Thursday, 4 September 2008

The Potential Of Preaching - Rev. Canon Dr. S.E. Long

The Potential Of Preaching

Orange Standard, Article 3 ~ August 2008

"Jesus … came preaching." He said, "To this end was I born, and for this I came into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth." Mark 1:14, John 18:37

Jesus the preacher convinced men, who were to be His disciples, of God's plan for the world and Him in it and they became preachers too.

Preaching was the means used to make the Christian faith known.

"With preaching Christianity stands or falls because it is the declaration of a Gospel …. It is the Gospel prolonging and declaring itself". P.T. Forsyth

It has been defined as "The preaching of a person to a person about a Person."

The underlying theme of the preacher is the Person and presence of Jesus Christ. While that is constant and invariable much depends on how the preacher applies it and its relevance to people today.

"His material is the everlasting Gospel, his tools are his full powers of thought and imagination. His object to convey to other minds and imaginations the glory and beauty of that which he is seeking to portray." F.W. Dillistone

The preaching should be in words and thought forms that make clear what is meant and nothing else, plain and direct, clear and unambiguous. It was a plaintive cry to the preacher,

"Save us from the meaningless pious phrase: avoid the unessential and unnecessary."

The preacher must believe in the truth of what he says, and with total conviction if he is to persuade others to believe.

Jesus the preacher used words, incidents and illustrations familiar to the people. He could never resist the appeal of need, and had such a power, a magnetism that the people heard them gladly.

Paul the preacher "was completely absorbed in preaching the message, showing the Jews as clearly as he could, that Jesus is the Christ" (Acts 18:5). This was at Corinth. He told the elders at Ephesus, "I have never shrunk from declaring to you, the complete will of God" (Acts 20:27). Writing to Timothy he said: "I urge you … preach the word of God. Never lose your sense of urgency. Prove, correct and encourage using the utmost patience in your teaching."

The admonition on Timothy remains one to be taken to heart by preachers and the advice is apt and necessary still.

J.S. Stewart, an accredited authority on preaching, had this to say to preachers: "Preach the resurrection as the one fact above all others which vitally concerns, not only the life of the individual Christian, but the entire human scene and the destiny of the race."

The individual was the constant concern of Jesus. His way of reaching and teaching people has been described as "the one with the few, Jesus and His disciples; the one with the many, Jesus and the crowds who gathered to hear Him; and the one with the other, Jesus and His conversations with those He met one by one." There is a particular attraction in these meetings and they emphasise the value of person to person contact in Christian work and witness.

Bishop MacNeice wrote in Belfast's "Hungry Thirties" "It is the business of the Church to bear witness to the sacredness of human personality, and to say with plainness that any system which can produce a great wealth, but which cannot use it so as to prevent great destitution stands condemned by conscience and by reason."

The Christian faith is at its best when it is most personal and practical. This is to contend that the preacher and the church, representing the caring Christ, has something to say on everything that matters to people.

We are told of great preachers of the past often with the regret that their like are not around now. That contention is contested, and reasons given for questioning comparisons, past and present. One of them is the difference in attitudes to preaching from when it was an attraction and the preacher, the educated man whose words were worthy of attention, reflection and action. Now there are many educated men and women anxious to voice their views on religion and to show their superior knowledge in every other subject that is of interest to people.
The church and its preachers are not influential in the way they were, for in this increasingly secular society many are so affected by its many attractions that the church has no place in their thinking.

The preacher needs a congregation but church attendance is no longer the practice of many whose parents and grandparents were regular churchgoers. Churches that have retained their strength are reducing in numbers so that attendances are smaller with the effects they have on the church and its purpose in the community.

In spite of their losses the churches continue to represent the beliefs, attitudes and responses of most of our people, and some who are neither believers nor committed to their philosophical and ethical stances on the meaning and purpose of life.

The preacher is still being heard as one who makes a useful contribution to our thinking and living. There were always preachers whose concentration and commitment was on the Person and place of Christ, and they preached with such certainty in the truth of what they said that people heard them turned to Christ and pledged their lives to Him . There are preachers whose ministries have that purpose and effect. They see it as their calling to persuade people to make that response to their preaching for they believe it is not preaching which is not preaching for a verdict.

There remains that effectiveness of preaching even if it is less obvious than formerly so that its future is not in dispute though it necessitates continuous evaluation.

The tasks of the preacher is to bring people to faith in Christ; to build up believers in their faith and to encourage them to so present its values and benefits to others that they, too, feel the necessity to turn to Christ.

Rev. Canon Dr. S.E. Long

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