Well, thanks be to my heavenly Father, I have made it to another New Year. In fact, today is the second day of 2019. This year marks 55 years since I preached, or tried to preach, my first sermon back in 1964. (Yes, I’m still trying). During these years I have witnessed more challenges and changes, in and out of the church, than I care to remember. Many of these challenges and changes have been viewed from afar or learned about in papers, books, or seminars.
The avalanche started with the Supreme Court’s ruling on legalizing abortion, then prayer and Bible readings were removed from public schools and places. In the past twenty years, the avalanche has turned into a Tsunami. Same-sex marriages, transgender identity, sexual immorality of every description, from bestiality to acceptable pedophile, the escalation of killing babies in the womb, etc.
On the back jacket of Leonard Sweet’s 1999 book SoulTsunami, there is an eye-opening statement: Sweeping in from the cultural sea, a mountainous wave of change threatens to wash the church away. It’s a postmodern flood of mind-boggling techno-culture, problems your grandparents couldn’t have imagined, and religious pluralism that embraces everything except spiritual absolutes. Leonard Sweet calls it ‘SoulTsunami(sohl-Isoo-NAH-mee), and there’s no outrunning it. We Christians can only choose one of three ways to respond to it. We can deny its existence—and drown. We can fight it—and lose. Or we can recognize the unprecedented opportunities it presents—and chart a course across the waters toward reformation” (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Mich.). NOTE: I would change reformation to restoration.
While we are surprised at these evident signs of the USA descending into a modern Sodom and Gomorra pit, the Bible makes it clear that “all have sinned” and the “whole world lies in darkness.” Years ago I heard a preacher say, “If God doesn’t bring judgment on America, He will have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorra.”
The pace of decline in society is more and more being matched by the church. It is common news today to be reminded that overall, across the brotherhood, the church is in a decline in conversions, membership attendance, participation in programs, and positive financial support be every member. In many congregations, the majority of members have voted, by their absence, that Bible classes, Sunday evening and Wednesday night services are no longer needed. The litmus test for faithfulness is attendance at one service on Sunday morning.
In recent weeks I have been caught in a “crossfire” relative to the challenge the church is facing as we move into 2019. A Christian couple who was visiting our services to determine if they would place their membership with us, said in a discussion, “We will be placing our membership here because we like and believe in old school preaching.” Not soon after that, I was visiting with a Christian family who had visited a few times but didn’t seem to be interested in placing membership. The brother said, “Brother Turner, no disrespect to you or the congregation but we are not looking for old school preaching or a traditional congregation.”
More and more we are hearing the words “old school” being used in various segments of society. Contrary to the thinking of some the phrase “old school” wasn’t launched into our popular word usage back in 2003 from the movie “Old School.” According to Merriam-Webster the words first occurred back in 1749. According to Webster, the term “Old School” is an application of an earlier way or style of doing things common to the past…using or supporting traditional practice. It has evolved into an expression of pride when a person states he is doing something because it was the way it was done in the past, which they believe it was better back then. Criminals use it to brag about they are like the “old mob members” in the past.
OLD SCHOOL HAS ALWAYS FACED CHALLENGES
While most sins have been given new names, titles, and authority; the practice didn’t originate in the 20th or 21st Centuries. Ironically, God’s people have been tempted many times and sadly succumbed to departing from the old school of what God demanded. Here are some examples:
“That this is a rebellious people lying children, children who will not hear the law of the Lord; who say to the seers, ‘Do not see,’ and to the prophets, ‘Do not prophesy to us right things; speak to us smooth things, prophesy deceit. Get out of the way, turn aside from the path, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us” (Isaiah 30:9-11).
“Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron…” (1 Timothy 4:1-3).
“Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Timothy 4:1-4). Paul makes it clear to Timothy that his mission as an evangelist was to “preach the word.” Not about, around, under, or related to the word—THE WORD.
Regardless of the time periods, we examined there were always those people who desired to depart from the “old school” approach of following the Scriptures; getting away from a “Thus saith the Lord.”
REJECTION OF OLD SCHOOL PREACHING TODAY
In an out of print book, The Empty Pulpit, by Clyde Reid, I used to use as one of my textbooks in teaching Homiletics, the author discusses seven criticism (Pages 25-32) against preaching back in 1967 (Harper & Row, Publishers, New York, N.Y.):
Charge # 1: Preachers tend to use complex, archaic language which the average person does not understand.
Charge # 2: Most sermons today are boring, dull, and uninteresting.
Charge # 3: Most preaching today is irrelevant.
Charge # 4: Preaching today is not courageous preaching.
Charge # 5: Preaching does not communicate.
Charge # 6: Preaching does not lead to changes in people.
Charge # 7: Preaching has been overemphasized.
It is obvious that many of Reid’s observations are truer today than they were back when he wrote them. Every preacher would do himself a favor if he’d analyze these 7 charges relative to his own preaching. Likewise, those who listen to sermons week after week need to study these charges. Together, preacher and hearers, they could take preaching in 2019 to the level God intends.
The preacher who seriously faces the challenge of preaching the word today realizes he is being compared to TV stars such as Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar, etc. No one knows how many cable channels are filling homes and phones with sermons with an emphasis on feel-good, health, wealth, and prosperity messages. The internet is overflowing with offers from “successful” preachers and ministries offering their quick shortcuts to growing a congregation. The key word today is ENTERTAINMENT. We are not without our pitches, gimmicks, and sure-fire approaches to saving the world and growing the church. Somehow along the way, some seem to have lost the difference between communication styles and techniques and the correct contextual interpretation of a Scripture.
Pop psychological and current events are being substituted for the drawing power of Christ and the cross (John 12:32) and the power of the Gospel (Romans 1:14-16). When we think we can do a better job in presenting the Gospel in rambling books, personal testimonies, lengthy blogs, and videos than Peter did in his less than a 400-word sermon on the day of Pentecost, something may be wrong.
Perhaps we’ve had enough finesse and humor in the pulpit and need more fire in our bones (Jeremiah 20:8, 9), and boldness (Acts 4:11-13) to dare and speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). We need to get to the power point of the Word, not creativity on a screen.
Jesus, Peter, and Paul are our models for returning to the old school way of preaching. And the prophets can teach us something too.
If a preacher was a trial being charged with being an old-school preacher would there be enough evidence to convict him? If you are a preacher, how about YOU? ME?