“What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His son, Jesus Christ.” I John 1:3
This past spring I contacted several seminaries asking for a report on their graduations. Included in this issue are articles and pictures of those who responded. How grateful we are that our Lord continues to call men to preach the gospel. But what kind of preaching is needed today? It is my contention that we need the same kind of preaching today that we have always needed. Nothing important has changed. Just because we have split the atom and sent a man to the moon; just because we have laptops instead of legal pads; just because the people in our congregations are more educated today than a century ago does not mean we need a new kind ofChristianity.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is not idle speculation. It is not some human thought or idea, nor some new kind of philosophy developed by twelve men who followed and admired a Nazarene by the name of Jesus. The gospel of Jesus Christ is an announcement. It is a declaration, a proclaiming of the truth.
The trouble that we see around us today is that many preachers insist on regarding the glorious truth of God’s Holy Word as an outlook on life. Too many preachers see what they preach as one way of several to get to heaven. Today many are being told that Christianity comes to us through meditation, mantras, and meaningless messages. We have to sing 7-11 songs, that is, songs that have the same seven words sung eleven times.
Billy Sunday would have his audience sing anywhere from half and hour to an hour before he started preaching claiming that it made the people more receptive to the message. I suppose he thought he could help the Holy Spirit in His work. I was at a service once where the praise team wanted the congregation to sing: “There is Power in the Blood.” They insisted that when we got to the word “Power” we had to sing “POW-er, POW-er, POW-er…” When we got to that part of the song, the congregation dutifully sang, “POW-er, POW-er, POW-er…” I thought I was watching a rerun of Bonanza.
Some people think Christianity comes to us through the deep thinking of some theologians years ago or through present day philosophers who want to discover the meaning of life and how to deal with those problems. They claim as gospel books like: “I’m OK, You’re OK” and “Why Bad Things Happen to Good People.” They seek advice from Dr. Phil for their lives while watching his life unravel. They want to know the problem of evil and will look anywhere but in the Bible to discover it. Man’s thinking is taking the place of God’s revelation. What people are saying has become more important than what God has said. But that is not the Gospel!
The whole position of the Apostles is that they had something to declare. They had something to declare. They had something to announce. Their announcement was so wonderful that they could not contain themselves but had to tell others. John began his epistle that way. He wrote: this is what we have heard! This is what we have seen with our own eyes! This what our hands have handled! This is an amazing message! That is the way all preaching must be. It must be a glorious announcement that God has sent His Son into the world to save His people from their sin.
Preaching must also be apostolic. Of course, there are no apostles today in the original sense of the word, but an apostle is one who is sent by God A preacher must be one who has been sent by God.
The apostles studied at the feet of Jesus Christ. Jesus told them: “Learn of Me.” That means studying and applying yourself to the Word of God. What made the apostles great preachers? It was not their accents, although that seems to be a selling point nowadays. Today it seems the farther away a person had to come, the greater authority we consider him on a subject. That was not it for the apostles. The rulers and elders in Acts were not impressed with the accents of Peter and John, but they marveled at them nonetheless because they had been with Jesus. The apostles were witnesses to the resurrection.
A lot of ministers base their preaching upon experience: “It is what I hear; what I see; and what I touch.” That is nonsense. No preacher is proof for the existence of God. The things they personally experience are not proof of the existence of God. Faith must be rooted in certain facts—things that actually happened in history. The basis of our faith, and therefore the basis of all true preaching, must be the Apostolic Witness. It is what they saw and heard that is of utmost importance.
Did the disciples tell the truth or not? What is these men reported things about Jesus Christ that simply were not true? What is they made up the virgin birth, the miracles, the death upon the cross, and the resurrection? They are all being challenged today. If any of it is not true, then we have nothing, and, as Paul writes, we are among the most wretched of all people on this earth. Christianity believes the truth. It is believing things that happened at a certain time in history. We accept and believe the testimony of men who were there, not some Jesus Seminar that tires to decipher the words Jesus actually spoke some two thousand years later. Theologians at some seminar in California may try to convince us that the only words Jesus spoke of the Lord’s Prayer are the words: “Our Father,” but we would rather believe those who actually heard HIm speak and recorded those words for us. We cannot accept articles published by people who want to sell magazines claiming that Jesus moved to France with Mary Magdalene. We believe the testimony of those who heard the words of Jesus spoken, saw the miracles with their own eyes, touched Him, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, wrote these things down for us that we might know Jesus, too.
We believe John when he writes, “Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30,31). Either we receive what the disciples recorded as truth—all of it; or we have to reject what they wrote—all of it.
