Bold Preaching Rejected
Occasionally, I will see an article written by some Christian organization, association, or coalition calling for boldness in preaching. I believe this is biblical, for even the Apostle Paul made the request of the Ephesians, “and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak (Eph 6:19–20).”
The context of Paul’s request resides at the end of the “whole armor of God” section of his explication on spiritual warfare. Paul warns the churches of an insidious problem in preachers: the lukewarm lurch to liberalism, even licentiousness. Bold preaching gets the man of God into trouble, and he either lives in trouble, or he dilutes himself into popular acceptability.
Bold pastors get sacked. They go into survival mode, especially if they have been sacked more than once. The statistics have only worsened in American churches in recent years. The call to ministry is fraught with treachery. To heed the call to minister God’s Word leads to no mean task.
Deer are beautiful, nimble creatures; but they are periodically subject to hunting season. Deer hunters love deer. They love their strength and beauty, for the bigger the deer, the greater the trophy. Deer hunters also eat deer.
Pastors, with beautiful feet, bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, are prey during seasonal intrigue by the enemy, who easily infiltrates the local church. The enemy inspires the church to love and to call bold preachers, and then he inspires them to devour the pastor instead of feasting on the Word of God brought by him. How does the devil facilitate this deception? The adversary’s open door access happens during elongated seasons of lame preaching, which produces lame sheep, who can no longer tolerate bold preaching.
Preaching boldly exposes the bold preacher to resistance, even hostile opposition within the house of God (Acts 13:46). This is what makes the pastoral call complicated and the call to preach, boldly, a bit convoluted. One might say that preachers must choose this day who they will serve. It is not a false dichotomy to see the options being Christ or the church.
Preachers must be found faithful to the Lord. The fact is, church elders claim they want bold preaching, but in reality, they are pressured by people who want preaching to be less bold. The slippery slope, in every sinful heart, is toward liberalism. Faithfulness is an uphill climb, requiring the power of God to achieve new heights in the upward call of Christ. When was the last time you were stung like a bee at the preaching of God’s Word?
The church needs money, and if the preaching is bold against wealth accumulation, the rich givers punish the preaching, by restricting their giving, until the situation is remedied. The situation to be remedied is bold preaching and a bold preacher. Elders are caught between a rock and a hard place. The rock is Christ and the Word of truth boldly preached, and the hard place is the demanding liberal heart.
Bold preaching calls sin, “sin.” It is God-centered, which is why most Christian preachers in America are man-centered in their preaching (Arminianism). Imagine a preacher who calls homosexuality a sin from the pulpit, today. In most churches, this bold positioning on the side of biblical truth would be grounds for his dismissal.
Imagine a preacher who calls Islam, a demonic inspired religion. One bold preacher in Britain was literally on trial in the law courts for this very claim. The liberal Christian community joins their secular, liberal brothers and condemned this man of God. Together, they say he gives Christ and the church a bad name. Christians must see liberalism, as the arch enemy of bold, biblical preaching.
Preachers, who want to remain preachers, or worse, who want to make a living as a pastor, are tempted to water down preaching in every sermon. To preach the Word of God requires a conversion to Jesus Christ. One might laugh at such an obvious requirement, but the average Christian is unaware of how many preachers have not been born again. They sit in the pews of their churches each Sunday, listening to well-crafted expositions of psychology, philosophy, therapeutic moralism, or spirited cotton candy.
In fact, it is stunning how few Christians have actually been exposed to biblically accurate, let alone, bold preaching. When a church goes through a pastoral search, everyone prays for a great preacher to come and bless the congregation. Some get a businessman, instead. Others get the benefits of a showman, on par with a circus master. Typically, the elders of a church endure whatever they get, as long as the tepid waters of congregational serenity are maintained.
Bold preaching is disruptive to the human soul. It is upsetting to the lukewarm church (Rev 3:16). The church receives much of her discipline from the Lord, through Spirit-filled men in the pulpit. The Apostle Paul was meek in person, but clearly exuded boldness in his writing. He needed prayer for boldness in preaching like he had with quill in hand.
Paul was sometimes bold, “but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition (1 Thess 2:2).” Bold preachers are warriors. The spiritual warfare, mostly denied by liberal Christians, is very real. It is why, statistically, men called to the ministry of God’s Word will not make it.
Churches love their bounce houses and think nothing of bouncing the man of God to the street. Sensitive people who love the military have created, “the wounded warrior project,” to aid American soldiers who come home from war zones in bad shape. There is no, “wounded pastor project.” They just fade away.
