Dangers Confronting the Church: Ineffective Preaching #2


Churches in modern times ought to be deeply concerned about the quality of preaching being done- in pulpits, on radio and on television.  Dan Chambers' excellent book, Showtime: Worship in the Age of Show Business (Nashville: 21St Century Christian, 1997), insists that our Lord's miracles were not done "simply to dazzle people and win their allegiance."  He makes this wise observation about our Lord's methods and message.  "When it came to making disciples, Jesus never tried to 'sell' Himself to the world by portraying discipleship as an exciting experience or as something that would enhance people's earthly existence.  Instead, He violated every rule of 'marketing' theory by portraying discipleship as a life of self-denial (Mt. 10:39), potential hardship, and possibly persecution (Mt. 10:17-23).  In other words, He never buried the news that discipleship came with a high price" (p. 75).  Many churches in our generation may not consider such preaching effective, but it was then and is now the kind of preaching God demands of all who would be faithful to the Lord.


            My topic today is "Ineffective Preaching."  I am not using that term of those men who do not know the King's English, who do not always use good diction, who have some kind of physical impediment, such as, stuttering or stammering.  J.D. Boyd was one of the most effective preachers it has been my privilege to know.  His life and sermons made such an impression on me that I recall topics he discussed in a meeting at my home congregation fifty-five years ago.  But J.D. Boyd had difficulty walking, standing and speaking because he had been afflicted by polio.  His face would often be contorted by his efforts to speak, but his preaching was sound, scriptural, bold and loving.  I am sure his life and preaching had a profound effect on my desire to preach the gospel.  I suspect he influenced many others in the same direction.


            Knowledge of the word and of our world is essential in our day to effective preaching, but not many young preachers begin their preaching careers with great knowledge.  Does that mean they cannot be effective preachers until they have the depth of knowledge of our older preachers?  I have known many young preachers who did great work for the Lord even though they were lacking in knowledge and experience.  After all, young preachers have to get started somewhere. Incidentally, I am grateful to those churches that gave me opportunities to preach when I was very young.  They will never know what a great encouragement they were to me in my early years in the pulpit.  I hope they overlook the blunders I made along the way.  Maybe no one was scarred for life because of those blunders.


            Ineffective preaching often involves a deliberate perversion of the scriptures.  One nationally known preacher intentionally left out part of a verse because he simply does not believe it.  He said, "Repent...for the remission of·sins."  If a preacher has reached the conclusion that baptism is not necessary for salvation, he has an obligation to show how he arrived at the conclusion.  But he is being dishonest when he quotes Acts 2:38 or any other biblical passage and deliberately leaves out a portion of the text. Could such use of the Bible be one of the reasons thousands of Americans have little or no respect for God's word?  Nobody has a right to use the scriptures in such a fashion.


            The same preacher quoted (or rather, misquoted) Mark's record of the Great Commission.  He quoted Jesus as saying, "He who believes...shall be saved" (Mk. 16:16). There is no doubt the preacher believes that, but does he have a right to remove baptism from the Lord's Great Commission?  Twisting the scriptures will bring destruction on those who do it (2 Pet. 3: 16).  How can anyone respect a preacher who attempts to make the scriptures mean what he wants them to mean?


            Jim Woodroof's book, The Church in Transition (Searcy, AR: The Bible Book House, Inc., 1990), criticizes the use of logic in dealing with biblical issues.  He affirms: "These very children who come from our homes are not interested in points of doctrine arrived at by syllogism instead of a 'thus saith the Lord"' (p. 16).  How utterly ridiculous to use logic to condemn the use of logic, but that is precisely what Jim does, although his logic is seriously flawed.  It is absolutely essential that we use logic in our study of the scriptures and in our preaching.  For example, each person must reason to the position that the scriptures apply to him these 2,000 years this side of Pentecost.  I have searched the scriptures and preached them for more than fifty-six years and have never found my name in them.  Do I not have to use logic to arrive at the conclusion that the word of God applies to me and to Jim and to all other modern people?