The preaching we need today must also be authoritative. Jesus taught as one who had authority, not as scribes and Pharisees. An awful lot of what we hear today sounds like scribes. Jesus met the devil not in His own name or His own power but with the Scriptures: “It is written.” The devil tempted our first parents with the words, “Did God really say…” Where they failed the test, the second Adam responds with a resounding “Yes!” by citing what God had indeed said. If He could defeat the devil with three verses out Deuteronomy, we ought to be able to do it with the whole Bible.
What ministers are to declare should not come from ourselves but that which comes to us through the authority of the apostles. This is absolutely fundamental. Peter wrote: “We did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” (2 Peter 1:16).
Our only authority is the apostolic witness; our Gospel is based upon what they wrote. In the opening verses of his first epistle, John writes three times “we have seen it”; twice he writes “we have heard it”; and then he adds, “with our own hands we have touched it.” John emphasizes this in his opening verses so that there can be no doubt.
The whole foundation of the Church rests upon the fact that the apostles bear witness to Jesus Christ. They saw His miracles and heard His teaching. More than that, they were witnesses to His death and resurrection. There is no message apart from that.
Never be ashamed of that old-time gospel. There is nothing newer. We have been given a glorious gospel to preach! That old fashioned gospel tells us all about a new way of living. We enter that way by being born again. Through Christ we are new creatures with a new song, a new name, walking in a newness of life, living by a new commandment, and headed for a new heaven and a new earth.
At the very end of the Bible we hear these words from the One who sits upon the throne: “Behold I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5). God is not running an antique shop. If you cannot preach Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever, then you can not preach at all.
You cannot preach it like it is if you do not believe it like it was. If you do not believe that the Scriptures are God-breathed and that Jesus was born of a virgin, died at Calvary for your sin, and rose bodily from the grave, then you cannot preach it like it was and you cannot preach it like it is. You have no business in the ministry.
There is no need to be apologetic with some kind of inferiority complex in the presence of the new way of thinking, the emergent church, or any other wind of doctrine that seems to be tickling the ears of so many today. If anybody should be embarrassed today, it ought not to be preachers of the gospel. We do not have to call in TV celebrities, sports personalities, or the like to bring the good news of the gospel. We are not trying to fix up something because it does not need fixing. Too many preachers today miss the beauty of Scripture so they think they have to add to it, as if their touch can make it better.
We do not need anything new as much as we need something so old that it would be new if anybody actually tried it. We have developed what I call “ark-theology” (our Christian schools do the same thing). We build the ark—our churches and our schools—seeking to separate ourselves world. Once we are in the ark, sailing along smoothly, we start looking at the world. “Oh, they have contemporary music; we should have that, too.” So we bring it into the ark. “Oh, they have sports; we should have that, too.” So we add a gymnasium to the ark and offer all kinds of activities. On and on it goes until the world cannot tell the difference between the church and itself.
Today we are trying frantically to popularize the gospel. The Ichabod Memorial Church tries to pack people in with some great music. Over at Ephesus they bring in a TV personality who can play the piano by ear. Pergamum says, “We can do one better. We have a fellow that can fiddle with his beard.” Sardis is going to have a quilting bee, and over at Laodicea they have a talking horse.
We seem to be living in a fog where we cannot tell the difference between the divine and the demonic. Ministers must assert their delegated authority as preachers and preach the Word in the power of the Spirit. That word must be authoritative. Peter wrote: “If any man speak, let him speak the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11).
Someone once said of Spurgeon, “The only colors Mr. Spurgeon knew were black and white.” No minister should ever see that as an insult. This is the day of relativism. Right used to be right and wrong used to be wrong. Things were black and white. Now black and white have been smudged into an indefinite gray.
This past Easter, I read an interview in the newspaper of a very well-known, well-liked minister. He commented, “Why, if I thought someone actually rose from the dead, I would shout it from the mountain tops.” Exactly! That is what he is supposed to be doing as a minister!
Paul wrote, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel.” He wrote, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” We are dealing with absolutes: the absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ; the absolute sovereignty of God.
The sense of urgency has been lost in much of our preaching today. The man standing in the pulpit has no business saying: “I would suggest to you, tonight,” or “on the whole, I think,” or “I am almost persuaded,“ or “research and speculation point us in this direction.” That is not the purpose of the Christian pulpit.
The preacher must say as John did: “These things declare we unto you.” Preacher are to say: “Thus saith the Lord.” Ministers who do that will be accused of being far too dogmatic, doctrinal, and closed-minded. The preacher who is not dogmatic, however, is not a New Testament preacher. There should be nothing tentative about our preaching, nothing doubtful about what is to be said. The minister is not to dissect God’s Word or theorize about it. He is not called to take the Bible apart. He is called to proclaim it.
