Obviously extremes are bad; God is not the God of extremes, but the God of the scriptural center. In all things there is a biblical balance—predestination may not be preached to the exclusion of human responsibility (or the reverse); faith without works is dead; works without faith in Hebrews are called “dead works,” etc., etc. It is about maintaining one such balance in preaching that I wish to append just this brief note. Yet, the brevity of what I have to say must not make you think it unimportant. Actually, it is (perhaps) the most important point of all.
There is a tendency for conservative preachers to err in either of two directions:
- They may preach the gospel, and hardly anything else but the gospel.
- They may preach the rest of the counsel of God as if it were unrelated to the gospel.
Both extremes do a decided disservice to God and His Word.
I am not going to elaborate on the kind of preaching that sees the way of salvation—and nothing but the way of salvation—in every passage. Usually, connected with it is a runaway typology, excessive storytelling and … well, you know the rest. The “whole counsel of God” consists of far more than the way of salvation. The writer of Hebrews wanted to get on with other things as well (Heb. 6:1–3). He didn’t want to linger over the milk bottle any longer; he wanted to “go on to maturity” by feeding his readers “solid food” (5:11–14; 6:1). It would be wrong to keep working on a foundation that had already been laid (6:1). So, too, must every preacher of the Word do the hard work of learning and teaching far more than the gospel message.
Those who err in not feeding, building, and perfecting the saints, once they have shed their diapers and are ready for long pants, often justify their exclusive gospel preaching by speaking about the “evangelistic outreach” of their church. But evangelism, principally, ought to be carried on by all the members of the church (Acts 8:4) largely outside of the regular meetings of the body. Not a single person is evangelized in a Christian worship service in the book of Acts (the NT manual for evangelism). The major emphasis of preaching within the body is on “all things” that Christ commanded. The NT Epistles themselves provide good evidence of that sort of preaching.
One wonders whether, at bottom, it is always zeal for evangelism that motivates a ministry of gospel-only preaching. Could it not be—in many instances—the easy way? Isn’t it easier to find the gospel everywhere, attach a few interesting stories to the message, and then conclude with a long invitation? Too often, I am afraid, lack of preparation, poor knowledge of the true purposes of passages, and the like, are what are really behind this type of preaching.
On the other hand, there are ministries—often styled “teaching,” or “expository” ministries—in which the gospel rarely (if ever) is preached, outside of those passages to which one comes as he moves along in a book in which it stands out so plainly that it can hardly be missed. (Even here, the discussion may be about the gospel rather than a proclamation of the good news itself, that “Christ died for our sins … and rose again on the third day. Such teaching is justified by a misuse of Ephesians 4:11, 12.
Some of the sermons that are preached from this opposite extreme are so devoid of the gospel that they could have been preached in a Jewish synagogue or in a liberal church without ruffling a feather. No sermon by a Bible-believing pastor ought ever to be acceptable in either place (I am not thinking of talks especially prepared for either audience; what I mean is that his regular messages in his own church ought to be so distinctively Christian that none of them could ever be mistaken for anything less than truly Christian).
What, then, must one do? Here are two suggestions.
- Always include a clear statement of the gospel in every message, even though most regularly preached messages will not be (strictly speaking) evangelistic. That is to say, all messages ought to proclaim—in one way or another—that belief in Jesus Christ as Savior is essential to understanding or doing (or doing for the right reasons or in the right attitude) whatever it is that the passage in view requires.
- That is to say, the preacher must always discover the relevance of the death and resurrection of Christ to whatever it is that he is teaching (cf. Phil. 2, for instance, to see how Paul does this). The light of the cross falls across the whole Bible and illumines it all; no passage in Old or New Testament can be preached properly without understanding and explaining how its message relates to the gospel. That is why some are able to find the gospel everywhere—it is everywhere! But it does not usually stand alone. Rather, it permeates, fills out, and gives life to every other truth and duty taught in the Scriptures.
Make sure, then, that what you preach is evangel-related (though not always having evangelism as its major thrust). The gospel should be so clear that unbelievers present could be saved (cf. 1 Cor. 14:23–25). But let the major part of the ministry of the Word be devoted to the proclamation of the whole counsel of God. Christian preaching, within the body, should consist of the whole counsel of God taught redemptively! As you study the Scripture, you will discover that is the biblical balance in preaching.—J.E.A.
Each Friday we are posting an article by Dr. Adams dealing with Preaching. Check our archive for previous posts.