Ancient Road Publications


Distinctive Preaching

By Kyle Pope

0ver ten years ago now, a beloved young friend of mine faced an early trial in his work as a gospel preacher.  An elder of the church for which he was preaching, in a very tactless manner, criticized the brother for failing to offer lessons which he called  “distinctive.”  My friend’s feelings were hurt and relationships were strained.  As the years have rolled on I have often thought about what the elder said to the brother and I believe that I have come to understand what he was trying to address, however calloused it may have been done.

      We live in a world that is, and has always been a very religious place.  The problem is not the lack of religion but the pervasiveness of false religion.  Most faiths, including those who do not focus on Jesus Christ, differ more in peripheral matters than in morality, lifestyle and attitude issues.  While these similarities can often serve as a starting point in our discussions with people, many pulpits come to the point that what is taught differs little from one faith to another.  The easiest thing for any preacher to do is to boil down a lesson to the “lowest common denominator” of those matters that are generally accepted in religious matters.  A preacher doesn’t set out to “water down” a lesson.  It is more subtle than that.  He simply fails to offer teaching that distinguishes gospel preaching from all other things that are taught in the religious world.

      The Bible teaches a faith that is distinctive.  Jesus wanted all who believe in Him to be one (John 17:21).  Paul taught, through the Holy Spirit, that there is “one faith” (Ephesians 4:5).  Paul taught the same things “everywhere in every church” (I Corinthians 4:17).  New Testament preachers were always willing to show exactly how the truth of the gospel was distinct from the errors of their own age, whether it concerned the resurrection (Acts 17:30-32; 23:6-10), morality (I Corinthians 5-7), circumcision (Galatians 2:11-21) or the nature of Christ (I John 4:1-3).  If we are to stand up for the faith “once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), we must be willing to do exactly the same thing. 

      Many Christians are old enough to remember times in which almost every sermon addressed the plan of salvation, baptism by immersion, non-instrumental singing in worship or church organization.  While it might be that some brethren in those years could have done a better job of trying to declare the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), our generation faces another danger.  As we try to teach all of God’s word, if we do not consciously and deliberately strive to uphold exactly how God’s word is distinct from the religious world, we may communicate something we do not intend to, namely, unity with error. 

      Does this mean that every sermon should be argumentative, critical or aggressive?  Must we come across as “hard to get along with” or judgmental?  No.  But neither should we be afraid to simply, boldly and lovingly state exactly when something is wrong and when it is right.

      I can say that in my own life this distinctiveness has had a profound effect on my own faith.  As a child I worshiped with noninstitutional congregations.  In later adolescence and early adulthood, my wife and I, married and worshiped among brethren who held very liberal attitudes towards God’s word.  On one wonderful occasion I had the opportunity to attend a gospel meeting and afterwards sit at a dinner table with two faithful gospel preachers, my uncle Wayne Partain and brother Paul Earnhart.  They weren’t discussing anything all that profound, they were just talking about their work and the work of brethren they knew.  These brethren weren’t talking about human organizations, institutions, psychology or projects conceived in the mind of man.  They spoke of obedience to the “Gospel,” the “Truth,” and “faithfulness.”  I’ve never shared this with these humble men, but I was struck by the fact that they talked about what New Testament Christians talked about.  Their concerns were like those of the apostles or disciples of the first century.  That was a turning point in my life.

      When  those who seek to uphold this distinctiveness make it sound as if we are calling people to be “like us,” it sounds like an arrogant party spirit.  If we make it sound as if there is no distinction, we surrender the singular character of the faith which the Bible teaches.  We must strive to show people that what all of us should be is simply (and distinctly) what God wants us to be.

Pope, Kyle. "Distinctive Preaching" Biblical Insights 3.6 (June 2003): 5.  

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