Saturday, August 10, 2013

You’re Free in Christ to Preach the Bible

This is a guest blog. Jared Miller graciously interacted with a common idea in preaching that was written about by Joe McKeever.

You’re Free in Christ to Preach the Bible

preach the bible
Joe McKeever has been in ministry longer than I’ve been alive. He’s pastored seven churches and is a retired Director of Missions for the Baptist Association of the Greater New Orleans. He wrote an article that was posted on SBC Today titled “The Five Most Frustrating Things Pastors Do.”
Here are his five points:
FIRST: It’s frustrating to see preachers cut corners on sermon preparation.
SECOND: It’s frustrating when preachers miss the entire point of what a sermon should be.
THIRD: It’s frustrating to see ministers issue instant assessments on how well the sermon worked today.
FOURTH: It’s frustrating to see ministers ignore the great sermon-building resources the Lord has put all around them.
FIFTH: It’s frustrating to see ministers constantly frustrated.
Although I largely agree with points 1, 3, 4, and 5, I strongly disagree with point 2. Here is McKeever’s 2nd point in its entirety:
SECOND: It’s frustrating when preachers miss the entire point of what a sermon should be.
Many a preacher–not all, thank the Lord–think a sermon is a rumination on some text they’ve studied or have been reflecting on. Many think this is the time to issue a grand pronouncement on some hot-button issue in the public mind. Others think of the sermon as their moment to proclaim their convictions before a people looking for answers. And, to some, it’s an instruction time when they may educate people seriously deficient in spiritual things.
A sermon is none of these things.
God said of the false prophets of Jeremiah’s day: If they had stood in my council, then they would have announced my words to my people, and would have turned them back from their evil way (Jer. 23:22).
That’s what a sermon is: the words of God, received by a servant of the Lord who has taken the time to “stand in His council,” and is willing to deliver them faithfully and with full courage.
The minister’s message is called “The Word of God” for good reason. This is what God has said for us today.
One of the most common errors of pastors when they began looking for a message to preach is to assume that since the Bible itself is called “The Word of God,” anything in it they decide to preach suffices as God’s message for this Sunday. Not so. The Bible is a huge book, a library even, one containing thousands of messages and potential sermons. It does not follow, therefore, that these are all-occasion messages, able to be preached interchangeably, with the Spirit doing with any one what He could do with any of the others.
The wise minister will tell himself, “The Lord has a message for our people next Sunday. He alone knows who is going to be present, and what each person is struggling with. Therefore, I will go to Him in prayer, asking what He would have me preach.”
Then, as he prays, the minister reads the Word. He listens for God’s voice. He waits and he reads, and thinks about what he has received. Then, in God’s own time–either at that moment or hours or even days later–he knows, “This is what the Lord wants preached. This is His message.”
It’s a great feeling.
Charles Spurgeon has argued similar things in his book, Lectures to my Students. I’ve written a brief response to Spurgeon’s argument here, “Charles Spurgeon: Wrong on Text Selection.” My point in mentioning Spurgeon is that McKeever is in good company.
First, McKeever uses a reference to an Old Testament prophet concerning standing in God’s council. I agree with his interpretation concerning prophets, but not his application of this office to pastors. In the Old Testament, God obviously spoke to His people audibly through various prophets. In the New Testament, God speaks primarily through His Word (2 Tim. 3:16-17). “Standing in God’s council” in the New Testament is “sitting under God’s word.” Prophets spoke absolute truth from God. Pastors are not prophets–they don’t speak new revelation or absolute truth. I don’t think McKeever is saying that pastors speak absolute truth, but in order to consistently apply this verse (Jer. 23:22) to pastors today, he must argue that pastors speak absolute truth. Prophets spoke absolute truth in Jeremiah’s day. In Jeremiah’s day, if you spoke on behalf of God as a prophet and were wrong, they would take you out and kill you (Deut. 18:20). I dare say that if McKeever wants to consistently apply the OT prophetic office to SBC pastors today, many pastors will die!
Second, the reason why the prophet’s words in the Old Testament were called “The Words of God” was because they came directly from God. Thus, where the prophet spoke, God spoke. Are pastors really prepared to say, “I am absolutely sure that my church needs to hear this section of Scripture today, and no other!?” Are we really prepared to say that we know which verses our churches need to hear at a specific moment? If so, how does this keep us from being a type of priest? We’re saying that we know, since we have “stood in the council of God,” which section of Scripture our congregations need. How does this not violate the priesthood of the believer? If McKeever is right, the pastor must say every sermon, “I know what you need to hear today because I’ve stood in God’s council.” In other words, “if you disagree with me, I am right because I’m the prophet of God. I tell you what you need to hear from God today.” I think what McKeever suggests directly violates the priesthood of the believer. The rest of the church has the same Holy Spirit pastors do. He teaches them truth equally as He teaches pastors truth.
Third, this statement blows my mind:
One of the most common errors of pastors when they began looking for a message to preach is to assume that since the Bible itself is called “The Word of God,” anything in it they decide to preach suffices as God’s message for this Sunday.
The apostle Paul told Timothy to preach the Word (2 Tim. 4:2). Where is the concept for the New Testament pastor/elder to get alone with God to get some sort of word from God beyond the Bible before he preaches what his congregation “needs”? McKeever is telling pastors that just because they’re preaching from the Bible, it doesn’t mean that they’re preaching what their congregation needs. Instead, pastors must pray and wait for God to tell them what to preach. This sounds like we should be searching for a “canon within the canon.” In other words, McKeever is telling pastors to become a type of mediator between their congregation and God, since the pastor alone knows what section from God’s Word the congregation needs from one Sunday to the next. I, on the other hand, believe I have a Word from God for the people of God because I preach from the Word of God. Moreover, the people who think they don’t need it in my congregation, are the ones who need it the most. The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb. 4:12). Notice that all of God’s Word is living and active, not merely the section of Scripture I think my congregation needs to hear.
Fourth, there is no biblical proof that pastors are supposed to pray and wait for God to lead them to what text to preach. How can the Word of God–the completed canon we have in both the Old and New Testaments–be sufficient if pastors now need extra biblical truth from God so they can know what to preach? What McKeever suggests sounds spiritual, but there is no biblical warrant for it. If you have biblical proof that McKeever is correct, then please show me.
So, men, you don’t need to wait around for some feeling to tell you what text to preach. You need to get up and proclaim the Word of God from the Bible. Your congregation needs all of it (Matt. 28:20)! Begin today; turn the page to your next sermon, and the next, and the next, until all your congregation has grown into mature Christians (Acts 20:26-27). You’re free in Christ to preach the Bible.

Thanks Jared, well-written.
Clark D

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