            Jim says our young people are not interested in points of doctrine arrive at by syllogism. Did Jim conduct a survey to discover the interests of our young people? If that is what many of our young people believe, it is a sign that their understanding is seriously deficient. One simple illustration will have to suffice. Paul determined not to know anything but Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2).  Whatever you read in his epistles and in his sermons in Acts of the Apostles must be categorized unto the topic, "Christ and Him Crucified," since that was all Paul was going to know.  How can a man preach what he does not know?  Is my reasoning valid in this simple illustration?  Is it illegitimate to use our reasoning as I have just done?


            The Lord gave us minds to use in reasoning about his word. Paul's pleas to the Roman Christians must not be disregarded. "I beseech you therefore, brethren, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.  And be not conformed to this world: but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God" (Rom. 12:1-2).  Two expressions in these verses demand further attention. The English word "reasonable" comes from the Greek logikos. You do not have to be a Greek scholar to know that our word "logical" comes from this Greek word. Dr. A.T. Robertson's books, Word Studies in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1 931), says the expression, "Your reasonable service," means "Your rational (spiritual) service (worship).... The phrase means here 'worship rendered by the reason (or soul)"' (volume 4, p. 402).  Does that sound to you as if human reason is out of order? The second expression is "the renewing of the mind."  If God does not expect us to use our minds to reason about the Bible, what difference does it make whether we renew our minds?  The truth which every serious Bible student ought to know is stated very simply in Philippians 2.  "Let this mind (or thinking) be in you which was also in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 2:5).  My friends, reasoning about the scriptures is not an option for Christians; it is absolutely essential and unavoidable. We must make sure we are reasoning correctly.


            The apostle Peter wanted the early Christians and us to know and to obey the Lord's word.  In fact, 2 Peter continually uses the word "know." Peter instructed his readers: "Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that you may grow thereby" (1 Pet. 2: 1-2).  The word "sincere" is the Greek word logikos-the same word translated "reasonable" in Romans 12:1.  W.E. Vine's book, An Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1984), says the Greek word means "pertaining to the reasoning faculty, reasonable, rational.... The sacrifice is to be intelligent, in contrast to those offered by ritual or compulsion; the presentation is to be in accordance with the spiritual intelligence of those who are new creatures in Christ and are mindful of 'the mercies of God"' (p. 925).


            One of Jim Woodroof's most disturbing accusations against churches of Christ is that many of them are "doctrine-exalting" "directed at the intellect of the religious rather than a Christ-exalting movement directed at the heart of the unchurched" (pp. 31-32). Must this be an either/or proposition?  Can we not exalt doctrine and Jesus at the same time?  Is it possible to exalt Jesus and not exalt the doctrine he and the apostles taught?  Is it significant that the two Greek words translated "doctrine"-didaskalia and didache-are used fifty-one times in the New Testament? Fourteen of those times are in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  If exalting doctrine were so bad, why did Jesus say, "My doctrine is not mine, but his who sent me.  If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself" John 7: 16-17)?


            Paul uses some form of the word "doctrine" twenty-five times.  Sometimes he uses the word of the doctrines of men and even of demons, but that in no way detracts from true or sound doctrine.  Paul admonished Timothy: "Until I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine… Take heed to yourself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this, you shall both save yourself, and them who hear you" (1 Tim. 4:13, 16).  Would Jim Woodroof accuse Paul of exalting doctrine and not exalting Christ? The preaching of Bible doctrine must be directed both to alien sinners and to Christians. We cannot neglect either and still preach the whole counsel of God.  How tragic that modern preachers and theologians downplay what Christ and his disciples exalted!


            Jim Woodroof says that gospel preachers have majored in "effect material" and not in "cause material."  If that language is new to you--as it was to me when I first read Jim's book--I shall explain what he had in mind.  "Effect material" refers to Acts, the epistles and Revelation. He says gospel preachers have dwelled on these sections of the New Testament to the neglect of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  There are some very serious problems with Jim's assertions. Has he conducted a survey among gospel preachers to determine what they have preached?  After reading Jim's book, I did a survey of my own preaching for about ten years preceding the publication of his book.  I found that I had preached approximately 50% of my sermons during that time on Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  Is that the right balance between what Jim calls "effect material" and "cause material?"  Unless Jim has supernatural knowledge, he cannot make such a judgment.  I have tried-and I believe most gospel preachers try-to be balanced in the preaching of the word.  It is not an easy task, but I honestly believe most of us have done our best to be balanced in our preaching.


