THE reading matter which comes to my desk, and my intimate association with modern trends in education lay upon my heart a burden which weighs me down. From these sources I know that the modern trend to be "learned" has seized upon the very vitals of our ministry.
The liberal takes the view that his Gospel lies in modern interpretations, and makes no apology for mastering everything trom the press today that is in his line. The conservative may read some of the same things, but for a different purpose. He feels that if he is going to stand for the faith in a day of doubt and uncertainty, he must devour everything that will keep him informed as to what the modern world of religion is thinking, and so be prepared to off-set it in his preaching. He feels that he must keep a sharp look-out for the enemy, must know his every move, keep his positions well in mind, and be alert to vie with him on his own grounds.
The idea seems logical and makes a strong appeal to the ambitious young preacher. But its execution will require much time. There is enough "modern thought" coming off the press today to occupy a preacher exclusively in "keeping up with the times." We have to watch that this does not rob us of the opportunity to look into our own Gospel and become fortified in its mysteries of spiritual life.
A FEW years ago I attended a certain great conference. They had what they called "commissions." I did not know what a "commission" was until I was in one. I found that they were merely discussion groups. When we got into these groups a brother who had been assigned to lead us began to set forth, in learned terms, the purposes of our discussion.
In his remarks he used the word "ecumen" (and "ecumenical" and "ecumenicity"). I had heard the word before but had never wrestled with it. In spite of my "ignorance" as a "provincial" preacher, the brother went on using this word and many of its cousins whom I never met intimately, as if he regarded his language elementary — to meet the limited vocabulary attainments of his "commission" personnel.
Consulting a dictionary I found that the word merely meant "universal," or pertaining to "the entire Christian Church," whatever that is.
Here is the startling thing about it all: I had been preaching nearly twenty years about Jesus dying for sinners, being raised from the dead, offering salvation to all, and not one time had I used the word "ecumen." It was disgraceful! Such ignorance trying to preach! My face was red. I was ashamed of myself. About the only thing I got out of that conference was that I was just a "back number," a thing these up-to-the-minute misinterpreters of God's revelation tell us when they get far enough away from us. How could a Bible-belt preacher understand the profundity of the "ecumen" approach to the Gospel?
They have now got that word pretty well spread around until some of the "dumbest" of us have found out what it means. I live in mortal fear, and try to read everything I can get my hands on. For I know that in the future I am going to be in some meeting where the brethren will produce a new term to my confusion. You see, I am of the old school, and do not spend as much time reading up-to-the-minute rationalism as some of the brethren, and I know that some of them will read liberal articles and books ahead of me and keep company with some new religious terms that I have not met. "Staying up with the times" is nerve-rack ing business.
ABOUT the only comfort I get is when I turn back to the first three chapters of First Corinthians. Paul is about the only great preacher who pleads the case of the dumb and ignorant preacher. He almost makes me feel like a man might get enough wisdom out of even the Bible to preach so that sinners may hear and heed the call to repent and be saved.
Paul seems to say that for those of us who do not have time to read and keep up on everything that is being said about "religion," there is something which he calls "power"' that is available to us. He says that by it sinners can be convicted of sin even with just simple preaching. He says that God does not want preaching to seem as though the power of preaching lies in big words, bright ideas, and modern interpretations, so that hearers may say this man is a bigger preacher than that man, because he is "smarter" and keeps up with the times more than the other. He says that tbe effectiveness of preaching must come from what he calls the "demonstration of the Spirit and of power" — about which the sophisticated vendor of modern "best thought" is as dumb as I was about "ecumen."
That makes me feel that if I can just get better acquainted with the truths set forth in the Bible and in touch with this power, my preaching may be effective, even though I do not know all the hall-mark vocabulary of modern religious thought.
I believe that the power of the Gospel ministry lies not in our exhaustive knowledge of what the world is thinking of God. It lies in what God is thinking of the world, and whether we can mediate God's thought to men. The man who gets God's viewpoint has the truth for any age.
And God's viewpoint is found in the Scriptures, as they are interpreted to us by the Holy Spirit. We are too much occupied in getting the enemy's position and not enough in finding out God's. We are too much on the defensive and not enough on the offensive. The Commission of Christ was to preach the Gospel of Christ, not to spend all our time finding out the gospel of the enemy. That will have quite enough publicity as it is. There is vast danger that we shall spend so much time trying to find out and answering the gospel of the enemy, that we shall lose our grip on the Gospel of Christ.
THE EFFORT of many of us to be alert and well-versed in preaching, so that "scholars" will have to accept us on our ability to challenge, analyze, and "discuss intelligently" their proposals, have seduced us away from the source of power and truth. We spend our time trying to tear down the teachings of Satan rather than to bear witness to the teaching of Christ. To do the former we must give ourselves to the latter.
We have felt that the simple Gospel coupled with power from on high, is not in itself equal to the "Modern Gospel," with its complicated analysis and its highbrow terms. We are afraid the Gospel, without our "stream-lined" effects, is not adequate to call forth the praises of scholarship, and that unless we can attract the intellectual respect of scholarship our Gospel will fail.
And what if it doesn't appeal to the rationalistic scholars? Did it ever? We do not need to make it intellectual; we need to let God make it forceful. We do not need to make it appealing: we need to let God make it powerful. We must be less concerned with the type of preaching and preachers the world wants, and more concerned with the kind God wants. And if we fail to make it intellectually appealing, we may do incomparably better by letting God make it powerful and convicting. Are we still afraid to trust God with His own Gospel?
In no sense do I decry education for the ministry. But I believe in it as a means to discovering the secret of spiritual truth rather than to raise one to prestige among the so-called "scholars" of the world. A man does not have to use big words, nor know how to "evaluate" every modern thought or movement, to preach the Gospel of Christ effectively. But he does have to major in that fellowship of prayer and study of the Word which, and which alone, can him the "wisdom of God in a mystery."
IF THE preacher is going to advocate some social or philosophical substitute for the Gospel, he will of course need to be able to speak the "highbrow" language of the intellectuals. For there is no supernatural power available for that "gospel," and it will need all the intellectual props one can set under it to commend it to the doctors of wisdom who are competing for recognition as the modern world's saviours. For any "other" gospel depends upon its learned terms for its feeble power, and its only reward its the praises of men.
I wish we could call our brethren back to the "quiet time." I wish we had a moratorium for a year on the mass of printed matter that comes to our desks (unless it be something like the Western Recorder, which is a lighthouse of the Gospel itself), and see what would be the spiritual effect of preachers spending their hours seeking divine truth from the Word itself, praying God to enlighten us with the presence of Christ who "of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification and redemption."
We might get behind on some of the up-to-the-minute hall-mark terms of the learned, but we could use the time saved to learn what God requires of us that we have power from on high.
===========[Western Recorder, October 12, 1939, pp. 1, 3. The Western Recorder is the Kentucky Baptist State paper. - jrd]
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