Does your Church have cancer?
Preachers on different continents stand at the pulpit every day to preach God’s word (at least they say) and “in the best of them the Bible is always present in some defining way yet a preacher with an open Bible is simply a necessary, not sufficient, requirement” (David Gibson). What then is the sufficient requirement? What does preaching mean or, how and what should one preach?
This article’s aim goes beyond defining a sermon to address two significant cancers killing the preaching process in the church today. To know and solve a problem is better than to do nothing. The African Church’s lethal cancers are doctrinal ignorance and the lack of expository preaching.
2 Timothy 4:3-4 talks about a certain kind of people who turn away from sound doctrine to fables born of their own lusts. Many Christian folks sadly often ignore doctrinal questions. To bring up such inquiries is to be commonly perceived as carnal. It is ‘non-spiritual’ to for-example ask one’s position on the doctrine of election. Such sentiments betray historical theology and exhibit indifference to doctrinally related matters. Preaching in Ugandan churches has to a greater extent become increasingly devoid of doctrinal substance and subverted by privation of an understanding of theological disciplines.
The church in Uganda is silent on heresies and subsequently, false doctrine thrives and Christians are malnourished. As Arthur W. Pink rightly notes, “It is ignorance of doctrine that has rendered the professing church helpless to cope with the rising tide of infidelity.” Through Christ Jesus, God has revealed Himself to us through His Word and, if it’s not carefully and diligently studied, the church will be like a barefooted, hungry and thirsty man trailing a tiny path full of thorns in pursuit of an apple tree and a fount. She will be withered and incapable of fulfilling her call.
The Apostle Paul encourages his son Timothy to be diligent in rightly diving the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). If the pastor is doctrinally ignorant, so shall the pew be. The congregation feeds from its shepherd. “Doctrinal ignorance in the pew, says Pink “is the result of theological apathy in the pulpit” and hence, “the division of the pastor-theologian into two separate, unrelated roles has not occurred without dire consequences for the church,” Arthur W. Pink writes.
We must, as the church return theological preaching accompanied with an exposition of the scriptural text. As a theologian once put it, “theology must be preached, and preaching must be theological.” Influential men like Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, Huldrych Zwingli who were pastor-teachers were expositors of scripture.
Exposition is the interpretation of the biblical text in its historical, grammatical and futuristic aspects and thus, expository preaching simply means preaching text in its context. Strenuous preaching without exposition is fiddling away time. “Plenty of sermons take their starting point from the biblical text, but the shape and aim of the sermon end up far removed from the purpose of the passage used” (David Gibson). When the meaning of the text is far removed from the intent of the passage, it turns out to be more of hypothesizing than exposition, more about the messenger and not the message. It is like reading a map of Kawanda in Wakanda and such is the trend in churches today.
The biblical text is inspired (2 Timothy 3:16-17), and thus due diligence should be rendered to interpreting what God says to His people through His complete Word. Concerning interpretation, we must allow scripture to interpret itself. What the preacher is speaking to God’s flock should be nothing less than congruous to what the author of the text is saying. The congregation, in turn, should be like the Bereans who searched the scriptures with the Apostle Paul to see whether what he was sharing was in accord with the biblical text (Acts 17). Shared experiences should as well be contextualized and subjected to the text at hand lest the congregation be averted from the crux of the sermon leading to loss of context.
In his article, David Gibson rightly suggests that “excellent expository preaching is nurtured by preachers whose foundational relation to the text is a self-abased humility which issues in patient willingness to listen and be addressed by someone other than themselves.” All aspects of one’s life ought to be submitted to God’s complete word during scriptural exposition.
Charles Spurgeon wrote, “a true minister of Christ knows that the true value of a sermon must lie not in the fashion and manner but in the truth which it contains.” Delivering a homily neither requires you to speak in an attractive way like an actor in a Shakespeare drama nor be sumptuous in words like Shakespeare himself. It requires your faithfulness to the context of the scriptural text. Spurgeon writes, “Set no store by the quantity of words which you utter, but strive to be esteemed for the quality of your matter. It is foolish to be lavish in words and niggardly in truth.” A sermon should drown in truth and substance. “Doctrine properly received, doctrine studied with an exercised heart, will ever lead into a deeper knowledge of God and the unsearchable riches of Christ” (A.W. Pink). God speaks to us through His Word, and thus, the purpose of a homily should be to encounter Him, know Him and be known by Him. The church is God’s, the message is His (not the preacher’s) and He has entrusted elders to care for His flock. He has lucidly stipulated in His Word on how to go about that. God’s Word is complete––it needs your diligence and faithfulness more than your creativity with it.
Charles H. Spurgeon: Addresses delivered to the students
Arthur, W. Pink: The Sovereignty of God and The Godhood of God
Gibson, D. Text, church, and world: A theology of expository preaching