenario when our conscious goal is to elicit a smile and a warm
feeling rather than conviction of sin and repentance? We may entertain and
possibly even perform the societal good of keeping people off the streets, but
we are unlikely to see the salvation of many souls.
And when it comes to Christians, what does a user-friendly philosophy reveal
about the character of a church's members? And what depth of faith is such an
approach likely to cultivate in churchgoers? A. W. Tozer had this observation:
Without Biblical authority, or any other right under the sun, carnal religious
leaders have introduced a host of attractions that serve no purpose except to
provide entertainment for the retarded saints. It is now common practice in
most evangelical churches to offer the people, especially the young people, a
maximum of entertainment and a minimum of serious instruction. . . . One can
only conclude that God's people are bored with Him, for they must be wooed to
meeting with a stick of striped candy in the form of religious movies, games
May God have mercy on His church in our day. And may He grant that rather
than dropping to her knees in laughter, the church will drop to her knees in
repentance and prayer for God-sent reformation.
It may appear to some that we have been making a case in this article for
worship that is utterly bereft of any joy or gladness. But that is far from
the case! The point is simply that the God of the Bible calls for worship that
is both reverent and joyful. As the psalmist wrote, "Serve the Lord with fear,
And rejoice with trembling" (Psalm 2:11).
But how do we combine godly joy with a godly fear? We must first remember
that, according to the Bible, joy is not to be confused with giddiness,
carelessness, and irreverence. According to Galatians 5:22-23, self-control
is as much a fruit of the Spirit as is joy.
Also, we must remember that godly joy is not incompatible with reverence in
worship. Rather, joy is the product and the companion of reverence in worship.
The Lord said that, if His people would honor Him by worshiping Him on the day
which He prescribed in the way which He prescribed-that is, with reverence-"Then
you shall delight yourself in the Lord" (Isaiah 58:13-14).
Furthermore, just as pagan worship and man-made worship are a stench in God's
nostrils, so is joyless worship displeasing to Him! The same Scriptures that
forbid our worshiping the Lord with the use of images also require that we
"Make a joyful shout to the Lord" and "serve the Lord with gladness" (Psalm
100:1-2). And they condemn the one who goes through the outward motions of
worship but inwardly cannot wait till the service is over (Amos 8:4-5)!
Finally, the heart of a true child of God is a heart that longs for the pure
Word of God more than for a diversion or a laugh. As the psalmist wrote,
"The law of Your mouth is better to me than thousands of coins of gold and
silver" (Psalm 119:72). In fact, the genuine Christian is grieved when he is
deprived of the pure milk of the Word for the sake of various other
distractions: "My soul breaks with longing for Your judgments at all times"
(Psalm 119:20; cf. John 2:13-17). Such a soul would weep if it were announced
that a Super Bowl party would replace the preaching of God's Word on a Sunday
evening. May God implant such a heart in us all.