Summary: Modern churches often fail to worship because they do not recognise the centrality of preaching for worship. We would do well to recall the instruction Paul gave Timothy.
THE MINISTRY OF THE WORD IN EVIL DAYS
“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.”
Let your conscience be your guide. If it feels good, do it. Follow your heart. Consciously or unconsciously, maxims such as these provide direction for our lives, even though we may not always think of them as proverbs. Adages that become common with a given population reflect the received knowledge of that society. It is almost as though such aphorisms are a polite way of saying, “everybody knows.” Saws like these serve to justify the attitudes and actions of far too many people, including the professed people of God.
Just so, McNugget theology has replaced preaching in modern churches. McNugget theology gives a few spicy thoughts instead of demanding intellectual rigour. Christians increasingly demand entertainment; to a distressing extent, this desire to be amused is reflected through multimedia presentations instead of exposition of the Word. This expectation is increasingly evident in the choice 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 “when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.” I wonder whether that time has now arrived. Years ago, A. W. Tozer saw that the churches were attempting to amuse people into the Kingdom of God. That godly man decried elders and deacons who insisted that if churches only had 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.”
These words explain why he became increasingly unpopular as the years passed. What at first was refreshingly honest became tiresome as the listeners resisted the Word and its work 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 excluded from more conferences than any speaker then living. Prophetic preaching was unpopular among the churches of that bygone era. Time has not changed the popular assessment—prophetic preaching is still unpopular.
THE CHARGE — “Preach the word.” When Paul writes of “the foolishness of preaching” in 1 CORINTHIANS 1:21, I am truly fascinated. I have frequently pondered the thought that “God was pleased to save those who believe by the foolishness of preaching.” The concept is lively and evocative. In my early years of faith I used the KING JAMES VERSION of the Bible, so I have been familiar with the phrase since my conversion to Christ.
However, the phrase, “the foolishness of preaching” conveys a concept that is liable to misunderstanding. In 1 CORINTHIANS 1:21, it is kērugma, the message heralded that is rejected; in 1 CORINTHIANS 1:23, 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 of preaching itself are offensive to the unconverted; and since the churches of Christendom are increasingly composed of unregenerate people, we should not be surprised that those in attendance at our services find strong doctrine offensive.