Doctrinal Drift

Have You Strayed from Your Message?

Sometimes in preaching it seems that the Scripture text has as much to do with the sermon as the National Anthem has to do with a football game—it gets everything started, but you never hear from it again. We hurriedly read a few verses, hoping nobody gets too bored, and quickly get to some exciting story or anecdote that will win the crowd and move them to action. Unfortunately “Thus saith the Lord” gets pushed aside for the well-crafted homiletic masterpiece. In Titus 1:3, Paul writes, “But hath in due times manifested his word through preaching, which is committed unto me according to the commandment of God our Saviour.” God makes it clear that preaching is to manifest or make known His Word. Paul doesn’t mince words as he exhorts Timothy, “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:2).

Our world is struggling morally, ethically, politically, economically, and spiritually because we have become enamored with men and have disregarded God. Truth is falling in the street today because churches have been serving junk food to the congregation rather than the milk and meat of God’s Word.

If preaching is going to make an eternal impact on this world and people’s lives in particular, God’s men are going to have to reject entertaining the populace and get back to the expository preaching of God’s eternal truth. Anything short of that will not reach or change the heart. “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” (Hebrews 4:12).

Countless times in the Old Testament the people were called together to simply hear the Word of God read. After hearing it, they were expected to obey. “And Moses called all Israel and said unto them, Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your ears this day, that ye may learn them, and keep, and do them” (Deuteronomy 5:1). It really wasn’t a complicated process. God said it; they were to believe it, and then live it! “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little” (Isaiah 28:10). Interestingly, He repeats “precept upon precept” and “line upon line.” The idea is that the Word of God was to be systematically and repeatedly read over and over until it became a part of their thinking and a way of life.

Avoiding a Doctrinal Drift

So how did preaching drift from this biblical model, and how do we bring it back to the moorings that God intended? First of all, God-called preachers must put obligation above the multitudes. Many today are focused on building a crowd instead of building a church. Our obligation is not to people but to precept. We have no authority to stand and speak outside of the Bible. “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20). When God’s Word is neglected in the pulpit, there is no wisdom to live in the pew. “The wise men are ashamed, they are dismayed and taken: lo, they have rejected the word of the Lord; and what wisdom is in them” (Jeremiah 8:9).

Secondly, we must get back to trusting God’s omnipotence rather than our manner. It is not our masterful outline, engaging stories, or timely anecdotes that God promises to bless. He gives supernatural power to His supernatural Book! “For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10–11). God promises that His Word will always work. “Seek ye out of the book of the Lord, and read: no one of these shall fail” (Isaiah 34:16a).

Lastly, we must keep our focus on the objective, not on our methods. While it is not wrong to work on improving our communication skills we must not lose sight of the objective in preaching. Jesus used all kinds of means to communicate. He used parables, discourses, humor, and object lessons. Sometimes these were done in one-on-one conversation while at other times He lifted up His voice and preached to multitudes. But preaching well, performing miracles, and using timely illustrations were not His objectives—they were merely methods. His objective was changing lives! “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10b).

No One Cares What I Think

Some time ago, I had the privilege of sitting on an ordination council for one of our graduates. The young man did an outstanding job of articulating his doctrinal position and answering our questions with scriptural principle and precept. After several hours of questioning and some brief discussion by the council we brought him back in to let him know that we were honored to ordain him into the ministry.

As we each gave some closing comments to him, one of the older pastors spoke last. He said, “You have done an excellent job today. You have prefaced often your beliefs with ‘I think’ or ‘I believe.’ And I’m glad you think biblically and believe correctly, but I want you to go home tonight and look in the mirror and practice saying: ‘The Bible says; the Bible says; the Bible says.’ Say it over and over until it is always your first response.”

The seasoned veteran of ministry said kindly. “I have been in this town for over thirty years and quite frankly no one cares what I think or what I believe. They want to know and need to know what the Bible says!” Great advice! Not just in conversation, but in the pulpit.

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