Paul wrote in I Corinthians 2, “When I came to you I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom; I proclaimed to you the testimony of God.” Sounds pretty dogmatic, doesn’t it? Let me tell you, sin is dogmatic. You have either broken the Law of God or you haven’t. Death is dogmatic. You are either dead or you are alive. Hell is dogmatic. Jesus spoke a lot more about hell than He did about heaven. He was very dogmatic about it.
You will notie there is no middle ground. If you are not drawing people in to Christ, you are driving them out. The Word of God is a two edged sword. There are only two ways to respond to it: receive or reject.
The Titanic set sail in 1912 on her maiden voyage. It was said that she was unsinkable. The truth of the matter is, the only thing it ever did do was sink. When it took off from England all kinds of passengers were on board: millionaires, celebrities, people of moderate means and some poor folk, as well. A few hours later when they put out the list of passengers in the Cunard office in New York, it carried only two categories: lost and saved. Tragedy had crossed out every other distinction.
On life’s sea there are scores of classifications, but when the voyage is over it will not matter if you are rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief. It will not matter if you are the butcher, the baker, or the candlestick maker, whether you lived in the backwoods or in a mansion, whether you drove a Cadillac or pedaled a bicycle; it will all come down to the same thing: lost or saved. Those are the only two options.
As preachers, we are dealing with absolutes. To you has been given the responsibility to preach Christ and Him crucified. There will be all kinds of neat distractions and all kinds of debates to get involved in, but the bottom line has to be this: are you preaching the Word? Are you preaching Christ and Him crucified?
John did not write his gospel or epistles to cause all kinds of debates. He wrote so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and that believing you may have life in His name.
Even so, while our preaching must be authoritative and absolute, it must also be affectionate. Ephesians 4:15 says, “Speak the truth in love.”
Some preachers preach the truth but they do not do so in love. I remember one minister in a classis where I served as pastor. He was a very capable man but he would challenge the chair at every classis meeting. He would argue his point until everybody was tired of hearing him. Over lunch, an elder delegate said, “You know, I agree with him, but I can’t vote with him.” Another elder replied, “He could have ushered in the Second Coming and we would have voted it down.”
Then there are also those who speak in love but they have no truth. They are the nicest people in the world. They preach all kinds of warm-fuzzies but they have no clue of right and wrong. At one church I served, the Christian school board was trying to get the word “Reformed” out of their charter so that non-reformed members could serve on the board.
I argued against it, contending that if parents were not members of a Reformed church, they obviously were not teaching their children the Reformed faith. What guarantee would parents have that, once on the board, they would have any interest in teaching our children the Reformed faith? It sounded logical to me at the time.
The principal of the school stood up. He was a good man who would do anything for you. He stood up and said, “You know I have been principal in several different schools, in several different states. I have served on boards with Roman Catholics and with Jews. And you know,” he continued, “they are just as Reformed as we are.”
How do you argue against a statement like that? He won the day, but he lost the battle. The very people that he permitted to be voted in refused to renew his contract the next year. They said he was too wishywashy.
Somewhere there has got to be a happy mixture of both truth and love. The truth will keep you from dissolving into sentimentality; love will keep you from hardening into severity. Truth will keep you from turning into sugar; love will keep you from turning into vinegar. The Lord preserves His saints, he does not pickle them.
This is the day of the beasts and the seals, the trumpets and the four horsemen, the harlot and the beast. It is to this world that preachers must bring their message. You must be certain of the message you bring!
Look again at what John writes. To a world filled with pain and suffering John writes: “we proclaim the Word of Life.” To a world filled with sin and death, John writes, “We proclaim to you eternal life.” It is not some fly-by-night guru that pens these words; it is a disciple of Christ.
In John 1:14, John writes: “We beheld His glory…” He not only saw it, he understood it as the Spirit of God taught him. He was one of the twelve, appointed by Christ, called to be an Apostle, anointed by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the good news of the gospel.
The message of John is this: on the face of this earth upon which you and I are living with all its problems, trials, tribulations, the Son of God has come. John knew this to be true because John goes on to say: he had seen Him, heard Him, examined Him, touched Him, and listened to Him. Then John adds, because He was here everything has changed.
John wrote these things so that you can know Him, see Him, and hear Him. And through it all, you will see how wonderful God’s love is. That is the message of the Christian Church to this tired, weary, frustrated world. Not some watered down religion, but the very words of God Himself.
It is a great day for preaching! Let your preaching be an announcement, apostolic, authoritative, absolute, and affectionate.
Rev. Wybren H. Oord is the Pastor of the Covenant United Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He is also the editor of The Outlook.