A few years back, I listened in astonishment as postmodern leaders talked about replacing “preaching” with “having a conversation.” At first, I thought that maybe they were confusing individual conversations with preaching, but I was wrong. They felt that we should stop “preaching” from the pulpit, and start being more passive and less confrontational. Never mind the fact that Jesus said, “I must preach the kingdom of God, because for this purpose I have been sent” (Luke 4:43). But according to many postmoderns, it’s time to replace the pulpit with a couch, and preaching with conversing.
Don’t get me wrong, if a church wants to replace pews with couches, that is completely up to them. As I said before, I’m not questioning cosmetic issues such as styles of worship, ambiance, lighting, and mood; I’m challenging the dangerous practice of removing foundational principles. And Spirit-empowered preaching is foundational.
I’m also not suggesting that we never converse with people; quite the contrary, personal conversations are very important. Jesus often took time to sit and talk with people. We should all strive to follow His example—to listen to others and show genuine concern. We must be slow to speak and quick to listen. But when we are called to preach, a whole new dynamic takes place: the Spirit of God is speaking, convicting, drawing, leading, healing, breaking, restoring, wounding, and building. Arturo G. Azurdia III, in his book, Spirit Empowered Preaching, said, “It must be understood that the preacher does not share, they declare… Preaching is not a little talk. It is not a fireside chat. To substitute sharing and discussion for preaching is to risk the integrity of the gospel itself.”
“What does this have to do with me; I’m not a pastor, or a preacher,” you might ask. It has a great deal to do with any Christian, regardless of his or her calling. Let me explain: There is a very troubling trend in the evangelical church, as a whole. Foundational doctrines such as the cross, sin, and repentance, were declared (preached) openly in the early hours of church history, as well as in American history—when revivals and awakenings spread across our landscape. Today, these foundational truths are often neglected, watered-down, or avoided altogether in the hope of “not offending,” “securing an audience,” or being “user-friendly.” Judgment is never mentioned; repentance is never sought; and sin is often excused. This leaves people confused and deceived because they believe in a cross-less Christianity that bears no resemblance to Jesus’ sobering call to repentance. Even though you may not be a Christian leader, we all are called to share God’s Word with others, and this includes the difficult truths. Then we are also able to offer hope.
“To convince the world of the truth of Christianity, it must first be convinced of sin. It is only sin that renders Christ intelligible” (Andrew Murray; 1828-1917). In other words, the crucifixion only makes sense in light of the consequences of sin. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (I Timothy 1:15); yet, we’re not suppose to mention sin, repentance, or judgment?
Again, the good news about Christ can only be appreciated with the bad news as the backdrop. There are times when the saints must be fed, and there are times when the sinners must be warned (C.H. Spurgeon). Preaching, witnessing, teaching, and so on must be done with God-given authority to truly be effective. When we fail to proclaim God’s Word faithfully, we run the risk of “encouraging sin” and “perverting the words of the living God” (Jeremiah 23).
If you doubt that we need authority in our pulpits again, this powerful declaration may help to convince you. It’s often found in books, speeches, lectures, and sermons from the past. Even though it is not found in his works, it’s often attributed to Alexis De Tocqueville—a Frenchman who authored Democracy in America in the early 1800s.
Whomever the author, it’s clear that much of America’s success was attributed to the pulpits being aflame with righteousness, authority, and power from God. The impact of America and her international influence was so great that world leaders, as well as historians, contemplated her success: “I looked throughout America to find where her greatness originated. I looked for it in her harbors and on her shorelines, in her fertile fields and boundless prairies, and in her gold mines and vast world commerce, but it was not there. It was not until I went to the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her success. America is great because she is good, and if America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” We need the pulpits aflame with righteousness again!