“And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” (Mark 7:6–8)
After chastening Christ for his disciples’ failure to observe all of the ritual washings of their tradition, the Pharisees received the above response from Jesus which should stand as an open rebuke to many within the “fundamentalist” camp.
I define a “fundamentalist” in its most basic, historic, and orthodox sense—those that hold to the biblical fundamentals of the Christian faith. I would also add that a fundamentalist is willing to contend for that faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. This stand of willingness to content would differentiate me from some of my evangelical brothers. I believe that all fundamentalists are evangelical (as historically defined), while not all evangelicals are fundamentalists.
But there are some that have added there own “fundamentals” to the historic beliefs of fundamentalism, and because of this, they have been more than willing to separate from others over these issues. I think there is much room for discussion on several of these things, because many of them are important and their inclusion or exclusion will have a great impact upon the local church context.
However, there are some issues that, although important, have been elevated to a place that they should not be elevated. Additionally, there are some who have added to the “fundamentals” those things which are not biblically required, but are issues of personal conscience. My thoughts from Mark 7:6-8 and Jesus’ rebuke bring me to reflect upon those elevated issues that are not sin, but can be treated as sin in the judgment of some—including those issues of personal conscience which become sin for all believers in the minds of the weak.
Whether it is the teaching that those that don’t use the King James Bible are damned and their churches are apostate, or that women with short hair who wear pants are dressing like men or of objectionable moral character, or that worship for the church must be on Saturday, or that Jesus turned the water into grape juice at the wedding in Cana because all consumption of alcohol is sin—these and several others are the traditions of men parading themselves as the commands of God.
I don’t think God cares if you use the KJV or whether the women in church wear pants or not, or whether your communion service uses wine, as the Jews used in their Passover feasts. The problem is when those that care do so to the degree that they push their conviction upon all Christians in a way that Scripture does not, and in doing so elevate their word above God’s Word.
Satan is just as pleased when we add to God’s Word as he is when we take away from it. Both are wrong and both are damning. The lips might be saying all the right things, but as Jesus says, the heart can be completely wrong, and not pleasing to the Lord.
What good does it do to obey every jot and tittle of the cultural fundamentalist’s “gospel” if in the end you are adding to God’s Word, perverting His gospel, and not truly worshipping Him? Instead, may we all be committed to recovering true fundamentalism in our commitment to every Word of God bringing joyful worship that is the overflow of the heart.
In my last post, I laid out an abbreviated history of the fundamentalist/modernist controversy and a working definition of what I mean by fundamentalism. You can read my first part here. In part 2, I will give two historical examples of why this middle ground is a dangerous compromise for those that desire to stay true to the biblical doctrines. My final post will address some considerations for what this means in the Church today.
Seeking the Middle with New Evangelicalism
Around the time of the establishment of the World Council of Churches, the inauguration of a new movement was underway. Seeking to leave the separatistic fundamentalism that seemed to be more insulated from the world, conservative evangelical men such as Charles Fuller, Carl F. H. Henry, E.J. Carnell, Harold Lindsell, Harold J. Ockenga, and Billy Graham sought to influence the liberal denominations and scholars while still maintaining conservative evangelical doctrine through what they called “new evangelicalism.” All these men held to fundamental doctrine but felt that more needed to be done to reunite the churches, win back the denominations, and engage the liberal church.
The New Evangelical movement established (among other things) Fuller Theological Seminary (1947), the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (1950), and Christianity Today magazine (1956). Graham sought a kinder, gentler evangelicalism as evidenced in his vision for Christianity Today, a magazine begun by Graham and his father-in-law Nathan Bell. Of CT, Graham said, “It was my vision that the magazine be pro-church and pro-denomination and that it become the rallying point of evangelicalism within and without the large denominations.” Over time, and under the influence of Dr. Bell, Graham had moved from separating from apostate denominations to seeking their approval and cooperation in hopes of winning them back to conservative theology.
This also proved true for Graham’s crusades as well. In 1957, the year after CT was launched, Graham held his famous New York crusade in Manhattan where he fully broke with his fundamentalist roots and connections by cooperating with “a group that was predominantly non-evangelical and even included out-and-out modernists. It also meant sending converts back to their local churches, no matter how liberal those churches might be.” Iain Murray notes that newspapers at the time of the crusade reported Graham saying, “We’ll send them to their own churches—Roman Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish…The rest is up to God.”
