Having an interest in gospel preaching and things biblical it is interesting to me to think about the status of gospel preaching today as compared to what we find in the New Testament. We in churches of Christ are committed to God’s word as our guiding light in all things. It is interesting to note what preaching is today as compared to the way it is presented in the New Testament. Part of that comparison is to be seen in the particular nomenclature set forth in the New Testament for the work of preaching.
The book, Yosemite Reflections is a compilation of condensed messages and study outlines given at the Yosemite Camp Meeting of 1942. In it the late James D. Bales had a very interesting chapter on “Selected Studies in Acts of the Apostles” (pp. 69-86). This chapter includes a section devoted to New Testament preaching and teaching. It is my wish to note here the first two sections dealing with preaching. In the section entitled, “Preaching in Acts of Apostles” (pp. 77-78), Bales dealt with the words in the New Testament that describe preaching. He wrote, “One of the differences between NT Christians and most church members today is evident in the conception which we have of the term ‘preach.’ What it meant to primitive Christians is to be found in the meaning of the words used to describe it.” Bales listed these words as follows:
- Acts 20:7, 9. Greek word here means “to discourse, reason, argue, dispute” (Cf., 17:17; 19:8-9; 24:12). It is “dialoguing.” Cannot be confined to one person.
- “Speak” (8:25; 11:19; 13:42; 14:25; 16:6, etc.).
- “To speak with freedom or boldness; to speak boldly” (9:27, etc.).
- “To declare good tidings” (Acts 13:32, etc.) (Op. Lk. 1:19; 2:10) (Acts 5:42; 8:4, 12, 35, 40; 10:36; 11:20; 14:15; 15:35; 17:18).
- The following words in Acts also indicate their work as teachers and preachers of the word: Witnesses (1:8; 10:39, 41); Testify (10:42; 18:5; 20:21); Showed (18:25; 16:17; 26:20); Declared glad tidings (12:32); Opened and alleged (17:3); Expounded (18:26; 28:23); Reasoned (17:2); Disputed (9:29); Taught (5:21, 25); Persuaded (19:8); Talked, told, said, spoke; and Published (13:49).
No doubt because of the denominational abuse of the terms we typically do not speak of our preachers as being witnesses, or testifying, yet we ought not to overlook the fact that these words are scriptural in reference to gospel preachers. It is interesting to observe that in the New Testament gospel preaching is the work of declaring the good news of Jesus Christ. In our day preaching has evolved into the cherished art of gifted speakers holding audiences in rapt attention; wooing, captivating, stirring and scaring our auditors with all the human skill that we can bring into the pulpit. It is the skill factor, perhaps more than any other, that makes some preachers great and others small. This was not the particular skill for which Paul was noted as a preacher (1 Cor. 2:1).
Bales also quoted from Alexander Brown, “who…pointed out some of the differences between primitive and modern preaching” (p. 78). The points that follow have often given me pause to think about preaching as it is today. These very interesting differences are now cited, with my comments italicized in brackets:
- Preaching, in its modern acceptation, is restricted to public addresses from platform or pulpit; where NT preaching included the communicating of intelligence to one person – Philip preached to the eunuch. [Perhaps we actually do more preaching than we realize (Acts 5:42].
- Modern preaching is a formal address at a fixed time; NT preaching consisted in going about and telling the news, as the common people today would circulate among themselves any piece of wonderful intelligence. [Preaching should not be limited to the pulpit (Mk. 16:15). As you go, preach the gospel!].
- Modern preaching is chiefly professional – carried on by trained and paid officials; whereas NT preaching was engaged in by the whole brotherhood, irrespective of remuneration (Acts 8:1,4). [I’m afraid that, to some degree, he is correct. Preachers today are those who have advanced academic degrees, and are persuasive, confident, articulate and skilled in public speaking. We should not forget, however, that a preacher has a right to life’s necessities and to provide for a family (1 Cor. 9:3-5; Phil. 4:16). Those who preach the gospel should live of the gospel (Lk. 10:7; 1 Cor. 9:14)].
- The practice of modern preachers is to speak from a text – a verse, a line, a word; the first Christians gave a summary of what God had done. [Yes, one difference between New Testament preaching and today is that the modern evangelist must decide from week to week what he will preach. The apostles never had that problem. The apostles were told not to worry about what they would preach (Matt. 10:19). Paul said, “Preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:2). Philip preached from a text (Acts 8:32-35). We wish more evangelists would embrace the practice].
- Modern preaching is characterized by theorizing, often of the most fanciful nature; the first Christians rehearsed facts, and accompanied the rehearsal with clear injunctions respecting what should be done. [Amen. Our practice should reflect 1 Peter 4:11].
- Modern preaching is almost invariably in the interest of some denomination; the first disciples had no denominations to defend. [There is only one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one God (Eph. 4:4-6). Even though it is not popular our preaching should reflect this same singularity and exclusiveness].
- Modern preaching is bewildering, partly owing to denominational divisions, partly owing to the theorizing nature of the speaker, and partly to its being made a profession; the preaching of the early Christians set the minds of all classes immediately at rest in the enjoyment of salvation, by producing faith in the Son of God and obedience to His behests” (Conversion to God, pp. 84-87). [There is no reason, in view of restoring New Testament Christianity, that the preaching of these modern times cannot be clear and concise, fulfilling all that the Lord intends in calling people through the gospel to faith in Christ Jesus (2 Thes. 2:14)].
by Dennis Gulledge