"These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee" (Titus 2:15). Although in recent years there has been a lamentable lack, and deliberate downplaying, of authority in preaching; it is imperative that the church speak the word with all authority. Last month, we began to consider some requisites to speaking the word with all authority. We noted that one must appeal to the authority of God's word and use Scriptures correctly and convincingly. This month, we will note two additional requisites to speaking the word with all authority.
Limit Appeals to the Authority of Men
As has been previously noted, one preaching must appeal to the authority of God's word. Negatively stated, he must limit his appeals to the authority of men. Christ noted that there are only two possible sources of ultimate authority: "From heaven or of men" (Matthew 21:25).
When the scribes and other Jewish leaders taught, they depended upon the authority of men. To them and their hearers, no sermon had any authority or value until they added, "The Rabbis have a tradition," or "The wise men say," or some similarly- worded support. One rabbinical writing reads thusly: "Rabbi Zeira says, on the authority of Rabbi Jose bar Rabbi Chanina, and Rabbi Ba or Rabbi Chija on the authority of Rabbi Jochanan . . ." There are many who preach and teach the same way today. Their sermons are constructed almost entirely of "Lenski says . . .", "Barnes says . . .", and "Coffman says . . ."; and because these men who seem to be somewhat have a certain view on a matter, the hearers are expected to agree. This is not how the Lord taught. Discerning ears could tell a marked difference between the teaching of the prominent religious leaders of the first century and the teaching of Christ: "And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes" (Matthew 7:28-29).
When men are the ultimate authority, communication between God and man is severed. This was what the religious leaders of Christ's day had caused to happen. When they felt that His disciples had done something wrong, they appealed to the authority of men: "Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread" (Matthew 15:2, emphasis LM). However, Christ responded, "Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?" (verse 3). Their reliance upon human authority rendered void their attempts to commune with God, as well as the attempts of those who followed their teaching (verses 5, 9, 14). Authoritative preaching strives to bring souls into communion with God, not to sever God's call to the lost or precious fellowship with the saved.
That said, there may be points within a sermon in which it might be appropriate to appeal to the authority of menin a sense. Paul once appealed to the fact that the men of Athens had erected an altar "TO THE UNKNOWN GOD" as evidence of their religious ignorance and need for the One True God (Acts 17:23). In the same sermon, Paul appealed to one of "their" poets who attested that man is the offspring of God (verses 28-29). To Titus on the island of Crete, Paul wrote, "One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are always liars, evil beasts, slow bellies. This testimony is true. For which cause reprove them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith" (Titus 1:12-13). Paul here quotes Epimenides, known as one of the "seven wise men of Greece." Epimenides accurately described the Cretans, and Paul used his description to emphasize to Titus the need for rebuking them. Likewise, one preaching today can appeal to what men have said without necessarily denigrating the authority of the preaching. Perhaps a word might need a lexical definition. Perhaps a commentator might be able to offer insight or helpful clarification regarding the background of a passage. When dealing with matters of a scientific nature, it might be essential to refer to those who are well- educated in that science. One might appeal to the authorities of a false religion to show the falseness of that religion, as O.C. Lambert did so admirably in his volumes pitting Catholicism Against Itself. However, any such appeals to the authority of men will be made in a very limited senseultimately, such appeals point to the supreme authority of God.
Incidentally, appeals to the authority of men would include appeals to one's own authority; such as one's own prestigious education, superior intelligence, preaching tenure, and similar accolades of which some preachers enjoy reminding others. Biblical authority to preach does not lie in any of these achievements; it lies only in the message which is preached (1 Corinthians 1:21). To meet the mandate to speak the word with all authority, one must curtail the appeals to the authority of men, ensuring that any appeals that are made are limited to those that uphold the authority of God's word.
Leave No Gospel Truth Unpreached
When thoroughness is essential to the success of a quest, one might urge, "Leave no stone unturned." One might well likewise urge, "Leave no Gospel truth unpreached." Paul reminded the Ephesian elders, "Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God" (Acts 20:26-27). The reason Paul cites for his innocence implies that if he had shunned to declare unto them any of the counsel of God, he would have been guilty of their blood. Thoroughness is most certainly essential.
There are some who fail to preach all the counsel of God because they are too lazy to study to learn all the counsel of God. They know the Scriptures on a few selected topics well enough to bring the house down when they preach them. Unfortunately, they remain stagnant in their own lack of knowledge and thus fail to build their hearers' knowledge. However, Scripture admonishes, "Study ('give diligence,' American Standard Version) to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15).