The mindset of new evangelicalism was such that if evangelical Christians could shed their embarrassing fundamentalism and its unwillingness to bend, then liberalism would be willing to let them sit at the table as equals. As someone has said this “deal with the devil” was such that if conservatives would call liberals “Christians,” then liberals would call conservatives “scholars.”
Church historian George Marsden observes, “ Such successes in culturally influential religious circles were leading Graham toward the conviction that he could make marvelous inroads into America’s major denominations if he could jettison the disastrous fundamentalist image of separatism, anti-intellectualism, and contentiousness.” That Graham was in fact moving in this direction is made abundantly clear in a letter written by Graham to Harold Lindsell, then a professor as Fuller Seminary, regarding Graham’s vision for Christianity Today, to “plant the evangelical flag in the middle of the road, taking a conservative theological position but a definite liberal approach to social problems. [Christianity Today] would combine the best in liberalism and the best in fundamentalism without compromising theologically.”
Fuller Seminary, BGEA, and Christianity Today stand as the most obvious examples of this failed philosophy, and today each of them stand as a testimony to the bankruptcy of the idea that one can seek a middle ground without compromising, and the eventual theological slide is clearly seen not only upon these institutions, but upon evangelicalism today.
Seeking the Middle within Presbyterianism
This challenge to historic Christianity happened across denominational lines. Another important example of this was in the Presbyterian Church U.S. denomination (not to be confused with the later PCUSA denomination that emerged from it). The flagship school of the PCUS for many years was Princeton Seminary, and as other schools, it was deeply affected by the incursion of theological liberalism in its faculty. Among the few remaining conservative professors stood J. Gresham Machen, professor of New Testament. Seeing the influx of liberalism into Christianity as a whole, Machen wrote in his book Christianity and Liberalism (1923) that “it may appear that what the liberal theologian has retained after abandoning to the enemy one Christian doctrine after another is not Christianity at all, but a religion which is so entirely different from Christianity as to belong in a distinct category.” In other words, liberalism is not Christianity at all, but another religion altogether.
This stand for orthodox Christian doctrine at Princeton came to a head with the denomination and faculty in 1924-1925, when the Auburn Affirmation was signed by 1,274 ministers in the PCUS. The Affirmation made it clear that the fundamentals of the faith (particular the first five listed from page 1 of my notes) did not need to be affirmed by PCUS candidates for ordination. This allowed for new ministers to deny these core doctrines privately while being ordained for ministry, so long as they subscribed to the Bible and Westminster Confession of Faith.
Conservative in theology but seeking a middle road for the sake of unity, Charles R. Erdman, professor of theology at Princeton, sided with the so-called moderates in the PCUS General Assembly and created a peace commission to “study” the issue. The commission was to be made up of liberals and conservatives, but only conservatives that sought peace above all else. Erdman himself was Premillennial, a Bible conference speaker, and a contributor to The Fundamentals. But all of these didn’t matter when it came to his alliances. Seeking the middle ground, Erdman held the door for liberals to walk in and overtake the denomination and seminary without question. As fundamentalist Ernest Pickering wrote, “This new evangelicalism approaches the liberal bear with a bit of honey instead of a gun.”
Realizing that the PCUS was apostate and lost to modernism, Machen and the remaining conservative faculty members left and began Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA in 1929. In 1936 he began the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) denomination after being suspended by the PCUS regarding his establishment of an independent mission board that only supported conservative missionaries. The establishment of a new denomination and separation from the PCUS came at great personal cost to Machen who lost many friends for his abandonment of the PCUS. Was Machen overreacting? He didn’t think so. He wrote, “It is no wonder, then, that liberalism is totally different from Christianity, for the foundation is different. Christianity is founded upon the Bible. It bases upon the Bible both its thinking and its life. Liberalism on the other hand is founded upon the shifting emotions of sinful men.” Machen saw his actions as contending for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).
 Billy Graham, Just as I Am, (London: Harper Collins, 1997), 291.
 George Marsden, Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987), 162.
In the 2017 World War II movie, The Darkest Hour, Winston Churchill cries out in frustration, “You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth!” Although these words are more than likely an artistic embellishment for cinema, they do fairly sum up Churchill’s frustration with the policies of Neville Chamberlain that sought to appease Adolph Hitler by ignoring his aggressions in Europe. Chamberlain truly believed that by signing the Munich Agreement and giving the Sudetenland to Germany along with Hitler’s promise not to continue invading other nations, that Europe would be saved. Chamberlain famously came home and declared that they he had achieved “peace for our time.” Chamberlain thought Hitler was a misunderstood man, when he was in fact the blood-thirsty tiger that would never be satisfied. Churchill understood this and knew that war was the only way to stop him.
