Summary: To qualify as worship, our corporate religious activities must include sound preaching. To fail to include this vital aspect of worship is to condemn our congregations to an insipid presence in the midst of a hostile world.
“I charge you in the presence of God and of 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, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”
Contemporary preaching can be defined in too many instances as “McNugget Theology.” McNugget theology gives a few spicy thoughts instead of demanding intellectual rigour. Perhaps such preaching reflects the dumbing down of contemporary society; or perhaps it demonstrates that modern preachers have grown lazy. Perhaps modern congregations will not tolerate being compelled to grapple with the deep truths of God’s divine Word; or perhaps those who occupy the sacred desk no longer are willing to demand the best of those in the pews. Nevertheless, the failure to dig into the Word of God, demanding that the hearers grapple with the demands of the revealed will of God, exposes both the preacher and the congregation to censure from the True and Living God.
Contemporary Christians increasingly appear to demand entertainment as worship. To a distressing extent, this desire to be amused is evident in the demand for multimedia presentations instead of exposition of the Word of God. This expectation is increasingly evident in the selection of praise music on the basis of rhythm and musical titillation at the expense of doctrinal accuracy. It does not seem an impossible task, in my estimate, to have both musical excellence and doctrinal accuracy; but if a choice must be made, let us always seek doctrinal fidelity.
The Apostle warned that the time is coming—I must wonder whether it has now arrived—“when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.” Many years ago, the godly editor of the Alliance Weekly, A. W. Tozer, saw that the churches were attempting to amuse people into the Kingdom of God. This good man decried elders and deacons who insisted that if churches only showed more movies, provided “Christian” dance, presented more lively music, the lost would then flock to the churches.
On one occasion, the saintly savant wrote, “Pastors and churches in our hectic times are harassed by the temptation to seek size at any cost and to secure by inflation what they cannot gain by legitimate growth. The mixed multitude cries for quantity and will not forgive a minister who insists upon solid values and permanence. Many a man of God is being subjected to cruel pressure by the ill-taught members of his flock who scorn his slow methods and demand quick results and a popular following regardless of quality. These children play in the marketplaces and cannot overlook the affront we do them by our refusal to dance when they whistle or to weep when they out of caprice pipe a sad tune. They are greedy for thrills, and since they dare no longer seek them in the theatre, they demand to have them brought into the church.”
Blunt in his assessment, it is easy to see why he became increasingly unpopular with the passing of years. What at first was refreshingly honest became irksome as the listeners resisted the Word and its impact in their lives. At one point, it was said that Tozer had addressed more Christian conferences than any other speaker then serving among the churches. By the end of his ministry, he was unwelcomed by the committees planning those same conferences. Prophetic preaching was unpopular among the churches at that time. Time has not changed popular opinion in the churches; prophetic preaching is still odious to the religious elite of this day.
THE CHARGE — “Preach the word.” I have often pondered Paul’s assertion that “God was pleased to save those who believe by the foolishness of preaching” [1 CORINTHIANS 1:21]. The Apostle’s use of the phrase, “the foolishness of preaching” fascinates me—it is lively and evocative. Since this phrase was used also in the KING JAMES VERSION of the Bible, I have been familiar with it since my earliest days as a follower of the Son of God.
“The foolishness of preaching,” conveys a concept that is liable to misunderstanding. In VERSE TWENTY-ONE of this Corinthian Letter, it is kērugma, the message heralded that is rejected. In VERSE TWENTY-THREE, it is kēruxìs, the act of heralding that is ridiculed by the world; the proclamation is declared to be “moronic” [morían]. The Greek indicates that it is both the content of the message that is preached and the event of preaching itself that is considered as folly by those outside the Faith. Both the message and the act are offensive to the unconverted; and since the churches of Christendom appear to be increasingly composed of unregenerate people, we should not be surprised that those in attendance at the services of the churches would find strong doctrine offensive. People want a “nice” preacher who delivers a “tame” message.