Re-evaluation of our evangelism
Is preaching practical? How does it compare and contrast with other forms of communication?
Many factors combine together to militate against preaching. We may mention:
1. The current cult of spontaneity militates against preaching.
2. The current concentration on liturgy militates against preaching.
3. The power of speech to communicate significance has become suspect. Seeing is deemed more effective than hearing.
4. With the gadgets, new tools, computer and information technology, videos, and the arts being all introduced into the life of the twentieth century church, it is difficult to maintain a healthy view on preaching, and evaluate properly its validity and effectiveness for today.
The question being raised, not only by lay persons who oftentimes do not know better (and tend to make judgements according to appearance), but also by ordained pastors and catechists, is, "Is Preaching still practical?"
The reasoning is as follows: perhaps preaching may have served in apostolic and medieval times, when civilization was still crude and backward, but today we are blessed with a number of other methods and ways of accomplishing exactly the same end. Why should we bore people and drive them away by offering them a tedious talk from the Bible? Why not present them something that moves and excites them, that creates an atmosphere of liveliness and congeniality?
Thus more and more preaching is viewed with suspicion and doubt.
The Bible's contention, though, is that preaching is the primary and not fundamental God-ordained way of disseminating the gospel to all the world. Nothing should supplant it or stand by its side. But of course, we need to keep in mind what sort of preaching the Bible refers to: for in the Bible the preaching of the Word is presented as a powerful means of communication, that is addressed directly to the heart, that touches the raw nerve, that reaches to the recesses of the soul and quickens the conscience.
Our problem today is that we hardly hear and preaching that is worthy of that name. Lectures and talk on religious subjects are assumed to be preaching in the full sense of the word. This simply is not so. Therefore, as preaching is compared to other types of communication we need to keep this in mind.
But before we do so, we also need to be convinced how practical is preaching. It affects us and should be considered most practical because of the following reasons:
1. The preacher himself is called of God and equipped to bring His Word to the people. In a profound sense, he is a prophet, speaking in God's Name and representing his Master, Jesus Christ. The Saviour, who is still fulfilling His role as the Great Prophet, confronts us and comforts us by His Word, who brings healing, restoration, and uprightness to our souls.
2. The people, who accept the God-ordained means of growing in Christ, attend to the preaching with diligence, prepared in their hearts to receive with meekness the implanted Word, which is able to save their souls. When the attitude is, "Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth," the effect of the Word preached will be tremendous and quite revolutionary. The Thessalonians received the preached Word not as the word of men, though it was sounded forth from the lips of men, but received it as the Word of God, who worked effectually in them (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
3. Though the preacher is the speaker in a sermon, yet it can properly be called a homily, that is, a two-way type of communication. The wise preacher would know the arguments, objections, and protestations of the audience, and will seek to answer their questions. Paul did this constantly in his letters, especially seen in Romans, where he often interjects his line of thought by, "What shall we say then?" or "What then?"
4. In preaching the church is "slow to speak and quick to hear" because she is conscious of her need to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. She appreciates the gifts of Christ in giving pastor and teachers to the church, and she is submissive to hear and obey. In some cases this may not be counted pleasant, but it certainly is practical if we are to conform to Christ.
5. Preaching is so practical that in God's wisdom that was the means since the time of Abel onwards how God communicated with man. And God who knows the end from the beginning would have given us notice in Scripture if He intended to change the method. But nothing of this sort is found or even intimated. Are we to say then that God's method is impractical? May it never be!
6. Preaching is most practical because it effectively accomplished and continues to accomplish its end, that is, the salvation of souls and the edification of the saints. Who are we to relegate preaching to the church museum when God still manifests his gracious power through it?
7. Preaching is God's revealed way of making Himself and His saving covenant known to His elect.
8. The history of the church largely proves that revivals and awakening occurred when the preaching was strongest and purest. Preaching communicates the force of the Bible as no other way of handling does.
9. Again, preaching focuses the identity and clarifies the calling of the church as no other activity does. The church is not an entertainment corporation; it is distinctively the gathered people of God and, as such, preaching is a peculiar activity peculiarly hers.
Having established the practicality of preaching, we will go ahead and compare it with other forms of communication.
1. The printed word, whether in book, booklet, tract, or journal form, is a viable means of gospel presentation. God Himself thought it wise and best to record His Word in a written form. What He desires us to believe and what He requires us to do is all incorporated within the pages of Holy Writ. From thence the church is not only allowed but positively encouraged to use literature, sound in theology and clear in presentation, to the lost world and even to members in the Kingdom of God. Paul valued books, reading, scholarship and literature: his correspondence to the churches and fellow-workers is proof enough. Literature evangelism and discipleship through literature is always supplementary to sound preaching.
2. Teaching systematically through the Bible is another form of communication that must not be despised. If pastors are also teachers, and are to be apt to teach, then the "classroom" milieu is something that the church has accepted and should continue to cultivate. That is why we are in favour of Sunday schools, even for adults, so that everybody might be grounded thoroughly in the Word, and presented perfect in Christ.
3. It should not be difficult, furthermore, to form a sound judgment upon drama, skits, and other forms of communicating the gospel. If the pastor, the man of God, is meant to be godly, sober, vigilant, and a man of dignity, how can he align himself with such events where, more than anything else, entertainment is the key? The gospel must always be presented without guile, whereas with drama, people attend because they are told that they will have a good time. Only later will the realize that the drama had a religious message. This tactic is nothing short of deception.
In their experimentation (having regaled the Bible as having authority only in theory), many denominations are swallowing worldly ways and means of communicating the message. But when all is tried - and disappointment is experienced -, the centrality of preaching will inevitably be felt all the more.
Preaching has some unique advantages as a mode of Christian instruction. The church is mandated to teach all nations, and this task is most effectively and lastingly accomplished through preaching, that is, doing God's work God's way.