The Primacy of Preaching

Preaching as a primary task of the Church deserves a prominent place in the lives of the believers, the respect of the congregation, and the awareness of the surrounding community. By this I put great emphasis: if preaching is not primary in the tasks of a local church, then that church is dead.
I observe with great brokenness that the Church today has resorted too much to misplaced contextualization that the once highly-esteemed position of preaching has been replaced by other activities and their various forms. These activities and forms are not necessarily worldly or unspiritual in themselves, but too much focus on these tend to dethrone the authority and place of preaching.

Before I tell my observations regarding this unsettling displacement of the preaching task, let me first tell the reasons why preaching is a major task of the Church, hence, its supremacy.

The first reason for the supremacy of preaching is because it is the Gospel of Jesus Christ that saves people. No other thing, no methodology, no persuasion, no philosophy, no good works, no acts of mercy will bring down a sinner in humble submission and faith to Christ except by the Gospel.

Romans 1:16 (KJV) For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

And how is the Gospel presented and received? How is faith produced to believe in Christ? It is by hearing the Gospel, and the Gospel is heard by preaching.

Romans 10:13-14 (KJV) For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?

It is important to note that I am not against good works or acts of kindness – I even propose that the Church is weak in these areas, and should be developed. What I am trying to say is that nothing can replace the role of preaching for the salvation of man and the strengthening of the Church. The preaching task, partnered with fervent prayers, is still the primary task of the Church for the harvesting of souls and the furtherance of God’s Kingdom. Good works will touch the mind and heart of people, but only the Gospel brought by preaching through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit could revive the dead spirit of man.

The second reason for the supremacy of preaching is because it is a primary tool to strengthen the believers. I do not say that other activities do not do the work of strengthening the Church – they do, like worship, prayer, seminar, thanksgiving, etc. What I emphasize is that all of those activities serve their own purposes and the hearing of the Word of God completes them. The maturity of the believer is never complete apart from the hearing of the Word. If a Church event has plenty of activities but devoid of the Word, then that event is virtually fruitless.

Only the Word gives us the knowledge of God’s Truth that edifies us in many ways; leads us to sanctification together with the work of the Holy Spirit; corrects us; equips us in service; and brings us closer to Jesus Christ Himself.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (KJV) 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.

Psalms 119:105 (KJV) Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.

Matthew 4:4 (KJV) But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.

Hebrews 4:12 (KJV) For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Now that I have told why the preaching of the Word deserves a supreme place in the life activity of the Church, we are now ready to talk about some observations why the preaching of the Word seems not highly regarded like it was before.

The first obvious observation is that today the Church is willing to conduct big activities devoid of the Word, in an attempt to stoop down under the great name of contextualization.

Why preach the offensive Gospel to the hard-headed unbelievers when you can give them programs that will benefit their interests? Why preach the outdated Gospel to the postmodern youth when you can give them ‘holy worldly activities’? Why preach the commonly heard Gospel when you can share thousands of stories and philosophies that are humanistic?

Those are the cries of the Church today, as a product of many meetings and evaluations that arrogantly suggest that the Gospel is not enough or sufficient to confront the needs of modern man.

The second observation is that today, an honest analysis shows that preaching lacks Scripture. I could easily judge that today’s preaching lacks authority and power because it chose to deny its allegiance to its source of power – the Word of God. Many preachings have become nothing but rampant outrages of human voice and emotion, throwing thoughts randomly at the hearers without affecting any positive change or transformation.

This is evident in three ways. First, preaching has been norrowed to a single-verse shallow explanation. I say single verse because I see preachers quoting a single verse from Scripture then leaving it out entirely during the entire course of the sermon. I say shallow explanation because it has become a natural tendency for preachers nowadays to give room to highly subjective experiences and humanistic philosophy to interpret Scripture. The result then is a ‘Word-less preaching.’ If you want good preaching, you should devote yourself to several verses of Scripture that are explained in an expository manner.

Second, preaching has become ‘recycled.’ By this I mean that some preachers lazily just get canned sermons from books and internet and with little reading, deliver such sermons on Sundays. I am not against getting ideas from others, but the best sermon is the one that God has given you personally thru fervent prayers and faithful study of the Word. For sure it is the message that God Himself has fed you, the message that has penetrated your soul, this is the message that you are most capable of preaching with power.