The notion of appeasement is not only shared among politicians. Unfortunately, in a world that requires vigilance and sometimes engagement in theological battles, there are those who would seek appeasement and compromise for the sake of “peace in our time.” But as I hope to demonstrate with some examples from recent history, appeasement, and compromise in the face of theological liberalism are always the easier route, but they never achieve the promise they claim.
Setting the Stage: The Fundamentalist and Modernist Controversy
To be clear, we need to understand that prior to the mid-19th century, “evangelical” was synonymous with “fundamentalism.” All Christians who identified with the evangel, the gospel message of Christ, were “evangelicals.” Fundamentalism was a movement that derived its name from those evangelical Christians that sought unity across denominational lines but were committed to certain “fundamental” doctrines that have been accepted by historic Christianity. The number of these fundamentals varied at times, but they almost always included:
The inerrancy of Scripture
The virgin birth of Christ
The substitutionary vicarious atonement of Christ
The bodily resurrection of Christ
The reality of miracles
The imminent and physical return of Christ
Fundamentalists stated that a person had to minimally ascribe to these core doctrines to be within the historic Christian Church because a denial of these doctrines often leads to a wholesale denial of the faith. Modernists (theological liberals), on the other hand, wanted to focus not on the content of belief, but rather the feeling or spirit of Christianity. By denying the need to subscribe to core doctrines of the faith, they could cover the fact that they denied many or all of them, while still insisting they were a part of the Christian church and represented Christianity.
Fundamentalism rejected this minimalistic and emotion drive religion as inadequate at best, and heretical at worst. Several courageous defenders rose up in obedience to Scripture’s call to purify the church:
2 John 9–11 (ESV): “Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.”
Galatians 1:8–9 (ESV): “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”
1 Timothy 6:20–21 (ESV): “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” for by professing it some have swerved from the faith. Grace be with you.”
By the middle of the 19th century, theological liberalism has already entered almost all mainline denominations. This was possible because liberal theologians subscribed to the biblical creeds of their denominations and institutions while at the same time teaching non-evangelical theology. Following German liberal Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834), modernists asserted that Christianity was not primarily about doctrine, but rather a “feeling, intuition and experience.” As such, Schleiermacher set the stage for the setting aside of doctrine in favor of a Christianity that affirmed a faith based upon feelings and experiences.
Along with the growth of liberal Christianity came a desire to put aside doctrinal differences among different denominations to bring unity around an ecumenical spirit. This led to the establishment of the World Council of Churches in 1948, made up of “churches which accept our Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior.” That brief doctrinal statement was all that was required of those joining the WCC, and none were required to expand on what they meant by those words.
Often portrayed as ignorant, uneducated, backwards, anti-science, and anti-progressive by liberals, and “fighting fundamentalists,” uncharitable, ungracious, and divisive, by evangelicals, the fundamentalists stood their ground and called the church to put out of its churches, missions agencies, educational institutions, and para-church organizations all those that were unfaithful to Christ and His Word. But not everyone within evangelicalism agreed with them, thinking there was a better way—a middle way.
My next post will highlight two examples of this attempt to navigate a middle way.
 Iain H. Murray, Evangelicalism Divided: A Record of Crucial Change in the Years 1950 to 2000 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2000), 5.
When stripped down to our historical foundation, IFCA International is a Bible movement. Our churches and ministries exist to preach Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1:23), a prospect that has never been acceptable to the world and is rejected by the apostate church. Like the Apostle Paul, we do not shrink from declaring the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). We believe that God has spoken without error and that His Word has never failed. We believe that the Word of God rules over the Church and God’s people, and that this authority extends to all humanity whether it accepts it or not. We believe the Bible, and this should have a direct impact upon how we minister in the preaching of the Word.
Why do we preach the Bible, and even more specifically, why preach expositional sermons? Why take the pains to study deeply and move book-by-book and verse-by-verse through the Bible? Many answers could be given to answer these questions, but I’d like to give three reasons that center around the nature of this divine Book that has been handed down to us from God.
It Declares with Divine Authority
When a preacher stands in the pulpit, he has no inherent authority. His authority is derived from God alone. Those who demand respect and unquestioning obedience simply because they are a pastor or preacher have more in common with the Roman Catholic Pope and a cult leader than the Apostles of Christ (Mk. 10:42-45). The faithful preacher of the Word shepherds through the teaching of the Word of God. Our Savior demonstrated this in his ministry with such power and grace that it is worth noting four examples of when Christ used the same biblically derived authority that is available to all Christians.
