08 May 2014

The sufficiency of Scripture and preaching

by Dan Phillips

Last week I launched a few Tweets on a theme I've hit in the past and mean to develop more in the near future. You may have heard of it: the sufficiency of Scripture.

The specific point I was making was that, if we really believed it, we'd start there, rather than making stuff up and then testing it by Scripture. Here was one of my tweets:
Someone who doesn't follow my account (and thus understandably may not "get" where the shorthand of my tweet was coming from) responded, "So then why do we hear sermons in church instead of just Scripture readings?"

I take it that the idea is, if Scripture is enough, why say anything else? Why not just stand up and read it, and be good with that?

The question itself makes my brain itch. But the calmer DJP says "Teaching opportunity!" so, here we go.

The truth of the sufficiency of Scripture means that Scripture contains everything for which we need a word from God. That's what it does mean. It doesn't mean that, whenever we have a need, we whip out a Bible and read a passage at random without a moment's thought (before or after), and call it good.

The life of faith and obedience that the Bible (the Bible, the words in the Bible, the contents of what Scripture teaches) calls us to means that we read it, study it, understand it, think about it, and apply it.

So here's this "church"-thingie. What's it for? What am I supposed to look for in it? Who leads it? If I'm one of those leader-people, what am I supposed to do?

From what Scripture teaches me, I should start with the assumption that I don't have one clue, no idea whatever — unless I get that idea from Scripture itself. (If you're not clear on why that is, I can recommend something that goes to the literal heart of the matter in great Biblical detail.) So I consciously set aside my assumptions and biases and preferences, and go to the Bible, God's Word, believing that it contains everything for which I need a word from God.

So, let's fast-forward through decades of study and all, and get to the bottom-line: if Scripture is sufficient, then why do we preach sermons, in church?

Because that sufficient Scripture tells us to. See, for instance, 1 Timothy 3:2; 4:13; 5:17; and 2 Timothy 4:1-2; Titus 1:9.

See? That's how it works. It won't teach anyone who is unteachable — nothing does that. But it does give us everything for which we need a word from God.

Like to hear that opened up even further, live and in person? I know this conference that's coming up. We'd love it if you came!

Dan Phillips's signature


Pastor Greg Lawhorn said...

The strange thing, Dan, is that to so many your observation seems like a strange thing.

There is a huge difference between preaching FROM the Word, and preaching the Word itself. Why any preacher would not begin with the text, focus on the text, be guided by the text, unpack the text, explain the text, and call for faith and obedience in response to the text, is beyond me. Not only does the Word itself call for such preaching, it's just easier - the Word itself does all the heavy lifting. I spend 15-20 hours in preparation each week, but that's a breeze compared to transforming lives.

I've been a teaching pastor for 22 years now, and if I've learned one thing, it's that expository, Bible-declaring sermons are the easiest to prepare and preach. The guys who read a couple of verses and then spend thirty minutes free-associating are working really, really hard for a minuscule and powerless result. That sort of sermon is like an artichoke - too much work for what you get.

Jim Pemberton said...

I'm interested by the commenter you mentioned who asked why we need sermons if scripture is enough. The question begs the question that sermons are different than scripture.

a) The commenter may not have the experience of a good sermon where scripture was expounded.

b) It's true that sermons are not equivalent to scripture. However, scripture itself presents preaching as the fundamental method by which scripture is explained to a church.

c) Preaching unifies a church under the banner of Christ through the revelation of scripture. When it is read aloud and explained, there is an expectation of accountable conformity. In other words, we rise to leave and as we look at each other, we think to ourselves, "You heard the same thing I did." When what we heard was the scripture explained clearly, we are compelled to identify with each other because it creates a common frame of reference for our fellowship.

Anonymous said...

Excellent point concisely made. You say, "a theme I've hit in the past and mean to develop more in the near future." I hope you'll do that in writing, here on this site. It's amazing how often we think of the Bible as a reference-source/problem-solver, instead of as the starting point for everything we ought to be thinking and doing.

Unknown said...

Starting with Scripture is a much-needed point about which I have the impression that Christians think they understand but don't. Thanks for that application to preaching, which makes up the bulk of your post.
What first caught my interest was the start of your post because in my environment (where people are emphatic that they love the Word and believe it sufficient) I hear way too much, "If it doesn't violate Scripture..." lingo. So, did you receive an impression from God? If it doesn't violate Scripture... (then you must have).
Following along on your point, if I may expand: Start with Scripture and we won't need to be "impressed" and then resort to Scripture as a mere sieve.

DJP said...

Well-put. Otherwise, why not interpret cloud-shapes...but test the results by Scripture?

Robert said...

I certainly think that people devalue Scripture while elevating the hevel of this worldly culture. That is why many Christians, both nominal and true, are always talking about the latest movie (The Bible series, "Son of God", "Heaven is for Real", "God's Not Dead") instead of talking about how great the passage from their daily reading is. In fact, I think next time somebody mentions how great one of those movies is, I'm going to ask them which passage of Scripture really moved or convicted them this week.

I often think of the second half of Isaiah 66:2 when thinking about this..."'But to this one I will look, To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.'"

If we are moved to great lengths by dramatic portrayals on the screen, but the very Word of God doesn't stir something up in us (and do so much, much more), I'd say something is very, very wrong.

Unknown said...

Wow, well put Dan, as always. I think it's really an irrational question- Why to preach sermons in the church and not just read it out. I guess, some charismatic put up that question (judging from the extent of gullibility). And when I read "if scripture is sufficient, then why do we need to preach sermons in church? " I was alert and was curious to know what the next sentence would say. It said "because the sufficient scripture tells us to" I was giggling while reading that. Not a surprise in a post from Dan, i mean it's natural.

Unknown said...

Good post on a topic I haven't thought about, or at least not in this way. You made the answer succinct. >Robert, I also like your comment; at different times in my life, I have been more interested in entertainment than the Bible :( But recently, as I've been reading the Old and New Testaments, I've come across so many striking passages that I have been telling people about what I found! That's never really happened to me before. The Spirit is stirring up in me a hunger for the Word!