Third, preaching has become a way to adulterise the Scriptures. I mean to say that we preach to promote our personal agendas and interpretations using the Scriptures as an outside cover. So many times preachers use the pulpit to defend their insecurities, to avenge their hurt feelings, to defend and cover up their sins, and some other acts or motives that are far from the pure Biblical motives of preaching.

Lastly, the third observation is that preachers today are much less equipped in the art and discipline of preaching. This observation goes on two extremes: being lowly equipped and being highly transcendent.

Being lowly equipped means that preachers are becoming less and less aware of the basic knowledge of the technicalities of preaching. They have become ignorant and hostile to the proper ways of constructing a sermon, or even worse, make preaching a contradiction of terms by believing that a devoted study and writing of a sermon is irrelevant and unnecessary because ‘the Holy Spirit will complete it anyway.’

Let me make this clear: I am never against completely relying upon the work of the Holy Spirit to bless a sermon and its preaching. I have witnessed that in many occassions, God has blessed my preaching (and the preaching of others) even though my notes were not with me (impromptu preaching), or I did not have enough time for serious study – but those cases are of course miracles of His Grace, and surely not to justify a preacher’s laziness. What I emphasize is that if God has called you to preach, you must give God and your calling the respect they deserve by a diligent study of the Word and its sermon preparation. Do we desire God to bless our sermon and preaching if we have not prepared for it, but lazily just picked up a random text and trusted God for its eternal benefits, especially when an ample amount of time is given for preparation? We must be ashamed.

2 Timothy 4:2 (KJV) Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.

2 Timothy 2:15 (KJV) Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

Ezra 7:10 (KJV) For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.

By being highly transcendent, I mean the opposite of the former. Sometimes preachers, being too much idealistic, forget to grasp the reality of his surroundings. To preach effectively, we should adjust our methodology and style to suit the intellectual, emotional, and cultural level of our listeners, without compromising the Word. The effective preacher is not the one with the transcendent message or the greatest method of delivery, but the one who is able to make his message comprehensible to his listeners.

If we want revivals in our local churches, the basics need to be present: humility and repentance, prayer and Bible reading, holiness and devotion, and worship and the preaching of God’s Word.

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God Moves Mysteriously

Right now my Church Members are decreasing in number. I don’t know if it’s because of God’s answer to my prayer – “Lord, visit the Church and uproot its false foundations.”

False foundations may sometime refer to church members? I don’t know. But God is revealing something. Maybe He is telling us that dependence on sponsors is wrong. Or too much formality is not His way.

I know that in His own ways He wants us to return to true worship.

God reveal your will to us!

Turning Back the Hands of Time

This institution exists to train the heart.” Not putting aside the mind, but greater importance is given on the heart, or the development of character. That was the first important statement I heard from Mr. Sol Garner Dolojan, the Director of the Mindoro Bible College, now known as Center for Servant Leadership Philippines, the institution where I finished my Bachelor’s Degree in Pastoral Theology.
My prayer while studying Theology was for God to deal with me on a very personal level. I was really expecting to see my character pruned, developed, and transformed. I would like to see myself as a better person after finishing four years of Biblical studies. I was very hopeful and expectant. I believed that finishing the seminary would open a wide door for me – door for the full-time ministry and for better character.

Yet observing myself now and looking back several years before studying in the seminary, I see some disappointing things. Often keen analysis would bring me into a conclusion that I was better – maybe not in knowledge and some ‘divine skills’, but in character, courage, and humility. There was in me a dimension that made me real close to God – which I do not see in myself now. Alas! If I could only see the missing link to this greatness (or nobility), then I would have my life full again!

Surely it could not be knowledge – for I believe more knowledge in Scriptures would mean closeness to God, though not automatically, but still that is the standard of the Bible, except if I follow the example of the Pharisees who were full of knowledge yet was far from God. Nor could it be the skills – for abilities were graciously showered  by God with the sole purpose of investing for His Glory and building up His Church, unless I have been using these talents to serve my own vain kingdom. Or could it be that I have abused knowledge and skills to serve myself wholly?

Let this be an open question.

 

Politics, the Prosperity Gospel, and the Christian Servant

What about a founder of a large Christian Church who decides to leave this spiritual leadership so he could serve in the political world of politics?Are Christians (which includes great Christian leaders) the only ones whom God has called to serve as public servants or politicians?I believe, that yes, God could use (as He has done in the past) even the unbelievers for His Kingdom purposes (Take a look in Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2). In fact, those whom He raised as politicians (public servants) are more equipped and trained in public service. And about their integrity? I know that there are some few out there whom He has preserved from the corruption of the heart regarding bribery, graft and corruption.
It is a very wrong view that God would not use the unbelievers for political purposes. More often than not, He uses the unbelievers for this purpose. And He calls the Church to influence the society more often through witnessing, having a holy life and getting involved in other social activities, rather than entering politics.

