“And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.” Mark 1:22
“And they were all amazed…saying, ‘What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’” Mark 1:27
“And they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority.” Luke 4:32
“The chief priests…came up to him as he was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’” Matthew 21:23
“And [God] gave [the Son] authority to execute judgment.” John 5:27
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Matthew 28:18
As I wrote out the pillars of a Vertical Church more than twenty-five years ago, I prayerfully jotted down what flowed from my reflection on the above Scriptures about Christ’s authority. I put into words another pillar, which became my lifelong commitment: “Preaching God’s Word with authority and without apology.” In time I adjusted the wording to clarify that the authority was in the Scriptures, not in the messenger, so for many years the better wording has been, “Preaching the authority of God’s Word without apology.”
The spectacle of pastors sitting in their offices with their Bibles closed, working on “talks” instead of sermons for people who want horizontal intuition instead of Vertical inspiration, is probably the single greatest point of pathos plaguing the church today. For the life of me, I cannot understand a pastor racking his brain for points of human persuasion while the absolute authority that incinerates human folly and “[fills] the hungry with good things” (Luke 1:53), gathers dust on the corner of his desk. For a man to stand in a pulpit with some relevant remarks when he is called to sound forth the Word of Life is a failure of proportions that defy parallelism. Had God left us without resource, we would have no choice but to suffocate on superficiality. Instead, He has given us His very breath in writing, always true, ever new, and eternally compelling when dispensed in His strength—and with His authority. To stand in a pulpit with a false authority flowing from your own thoughts would be the height of presumption, and to apologize for God’s written revelation with eternal binding is worse still.
You’re Not Preaching if You’re Not Heralding the Bible with Authority and without Apology
I believe preachers do well when they unfold both the precept and any rationale God has revealed, helping the hearer see the Lord’s heart behind what He forbids and allows. None of this is what I mean by apologizing. By apologizing I mean anything that betrays a greater loyalty to the response of the hearer than to the Author of the Bible.
Peter L. Berger (whose list of honorary doctorates and scientific awards is as long as Shaquille O’Neal’s arm) frequently laments apology in the pulpit:
“Strong eruptions of religious faith have always been marked by the appearance of people with firm, unapologetic, often uncompromising convictions—that is, by types that are the very opposite from those presently engaged in the various relevance; operations.… Put simply: ages of faith are not marked by ‘dialogue’ but by proclamation.”
Why have so many preachers adopted the tone of Oprah then? My goal is to address the biggest leak in the boat of biblical authority during proclamation: apology. How did we come to the place where we think God needs PR? Who is responsible for the constant concern about how culture hears what God has to say? When did we become more anxious about offending people than offending God, and why? Preachers who manufacture content or marginalize what God has said because they are concerned that people will be offended by it or the culture won’t be comfortable may convince themselves they are giving God a leg up, but the one they are really protecting is in the mirror. Trust me on this; God is never watching in appreciation when we make His Word more palatable to pagans. I am not for pulpit ranting, and I don’t believe God is honored in making the Bible complicated where it’s simple. Preaching should not nullify the Word of God through tradition or negate the Word of God by speaking in religious terms the uninitiated can’t access, but Vertical, biblical preaching should never place loyalty to the audience’s sensitivities ahead of loyalty to God and His Word.
You know when you are in the company of someone who denies by their words or tone their loyalty to someone who is absent but under discussion. Similarly, it is obvious to everyone when the preacher is more concerned about winning the hearer than remaining faithful to what God has said. What’s different in preaching is that God is actually present, listening in on how we speak about what He has spoken. Preoccupation with making sure the listener is not offended leads inevitably to offending God. Or to say it another way, if no one ever says, after hearing you, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (John 6:60), you don’t have a ministry like Jesus had, and you’re not being faithful to the Word of God! What arrogance to think we can eliminate offense from the message that Peter and Paul and Jesus couldn’t.
Excerpted from Vertical Church.