Authority in Denouncing the Enemy: Challenging the Son of God (Matt. 4:1-10)
The Apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:17 that the Word of God is the Sword of the Spirit. Because of this, we should not be surprised to see our Savior use the Sword not only in His teaching and discipling, but also in His direct confrontations with Satan himself. Although Christ has all authority to command Satan in any way He desires, Jesus ended each targeted attack of the enemy with the words, “It is written…” (vv. 4, 7, 10). Of all the options available to the Son of God, Jesus chose to wield the Sword of the Spirit against the Enemy. We do not have any power in ourselves to fight the enemy. We must follow the example laid down by our Lord and take the Word of God and use it to call out evil in all its forms so that those who have come under its sway might bow the knee to Christ.
Authority in Decrying the Legalists: Challenging the Lord of the Sabbath (Matt. 12:1-5)
When the Pharisees brought charges of unlawful Sabbath breaking against the disciples, Jesus once again turned to the Scripture to silence their accusations. Whereas the legalists were quick to point to the Law regarding the sin of harvesting on the Sabbath, Jesus responded to their legalistic error with the cutting words, “Have you not read…? (vv. 3, 5). In pointing to the Word of God, Jesus demonstrated the authority of the Word of God itself. Then, with Scriptural precision, Jesus referred them to Hosea 6:6 to learn that what God wants is not only obedience, but also mercy. This powerful response could not be overcome because Jesus’ challenge stood firmly upon the Scripture itself.
Authority in Discerning Application: Challenging the Traditions of Men (Matt. 15:1-9)
When the Pharisees and scribes once again attacked Jesus, this time through the actions of his disciples regarding the traditional cleansing ceremonies of the elders, Jesus turned the tables on them and immediately challenged them from the Scriptures. They had quoted the tradition of the elders and demanded to know why Jesus did not respect such traditions. But Jesus stated with great boldness his biblical reasons for not following these traditions, “For God commanded…” (v. 4). By placing this debate on the uneven footing of the traditions of men versus the commandments of God, he declared these men hypocrites—and then used the prophet Isaiah to show that the Word of God condemned them for this sort of vanity and pride. The traditions of men are not equal to Scripture and even useful traditions must submit to the authority of the Bible.
Authority in Declaring Orthodoxy: Challenging the Resurrection (Matt. 22:23-33)
When the Sadducees stepped up to try and overthrow Jesus’ popularity, they brought a theological challenge that was probably successful in silencing other opponents. These men who denied the resurrection brought a question which they couched in pious references to the teaching of Moses (v. 24). These deceivers thought their question would silence Jesus and show Him to be the uneducated man they thought Him to be. Jesus once again directly refuted them with the Bible, saying, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (v. 29). He then referred them to Moses, this time to Exodus 3:6 where He destroyed their argument by pointing to the present tense of the verb in that verse that demonstrates that there is a resurrection of the dead. Jesus proved that although the Sadducees said that they accepted the writings of Moses, they had not read carefully enough what God had said (v. 31)! When we say that we believe in verbal plenary inspiration, we mean that every word in the Bible is inspired by God. That includes the grammatical tenses of the verbs too!
The herald of the gospel must stand upon this same authority. We must declare the truth of the Word of God when we proclaim that Christ has won the victory over sin and death. We must courageously face off with legalists who seek to place a yoke of burden onto people by adding law to the gospel message and some who add the traditions of men on top of the gospel, taking away the freedom we have in Christ. We must declare with the authority of the Word the fundamental truths of Scripture when men want to deny doctrine, thereby silencing the deceptive hiss of the Serpent. In ourselves we have no authority, but wielding the Bible, we have authority that comes from heaven itself!
Many times, the reason that sermons lack power is not because the Word is ineffective. Instead it is because Scripture has been given second place, with primacy given to a heavy dependence upon devices that we think will make our message more effective—quotes from commentaries and so-called authorities, emotional appeals and stories that seek to move the hearer, and exegetical data that would better be called a seminary lecture, delivering dry, passionless facts that don’t seek to affect the heart and the conscience, along with the mind. When the pews begin to empty, we either blame the people, or the Word. But there is power in the Word.