The church, very often, as evidenced in history, is easily corrupted when engaged in the world of politics. It is a wonder to me that many Christians today dream of getting rich, and even preach of getting rich and accumulating material prosperity in this world as a sign of God’s favor and approval. That is one inner motive why Christians enter politics – not really to serve, but to be served and for self-gain. Not all, but most of them.

But that was the opposite of the example of Jesus, the apostles, and the martyrs of the Church. They lived simple lives, the kind of life that looks on the eternal life with God as their inheritance. Their pleasures are fed on God, and not on the material things of this world. I am not against money or being rich, but I despise the passionate desire to be rich, especially among God’s servants. Surely, God has called a few people who will serve in the Kingdom by abundant giving and material resources but they are very few and in God’s design that is not always the case.

The prevailing Gospel today is the Prosperity Gospel (also called the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel), wherein it is taught that a Christian is destined to live a prosperous life – materially in this world as a sign of God’s approval. This is the Laodicean Church, the lukewarm church as portrayed in Revelation 3: 14-22. This Church has prosperity and material riches on the inside, but Christ was outside knocking at the door of their hearts. Take heed.

As a conclusion based on my daily observation in light of God’s Word:

1. Most Christians that enter politics are looking for self-gain and prosperity, inspired and motivated by their strong belief in the Prosperity Gospel.

2. Public service is only their second real agenda.

3. If elected, they will only bring economic prosperity, and not true spiritual progress. This may seem tolerable because as politicians, their primary aim is economic progress and not spiritual progress. My point is that their current thinking will sacrifice the spiritual to give way to the economical.

4. These kind of leaders will only lead the Church to aspire also for financial prosperity, sacrificing their spiritual condition before the Lord. Aiming for money and loving for Jesus could never go hand-on-hand. They will always be against each other.

Let the Life be Pruned for Service

‘A holy minister is an awesome weapon in the hand of God.’

Pruning isn’t easy – and always painful!

I really like that old saying by the late Robert McCheyne. He only lived a short life of 29 years, but the fruits of his service were beyond his age, thanks to his life that is wholly (and holy) devoted to God.

I am afraid that I observe the Church today emphasizing skills over character, the mind and the hands over the heart, the talk over the walk for the qualification for service. Of course, skills and the mind are not just important in the ministry, they are essential. But if we understand the Bible right, it would be accurate to say that God requires first holiness and godliness as essential criterion for service, over the importance of skills and abilities.

(2 Tim 2:20-21) But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour.  If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.

These words from Paul pertain primarily to the ministry of a pastor, as a personal exhortation given to Timothy. But the principle is very applicable to every area of the ministry, whatever it may be: If God would use a Christian for service powerfully, then He would be looking first at the quality of the Christian Life. It is Christlikeness first that matters, secondary only is the outward competency.

The church today is weak in emphasizing this truth. Let me give some observations:

  1. Holiness is rarely preached today. But much is given to blessings. Obedience is preached, but only often in relation to blessings. Obedience as an outcome of a holy life is very seldom preached.
  2. We scout for possible workers/leaders in terms only of abilities. We are easily attracted to good singing voice, good communicators, brilliant ideas, and so on – not in themselves bad, but become very futile if we neglect the much more important side of holiness.
  3. We are hesitant to discipline and/or replace erring leaders/workers. I am not for the trashing of erring people – everyone isn’t perfect. But the problem is that as we are so eager to put talented individuals to service, so are we so weak in disciplining our leaders/workers whose lives are not worthy to be followed. We have adapted the spirit that we are afraid to lose the machinery (and the tithes) of our church, to the point of compromising and sacrificing the integrity and testimony of the church.

Much could still be said in this issue. This is often overlooked but requires immediate consideration and action. To some extent, if the church will not put emphasis on the holiness of her leaders and workers, then inevitably she is welcoming sin to lurk in the corners of the church, destroying her little by little.

Survey the pastoral epistles (Titus, 1 & 2 Timothy), the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels, and we will easily see that God puts character first in the lives of his servants, before anything else.