24 October 2006

No Bible verses were harmed (--or even touched!) in the writing of this sermon

by Dan Phillips

I attended a Baptist church, years ago. The pastor was evangelical, Calvinistic, very professional (much more professional that I've ever been able to be). He preached topically. Believed in the Bible completely; expounded it seldom, per se. Very neat sermons -- "neat" in the sense of "tidy" and, as I thought at the time, hermeneutically-sealed.

One Sunday, the pastor preached on what happens to the Christian after death. I was eager when I learned of the topic. Here was a subject that surely would force him into the Word. Think of it: we have absolutely no experiential, first-hand knowledge of it, no alternative avenues for gaining knowledge. We are absolutely and totally shut up to Scripture for truth on this topic.

I'll say this. It was the most remarkable sermon I've ever heard. I've never forgotten it. That is, I've never forgotten one particular thing about it: this orthodox, Bible-believing man did not engage with so much as one Bible-verse on the topic at hand. Not one. Not a verse, not a text, not a reference, not a punctuation-mark. Not so much as a leather binding or a place-marker ribbon. Bibles remained closed, if they'd been brought at all.

What we did hear was "We as Christians know," and "We believe," and "We hope." But how do we know these things? Why do we believe them? On what basis do we hope? The Bible might as well have been chained to the public, its contents reserved for some Magisterium to chew up, digest, and dole out, piecemeal, as it saw fit.

I'll admit that providing proofs and substantiation of what I'm saying in my sermons is almost a mania with me. But here's why: my charge is to preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:4). I've been made a steward of something that isn't mine; that is, I didn't create it, and I don't control it. It was given me to give away, to those who have just as much right to it as I (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:1-2). I am to use it feed Christ's lambs (cf. John 21:15-17). I am not called to lord it over their faith (2 Corinthians 1:24), nor to rule as if on my own authority (cf. Habakkuk 1:7). I'm no priest, no prophet. I have nothing to bring the people that isn't theirs by rights, anyway.

And so it is the preacher's burden to open up the Word -- not as if opening a museum, but a picnic basket. My goal isn't for my hearers to stand at a distance and marvel; it's for them to dig in, and be filled.

At the back of my mind in crafting my sermons is always the concern that my hearers will see God's truth for themselves. God forbid that they should believe anything simply because I say it, if I can help it! What an atrocity that would be. How appalled I would PyroManiacs have been as a pastor, had I heard one of those in my charge saying "Well, I believe ___ because our pastor says...." My goal is to hear them say, "The Bible says," and then see that they're able to open the Word themselves.

After all, is this not the chasm between Rome and the Biblical Christian? Is it not our conviction that God spoke His word to His people at large (cf. Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Hebrews 1:1-2, etc.), and not to some favored elite subset? What God gave us, did He not mean us to give away (cf. Matthew 10:8)? Do we really want to tell them what God says, as if God had said it to us and not to them? Or do we not want to show them, so that they can see it for themselves?

Of course I'm concerned about the Word being sidelined in churches where it no longer is believed. Of course it's grievous that historically-sound denominations have gone deep into apostasy, and the Word no longer has the place God means it to have even in their confession, let alone practice.

But what is even more grievous are those churches who still formally profess faith in the Bible as the inerrant Word of God, but who then sideline it as effectively as the Romiest Romanist. Their leadership agrees with Jesus, formally, about the Bible. Formally. But in practice? In the pastor's own possession and use of the necessary tools? In his employment of those tools towards their designed end? In his vision of the purpose of his sermon, his burden, his goal?

Let's be brutally candid. Might some of our fellow-professors be more honest if they wore Roman robes, and let the "evangelical" Sacraments of stories, sideshows, music, skits, announcements, dance, handbell choirs, prayers and the rest do their work ex opere operato?

Spurgeon has been quoted as telling his people that there's enough dust on the Bibles of some that the word DAMNATION could be written in large letters. Could the same be said of some Bibles in the pulpit, though the word written might instead be ICHABOD?

God grant that our fine Biblical and Reformed theory not be cancelled out by a de facto Roman practice.

(These thoughts tangentially jogged by this post from m'mate CraigS.)

Dan Phillips's signature


Kim said...

What is alarming about these types of sermons is the example it sets for the younger crowd. My pastor occasionally veers off and uses more quotations from articles than he does the Word of God. One Sunday, my then-12 year old son asked me: "Why didn't the pastor use the bible?"

