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Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Why Preaching is Not Enough

I am convinced that all true preaching must contain a prophetic element. Prophets saw what no-one else did: the discrepancy between the way things were and the way they ought to be. They spoke out against the difference. This we see in the ministry of The Prophet Himself. Moneychangers in the temple courts were just the way things were and everyone came to accept it. But not so the Son of Man who overtruns their tables.

Courage then, was the other string to a prophet's bow. Lots of it. For the moment you point out the difference, expect fireworks from 'the establishment'. And so it was that many of them became outcasts among the very people they were called to serve.

All genuine preaching must likewise contain an element of the prophetic if it is to fall in line with the Scriptures. Now you're prepared for what is to follow.

A noble tradition
Many of us come from a  tradition which greatly esteems the role of preaching in the life of the local church. This must be good for it lines up with a priority in the New Testament where we read the first Christians dedicated themselves to the apostles' doctrine.

The Word is the Church's sword of the Spirit and her double-edged sword; we leave it in it's scabbard at our spiritual peril.

A tradition that needs renewing
In a day of widespread ignorance of the Word, this emphasis needs renewing in many contemporary churches. Five minute epilogues tagged onto a meeting as a last thought will never grow the church.  

A reactionary tradition
In reaction to these surrounding trends, people in the preaching tradition become entrenched and insist that preaching is virtually the only important thing in church life. I have heard it said that all a young believer needs is to come twice on Sunday and once mid-week and they will grow in Christ......

.........the trouble with this kind of thinking is that it is nowhere to be found in Scripture. If preaching alone was the way in which a believer grows in grace, we could all join an online church where we would hear a sermon preached each Sunday, or listen to sermons on the radio. If preaching alone is required to grow a Christian, let's just give a set of Spurgeon's sermons to each new believer and instruct them to read two per Sunday and one per midweek.

A sometimes ugly tradition
The tragedy, learnt from observation and Scripture is this: preaching alone does not make Christlike Christians. In fact one can find just the opposite to be true: believers who have come from the most preaching orientated churches are often  unChristlike.

Let me explain.

They know truth, they can argue doctrine, but they have all too little grace about them. Put them in a situation where they disagree with someone and they soon get angry and upset.

They have grown in knowledge but not in grace. They are not like Jesus in character, and you wonder what kind of a witness they are in their neighbourhoods and places of work.

No, preaching alone is absolutely insufficient to grow to spiritual maturity.

A sometimes harmful tradition?
I would venture further. This preaching-alone tradition could actually be harmful. First, if all we insist on is preaching, we may well generate hypocrites: believers who are outwardly religious (in and out the church faithfully three times a week) but whose real lives are an unreformed mess.

Secondly, we could end up with "Preacheritis". This is an undue attachment to the preacher (whose role has been so highly elevated). Numerous Christians and churches have got so used to one preacher, so dependant on one man that they really are in danger of man-worship.

A tradition in need or reform
Against the view that preaching is all you need is the clear insistence of the New Testament that believers grow by being connected to a body of believers which in turn is connected to the Head, who is the source of all Life. We grow together as each part does its work (Ephesians 4:16). The image we are given is of a body with many different parts each contributing their different functions to the whole (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12). This makes each of us a one dimensional believer needing the support of everyone else. I need encouragers and teachers and admonishers and a whole range of gifts to grow.

A fuller ecclesiology
What the preaching tradition needs is a fuller ecclesiology - a fuller doctrine of the church. We need to see that the church is not a pyramid with a pastor/preacher at the top, but a body with eyes and ears and legs and hands all contributing to the movement of the whole.

A fuller discipleship
Then we need a more profound discipleship model, based on the training of the Twelve and the work of the Apostles. We grow when in relationship with others we can see our faults more clearly and observe other graces more closely. Where we can have all our rough edges rubbed off.

You can tell Christians who come from preaching-only churches. They are good at theology but often poor at relationships and community life. They speak out against the sins of immorality and sabbath-breaking but are  oblivious to the equally wicked relationship sins such as judgementalism, a critical spirit, slander, bitterness and anger!

What the church needs is knowledgeable and Christlike believers who will then be salt and light as they hold out the word of truth in a wicked and perverse generation. Believers who will grow in both dimensions: grace and truth.

Here is how Wesley described the 'preaching is all you need' theology:

“How much regular preaching there has been for these 20 years in Pembrokeshire! But no regular societies, no discipline, order or connection; and the consequence is that nine out of ten of the once awakened are now faster asleep than ever. Preaching like an apostle, without joining together those that are awakened and training them in the way of God is only begetting children for the murderer.”

The problem may be that Christian leaders who have a vested interest in  perpetuating preacheritis won't teach these things....

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