It Demonstrates Divine Power
If we understand that all of unregenerate mankind has been blinded by Satan (2 Cor. 4:4) and are dead in their trespasses and sin without Christ (Eph. 2:1), and that even after we have come to know Jesus as Savior we are still in need of the Spirit’s illuminating power (1 Cor. 1:12-13), then we also will understand the need for the divine power of the Word that can overcome the devastating spiritual effects of the Fall.
The Power to Open Blind Eyes
In the aftermath of the resurrection of Christ, there was a lot of confusion among the disciples of Jesus. They had begun to recall the words of Jesus about His rising from the dead, and they had also heard the seemingly outrageous stories from the women who said they saw angels who told them about the risen Christ (Lk. 24:1-9, 22-24). As two disciples puzzled over the events of that first Easter morning, they moved along the road to Emmaus where they encountered a fellow traveler, the resurrected Christ, who was veiled to their eyes.
As they spoke to Jesus, they explained the confusion and the promises and the grief they shared over having lost their dear Master. Jesus gently rebuked the men (v. 25) as He explained from the Old Testament how the Scriptures needed to be fulfilled concerning the Messiah (v. 27). After Jesus’ sudden self-revelation and departure, these two men discussed what they felt as the Scriptures were opened to them: “They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”” (Lk. 24:32, ESV). Their experience was not simply an emotional response, but the active working of the Spirit in revealing truth to their blind eyes, which now could see.
Another example of such power to open blind eyes can be seen along a riverside just outside of the city of Philippi where the Apostle Paul and his team proclaimed the gospel message to a small group of women who had gathered there to pray on the Sabbath (Acts 16:11-13). As Paul preached, Lydia’s eyes were opened by the Lord, causing her to pay attention to the message that Paul preached. Immediately she was changed as she gave her life to Christ. She was baptized and hosted Paul and his companions in her home (v. 15).
Why do we preach the Bible? Because it is the only means that God has given us to open blind eyes.
The Power to Bring Revival
Our God is not a genie that we can simply schedule when we want Him to show up. Biblical revival cannot be stirred up by man, for “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”” (John 3:8, ESV). But this truth does not mean that there are not elements of true, biblical revival that accompany God’s work in bringing about a genuine work of God. The Old Testament gives a few prominent examples of revival that came to the people of Israel, and each one was accompanied by the proclamation of the Word of God. I want to highlight two of those examples so that the power of the Word might be shown in how God brings about genuine revival.
Josiah (2 Kgs. 22-23)
Having found the Book of the Law while making repairs to the Temple, King Josiah was undone when it was read in his presence. As he listened to the reading of the Book of the Law, the king began to see more clearly how disobedient Judah had been in God’s eyes (vv. 10-13). After seeking the prophetic Word of the Lord, Josiah was humbled, and he actively began seeking to eradicate the wicked idolatry that had been rampant in his kingdom. Along with cleansing the land of false worship, he also sought to restore the approved worship that the Word of God directed to his people. Think about it, the Word wasn’t preached, it was simply read. No fancy outlines, no illustrations or catchy titles or PowerPoint slides. The Word was read, and the Spirit did His convicting work in Josiah, moving him to reform the whole kingdom.
Ezra (Neh. 8-9)
Under the leadership of Ezra, the priestly scribe, and Nehemiah the governor, the returning exiles longed to hear from the God of their Fathers as they had begun to see their need to be a separate people from the pagans all around them. God had begun to restore the nation, but not without challenges from their enemies. And so, as Ezra opened the Law and the elders explained its meaning to the people (8:3), the people began to sense their spiritual thirst and their parched souls began to be refreshed as the Spirit began to move them to understand the great and tender mercy of their God (8:9-12). Following a short time of rejoicing, the people began to reinstate the holy practices that had been long lost and forgotten (vv. 14-18) and began to openly confess their sin with grief and contrition (9:1-4). The brokenness of the people led to worship that was filled with confession, restoration, cleansing and rejoicing. The power of the Word had broken the hardest hearts and restored them like nothing else could.
In the modern church today, there are all sorts of man-made methods and programs that seek these kinds of results but fail to make any lasting change. Pragmatism, that philosophy that seeks to determine value based upon the success or failure of end results, is not a Christian concept. Where was the pragmatism in the prophet Isaiah when God said to Him, ““Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” (Isa. 6:9–10, ESV)? There was no revival in the land, but God still called for faithfulness in the ministry of Isaiah.
