The Proper Use Of The Pulpit

By Robert F. Turner

The church was rent by problems, and feelings ran high. This preacher had strong convictions of his own as to the right and wrong involved, and entered the auditorium poised for the battle likely to ensue. But as he walked down the aisle he remembered advice received from an older Christian in a like situation years before. The wise brother had said, “Give ‘ern Heaven, preacher!” And that was the proper spirit, regardless of fleshly inclinations to give something else. Call it a “cute” remark; say it does not remove the need for reproof or error, or of dealing specifically with the problem and needed Bible solutions; and you will be right on all counts. But the advice is scriptural. God requires an attitude and motivation on our part which must accompany the teaching of God’s plan of salvation, fighting denominational error, or correcting false doctrine among brethren. The proper use of the pulpit is to “give ’em heaven!”

Paul’s inspired instructions to evangelists Timothy and Titus call for proper content in our teaching, to be sure; but they also tell us the purpose and deportment of the teacher which must prevail. These letters have both positive and negative precepts, often labeled as “charges.” Three times “charge” is from diamarturomai, meaning “solemn and emphatic utterance.” Best known of these is found in 2 Timothy 4:1-2, “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” The same “solemn utterance” accompanies instructions regarding treatment of elders, “doing nothing by partiality” and “lay hands suddenly on no man” (1 Tim. 5:19ff). The word is again used with “study to show thyself approved unto God;” and this is surrounded by “strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers” and “shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness” (2 Tim. 2:14ff).

Okher “charges” (parangello) from Paul are: “teach no other doctrine, neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith” (1 Tim. 1:3-4). Positive aspects of this charge are in 1 Timothy 2 and 3 – prayer for kings, women’s adornment, their learning in quietness, the qualifications of elders, deacons, etc. See also 1 Timothy 4:11; 5:7; 6:13; and 6:17. Paul sanctions identification of false doctrine, and false teachers – what many call “strong preaching”; but always in a sincere effort to give them heaven. The total message must be practiced if we are to claim to preach as Paul instructed.

There are repeated warnings to “refuse profane and old wives fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness”; or, avoid prideful “doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, etc.” Preachers! writers! are you paying attention to Paul? We are told, “foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do generate strifes. And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient; in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves Titus was told to “speak the things which become sound doctrine,” yet, “to speak evil of no man, to be no brawler, but gentle, showing all meekness unto all men” (Tit. 2:3). The Timothy’s and Titus’s of today must not cast Paul’s charges aside.

The pulpit should be instructive, and that means the speaker should know and be able to present the great themes of the Bible. He must do more than rehash “first principles,” differently disguised. One day it takes faith, repentance, confession and baptism to fly a kite; the next day it takes faith, repentance, confession and baptism to win a ball game, or have Eternal Life Insurance, or whatever an inventive mind may devise. Fixed “rag” sermons or transparencies are effective as visual aids and useful as initial lessons for aliens, but they can hinder further study on the preacher’s part, and discourage digging into the meat of the gospel. A steady diet of this produces spiritual malnutrition (Heb. 5:12f).

We must impart information, and should know that we have not taught, until someone has learned. You may say, “I have told them, and I have told them . . .” but have they heard? True, we can not force people to heed, but unless we have communicated God’s message to them, we have not done our job. There is a vast difference in teaching and just verbalizing information. We should reexamine our attitudes, methods, and anything else that affects the teaching process, striving always for greater effectiveness in teaching.

Imparting information is, however, but a means to an end. We reach for their hearts (2 Cor. 10: 5; Heb. 8: 10-11), and to do that we must touch emotions and will, as well as thoughts. We must cause people to believe, to desire to serve God, and be moved to obey. The question one must ask is not “what percentage negative, what percentage positive?” but rather, “does this accomplish the God-assigned purpose of teaching?” If our negativism causes hearers to renounce error, turn to Christ, and fly right, it is wisely chosen. If it makes matters worse, or is used as an ego booster for the preacher, it is not so wise, and may be sinful. If “emphasizing what we are for” causes hearers to ignore error and continue in sin, it fails the divine purpose. If it instructs in godliness and builds a proper basis for righteous judgment, it is a blessing. The obvious truth is, it takes both kinds, wisely chosen; and wise choosing can only be done on the basis of what wins hearts to Christ.

Reproving and rebuking error is not synonymous with uncouth treatment or abusive language. I am reminded of the new convert who said one preacher told him he was going to Hell, and seemed glad of it; but another told him he was going to Hell, and “it seemed to break his heart to have to say it.” Must you be told which preacher brought him to Christ? Differing personalities affect the way we say things, but preachers should learn to control their tongues and pens just as they teach others to quit “cussing.” An erring woman can be rebuked without calling her “that old heifer”; and childish, almost gutter remarks, about how ugly a person is, have no place in Bible teaching. There may be items when to “answer a fool according to his folly” calls for strong language, but this can be factual and direct without resorting to “fleshly weapons.” Being discourteous does not show strength; it is often the sign of weakness.

The general theme of this special issue is “Preaching that will save those who hear,” and that is exactly what we are striving to emphasize. We believe that was Paul’s goal when he wrote “Oh foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you?” For he also Wrote, “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you…” (4: 16-20). The tenderness and concern of Paul, even in upbraiding, is so apparent (cf. 2 Cor. 2:14). Note also the Hebrew writer’s practice of adding encouragement to his strong warnings. “Impossible . . . to renew again to repentance” followed by “but beloved, we are persuaded better things of you . . . though we thus speak” (6:4-12); and, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” followed by “but call to remembrance the former days . . . cast not away therefore your confidence” (10:26-39). The Lord Himself said, “Ye serpents, generation of vipers,” then, seemed to weep for the people: “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . . how often would I have gathered thy children . . .” (Matt. 23:33-39). There is nothing “soft” in tender concern for sinners.

The “Proper Use of the Pulpit” must begin with “Preaching for the Right Purpose.” I can not judge your motives, but challenge you to do some serious introspection. Is it an “ego” trip? Easy money? Would you preach without support, in an out-of-the-way place? Do you plan your lessons to save souls and strengthen people spiritually, or to entertain with humor and oratorical ability? Are you more concerned with what the hearers think of you than of what they are led to do for Christ? What determines how and what you preach: God’s word and the needs of your hearers, or pressure from your peers?

We hear a lot about “Pioneer preachers” and how many people they converted. At the risk of being deemed a “restoration heretic,” I doubt this was done through their superior knowledge of the Bible. Nor do I believe their crudeness saved souls. It seems that the best explanation for their success is their dedication to the right purpose. They were soul-hungry, and stepped into the speaker’s stand deeply aware that they must bring their listeners to Christ “give ’em heaven,” or see them lost in hell.

Guardian of Truth XXIX: 9, pp. 273, 275
May 2, 1985