In 2002—in Montgomery, Alabama at a youth gathering, Paul Washer preached one of the more famous sermons in recent history. He wasn’t satisfied with the direction the event had taken and he took to preaching the unadulterated Gospel of Jesus Christ. He declared, “What you need to know is that salvation is by faith and faith alone in Jesus Christ. And faith alone in Jesus Christ is preceded and followed by repentance. A turning away from sin, a hatred for the things that God hates and a love for the things that God loves. A growing in holiness and a desire, not to be like Britney Spears, not to be like the world, and not to be like the great majority of American Christians, but to be like Jesus Christ.”
That’s good stuff right there—stuff that kids (and adults) nowadays need to hear worse than ever. The 5000 youths in attendance clapped and cheered. Then came the mic-drop moment—“I don’t know why you’re clapping, I’m talking about you.”, Washer declared.
Such bluntness may not always be warranted. But sometimes it is. There are times when there is such an urgency that clear, pointed words need to be declared. Baptist churches have reached just such an urgent point. And if something doesn’t change, many churches will cease preaching and practicing anything that resembles what we see in New Testament churches. Somebody needs to say something because nobody seems to want to. It’s puzzling to me that men who are willing to call out anybody and everybody in the outside (Christian) world who differs with them (on nearly a weekly basis) refuse to point out major doctrinal errors in their own ranks. That may fall into the category of “ancient Greek stage actor”. But I digress.
Let me state this as plainly as I possibly can—apart from the right preaching of Scripture, a church will apostatize. That’s the primary point of this article in case you actually read all the way to the end, and you’re left wondering.
A church is not like a car where you simply change the oil every 3000 miles, and all should be OK. No, a church must be taught and trained and corrected—regularly. To put it another way, every congregation needs to be growing (spiritually). We must be moving in a certain direction—towards Christlikeness. And that simply will not happen apart from the accurate preaching of the Word of God. Understand, every church is moving in one direction or another. And if the Bible is not being preached week-after-week (rather than just being talked about), that direction is away from the Biblical model of a New Testament church. Such a congregation may chase narrow-minded extremes that separate it from other groups, or it may become looser in its theology and practice. But neither of those directions is necessarily in line with the Word of God. Being faithful to God is not about becoming more conservative or more liberal—it’s about becoming more Biblical.
In Paul’s final instructions to Timothy—in a letter written to his son in the faith when he knew his time on Earth was drawing to a close—Paul chose to pen these words: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:14-17). Timothy had been taught the Word of God by his mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5) as well as by the apostle Paul. It was through the “sacred writings” that God had sovereignly revealed Himself to Timothy. And it was through God’s Word that He would continue to reveal Himself.
To further clarify his point, Paul explains that “All Scripture is breathed out by God”. This means the Bible is both trustworthy and sufficient. He explains that it is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” The Bible is the way God has chosen to speak to mankind in this age. Certainly, in time past, God spoke “in many ways” (Hebrews 1:1). However, that is not the case today. Now, “he has spoken to us by his Son.” (Hebrews 1:2). The ministry of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels and the writings of the apostles (and those closely related to them) provide us with all we need to serve the Lord faithfully. The Bible is sufficient for us. And, It is a closed Book. We do not need dreams or visions or ideas from meditation or anything else. New information is not being added to God’s Word daily. New information is not being added—period. This includes sermons.
I say all that to say this—preachers are to be explaining the Bible to their congregations. I’m sure I won’t get too much pushback from such a statement. So, let me see if I can say it another way—preachers are not to be preaching their own ideas. They are not to be merely talking about the Bible. They are not to use the Bible as a springboard to launch into their favorite pet peeves. Preachers must read the text of the Word of God, explain what it means, and apply it to the congregation—then call on somebody to pray. That’s it. Nothing any preacher has to say improves what God has already said.
(insert “amens” here—no clapping though, ‘cause we Baptists don’t clap!)
Now—to quote Washer again, “I don’t know why you’re clapping, I’m talking about you.” Somebody needs to say it because nobody seems willing to. And again, this is in a group that continually points out the errors in everybody else. But when it comes to “one of ours”, nobody wants to speak up. But you cannot have Biblical unity while allowing all kinds of erroneous theological statements to be made from the pulpit. If you’re unified around such things, it’s certainly not Biblical unity. Furthermore, if you preach God’s Word accurately, that should be enough to interest God’s people without having to say God dropped such a sermon in your head while you were eating a hotdog at the ballgame last night.
