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Summary: Thoughts on preaching

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When a person is called to “trial preach”, he has a dilemma. How can he go into a church that he doesn't know in a community that he doesn't know and preach a sermon that is relevant to people he doesn't know? I'm at an advantage here because I live in this community and I'm active in it. I've been in this church and know it's history and I know many of you. But, I've been a pastoral candidate in churches I didn't know. A few years ago I was a candidate at a church just outside Waco, Texas. It had been a while since I preached, so I prepared what I thought was a great sermon. Well, I preached that sermon and it went a little longer than I expected, which concerned me a little. I was standing at the doors of the church after the service to shake hands with the congregants when one of the members of the pulpit committee came up and exulted, “Well preacher, that was an exhilarating and refreshing sermon!” That eased my concerns and I was about to thank him when he added, “Why I felt like a new man when I woke up.” Because the pastor's preaching is the most important factor in the health and growth of a church, you are right in asking your prospective pastor to “trial preach”. But, I ask you, “How do you judge preaching?” I'd like to quote a couple of famous preachers in my own answer to that question.

C.H. Spurgeon “Prince of Preachers”

Paul writes, “Jews demand miraculous signs.” They said, “Moses performed miracles; let us see miracles performed, and then we will believe,” forgetting that all the miracles that Moses did were completely eclipsed by those which Jesus did. Then there were certain Judaizing teachers who, in order to win the Jews, preached circumcision, exalted the Passover, and endeavored to prove that Judaism might still exist side by side with Christianity, and that the old rites might still be practiced by the followers of Christ. So Paul, who was “all things to all men so that by all possible means he might save some,” put his foot down, and said, in effect, “Whatever others may do, we preach Christ crucified; we dare not, we cannot, and we will not alter the great subject matter of our preaching, Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

Then he added, “and Greeks look for wisdom.” Corinth was the very eye of Greece, and the Corinthian Greeks sought after what they regarded as wisdom; that is to say, the wisdom of this world, not the wisdom of God, which Paul preached. The Greeks also treasured the memory of the eloquence of Demosthenes and other famous public speakers, and they seemed to think that true wisdom must be proclaimed with the graces of skillful elocution; but Paul writes to these Corinthian Greeks, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but with the demonstration of the Spirit and of power; that your faith would not be based in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”

Now, today, there are some who would be glad, if we would preach anything except Christ crucified. Perhaps the most dangerous among them are those who are continually crying out for intellectual preaching, by which they mean preaching which neither the heavens nor the preachers themselves can comprehend, the kind of preaching which has little or nothing to do with the scriptures, and which requires a dictionary rather than a Bible to explain it. These are the people who are continually running around, and asking, “Have you heard our minister? He gave us a wonderful sermon last Sunday morning; he quoted Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin, and he gave us some charming pieces of poetry, in fact, it was overall an intellectual treat.” Yes, and I have usually found that such intellectual treats lead to the ruination of souls; that is not the kind of preaching that God generally blesses to the salvation of souls, and therefore, even though others may preach the philosophy of Plato or adopt the arguments of Aristotle, we preach Christ crucified,” the Christ who died for sinners, the people’s Christ, and “we preach Christ crucified” in simple language, in plain speech such which the common people can understand.

Henry Ward Beecher congregationalist preacher who achieved celebrity status as America's greatest preacher in the 1860's

There is a great scale of motives which influence men, and which may, in their own rank and place, be addressed to men for the production of right conduct. We may attempt to dissuade men from evil by the intrinsic hatefulness of evil. We may attempt to persuade men to a course of holiness on account of the beauty of holiness. We may teach men to leave off things that are wrong, and to revolt from them because they are wrong. We may teach men to follow that which is good because goodness is attractive to every right-minded and noble nature. In this intrinsic hatefulness of evil and attractiveness of good there is a power which we may properly employ.

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