Friday, March 6, 2015

Preach a text or preach a topic?

Year after year we hear report that our churches are in decline.  Some try every program on the market, spending thousands of dollars on the latest church trend/fad.  But I think the problem is much more simple than an overhauling program.  I believe we have the solution in our possession.  Most of us have multiple copies in different translations and languages.  It is God's Word. 

What has happened is that many have abandoned relying on the power of the preached Word of God.  They claim to trust the Word, but they deny that claim by preaching topic driven, pragmatic, 'relevant' sermons that seek to entertain as oppose to exhort and admonish. 
While it can at times be appropriate to preach a sermon addressing a particular topic, this should certainly not be the norm.  Even when done it should be done in a manner that takes an honest approach to the proper text.

If we desire to develop healthy disciples and healthy churches we must seek to preach the text.  You may ask, ‘but doesn’t that equate to the same thing?  If I preach a text, will that text not contain a topic?’  The answer is yes and no.  Yes, each text has a meaning.  If you want to call that a topic I suppose that would acceptable.  However, there is a difference between preaching a text and a topic.  Preaching a text allows the testimony of Scripture to dictate the topic.  Preaching a topic allows you, the preacher, to be in control of the topic.

Many Southern Baptist Preachers have drifted away from the rich practice of selecting a text and spending our pulpit time in unfolding that topic.  It is far more beneficial to unfold a text of Scripture than it is to persistently select topics.  In Luke 24, after Christ had vanished from the sight of the disciples He had been walking with on the road they realized who He was and then they make a remarkable comment on what He had been saying to them.      “They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”” (Luke 24:32 ESV) 

What produced that burning in their hearts?  The Scriptures!  Opening up the Scriptures!  We must endeavor, the Holy Spirit, to do the same thing. 

With that in mind, and without any further digression, speaking to the Southern Baptist custom of expository preaching, let me share with you “Advantages of Having a Text” taken from "Preparation and Delivery of Sermons” by John Broadus (Broadus, John. Preparation and Delivery of Sermons, New (Twenty-fifth) Edition, p. 21-23)

“Taking a text is an old and well established custom from which there seems to be no good reason for departing; especially as the change would be sure to prove distasteful or even painful to many worthy and devout hearers of preaching.  Moreover, the custom is founded in excellent reason, and has marked advantages.

It is manifest that to take a text gives a tone of sacredness to the discourse.  But more than this is true.  The primary idea is that the discourse is a development of the text, an explanation, illustration, application of its teachings.  Our business is to teach God’s word.  And although we may often discuss subjects, and aspects of subjects, which are not presented in precisely that form by any passage of Scripture, yet the fundamental conception should be habitually retained, that we are about to set forth what the text contains.  When circumstances determine the subject to be treated, and we have to look for a text, one can almost always be found which will have some real, though it be a general relation to the subject.  If there be rare cases in which it is otherwise, it will then be better to have no text than one with which the subject has only a fanciful or forced connection.

There are several advantages in regularly taking a text.

1.)  It constantly recalls the fact just mentioned, that our understanding is not to guide the people by our own wisdom, but to impart to them the teaching of God in His Word.  This fact enables us to speak with confidence, and leads the people to recognize the authority of what we say.

2.)  If the text is well chosen, it awakens interest at the outset. 

3.)  It often aids the hearer in remembering the train of thought, having this effect wherever the sermon is really evolved from the text.

4.)  It affords opportunity of explaining and impressing some passage of Scripture.

5.)  It tends to prevent our wandering utterly away from Scriptural topics and views.

6.)  Greater variety will be gained than if the mind were left altogether to the suggestion of circumstances for then it will often fall back into its old ruts; and this variety is attained just in proportion as one restricts himself to the specific thought of each particular text.

Objections to the use of texts have commonly arisen from one of two or three causes.  The grievous laxity in the interpretation of texts which has so widely prevailed, leads some men to regard the employment of them as wrong or useless.  This is the old story – the abuse of a thing causing men to question the propriety of its use.  Again, persons who have little or no true reverence for Scripture, or appreciation of its riches, speak of the text as a restriction upon freedom of thought and flow of eloquence.  Thus Voltaire: “It were to be wished that Bourdaloue in banishing from the pulpit the bad taste which disgraced it, had also banished the custom of preaching on a text.  Indeed, to speak long on a quotation of a line or two, to exhaust one’s self in subjecting a whole discourse to the control of this line, seems a trifling labor, little worthy of the dignity of the ministry.  The text becomes a sort of motto, or rather enigma, which the discourse develops.”1  It seems plain that the sneer arose partly from the torturing interpretation so often witnessed, and chiefly from the critic’s want of reverence for the Bible, and ignorance of the preacher’s true relation to the Bible.  And perhaps, as a third ground of objection to texts, some able and devout preachers, disliking expository and even textual preaching, and wishing that every sermon should be a philosophical discussion or an elaborate discourse upon a definite topic, incline to regard the custom of always taking a text as an inconvenient restriction.  Such appears to have been the feeling of Vinet.

It is sometimes not unsuitable to have two text, or even more.  Thus with Heb. Ix. 22, “And without shedding of blood is no remission,” there might be united I John i. 7, “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.”  Or with Isa. Vi. 3, “The whole earth is full of His glory,” ma be taken Psa. Lxxii. 19, “And let the whole earth be filled with His glory;” to angelic eyes it is so – the human mind can only pray that it may be so. (Comp. Hab. Ii. 14.)  Spurgeon has a sermon on the words, “I have sinned,” as occurring seven times in the Bible, and gives interesting views of the different circumstances and states of mind in which they were uttered. 2”


1 Voltaire, Age of  Louis XIV. Quoted by Vinet, Hom., p. 99.
2 Amer. Ed. Of Spurgeon’s Sermons, Third Series, p. 241

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