Last Sunday, our pastor preached a sermon about God as the creator. Most of material came from Norm Geisler's book I Don't Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist and Michael Behe's Darwin's Black Box. My daughter's friend said to me later, "I can't believe it. Our pastor just gave us a science lesson."

The young folks are watching and learning.

Anonymous said...

You have hit on one of my great concerns. We once attended for a time a small, conservative Baptist church where the pastor would fill his time in the pulpit railing against those who wouldn't "preach the Word". He told us all about those denominations and megachurches that just wouldn't give the Word of God. After several weeks of this, we began to realize that the man was against a lot of things but never once opened the Word itself and actually preached to us from it. His sermons became political-style rants against liberalism and postmodernism but he never got around to actually preaching himself. Members were lulled into complacency because they viewed themselves as "old school" and not like those non-Bible preaching churches. They never realized that they never heard the Bible preached either. Very sad.

Carla Rolfe said...

In our homeschool, the Bible curriculum we use has 5 sections to each lesson.

The first section is the introduction to the topic - usually 3 short paragraphs preceded by the Scripture that covers that particular topic. For example, this week's lesson is on Fantastic Faith - Scripture verses Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10.

The second part of the lesson is between 10-20 questions on the text of Scripture - with the verses that contain the correct answer, referenced at the end of each question.

When we go through the questions, even if the kids know the answer, we still check with the verse reference at the end of the question, just to be sure that we're sure.

I stress this every week when we do this part of the lesson - and stressed it again just yesterday.

"Even if we know the right answer, or THINK we know the right answer, we always double check with the Bible to make sure that what we thought we knew, was accurate".

I was never taught this as a kid - and was never taught this as a young believer. I want to make sure my kids are solidly grounded in understanding what Sola Scriptura actually looks like. The proof (for them) that this is so important, are those times they were SO sure they had the right answer, and when we read the reference, they realized they were incorrect.

I love this Bible curriculum (Christian Liberty Press) - and highly recommend it to anyone who homeschools (many even use it for Sunday school). It's a great way to help start your kids off with a right understanding of why Scripture is so vital to our Christian life.

Okay, there's my PSA for the day.

Bike Bubba said...

I vividly remember being a young Christian and noting very clearly the difference between my church at college (where the Word was preached) and my church at home (where the morning paper was preached). I remember even better talking to the pastor about it, and becoming aware that he didn't care that he wasn't preaching the Word.

And yes, I've also seen the Bible-believing failing to engage the Scriptures--apparently believing that the rhetorical tools of man outweigh the living Word of God. Would they admit it? Of course not, but wisdom is shown by her actions...

FX Turk said...

Dan: don't tell me -- SBC pastor. The kind of guy for whom the Bible is the inerrant word of Scripture, so holy that it's a sin to open it up and read it to the congregation.

pheh. You caught me on a day when I'd almost be willing to baptize babies in order to run away fromguys like that.

DJP said...

Frank -- nossir; BGC.

You caught me on a day when I'd almost be willing to baptize babies in order to run away fromguys like that.

Now you understand where I am a bit better.

For me, that'll never happen. But if watching it being done is the price to pay for being able to hear the passionate, God-honoring preaching of the Word? Doable.

GeneMBridges said...

There's another way to chain Bibles to pulpits. It's called prooftexting. Recently, a critic of the critics of Dr. Jerry Vines asked if Dr. Vines had the right to exegete Scripture from the pulpit in his sermon contra the doctrines of grace @ FBCW.

One wonders if this person listened to the sermon, or, if he did, what he thought "exegesis" is. Dr. Vines interacted with one, maybe two or three verses of Scripture. He never mentioned the contrary argument, and he discussed determinism and never mentioned indeterminism (his own belief), only characterising determinism as "extreme." Essentially, he made a contradictory point and then he proceeded to roll out prooftexts without a single word of exposition. It was the old "We all know what these mean, so I won't bother to interact with them" strategy. The Bible was chained to the pulpit that night.

donsands said...

Good words Dan. I thank the Lord that His Word is still feared and loved by some. I agree that the Bible has slipped, and is slipping away.

"Man shall not live by bread alone, but by ...

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel 1&2, Kings 1&2, Chronicles 1&2, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.

Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, Corinthians 1&2, Galatians, Ephesians, Philipians, Colossians, Thessalonians 1&2, Timothy 1&2, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, Peter 1&2, John 1,2&3, Jude, and Revelation.

danny2 said...

great post again dan.

i'm surprised how many of my friends believe the biblie is sufficient of all things except a sermon outline.

