Oh, The Things I've Heard
By my calculations, I have sat in something like 5,900 weekly church services and heard 5,900 sermons. Throw in at least another 500 special services, revival meetings, camp meetings, and conferences, and I've heard something on the order of 6,400 sermons. I've heard a lot of preaching (and should probably be more sanctified than I am). I've heard some tremendous preaching, some of the best in the world at the time, in my opinion. Specific sermon titles and preaching experiences (as a listener) are popping in to my head even as I write. But I've heard some doozies as well. Some real colossal failures (and that's ok, I myself have preached some colossal failures) and a number of trite, silly ones too. I've heard some things that were ridiculously off-base even while the congregation was shouting. Oh, the things I've heard.
I've been told that when King Joash was smiting the ground with arrows at Elisha's command (2 Kings 13:14-25) that it was a type of fighting the flesh. Our bodies came from dirt, the ground, and the ground is the type of the flesh, and the smiting of the arrows is battling our flesh. The way to victory, we were, told is to keep smiting the flesh. It was the sort of biblical interpretation and preaching that the early Christian ascetics and self-flagellating medieval monks would have greatly enjoyed.
I've heard that a woman shaking her hair to God can bring victory over personal trials and the Devil. And a number of other things have fallen out of bad approaches to 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. I'm not sure how that all works. If it has worked for some, I'm sure it has everything to do with the faith and worship of the woman, and not with the act of shaking the hair like a tribal dance. One thing is for sure, the hair shake, is not in the text.
I've heard that we were right at the very end, the end of all things, just about every year since 1988, with a lot more of that thing during the first Gulf War, and a bunch just prior to 2000. Obviously, this hasn't happened yet. But it hasn't kept preachers for trying to figure this out and creating all sorts of elaborate interpretations from parts of Scripture to account for the times.
I've heard a week-long exposition of the book of Esther as a blueprint for the endtime revival. That was a long time ago, but I think by now the Church was already supposed to have been in control of the media for the spread of the Gospel. Of course, that has not happened. And let it be said: the book of Esther is categorically not a blueprint for endtime revival.
I've heard it said that the water of the sea of Galilee was a type of baptism. That's why the pigs of Gadara ran into the water after they were possessed by the demon(s) called Legion. Evidently, the pigs were smart enough to know that water exorcised demons and therefore ran to the water to be free of them.
I've heard that everyone has "issues" of life just as the Samaritan woman had an "issue" of blood. Ok, this is a serious equivocation of terms. There are issues and then there are issues, the kind with blood, and they are not the same thing.
I once endured a re-telling of the Good Samaritan at a youth rally as an elaborate allegory for the Christian life. It would have made Origen proud.
More than a few times I've heard bible passages turned completely on their face. Colossians 2 comes to mind. Or Moses on the mountain determining the mountain's boundaries as an example of a pastor setting standards (there are a number of reasons why that does not work).
I've heard numerous sermons where any mention of numbers leads to numbered lists of things we must do or know. The four men who carried the lame man to Jesus and lowered him through the roof becomes "four for revival" or "four faithful foundations", etc., etc., etc. Any mention of three things in the text becomes: 1) repent, 2) be baptized, and 3) get the Holy Ghost. (Of course, three things for Trinitarians becomes, yes, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost).
And sadly, there have been not a few times, when the text of Scripture read had nothing to do with the sermon preached. Instead, the sermon was built on a poem, or a newspaper article, or an illustration, or a great story, or even a testimony. And I must say, that if you are going to use newspaper articles please learn which papers are generally reliable and which ones are grocery-aisle rags. The truth is that none of this is biblical preaching. Granted biblical preaching can use poems, articles, illustrations, stories, and certainly testimonies, but biblical preaching must place the priority on the Bible's contribution as the core of the sermon.
Whatever the results of the preaching, these are all failures of a sort. Thank God, He can draw a straight line with a crooked stick. Thank God, He can speak through donkeys. And all we preachers and teachers are going to occasionally fail in this regard. I myself have preached some real doozies. I look back at my stack of sermons and a few of them still bring the color red to my cheeks and I want to burn the notes. But with humility and an intense devotion to what the Scriptures actually say we can avoid the more spectacular kinds of hermeneutical and homiletical failures.
Looking at all of this, I am very, very thankful for the great number of times I've heard faithful preachers simply stick to the text and preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The power of God does not reside in fanciful reconstructions of the text, or in traditions of interpretations we've added, or in elaborate illustrations, or in rhetorical flourishes. The power of God resides in the simple Gospel of Jesus Christ (Rom 1:16, 1 Cor 2:1-4).
I may have offended some of you in the reading of this, let me assure you: no offense intended. All preachers have failed in this regard including you, your favorite preachers, me, and my favorite preachers. This does not change the point made here: We need a radical re-commitment to the Scriptures and what they actually say. I hope that you are in this (the call to preach) to proclaim the Word and get it right, because at the end of the day, when it comes to knowing God's mind, the text of Scripture is all we have and it is sufficient (2 Tim. 3:14-16).
Brothers, we must be committed to the actual text of Scripture and to the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Sola Scriptura! Soli deo gloria!