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7 Steps to Restoring a Powerful Pulpit
Leslie Holmes more from this author »
Not long ago, I heard a noted theologian say preaching has fallen on hard times and that preaching is on the way out. "There is no power in modern pulpits," he insisted. I quickly dismissed his thesis about the end of preaching with Scripture's encouragement: "Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe" (1 Cor. 1:20-21).
Having said that, we do live in a time of uncertain trumpeting (1 Cor. 14:8). As I pondered his message further, I concluded that whether we agree with him there are seven great gospel certainties without which our preaching power always will be soft. Of Christ's message it was recorded, "The crowds were astonished at His teaching, for He spoke as One who had authority" (Matt. 7:28-29). What are these seven great gospel certainties that supercharge the authority of preaching that is powerless?
The first is the certainty of the gospel's Word, the Holy Scripture! When we lose confidence in Scripture, our preaching always automatically will enter a spiritual landslide. Nobody can be confident about a message of uncertain source. In His final great prayer for us, Jesus affirmed the foundation of His personal confidence: "Sanctify them in the truth; Your Word is truth" (John 17:17). Before that, it was Isaiah's certainty: "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever" (Isa. 40:8).
Paul echoes the same sentiment: "I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you…that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:4). Preaching that is not inspired by and founded on the authority of Scripture will not do what it needs to do for God or the people who hear it.
Our second certainty is the certainty that God is the gospel's Author. Again, we find the confirmation in the inspired words from Paul's writings: "I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel…I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ" (Gal. 1:11-12). "We also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the Word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the Word of God" (1 Thess. 2:13). Peter also affirmed this: "No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Pet. 1:21).
Our preaching's power diminishes in the third place when we lose the certainty of Jesus Christ as the gospel's substance: "He who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son to me, in order that I might preach Him" (Gal. 1:15-16). "Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified" (1 Cor. 1:23). Jewish scholar Paul knew there was only one message we preach, and the message is Jesus. We have one message delivered in a different envelope every time we preach!
Fourth, power-filled preaching always will hold to what I like to call "The Certainty of the Preacher's A-B-Cs." You remember the ABCs, the very first things we learned when our formal education began? Everything else we learned or will ever learn, whether in language, mathematics, science or humanities, is built on our knowing the basics of ABC.
Paul's preaching ABCs are encapsulated in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4: "I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you…and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you…I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins (i.e., A for Atonement!) in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried (i.e., B for Burial!) that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (i.e., C for the Contemporariness of Christ who is alive today!)." As surely as these were the foundation of everything Paul preached, so also they must be our preaching ABCs if our preaching would maintain its Holy Spirit power.
The certainty of grace as the gospel's foundational characteristic is the fifth key to restoring power to our preaching: "I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24). Without grace, our message ultimately is no different from that of the Rabbi or Imam. With grace, our message has an unequalled thrust that sets its Leader apart from every other message ever preached.
After this comes justification by faith as the gospel's certain way of salvation. This is the sixth key to restoring effective power-filled preaching. "I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith…‘The just shall live by faith'" (Rom. 1:16-17).
These six certain keys lead us to the seventh mighty gospel certainty: the certainty of comfort for believers. Paul wrote, "We know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose…I am certain that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:28, 38-39).
There is no comfort in an uncertain message for either preacher or hearer. Like Ezekiel's watchman over old Israel, you and I are called to raise the sound of a certain trumpet, not a squeaky and timid one. Pray that whether we agree with the speaker whose delivery first inspired this column, God would raise up a new generation of powerful preachers who would raise their voices for the Savior in these spiritually dry and parched times. Furthermore, let us each volunteer to be the first among them, echoing Isaiah in the temple, "Here am I, send me!" (Isa. 6:8).