I simply cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard a preacher declare that God gave him his sermon while he was doing something—and though it’s gonna be tough, he’s just gotta preach it since God gave it to him. I’m not talking about a Pentecostal preacher. I could understand that. I’m referring to Baptist preachers—men who are supposed to believe in a completed Canon. Maybe he was studying—maybe he was mowing the grass—maybe he was looking at the speed limit sign—maybe he was sleeping, and it came in a dream (you know, like the prophet Daniel)! I’ve heard these things and more. Of course, the ears of the congregation immediately perk up when you say something like that—and they should, if it really happened. When one of the prophets declared, “Thus says the Lord”, people were required to listen. I mean, when God speaks, there is authority behind the message. The problem is, almost every time I’ve heard a pastor begin a sermon with some statement like that, it became abundantly clear rather quickly that God absolutely did not give him the sermon. He didn’t preach the Bible. He got off into left field. He said things the Bible didn’t say. Or worse, he actually said things that contradicted the clear teaching of the Word of God. And lest I be misunderstood here—I mean in Baptist pulpits. If you want to give your congregation a word from God, preach the Word! It’s sufficient.
Now sadly, this happens weekly in some churches—Baptist churches. And for some reason (and I have no idea why), nobody ever seems to consider walking up to the pastor and asking him to show them in the Bible where God has promised to give him sermons apart from Scripture—through their dreams or in a deer stand or while driving down the road. Let me be perfectly clear—God absolutely did do that with the prophets—yes. Without question! But to put it bluntly, we preachers ain’t prophets. Today, God has given His Word to pastors to preach. In fact, if we read just a tad further in Paul’s letter to Timothy, Paul literally instructs Timothy to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Timothy 4:2). Timothy, don’t sit around on Saturday night or Sunday morning trying to “come up” with a sermon. No—“preach the word”! Preach what God has given. Preach that which is “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching”. One of the major problems in churches today—Baptist churches today—is that preachers are, far too often, trying to “come up” with sermons when God has graciously supplied him with a Book full of them! What a travesty!
Pulpits today are often filled with preaching that exposes an extremely low view of Scripture. Oh, preachers may declare that they have a high view of it—and may even do so by demanding that they only read, study, and preach (and listen to preaching) from the good ole 1611 King James (which they don’t—but I don’t have time for that). But then they tote that good ole King James into the pulpit and commence to prove that they actually do not have a very high view of Scripture. They read one verse and then talk for 30 minutes about things that may (or may not) be related to that verse. They may even string along other verses that they pulled from their trustworthy Thompson Chain. Many of those verses are ripped kicking and screaming out of context. Understand—that is not Biblical preaching. It’s not even the third cousin twice removed of Biblical preaching. And while I’m on it, we need to recognize that King James Onlyism—in no way—equates to a high view of Scripture. Some of the biggest heretics of our generation (and past generations) have been King James Only. A high view of Scripture is made manifest by Biblical preaching—end of story. And listen—if the preacher is not reading a text, explaining that text in context, and then applying it to the congregation, he has a low view of Scripture no matter what translation he totes into the pulpit—and no matter his denominational affiliation. Let me put it this way—if you aren’t learning more about the Bible when you go to church, your pastor either has a very low view of Scripture or you aren’t listening. Or let’s try this—if the preacher is talking about all kinds of things he believes without proving it from the Bible, he has a low view of Scripture. Or maybe—if God through Jesus is not the hero of the sermon, your pastor has a very low view of Scripture—and the Gospel, for that matter. I could go on, but you get the point. “Preach the word”, men. And trust that it is sufficient to change lives. And congregations must demand such from their church leaders.
As I said earlier, apart from the right preaching of Scripture, churches apostatize—and we are witnessing that before our eyes. All kinds of theological oddities from prayers for the dead (which is undeniably pagan) to “Pomegranates in the Old Testament are a type of the church” to “ravens are demonic” to “Jew don’t mean Jew—it means false church” to “other Christians will be bowing down to us”—are being preached—yes, in Baptist circles. Such things are being tolerated at Bible conferences without so much as one public word of rebuttal from men that have been preaching for decades—men who consider themselves leaders. Some of the things being preached are so utterly ridiculous and far out that I would never expect anyone to believe it—and yet, apparently, they do. But—really, that is to be expected. When the Bible is neglected, churches (and groups of churches, for that matter) apostatize. It may be a slow fade that is barely noticed by those inside, but there’s simply nothing else that can happen. We need to get away from this “he may not preach the Bible but at least he preaches ‘the truth’” mentality. That’s literally (and Biblically) impossible. God has given us His Word to keep us in step with the truth. When that Word is not being preached, we cannot be in step with the truth. That’s the bottom line. End of story.
There is a crisis at this very moment in time. Baptist churches are at a breaking point. Honestly, we may be past it—that’s yet to be seen. It’s long past the time to “test everything” (1 Thessalonians 5:21)—and that includes what a preacher is saying. Don’t listen to a man who is getting his sermons from his dreams. Make sure the man in the pulpit is preaching the Bible—and nothing else. And again, I don’t mean he’s talking about the Bible. I mean he is explaining the words in the text. Churches that continue to allow a preacher week-after-week to preach something other than the Word of God are asking for their church to die—either by closing the doors or through the back door of apostasy. But you can rest assured, without the accurate preaching of Scripture, one of those two things is going to occur.
Todd Bryant is the Lead Elder at Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Northport, AL. He has pastored there since 1998. For more more information on the church and links to audio sermons and apps for electronic devices, visit www.sovereigngrace.net