By Edward O. Bragwell, Jr.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is God’s power to salvation (Rom. 1:15-16). Yet, I am afraid that many are not willing to let it stand on its own merits. Many feel that they must give it a boost in one way or another or it won’t get the job done. I am alarmed as I think of attitudes that I see expressed and exhibited by many brethren when it comes to the spread of the gospel. Many seem to have developed some carnal attitudes toward the preaching of the gospel.
When we look at Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, we see that the root of many of the problems that Paul addressed was the carnal-mindedness of the Corinthian brethren. Instead of thinking and acting in spiritual terms they were guided and motivated by carnal minds. This carnal-mindedness manifested itself in various ways. It caused them to overlook sin in their midst (chapter 5). It caused them to attempt to settle differences between themselves by appealing to the courts of the world (chapter 6). It caused them to engage in immorality (chapter 6). It caused problems in their marriages (chapter 7). It caused them to disregard the consciences of their weaker brethren (chapters 8-10). It caused them to make a sham out of public worship and the Lord’s Supper in particular (chapter 11). It caused them to have an improper attitude toward the spiritual gifts that they possessed (chapters 12-14). It caused them not to have proper love that they should have had one for another (chapter 13). It caused them to reject the resurrection of the dead and therefore the resurrection of Christ (chapter 15). But we also see the effect of their carnal thinking in the first three chapters, in that it affected their attitude toward the preaching of the gospel. We, too, need to be careful lest we allow our attitudes toward the preaching of the gospel to be corrupted by carnal thinking.
The Personality of Preaching
First of all, let’s watch our attitude when it comes to the personality of preaching. We must be careful not to develop an improper preference of one preacher over another as the Corinthians had (1 Cor. 1:12-17; 3:4). Some preferred Paul, others Apollos and yet others Peter. Each of these men possessed qualities that would cause brethren to admire them. Paul was a great apostle and one who established many churches. Apollos was eloquent in speech with a great knowledge of the Scriptures (Acts 18:24). And Peter was a great apostle who had been very close to the Savior while he was on earth. On the other hand, each of these men had things in their lives that, if one didn’t have the right attitude, he might find reason to criticize and refuse to listen to them. Paul was not the best of speakers, considered dull by some and hard to understand at times (2 Cor. 10:10; 2 Pet. 3:15-16). Trouble seemed to follow him everywhere he went. He even spent some time in jail. Apollos once held to the baptism of John (Acts 18:25; 19:1-7). If he were so mistaken at one point, how could anyone be sure that his judgment could ever be trusted again? And Peter – just think about all the problems that Peter has had. First, he denied the Lord at a time when he was most needed. Then there was the confrontation with our beloved brother Paul when he had to be set straight (Gal. 2:11-13). Although he seems to have repented of these things, how could he ever really be trusted again? Does any of this sound familiar?
We also might develop an improper preference for a style of preaching. It is easy to let our likes or dislikes for the way a sermon is delivered or the mannerisms of a speaker prevent us from hearing the message being delivered. Never mind what is being said, if we don’t find the sermon “interesting” then we won’t listen. Let’s face it, the problem with many is that they don’t find spiritual things interesting and unless things are dressed up in some way they are not going to receive it. It reminds me of when my mother used to put ketchup on our peas to get us to eat them. Many desire flowery speech and persuasive words of man’s wisdom (2:1-5). The message to many is not as important as the way in which it is delivered. Many seem to want the fireside chatterer who spins a good story, but care less whether he ever preaches anything of substance. Brethren, when we exhibit such attitudes are we not carnal and behaving as mere men?
The Content of Preaching
Another thing that we must watch is our attitude when it comes to the content of preaching. I am afraid many have developed a desire for preaching that is after man’s wisdom (1:18-31; 2:4-16). They want to be dazzled by philosophy and psychology. As a result, Bible content has become optional in many pulpits today and this kind of preaching is applauded by so many. So we as preachers give them what they want, instead of what they really need, the pure, simple word of God. This divine word is void of worldly pizzaz and therefore uninteresting in the eyes of many. If you do get around to some real Bible teaching then they desire that the preacher give them only milk and no meat (3:1-3). Indeed, in many respects, are we not carnal and behaving as mere men?
The Promotion of Preaching
We also must be careful about our attitude when it comes to the promotion of preaching. We are quick to condemn the denominational world and our “liberal” brethren for their use of such things as social programs to promote the gospel. These we say are “carnal means.” But I have observed a disturbing trend in the last few years among those who claim to be “conservative” churches in their promotion of the gospel. I suppose that there is nothing wrong with advertising a series of Bible classes as a “seminar,” but I often wonder if that is just a ploy to make the gospel more appealing to the world and make it sound more sophisticated. The question I’m asking is what is our motive? It also bothers me to see us advertise our speakers or speakers advertise themselves by their earthly credentials (M.D., PhD., Engineer, Chemist, Biologist, etc.). Again, what is our motive? Also, I am made to wonder what our motive is when we begin in the work of the church to make appeals to the young people through special programs. (We dare not call these special programs “youth rallies” because then people will know what they really are and accuse us of being “liberal.”)
Why not let the gospel promote itself and stand on its own merits? When we decide that we must dress things up and use the promotional gimmicks of the world, then we are saying that the gospel is not sufficient to accomplish what it is intended to without our interference. Again, are we not carnal and behaving as mere men?
The Results of Preaching
Finally, we must watch our attitude, when it comes to the results of preaching. I am afraid that sometimes we may be more concerned with the result that our preaching has on the tote board than the result it has one the hearts of men i 1 wonder if we are more concerned with filling pews and keeping them filled than with filling peoples’ hearts with sound doctrine (2 Tim. 4:2-4). Are we more concerned with how many we can boast of “baptizing” than whether they are truly converted to the Lord? We then shy away from any kind of preaching that might in anyway be rejected by anyone and thus possibly decrease the number of seats occupied in our building. So what happens is that we tend to judge preaching that results in large attendance as better than preaching that results in not so large attendance and that is not necessarily so. Preaching may result in dwindling attendance because the preacher is a reprobate who doesn’t practice what he preaches or because he goes out of his way to be obnoxious and offensive. This ought not to be. Preaching, however, may result in dwindling attendance because some listeners are not willing to put up with sound doctrine. On the other hand, preaching may result in large attendance because the preacher soothes everyone’s conscience with fair words and never calls for them to correct their lives. I am afraid that many churches are overflowing because some have been led to believe that following Jesus doesn’t really require any sacrifice on their part and people tend to flock to a message like that.
Let us consider what the Bible says that the result of sound preaching will be. We are told that people will be converted to the Lord (Rom. 10:14-17). Notice, I said converted, not merely gotten wet. Also, Christians will be edified (cf. Eph. 4:11ff). But we are also told that some will reject the preaching of God’s word (Lk. 8:12-14). But we are not willing to accept the possibility of this rejection. So we do whatever it takes to remove any obstacles to anyone joining with us even if it means compromising what the Bible teaches. After all, we are told, we have to “accentuate the positive, and eliminate the negative.” So we turn the religion of Jesus Christ into a religion of convenience for the sake of numbers, instead of teaching the importance of total commitment to the Lord despite the cost, the way Jesus himself taught it must be. When we put this kind of over emphasis on numbers for numbers sake, are we not carnal and behaving as mere men?
Brethren, let’s not think carnally, but soberly as God would have us to think (Rom. 8:5-6).
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 21, pp. 661-662
November 1, 1990