Dressing Up the Truth
Pulpiteerism seems to be quite the fashion these days. I am not speaking about simple, straightforward Bible teaching. There is plenty of the latter in the New Testament. I am speaking of the oratorical prowess, the flowery sermonizing, the extravagant bombast and showmanship one finds so frequently in our churches today.
A case has been made – and a very sound case in my opinion – that the polished oratory we have come to expect from our pulpits today finds its origin not in the first century apostles but in Graeco-Roman rhetoric. Speeches were designed to magnify the speaker’s oratorical skills and to entertain. Contrast this with the New Testament. In the key passages that describe the meeting of the church – Rom. 12:4-8, 1 Cor. 12-14, Heb. 10:24-25, for example – you will look in vain for anything that even comes close to sermonizing or oratory. Why, then, should our generation be so intoxicated with polished rhetoric and extravagant eloquence?
I thank God for elders who faithfully teach the Word (Eph. 4:11; 1 Tim. 3:2). I am no less thankful, however, for the “lay person” who has a teaching and uses it for the edification of the Body (1 Cor. 14:26). I do not necessarily mean that we should have less formal teaching when we assemble. The apostles’ doctrine was the bedrock of the early church (Acts 2:42), and it must be of ours as well. My own conviction, however, is that the church would be greatly strengthened if it knew less passivity and more participation on the part of its members. Let us have the Bible. Let elders teach it. But let every member with teaching ability exercise it, as Peter instructs us (1 Pet. 4:11). And let all of us forsake pomposity. Instead, let our meetings be characterized by humble instruction as we “teach [and learn from] one another” (Col. 3:16).
When I am asked to speak to a congregation, I often request to do four things. These may appear to be very insignificant, but each of them, I believe, is helpful in exalting the Word over the speaker. I ask to sit with the congregation rather than on the platform before speaking. I ask to speak from the floor (at eye-level with the congregation) rather than from behind a pulpit. I ask to have a “lay person” read the Scripture portion from which I will teach. And I ask for a question and answer time afterwards so that there might be profitable interaction, the monologue being supported and complemented by the dialogue of personal discussion. My requests are almost always granted and welcomed.
God’s people are easily diverted these days. We can become so anxious about the world that we forget to share and live the Gospel. But it is also easy to become tainted with what we denounce because some of it always rubs off. No Christian need be ashamed of a lack of eloquence. Turn not from the truth to rhetoric. There is nothing about the Gospel to please this age. We are never more foolish than when we try to dress up the truth in the gaudy garments of this day.
April 18, 2006
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.