Some of the best preachers in America do not preach. They are not wanted by the churches, or they no longer want to preach. Actually, in truth, they do want to preach. They share Paul’s deep conviction, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel (1 Cor 9:16).” Still, they live in woe. Why? There is a point in being wounded, where one says, “Maybe I can serve the Lord in another way, like at the local soup kitchen.” Called to serve up the Word of God in the pulpit, they settle for serving pottage in the projects.
Many preachers hide in ranks of school teachers. There is some release from the torment of their displaced souls, but the cost is too high to fulfill their higher calling. The toll on their health and well-being, or the price their families pay, is simply too much. “Remember, pastor, your first ministry is to your family,” is finally believed, and with conceding conviction, the former pastor says, “My family has to be my first ministry.” The devil will not permit both a ministry to family and to the church.
Before you judge these pastor wannabees and shouldabees, you must reconcile the conundrum of their calling. A serious moxie is demanded of sold-out servants of God. Consider the family carnage left in the revered 18th century Wesley home. Far better to have been single, or later, loosely married and without children like Whitefield. We find it difficult to name the men who gave up on pastoral ministry because they are at home with their families, in the back pew of the churches, and selling something somewhere because they are good talkers.
One marvels at the spirited launch of the New Testament church in the Acts of the Apostles. Peter and the other apostles preached with boldness (Acts 4:31). Paul later joined the ranks of bold preachers (Acts 9:27–28). Paul and Barnabas boldly preached Christ Jesus to the Jews, but they were met with resistance and opposition (Acts 13:46). At Iconium, they relied on the Lord and preached for a long time, but eventually the hostility kicked in. Paul and Barnabas had to leave town (Acts 14:1–5). That is what bold preachers do. They leave town.
Bold preachers turn to writing books and blogs. A.W. Pink is the iconic one in the last century. The churches wanted him, and then when he opened his mouth boldly, they did not want him. He spent the final years of his life, hovelled together with his wife in a small apartment on the Isle of Lewis. We are blessed with his extensive writings, but his own generation never received the blessing, save for a few readers of, “Studies in the Scriptures.” There are men like Pink in our generation. We miss the blessing of God because we do not find a place for them. In fact, we are the ones that displace them.
Apollos was a bold preacher. He may have been doomed from the pulpit were it not for the nurture and care of Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:26). A preacher must be true, in addition to being bold. Some have boldness, a zeal without knowledge, but the church must bear with these gifted men. They are worthy of our financial investment in seminary education.
Andre Agassi’s father taught his young son to hit the tennis ball, as hard as he could, all the time. His father’s promise to his son was that eventually the ball would go in to its proper and intended destination. We must encourage bold preaching and bold preachers; and we must not give up on those who have faithfully presented themselves to the Lord, to the church, and to the enemy.
Paul pressed on with his bold speech (2 Cor 3:12). He fought the good fight of faith, and finished the race set before him (2 Tim 4:7). Paul was single, and he was singularly focused (1 Cor 2:2). He relied on the Spirit, “But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was rescued out of the lion’s mouth (2 Tim 4:17).”
Preaching is dangerous, bold preaching is a death sentence. Bold preachers are prepared to be stoned and left for dead. It never ceases to amaze them that it is the church that casts the first stone. They die daily to self, in grateful service to their Savior. Pray for your pastor.
In summary, we have explored the double-minded desire of Christians in the American church. A bold preacher is what we want, and when we are given a bold preacher, we let him go. We cannot have it both ways. We have seen examples of men of God who destroyed their families for the sake of the ministry, and we have seen examples of men of God, who simply fade away from their generations, with the hope of still serving Christ in some lesser capacity. Neither of these scenarios is ideal. The church is unstable because of this short-sightedness.
In conclusion, the church must not call for bold preaching and preachers, if it is not prepared to receive bold preaching and preachers. It is far too destructive to the called men of God, and it is equally destructive for the local churches. A call, for deeper and longer lasting commitment to the called men of God, is the imperative for receipt of the blessing God has entrusted to them, for the local church. We must not treat the bold preacher as a hireling, but as the anointed man of God he is in fact, through the laying on of hands (ordination) and gifting.
The church looks like reprobate Israel in throwing the messenger of God into the pit (Jeremiah), or worse, sawing him in two (Isaiah). This legacy of bold men of God should serve as a warning to every local church. We must remember the fate of John the Baptist (beheaded) and Jesus Christ, Himself (crucified). These were the actions of Old Testament Israel, the typical people of God; and what is the church, today, the true Israel of God (Gal 6:16). God help us to fare better than our fathers.
Finally, let us commit to calling men of God, bold in their preaching, and let us stay committed to them. In this way, we will inspire and encourage the unsure men of God, who sit in the pew and ponder the price and privilege of preaching God’s Word…boldly.
David E. Norczyk
Spokane Valley, Washington
January 2, 2021