And where can we find a pragmatic approach in the ministry of Jeremiah, the weeping prophet who mourned over the sins of God’s people for their sin, but was mistreated and scorned and seemed to have been ignored by nearly everyone (Jer. 38:6)? And what about the testimonies of those spoken of in Hebrews 11:36-38?
“Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” (Heb. 11:36–38, ESV)
There is still power in the Scripture, and it is to be preached whether revival comes or not, because Scripture carries with it a divine duty for God’s people.
It Demands Divine Duty
The hard soil of men’s hearts is not something unique to the 21st century. It is as old as humanity itself. This fact needs to sink into the heart of the pastor who is looking for low-hanging fruit when he seeks a ministry. God has not called most of us to a large pulpit ministry, nor world-wide fame. But He has called every one of His ministers to faithfully proclaim the Word wherever we are sent. Hard hearts, gang violence, poor attendance, meager offerings, inadequate facilities, nonexistent leadership, are all realities that can make ministry challenging, but none are reasons to walk away from a church or a community. As a matter of fact, all of these are reasons that a faithful Bible preaching, gospel-saturated church is needed in that place. The marks of this divine duty require us to preach faithfully, preach plainly, and preach patiently.
Preach Faithfully (Ezek. 2-3; 2 Tim. 4:1-5)
Facing the rebellious nation of Israel, the Lord clearly told Ezekiel what he must do, “And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house.” (Ezek. 2:7, ESV). Over and over again, Ezekiel was told that Israel was a rebellious house, impudent, stubborn, and hard-headed. And yet, his instructions were clear, speak God’s words to them. Though they would not listen, and though they were so hard in heart, it did not change the directive—be a watchman (3:17) and speak the words of impending judgment (v. 19) no matter what. Faithfulness is what God requires (3:19, 21).
As the Apostle Paul faced his own death, he exhorted Timothy to continue to persevere in the ministry of the Word in season and out of season. For Timothy, Paul’s imprisonment and coming death was a very real illustration of the threat to the gospel ministry. Paul didn’t instruct Timothy to move to a safer territory nor did he instruct him to avoid suffering, but instead encouraged him to keep preaching even when people will no longer endure it and that this might include the need to endure suffering for the sake of Christ. Paul was faithful to preach the whole counsel of God and he would receive his reward in due time (2 Tim. 4:7-8).
Preach Plainly (1Cor. 2:1-5)
Plain preaching is not the same as bland preaching, nor does it mean to preach simplistically. Paul’s desire to give Jesus Christ all the glory required him to make sure that his own preaching did not put the spotlight on his considerable education, gifts, and talents. Although the so-called super-apostles had a low view of Paul’s presence and preaching ability (2 Cor. 10:10), he placed his full dependence upon the power of God’s Spirit working through the Word of God. In doing this, Paul put the cross of Christ on full display. Plain preaching is not flashy, gimmicky, or self-seeking. Simply put, plain preaching is Spirit-empowered, not man-centered. The Puritan Richard Baxter wrote, “It is no easy matter to speak so plain that the ignorant may understand us, so seriously that the deadest heart may feel us, and so convincingly that contradictory cavaliers may be silenced.”
Preach Patiently (2 Tim. 4:2)
Our duty to preach the Word must be done with the reminder that we do not preach ourselves nor do we preach our words. Pastors are under-shepherds that are to lead without being domineering. We are to be loving examples to the flock that has been placed in our charge (1 Pet. 5:2-4). This means that we must teach the Word of God with the patience of our Master (2 Tim. 4:2), and that is easier said than done, particularly when we are facing the growing challenges of ministry today. Nevertheless, we must teach and preach with great patience, waiting upon the Word and Spirit to do their mighty work.
Although the reasons that we preach the Word could be multiplied, these three should stand out for us—it is our authority, our power and our duty. And as we faithfully proclaim the Word, we can expect that it will do its mighty work of reviving the soul and enlightening the eyes (Ps. 19:7, 8). The benefits of doing so will manifest themselves in due time, showing us that as we sow the seeds of the Word into the hearts of our congregations that all our efforts are profitable (2 Tim. 3:16-17), and will accomplish the will of God in the end (Isa. 55:11).
As William Gurnall wrote a long time ago, “The Word of God is too sacred a thing and preaching to solemn a work, to be toyed and played with.”2 May we pick up our Swords and faithfully execute the ministry that the Lord has called each of us to do, for His greater glory and for the good of the Church.
Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life, (Reformation Heritage Books, Grand Rapids, 2012), 695.
Originally published in the VOICE magazine, Nov./Dec. 2019. Used by permission.