Solameanie said...

Amen and double amen, Dan.

I often wonder if it's just laziness, or if they have been cowed by the typical "Bible-thumping" accusations.

One only had to be part of Carla and Denise's blog at E-NO for a while to see this in action. Make your case against postmodern theology by using Scripture, and the general howling would start. "Proof-texters!" "Bibleolatry!" I'm sure you've encountered this yourself.

No matter. The Word cuts like a two-edged sword no matter how much complaining they do. But as you say, it is sad when someone who shows evidence of really believing the Bible will not use it in the pulpit.

Solameanie said...


It's being a "Berean," isn't it?

Sounds like a great curriculum. Perhaps some pastors ought to be studying it, not just the kids! :)

Craver Vii said...

That's why I love expository preaching! My pastor did something quite rare and took three weeks to expound upon two verses (1 Peter 1-2). I thought it was absolutely fantastic, but it did not go without criticism from churchmates who are being weaned from junkfood theology.

Museum vs. picnic basket...good illustration.

Lamblion said...

Perhaps these two quotations from John Bunyan are apropos here --

"And you who muzzle up your people in ignorance with Aristotle, Plato, and the rest of the heathenish philosophers, and preach little, if anything, of Christ rightly; I say unto you, that you will find you have sinned against God, and beguiled your hearers, when God shall, in the judgment-day, lay the cause of the damnation of many thousands of souls to your charge, and say, He will require their blood at your hands (Eze 33:6)" John Bunyan, A Few Sighs From Hell

"I tell you that the operation of the Word and Spirit of God, without depending upon that idol [of human learning], so much adored, is sufficient of itself to search out 'all things, even the deep things of God'... I do find in most men, such a spirit of whoredom and idolatry concerning the learning of this world, and wisdom of the flesh - and God's glory so much stained and diminished thereby; that had I all their aid and assistance at command, I durst not make use of ought thereof, and that, for fear lest that grace, and these gifts that the Lord hath given me, should be attributed to their wits, rather than the light of the Word and Spirit of God. Wherefore, I will not take of them from a thread even to a shoe-latchet, lest they should say, 'We have made Abram rich.'" John Bunyan The New Jerusalem


donsands said...

Bunyan really sugar-coats it.

Excellent quotes. Thanks.

Mike said...

pheh. You caught me on a day when I'd almost be willing to baptize babies in order to run away fromguys like that.

I'd take Ligon Duncan over a Baptist pastor who didn't open the Bible during his sermons ... easily. Centrality of the Word of God verses the particular application of the Word of God on a topic that has been debated for centuries.

In Christ alone,

DJP said...

It's sad when you have to choose, Mike, but we did. We were in a church which doctrinally lined up with us a bit closer, but the preaching virtually never even came close to applying the Word to our hearts, was passionless and safe.

Then we found this passionate Presbyterian preacher and live church... and the inconceivable became well-nigh unavoidable.

ricki said...

Thanks for the post. I recently moved to the US from Germany. One of the first churches I checked out was the largest church in my denomination in this city (it was voted in the top 50 influential churches in the US).

I found every sermon to be highly motivational and well done. These guys were clearly excellent coaches, counselors, etc.. And it seemed clear to me that they were Christians - I know some of their lives (and the fruit) and they seasoned all that they said from the pulpit with Biblical perspective and Scripture.

BUT I was very disappointed. At the end day, they were good Christian business speakers or Christian personal counselors rather than Bible teachers/preachers.

It perfectly fit the old cartoon, "Lord, help me find the right Scriptures to fit this perfect story/joke I have."

Net, they had it backwards and I just couldn't go there because of that.


If I had not read the first paragraph of your comments I would have thought you were talking about Joel Osteen!!!

natalie said...

Amen! I vividly recall visiting my grandmother's church at around the age of 10 and listening in shock to a sermon on the topic of change begin, instead of the reading of the Word, with a chatty little talk about the pastor's new kitchen appliance, and how hard it was to adjust to the different buttons!

Wyeth Duncan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Wyeth Duncan said...

I could not agree more! Thank you for this post. Unfortunately, this move away from actually teaching the word of God is all too common in many evangelical churches. There have been quite a few Sundays at my own church when I've had no need to open my Bible. That saddens me greatly, because our pastor has demonstrated in the past that he can be an able expositor. May God cause the pastors of our evangelical churches to have greater confidence in His Word than in church growth books.

In Him,
Wyeth Duncan