Social Needs and Preaching

The Light
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A Baptist website suggests many in their ranks are saying that the age of the expository sermon is now past-avoid preaching from the Bible. In its place, some of their more con­temporary preachers now substitute messages intentionally designed to reach secular or superficial congrega­tions, messages which avoid preach­ing a Biblical text, and thus avoid a potentially embarrassing confronta­tion with Bible truth.

The Baptist site said the shift from Bible preaching to more topical and human-centered approaches has grown into a debate over the place of Scripture in preaching, and the nature of preaching itself.

You may remember the poetical saying we often quote, originating (I think) with a Puritan preacher named Baxter..."Preach as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men." This man understood that preaching is literally a life or death affair.

On the other hand, a preacher by the name of Harry Emerson Fosdick promoted that preaching is just personal counseling on a group basis.

For Baxter, the promise of heaven and the horrors of hell frame the preacher's consuming burden to preach. For Fosdick, the preacher is a kindly counselor offering helpful advice and encouragement. This is called "needs based preaching" in liberal circles. Focusing on so-called "perceived needs" allow these needs to set the preaching agenda rather than the Word of God, resulting in a loss of Biblical authority and Biblical content in the sermon. The Baptist writer said that this pattern is increas­ingly the norm in many Baptist pul­pits. Under the guise of an intention to reach men and women "where they are," preaching has been trans­formed into meeting social needs. Some verses of Scripture may be added to the mix, but sermons have become increasingly non-sermons, For a sermon to be genuinely Bibli­cal, the text must set the direction as the foundation of the message, not simply injected here and there as a sort of spiritual footnote-take it or leave it. Of course we preach what we observe to be needed, but secular and societal failings are often distant from spiritual needs. In either case, if related to spiritual matters at all, the Scriptures give us our foundation for addressing the need, and the sermon is developed from that.

It was very interesting for me to have read a bit inserted about Charles Spurgeon related to the same social gospel. It was said that even he, so many years past, confronted the very same pattern of wavering pulpits. Some of the most fashionable and well-attended London churches fea­tured pulpiteers who were the precur­sors to modern needs-based preach­ers. Spurgeon, who preached to thou­sands despite his insistence on Bibli­cal preaching (as he understood it through Baptist glasses), was quoted as saying that, "The true ambassador for Christ feels that he himself stands before God and has to deal with souls in God's stead as God's servant, and stands in a solemn place, a place in which unfaithfulness is inhumanity to man, as well as treason to God."

Old time preaching had an urgent concern for the souls of the hearers, with the preacher fully aware of his accountability to God for preaching His Word, and His Word alone.

There is no more worthy thought for the preacher as he steps into the pulpit than, "I must preach as a dying man to dying men, never sure to preach again."