The Danger of Moral Preaching

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Introduction

As a preacher, not only am I concerned about how I preach, but also how preaching is done in many churches. Also, as a pastor, not only am I concerned about what our congregants are eating spiritually (or not), but also what other churches are eating spiritually (or not).

One of the things I lament is how little the Old Testament (OT) is preached in many evangelical churches today. For example, out of the 27 churches in the Gospel Coalition Bay Area Regional Chapter (GCBARC), which our church is also part of, there is only a few churches that are preaching regularly from the OT. And the GCBARC is supposed to be the largest conservative evangelical organization that churches are part of in the Bay Area! We are only a small sample within much of the broader evangelicals, yet only a few churches are preaching the OT. That explains why so many professing Christians today have so little understanding about the OT, how the New Testament (NT) is connected to the Old, and how the gospel does not start with Jesus in the NT but actually in the OT.

Because there is so much disconnection with the OT, many simply perceive the OT as a collection of random stories. Hence, people fail to see the metanarrative of the entire Bible. As a result, many do not make Christological connections. So, people simply overlook in seeing Jesus Christ in the OT.

Also, not only I lament for little preaching that churches are hearing from the OT, but also, when they do hear from the OT, so often the preaching that is done from the OT is nothing short of mere moral sermons. They lack doctrinal substance. They lack the gospel indicatives. They lack Christological connections. For instance, when people hear the story of David and Goliath, so often Goliath is referred to some “giant problems” in life that can be slayed with little stones of faith. But is that the main point of the story? Like the story of David and Goliath, there are many stories in the OT that have been misinterpreted and misapplied. Genesis 22 is another example.

In typical sermons from Genesis 22, examples of moral preaching are common. The message is, for instance, just as Abraham obeyed, so should we, as if that is the primary point of the narrative. Another point may be that we should all be willing to make a great sacrifice just as Abraham did, as if that is the focal point of the story. Another point may be that we should also all trust our father just as Isaac did. While all those (moral) points are not necessarily wrong or immoral, they are not the primary point of the passage. Hence, let me explain why moral preaching is dangerous.

The Danger of Moral Preaching

First of all, moral preaching often has basic hermeneutical error. That is because they (sermon or preaching) often start from the text and go straight to the applications (i.e., the moral applications). Moral preaching fails to deal with the grammar, history, and theology of the narrative and the text.

Secondly, moral preaching is dangerous because it provides little or nothing about the gospel. It fails to show what ways the narrative points out the gospel indicatives. You can point out the moral lessons from any stories in the Bible, but that does not mean you have preached the gospel or pointed out the gospel indicatives. In fact, a preacher may preach from a Gospel book (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John), yet fails to preach the gospel.

Thirdly, moral preaching is dangerous because it is man-centered than God-centered. That is because moral preaching focuses on what man needs to do than what God has done. Generally, the moral sermons are imperatives with little or no indicatives of who God is and what he has done. Moral preaching truly promotes behavioral change without the gospel. Moral preaching is a great tool that promotes legalism.

Fourthly, moral preaching offers little or no connection to Christ. It fails to show what ways the narrative shows the glimpse or typology of Jesus Christ. In theology this refers to the progressive revelation of God. That is, in Scripture, especially, in the OT (doubly so in Genesis and other books in the Pentateuch), God reveals his redemptive truths (i.e., the plan of redemption through Christ) not all at once, but slowly in little glimpses until Christ finally comes to fulfill in the NT.

The moral preaching really does injustice to what Jesus commands what we should do with the OT. In fact, it was Jesus who commanded to search the Scriptures (i.e. the OT) because the OT testifies or bears witness about him (John 5:39). Did you hear that? Jesus commanded us to search the OT and see him there because the OT testifies about him!

Also, on the road to Emmaus, Jesus “beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, explained the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27). That pretty much summarizes the entire OT (the writings of Moses and all the prophets). This clearly implies that Jesus made Christological connections of himself to the OT. I wish I could have been to such Bible study when Jesus was making such connections!

Moreover, in Luke 24:44 Jesus said, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Again, that pretty much summarizes the entire OT. And Jesus clearly states that the entire OT are written about him. So, that is our duty when we read and study the OT. We ought to make connections to Christ. We ought to see the gospel indicatives and theological significance. All these things, moral preaching fails to do.

 

Serving At A Small Church

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Personally, I don’t like referring to any church “small” or “big.” That’s simply offensive and rude. How would you like when someone calls you small or big? You don’t read Paul ever addressed any of the churches “I, Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, send greeting to you, a small church.” You won’t find that in Peter’s Letters. In John’s Letters. Certainly not in the Letters to Seven Churches by Jesus.

What’s small or big is relative. What’s small in this country can be big in another country. I heard from missionaries who served in France and Italy that you would be lucky to find an evangelical Bible-preaching church that is more than 30 people in attendance. Here in North America many church-goers simply have no idea. We are guilty of measuring everything by American standard, such as, big is better.

There are many pastors I know that are serving at churches that are not bustling with people on Sundays. Some are OK with it. Some are struggling. But pastors will always struggle with this issue. It’s normal. It’s abnormal if they’re not.

Several years ago I wrote “Ministering in Small Churches and/or in Small Towns” while serving at a church that I planted in South Dakota. This will give you some helpful perspective and reality, especially, serving in the Upper Midwest.

I also wrote “How To Have An Expository Preaching At A Small Church?” as a response to many questions I was asked by church-planters and discouraged pastors.

If you want to hear another perspective from another pastor, check out “6 Ways Small Churches Can Love Their Communities.

Be of good cheer.

What Is and Not a Sermon

Here’s a helpful clarification:

A sermon only exists when it is preached. By definition, a sermon is an oral presentation. That means it is spoken. Though we refer to outlines and transcripts or manuscripts as “sermon,” technically they are not sermons. An outline is the plan for a sermon. A manuscript is the script for a sermon. A transcript is the report of a sermon. But only an oral presentation in the moment is a sermon.

Also,

A sermon is an oral presentation of theological truths to a particular audience at a particular time. The sermon does not come into existence until it is preached. It is only finished when the final word is said.

Wayne McDill, 12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2006), 201-202.

Six Reasons To Do Expository Preaching

Six reasons to do expository preaching:

  1. It is the method least likely to stray from Scripture.
  2. It teaches people how to read their Bibles.
  3. It gives confidence to the preacher and authorizes the sermon.
  4. It meets the need for relevance without letting the clamor for relevance dictate the message.
  5. It forces the preacher to handle the tough questions.
  6. It enables the preacher to expound systematically the whole counsel of God.

(D.A. Carson, “Teaching the Whole Bible” from The Art & Craft of Biblical Preaching).