It is frightfully alarming, in light of the heavy responsibility incumbent upon those preaching the Gospel, that many so-called "Gospel preachers" deliberately avoid certain touchy subjects and Biblical passages. Actually, such men often will refer to themselves by more innocuous descriptions than Gospel preachers; and fittingly so, as the term truly does not describe them. Brother Dub McClish has aptly referred to such men as "semi-gospel sharers." That is, they do not really preach, as preaching implies authoritativenessthey "share"; much like each participant in a focus group has an opportunity to share his opinion. And the message they bring is not truly the Gospel, it is merely a "semi-gospel" for those "Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" (2 Timothy 3:7).
Some will preach strongly against singenerally. They let it be known that sin is very, very bad. But they rarely let the hearers know anything that specifically constitutes sin; and when they do, they certainly will not mention anything in which their hearers or their families are likely involved. They will not mention immodest dress, "social" drinking, or marriage, divorce, and remarriage. But such preachers deprive hearers of what they need. Because Paul had preached all the counsel of God, he was able to tell the Ephesian elders, "I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you" (Acts 20:20). Indeed, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Timothy 3:16-17, emphases LM). If any Scripture is being withheld, hearers are not being properly taught, reproved, corrected, or instructed in righteousness; and thus cannot become complete Christians.
One must deal with issues facing the church. Faithful preaching of the word comes from the Sacred Text; but it requires more than reciting the words of the Sacred Text. A preacher must also explain the meaning of the text (Nehemiah 8:8), derive the correct implications from the text (Acts 2:25-31), and make appropriate application of the text (Acts 2:36, 38-40). This ancient text deals in some way with any issue the church might face (2 Peter 1:3), and so must the church deal with those issues. Bill Jackson accurately referred to those who "fashion lessons in careful avoidance of the hurtful issues before the church, and thus . . . further 'Dale Carnegieism' rather than the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ!" Yes, "hobby riders" have done damage to the body of Christ, but this does not excuse the omission of controversial subjects from the pulpit. There were obviously a number of people in Thyatira who did not agree with the false teacher "Jezebel," yet nonetheless allowed her to spew her venom. Christ held their tolerance against them (Revelation 2:20). We must address issues that arise, and call names when necessary (Romans 16:17; 2 Thessalonians 3:14). Sometimes people may hear a preacher addressing a serious problem; but will have no idea what the problem is and will not perceive the seriousness of the threat until they are given specific examples. They remain insufficiently warned; and whoever knew, yet failed to warn, will be held accountable for that failure: "When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand" (Ezekiel 3:18). Authoritative preaching does not hesitate to address specific issues threatening the welfare of the bride of Christ.
While there are far too many who accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative of God's word, there are also some who are exclusively negative. However, one should bear in mind that the Gospel is "good news," intended to provide hope for those who will conform themselves to it (compare with Ezra 10:2; Romans 12:12; Colossians 1:5, 23; Hebrews 6:18-19). Even the Old Testament prophets who often provided a gloomy message of impending doom would provide glimmers of hope and promise for the faithful. Just as with positive-only preaching, being always and only negative eradicates authority from preaching. As with the "boy who cried wolf," eventually people will tune out and turn off. For one never once, or very little, to mention the grace, mercy, or love of God, is to leave significant Gospel truths unpreached. However, the exclusively negative preacher is a much rarer bird in this day and age than the exclusively positive preacher. Oftentimes preachers who are labeled "too negative" are merely guilty of addressing sins which are most prominent.
If one leaves Gospel truths unpreached, what does he do to the authority of God's word? (1) He rejects the authority of God's word, because he fails to do what it says (Matthew 28:20); (2) He demeans the authority of God's word, because he relegates portions of it as unimportant (contrast with Proverbs 30:5); (3) He obscures the authority of God's word, because he fails to make it known (compare with 2 Corinthians 4:4); and (4) He removes the authority of God's word from his preaching, because he serves as his own authority as to what is important, thus rendering his own preaching baseless and void. The church and her elders must demand and stand by men who will leave nothing unpreached.
[To be continued next issue]
1. John Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, Vol. 2
(n.p.: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003 printing), p. 159.
2. Quoted by J.W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Pendleton, The Fourfold Gospel (Bowling Green KY: Guardian of Truth, n.d.), p. 167. 3. Dub McClish, "Woe Is unto Me If I Preach Not the Gospel," in Studies in I Corinthians, ed. Dub McClish (Denton, TX: Dub McClish, 1982), p. 117.
4. "How One Becomes a Partaker of Evil Deeds," in Sound Words (Jan. 1995); quoted by Lester Kamp, Anti-Ism - From God or Man? ed. David Brown (Spring, TX: Contending for the Faith, 2006), p. 573.
- The Bible (37)
- The Church (33)
- Holy Spirit (2)
- Bible Authority (11)
- Calvinism (7)
- Nature of God (9)
- Faith (19)
- Family Matters (7)
- Denominationalism (10)
- Attitudes (46)
- Christian Living (57)
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