Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Go, you seer, flee away to the land of Judah. And there eat bread and there do your prophesying! But no longer prophesy at Bethel, for it is a sanctuary of the king and a royal residence.” (Amos 7:12-13).
My journal from a number of years back has this:
Got a letter today from a sweet, humble (really), godly lady who criticized the preaching of our Thanksgiving guest preacher. She said, ‘Notice what he did last Tuesday night. He told of the 9 thankless lepers and suggested reasons why they did not give thanks. Many people left our church when he was here because of this kind of preaching.”
Our speaker had been the interim pastor before I arrived. For some 18 months he had ministered to our troubled congregation as they tried to recover from a devastating split. He had been the essence of faithfulness.
She continued, “Our people want line upon line, precept upon precept.”
I wrote in the journal: “Why does this anger me? Because of the narrowness of what ‘our people’ want. because it’s a mark of an immature congregation that they have to have sermons one way or not at all. Because it’s a subtle manipulation to make me into the kind of preacher they think they had before.”
There’s no indication in the journal what I replied to her. I was in my first year in that pastorate and my guess is I said something sweet to her. Something like, “Thank you for telling me that. Please pray I will bring sermons that feed our people.”
But looking back, I realize I failed that woman. I should have asked her a couple of questions….
–I should have asked what “line upon line” and “precept upon precept” means, what that kind of preaching is like, and where she got such a concept. She sure didn’t find it in the New Testament.
–I should have directed her to Isaiah 28:10 where we find that “Line upon line, precept upon precept.” It might have helped had I asked her to explain that passage.
–I should have asked how she came to be speaking for the entire congregation. “Our people” want this kind of preaching, she said. Doubtless she meant herself and her buddies.
She would have been surprised to learn that the passage from where we get that “line upon line, precept upon precept” business–Isaiah 28:9-13–is most definitely not putting it forth as God’s standard for His people. The Hebrew language has sav lasav, sav lasav, kav lakav, kav lakav, ze’er sham, ze’er sham. The footnote in my Bible reads: “These Hebrew monosyllables, imitating the babbling of a child, mock the prophet’s preaching.” It’s baby talk. It’s a put-down of the shallowness and superficiality of the Lord’s people at that time.
One thing it most definitely is not is the Lord’s plan for how His word is to be taught. The fact that some have made it out to be so shows the sad state of Bible teaching and preaching our people have been subjected to, oddly leaving them thinking they were getting a superior quality.
Don’t miss that. She thought she was demanding more from God’s word than what that learned professor/preacher was delivering. He would have smiled at that, because the guest preacher she attacked knows his Greek New Testament backwards and forwards. Some of the greatest Bible teaching I’ve ever heard came from this man.
Does God care what kind of preaching we like? The kind of pastor we prefer?
It’s a ridiculous question, of course.
When God sent Jonah to Nineveh, did it matter even the slightest whether those sinners liked his preaching? The passage cited at the top of this article from Amos 7 is rather famous for that little bit of presumption. “They like this kind of preaching down in Judah,” said the old high priest up in Bethel. “But we don’t care for that up here. That’s why your offerings have been so low, why no one has joined your church, why you’ve had so few conversions.”
Try this the next time you stand before the Lord at Judgement…
“Lord, the reason I didn’t come to church is I didn’t like his preaching.” “That’s not my style of preaching, Lord. I like expository and he was giving us topical.” “I like more stories. And after 35 minutes, I can’t listen any more.”
“So Lord, it’s not my fault. He wasn’t what we wanted in a preacher.”
Yeah, right. Just try that.
Jonathan Edwards read his sermons, we’re told, and never looked up at the congregation. Yet, the Holy Spirit used his preaching to ignite the First Great Awakening in this country.
Billy Sunday was flamboyant and dramatic and sometimes broke a chair while preaching. Billy Graham was evangelistic and rarely anything but that. Dwight L. Moody was an English teacher’s nightmare in his preaching.
The mark of a mature congregation is they can appreciate any kind of delivery so long as the speaker has a word from the Lord. “Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God” (I Peter 4:11).
When you and I stand before the Lord, the one question that will not be asked is “did you enjoy the sermon?”