            Using expressions like "effect material" and "cause material" does nothing but confuse. Every book in the Bible has come from the mind of almighty God.  It was designed to furnish us completely unto every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). What biblical passage a preacher discusses in his sermons depends on the situation.  Some churches are well acquainted with the gospel records, but know less about the book of Acts, the epistles and Revelation. Others may have relatively good comprehension of Acts, the epistles and Revelation. The discerning preacher will learn the needs of the congregation and address those needs from God's book. From my more than fifty-six years of preaching, I would say that Acts is probably the most neglected book of the New Testament-not among churches of Christ-but in the religious world in general. One of the reasons is obvious: Many denominational preachers do not want to follow the gospel plan of salvation. For example, Dr. John MacArthur, Jr.'s book, Nothing but the Truth: Upholding the Gospel in a Doubting Age (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1990), almost totally ignores the teaching of the book of Acts, especially as it pertains to how to become a Christian. Does Dr. MacArthur know what the book of Acts teaches about salvation?  Absolutely!  But he does not believe we have to do what Peter and Paul teach about being baptized.  In his book, The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1998), Dr. MacArthur writes, "Peter urged them (that is, the Jews on Pentecost) to repent and trust Christ, and the result was dramatic: 'Those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added unto them about three thousand souls"' (Acts 2:41)" (p. 50).  My friends, that is not what Peter said. He commanded the Jews: "Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit"(Acts 2:38). Was Dr. MacArthur's twisting of Acts 2:38 a deliberate perversion of the word or was he ignorant of what the verse teaches?  I will leave that judgment to the Lord. But can you understand why gospel preachers have an obligation to stress the teaching of Acts of the Apostles?  We cannot neglect any of the word, but sometimes one section demands more immediate attention. It seems to me that any man who has preached the word for a number of years ought to understand that concept.


            One more brief excerpt from Jim Woodroof's book tells us why churches of Christ must emphasize the book of Acts.  He affirms that "Acts is more nearly a record of a church entrenched in tradition, rooted in racial prejudice, doing all in its power to prevent the transition from taking place" (p. 63).  If Jim's judgment of Acts is correct, I am in favor of taking a penknife and removing Acts from the divine canon and burning it along with the rest of the trash.  The book of Acts is just as inspired as any other book of the Bible.  It does discuss the discrimination that occurred in Jerusalem, but it teaches the same truth about discrimination that every other book of the New Testament teaches.


            Were there people in the early church who were "entrenched in tradition?" Every knowledgeable Bible student would have to answer in the affirmative. But the great preachers whose sermons are recorded in Acts strongly resisted any teaching or practice that in any way impeded the progress of the gospel.  They opposed all enemies of the cross of Christ and engaged in a movement that changed the face of the earth.  Acts tells of difficulties the early church faced, but it also records some of the greatest victories the church has ever known.  For these reasons and many others, we must be diligent students of Acts of the Apostles.


            Every man who preaches the word must be devoted to doing what God requires of him. We should have no difficulty deciding what that is. Acts eight tells us what occurred in three different conversions-the Samaritans, Simon the sorcerer and the Ethiopian eunuch. I shall dwell briefly on the conversion of the Samaritans. After Stephen had been stoned to death for his faith in Jesus Christ, the church "was scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.... Therefore they who were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word" (Acts 8:1, 4). Those early preachers of the gospel knew exactly what they were to preach. "Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them" (Acts 8:5). We do not know what Philip said when he preached Christ, but we are given some insight into his sermon "But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women" (Acts 8:12).


From this simple reading of the biblical text, we can conclude that preaching of the word must be done in every case of conversion. Men and women have to know before they can believe and obey. When honest people hear the gospel, they believe it and are baptized into Christ for the remission of their sins. A careful reading of the book of Acts will show conclusively that we must believe, repent of our alien sins, confess the name of Christ before men, and be baptized for the remission our sins.  So, my friends, I appeal to you today to study your Bibles carefully and to obey commands of the Lord.


I also appeal to you to urge your preacher to teach only what the Bible says about salvation and about Christian living.  If he leans to the left, urge him to return to the right way.  If he will not do so, find a faithful congregation where the preacher will preach the word without fear or favor. God will hold both you and him accountable for what is preached and the way it is preached.


Winford Claiborne

The International Gospel Hour

P.O. Box 118

Fayetteville, TN 37334